December 31, 2011

Shell Monsters Story - Ranking

Story & World

Nice large world with a high number of towns to visit which is good considering the lack of dungeons to explore.  Terrains are varied enough to give each area a distinctive look which was helpful when getting lost.  The history of the events leading up to the main quest are covered well at the beginning of the game but not much else was revealed during play until the final confrontation.  The open-ended nature of the world combined with the ability to split and reform groups added much to the epic factor.

The large number of towns and castles to visit ensured a lot of NPCs to talk to.  Most were quite helpful and many would give information that only became relevant much later in the game.  Sometimes the translation would have some serious grammar and spelling issues but nothing that hindered progress in the game.  As is the norm, most people give a one-liner of info but a few offered up a Yes/No branching dialogue option.

Almost all the quests were of the item fetching nature and there are a good number of them.  Some were quite easy with the targets being very close to the initial quest location and others required travelling halfway across the world, o'er land and sea.  The quests, while being very basic, were well described and only once or twice did the group reach a stage of not knowing what to do next.  11/20

Character Development

All four characters are static in starting stats and level development.  However, being able to group the characters into different combinations gives some level of customization.  Early levels are gained quite quickly and become very infrequent at higher levels.  At no point did I feel like the characters became too overpowered even though a lot of inadvertent grinding was done due to wandering.

Characters have room for a single weapon and three slots of armour (body, helmet, and shield).  All arms must be purchased from towns and many items can only be worn by a certain character.  There is no option to just carry a non-equippable item so many a town had to be revisited when the proper hero had been added to the party.  Characters have a limited five slots for other inventory which can be doubled when a Sand Rat is purchased from one of the villages.  A high number of quest items that need to be lugged around at any one time leaves few slots for other items.  This is not so bad when all four characters are together but when going solo, it means very little space for essential healing items.  8/20

Combat & Monsters

The final static encounters were pretty much the only ones that required some tactics in order to survive.  Most encounters were just brute force attacks with the only tactic being to spread out the characters' attacks among the enemy to maximize damage.  Monsters all fought in the same manner, randomly spreading attacks amongst the party.  Magic was not implemented very well.  Most attack spells did no more damage than a regular melee attack and the healing spells were the only really useful spells.  Some defensive magic came in handy against the final encounters but was not used for the majority of the game.

Chock full of unique and sometimes downright weird monsters (such as the low-level Comical Santa).  Most monsters are melee only and only a sparse few have any other types of attack (usually poison).  Most encounters are of the random kind; a few static encounters existed in the final dungeon.  6/20

Graphics & Sound

Impressive amount of monster sprites with each one having a "wounded" depiction as previously mentioned.  Palette swapping was kept to a bare minimum which was nice to see.  Town and terrain tiles were very blocky but were at least distinctive.  The music was slightly below average but generically appropriate for each area.  Sound effects were few and what few there were were grossers.  8/20


Surprisingly balanced, the party income stayed at an acceptable level throughout the game.  Upgrading weapons and armour generally took up most of the party's pearls (golds), giving them a motivation to fight on.  Even near the end, the party could use excess funds to buy the extremely expensive Calico Fruit (restores a dead character to full health).

With a big world and four different character starting points, the game certainly has a strong nonlinear feel to it.  A replay is unlikely but it would be possible to attempt to solo it after the initial four sunken treasures are found.  A solo run would also increase the difficulty of this rather easy game.  The game moved along at a fine clip with very little grinding required.  The malleable party structure is the most outstanding feature of the game.  Forcing the party apart at times really kept things interesting.  The tension felt after the party was broken up for the final dungeon had me wiping the sheen off my brow.  14/20

Final Ranking:  47/100

December 30, 2011

Shell Monsters Story - End Game

Ah, the Sky Castle didn't hold the next key after all.  The Gold Key was in a town we had previously visited but didn't find.  Finding this put the Sky Castle even more on hold as the group decided to trek around to re-revisit a lot of places to utilize the key on.  After that it was off to teleport to the high-tech Sky Castle to receive the King Sword.

Well-based teleportation.  The future is NOW!

This, combined with the Queen Sword, will bring forth the oddly-named Sword of Love.  However, we'll need a blacksmith named Raban to do the forging.  He's conveniently located inside Fat Badger's castle as a prisoner.  I hope he has his forging tools hidden somewhere on his person.  To get into F.B.'s crib, we'll need to enlist the help of the mermaids.  After a brief quest on their behalf, do they give us a key that allows us entry to the castle?  No.  Do they show us the way into the castle through a network of underwater tunnels?  No.  These mermaids decide to give us a fucking TANK in order to smash our way in.

These are my kind of mermaids.

Bonus pic because fuck yeah tanks.

It didn't take us right to the castle but into a final, closed off area.  Fights were getting kinda rough for the non-Shen's of the group but there was a hotel in the foothills near Fat Badger's castle.  As we started getting closer to the castle, we lost a little respect for Fat Badger as his tastes in villainous architecture are a little... mmmm, obvious.

So do we just climb in through the mouth or...?

As we entered the castle, we fell into a pit trap and I found myself all alone in the dungeon level of the castle.  Right into a hotel as well.  A hotel in a dungeon?  I ain't complaining.  The monsters are among the toughest in the game and even me, the mighty Nung, was forced to back down for some fights.  Even worse, the other members of the party were the ones who held most of the healing items and I don't use healing magic myself (or any magic for that matter).  Exploring far from the hotel was risky and came down to getting a string of "easier" fights before I found Kupikupi at a different hotel.  In fact, all the others were in their own hotel; one in each corner of the dungeon.  Well, we had to hand it to Fat Badger.  If you're running a dungeon that requires four separate hotels to be in operation at all times, you gotta be doing something right.  Or something really wrong.  I'm not quite sure.

After reuniting the crew again, the dungeon itself proved to be the toughest in the game.  In addition to having to fetch many items to unlock other areas, this dungeon had many secret passages throughout it.  They are not marked in anyway so it was mostly just testing out every wall where it might be plausible for a secret door to be.  The party wandered around for quite some time before we even realized that secret doors even existed in this world.  Knowing this eventually led us to Raban, who forged the Sword of Love for us.  He wasn't a prisoner as we had been led to believe but had a fully functioning forge complete with a counter from which to conduct business.  Fat Badger definitely gets the trophy for most progressive dungeon.  Oh sorry, I mean most progressive Involuntary Vacation Resort.  Anywho, with piles of quest items on hand, we made our way to the teleporting well which took us to a succession of stairs with some unique dragon fights along the way.  The Silver and Gold dragons were both very easy due to the usage of the silver and gold mirrors we found earlier on.  Showing the dragon its reflection causes it to be become stunned.

"Can't... take... eyes off...
so... beau...beautiful."

After laying waste to those narcissistic wyrms, we finally reached no other than Fat Badger himself.  From what we had heard and seen so far, he should be an interesting character to chat with.

Uhh-huh-huh-hu.  You said "made it".

After bragging about his villainous plan, F.B. started the action by bringing forth the Final Dragon for him to stand on.  But he didn't count on one thing Shen Nung's secret weapon.

I gots trunks of mega-ton punch
to thump all kinds of chumps.

After knocking the final dragon into orbit, Fat Badger finally showed us his true form.

Eh, could be fatter.

The fight was tough but doable on the first try.  I think all the time we spent wandering around the world and in the dungeon gave us enough levels that even the Badger knew it was a lost cause.  After his defeat, he was sealed up in the Aura Ball (which incidentally provided the entire group with a protective spell during the fight).  With the threat removed, the group returned to the Sky Castle to get their props from the dude there.

Was there any doubt? *flex*

After a quick credits roll, the "The End" screen shows the aura ball cracking; opening the doors for a possible sequel. 

December 25, 2011

Shell Monsters Story - Let's Get This Party Started

The Shell Heroes of Air and Water, Kupikupi and Poyon, each had a solo quest similar to the first two heroes.  Talk to gypsy woman, get map, have map deciphered by monk.  After getting Kupikupi to hook up with Poyon, the party was now half underway.  Both halves just need to find each other.  The most likely spot would be at the bustling port town of Marina del Pei.  Difficult monsters surrounded the area but newly acquired healing magic from Kupikupi kept them both going.  A joyous fanfare blared as the two halves finally joined and fused together in the ultimate union to bring about the (I'm assuming) most powerful of magicks.

OMG u guys!  We'll totally be
the Rainbow All-stars Club!

With everyone together at last, it could now be determined how well they operated with one another.  Any weaknesses that might have existed whilst solo or duo have been shored up.  Shen stands out at the brute force fighter with no magic so far other than the magic spell received for combining shells.  The other three are far weaker physically but have a plethora of spells to choose from among all three of them.  I don't feel most parties need more than one fighter (unless more or less forced to, as in Wizardry) so this is an ideal configuration for me.  With all the healing power available to the group now (in addition to having four attacks/round), some deep penetrations could be made into previously too difficult territory.  Shen still has many levels on his three underlings so, in his all-encompassing compassion and wisdom, our lord Shen Nung, of the Shell of Brilliant Fire, did hereby take his little fledglings and mold them into companions worthy of being by Shen's side.  Experienced gained is the same regardless of the number of characters in the party so there is no reason to split them up.  After the training session, it was time to stop by the Beer-Beer bar and see if the eldest-looking Poyon could get this under-aged party started in full.  Even with his fake moustache & glasses disguise, the Shell Heroes fame had spread throughout the land and he was recognized on sight.

Will you still get us a six pack?

Disappointed with not being drunk, the four decided they might as well purchase a boat and find all these sunken relics.  Four child heroes can't drink but they are allowed to own and operate their own sea vessel.  The corrupt tendrils of the shipbuilders guild reaches far in this world apparently.  With a map in each hand and a sparkle in each eye, the party begins to board the ship when the game informs them that there can only be two officers on board.  Nice touch to bring back party configuration dynamics after having already teamed up.  As leader, Shen decides that he'll take each underling out himself for each one's respective map.  First Shen will find the object of his map's desires; the Space-Time Ring everyone was going on about in Baltarie.  Ocean creatures are tough but super buff Shen turns them into sashimi in no time.  He soon finds the ring in a coral reef.

Property of Time Lords Inc.

After much travelling, the other three sunken items were also found.  Two of these items are scrolls to be traded to old woman Yodada who lives in a shrine far west of Baltarie.  All this travelling around isn't so bad for the group.  In addition to the gain in XP and pearls (this game's golds), the revisiting of towns along the way has allowed characters who previously weren't with the party when the town was first visited to now buy specific weapons and armour that only they can equip.  Yodada does indeed exchange the two scrolls for her Key of Light which should allow entry into the Sky Castle.

The scrolls were just a recipe for a
really ripping lentil soup anyway.

Before finding the Sky Castle though, the party acts on some rumours they heard in their travels about a boat that can actually hold four small children on board!  Of course it's not just available for sale.  No, any artifacts in this game must be submerged in the bloody ocean.  The ship in question was swallowed by a whale which can only be summoned by use of some Whale Whiskers.  At least those are buried on an island (though near the water).  Fighting the whale frees the mighty Puka ship and now Shen & Co. will rule the seas as well as the land.

I would have gone with Mopey Dick.

While exploring new areas, the party comes across a few places with locked doors that do not open to the silver keys that have been used everywhere else.  The Sky Castle hopefully has this key as there are few other rumours to follow up on.  While having a vague clue as to where the Sky Castle can be summoned, the party is bound to have to endure more wandering and random battles.  Not complaining though.  The enemies still have the second "hurt up" animation and are still most amusing.

"*sigh* Being almost dead is
such an inconvenience."

December 20, 2011

[Game 010] Shell Monsters Story (NES - 1988)

Translation by KingMike

Ah, finally back to a regular RPG and a JRPG to boot.  Which also helps to explain the cutesy characters on the title screen.  But that's aiight, I'm just happy to be back on the main course of my futile quest.

The plot is a typical kill the foozle type with everyone living in peace on Shell Monster Island until news comes that the Greater Demon Lord, Fat Badger (yes, really), is about to rise from the darkness.  The legends say that the fire shell hero will descend from the skies in order to stop ol' F.B.  This shell hero must find the three other shell heroes of Water, Air, and Earth and combine their shell powers for even more shell-related awesomeness.

*sigh* Is that really what I have to call him?
Fire Shell Shen explodes onto the scene at the town of Maiyo, armed with his trusty knife.  The townsfolk are very helpful with most of them giving decent information and usually includes some compass directions to go off of.  Shen must locate both a shrine which houses a gypsy woman and the temple of a monk.  First things first though.  Shen isn't getting far with just a knife and no magic.  Time to grind!  Battles start off pretty difficult so Shen can't stray too far from the all-important inn.  The battles themselves have an interesting feature in which the enemy graphic changes after losing around three quarters of its health.  This represents its beaten down state and is often quite comical.  This is a nice addition at a time when the standards were such that even an enemy down to a single hit point still looks like this:

Way to kill me, buddy!  You're the tops!

Shell Monsters Story, however, rocks it like this:

Love wiping that stupid grin off its face.

After a few levels, Shen is ready to find the temple and the shrine.  The quest is short as both of them are located very nearby.  The gypsy woman gives Shen a treasure map which shows the location of the King Sword.  The map itself is of a very small section with no real landmarks and so the monk must be sought out in order to discover the general location of the treasure.  In order to get into the temple, one must use a Silver Key which can be bought in town.  With a limit of only five items, Shen had mostly been carrying healing and warp-to-nearest-town items.  Purchasing the Silver Key back at town, Shen begins his journey to the monk's temple anew.  Opening the door to the temple, he searches four empty rooms to eventually find the monk.  Before the monk will give Shen the information he needs, he demands a drink of water from our brave hero.  Shen suggested taking a drink from the fucking fountain that he passed by at the front of the temple but was ignored.  Instead, Shen had to warp back again to the town to buy a cheap canteen and retraced his steps yet again.  This time he got the info and hopefully some valour points for not beating it out of the lazy monk.

With that out of the way, Shen is now ready to find his companions in earnest.  The land is laid out in a fairly nonlinear manner and progress is halted by a jump in enemy difficulty.  There also exists a lot of underground passages that link land masses together.  Halfway through a passage and Shen is whisked away to a chess-like setup which pits Shen against several "pawns" and a single "king" who must be defeated.  All pieces move at a rate of one in any direction which makes it pretty pointless (at least while Shen is solo).

Where's some L-shaped movement
when you need it?

In order for the "chess" matches to be exciting, Shen needs to find that companion.  Pushing north from Maiyo, he comes across the town of Baltarie where he learns a lot about a Space-Time Ring which is one of the items he must have in order to enter the sky castle.  Sky castles always have good isht in them and Shen is eager to learn more about how to gain access to it.  He also finds out that the Key of Light is needed and is being held by an old woman named Yodada who will exchange it for two scrolls which have been lost at sea.  He'll need a boat for that but maybe he can get the Space-Time Ring and...

Hrmm, I smell a conspiracy
with the shipbuilders guild.

Fine.  Shen wants to focus on finding his companions anyhow.  Pressing further northeast, Shen enters the town of Ranal where he learns that, big shock, two more items need to be found the King and the Queen Swords.  Knowing full well that they'll be lying on the bottom of the ocean, Shen leaves the small town and heads to the major settlement in the area, Reharetta Castle.  Surely his buddy must be there!  After a thorough search, Shen was left with a locked door that he could not unlock.  There must be a key around to get this door open.  Perhaps in a nearby cave?  Hrmm.  The only enterable areas are another gypsy woman shrine and a thirsty monk in a temple.  The gypsy woman won't tell anything "to the likes of" Shen and he assumes that his unfound companion would get the old hag to cooperate.  Shen is getting quite powerful from his journeys and presses even further on though he is almost positive that the locked area in Reharetta Castle holds his future friend.  Finding more towns yields no further hints as to the whereabouts of his companion and Shen is getting exasperated trying to find this mofo.  Just when all seemed lost, fate intervened and caused a misfire in the menu selection screen, hitting the never before used Pass option that some may have noticed in the screencaps.  Guess what Pass does?  It PASSES to the next companion.  All this time Shen figured it would be like most other games and have the main character pick up companions along the way.  Maybe you should have explored the fucking menu a little bit, stupid-ass Shen.

Having "discovered" this option, it was easy enough to unite Fire Shell Shen with his Earth Shell companion, Babubabu!  He was indeed behind that locked door in Castle Reharetta which opened easily from Babubabu's side.  Shen has 13 levels of experience on Babubabu so he'll need to get him up to speed in both experience and equipment.

I don't even want to know what you
were doing behind that locked door.

The other two Shell Monsters of Water and Air are likewise immediately playable.  Being able to swap at any time and develop each character individually is a really cool idea.  Each character has different magic spells and can utilize certain types of equipment.  You really get to know the strengths and weaknesses of each character when they're forced to go at it alone right from lowly level 1.  Having Shen and Babubabu hook up also unlocked a special attack spell usable by either.  Having to get all these characters together to form the core group is like having four intro chapters to the main epic quest.  The Air and Water chapters need to be fully written yet so it's back to the grindstone.

December 15, 2011

Romance of the Three Kingdoms - Ranking

You know you love the inevitable trainwreck that follows after putting a strategy game through the VIPS.

Story & World

Having the manual handy gives a much needed briefing of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms saga.  Nothing in game particularly adds much to this, instead focusing on the strategic elements.  Game elements were sensible such as harvests in the fall and flooding in the summer.  Another annoyingly (but reasonable) element is that during the winter season, no goods may be sent and generals moving troops stand to lose some men to the chill.  Just as it was in the past, those who were able to somewhat predict and plan for the future ended up the best off.

Diplomacy between empires is graded on a scale of 100 with 50 being neutral.  Giving gifts and marrying off daughters secures a friendly relationship with no real advantage other than they are less likely to attack.  There is an option to set up an alliance to attack a certain ruler but I never observed this actually happening (despite setting it up multiple times).  None of the classic rivalries stated in the manual came up during the game.  Generals that normally betray Cao Cao became just as loyal as anyone else after dumping three thousand golds on dat ass.  6/20

Character Development

The random variable to the starting stats is much lower here than it was in Nobunaga's Ambition.  Here, the variance is about +/- 10 and makes the base stats much more important.  Stats stay pretty much the same throughout the game and the master's stats become less important as other generals are gained and can be delegated to.  The only exception to this is the recruiting of new generals which can only be done by the master (making Charisma a useful stat the entire game).  5/20

Combat & Monsters

Combat was great early on when forces were fairly evenly matched up and tactics made a big difference.  The use of fire made for some great battle scenes in which the entire unit is surrounded by fire and can do nothing other than wait and hope an opening in the flaming wall will appear.  Likewise, using a couple of generals to send a torrent of flamage into an enemy city and flushing out the leader always brought a smile to my face.  However, the overuse of fire tactics by the other nations became quite tiresome in the end.  Terrain played its usual defensive part but with all the fire taking up space, it was more a case of just grabbing any square adjacent to an enemy unit.

No unit variation here other than in arms level and trained ability.  There were horses available to try to recruit generals with.  Couldn't have used some of those horses to whip up a cavalry unit, game?  4/20

Graphics & Sound

Graphics were pretty meh throughout.  A lot of portraits looked very similar among the lesser known generals (my favs are the ones where it looks like he's sleeping while I'm ordering him around).  The only outstanding graphic was the one for fire.  I can remember exactly how cool it looked because I had to see it ALL THE FUCKING TIME... *deep breath* ... Serenity now.  Sound effects and music are both forgettable.  5/20


Rice and golds are all a good economy needs and RotTK has it in spades.  Rice is used to gain loyalty from peasants and to recruit new troops.  Gold is used on generals to gain their trust and is also used in getting troops, buying arms and developing land.  There is a merchant available to trade between rice and gold with the system heavily favouring the gold (if the price is right, a few hundred gold will fill the state granaries to the max).  Sending goods to the front line from more developed states is never a sure thing; bandits or opposing nations could intercept shipments.  By the time half the states have been conquered, resources cease to be a problem.

The way in which the nations are interconnected ensured that most of the time a single state had multiple adjacent territories to worry about.  Attacking with most of your forces from a state could leave it nearly defenseless from an attack by a different neighbour.  Likewise, taking too much rice to feed the attacking armies could leave the defending units hungry.  Good balance of things to manage but suffers a bit from micromanagement in the late game.  Replaying is unlikely as all rulers are pretty much the same (base stats are usually high for rulers).  The challenge was expectantly easy as the difficulty was set low (hey, I don't want to spend months playing this).  14/20

Final Ranking:  34/100

December 14, 2011

Romance of the Three Kingdoms - End Game

Who would have thunk that running a massive empire all by yourself would have been so tedious?  With only one action per state per month, just recovering from a battle can take up to six months.  Hrmm.  Which is probably fairly realistic, so what am I complaining about.  I have to put up with enough complaining just from my advisors.

Well, I suppose I could work on my
belligerent-advisor-beheading list.

The two-front war I ended off on was a mixed bag.  The battles in the north went well enough but Sun Quan stopped me dead in my tracks right from the start.  I left him well enough alone and redoubled my efforts to take the north quickly.  Yuan Shao revealed his lack of true imperial blood as his states fell before the Cao hordes.  By 211, all the north belonged to the Cao clan and an intense period of fortifications took place.

Oh yeah, and I got around to
taking 32 from Sun Quan.

After gaining all these new territories, generals were running short on supplies as well as new recruits.  The newly acquired lands had already had the majority of their peasants turned into soldiers which now lay freshly slaughtered in the fields and rivers.  This resulted in a long period of uneasy peace as generals were shifted from the front to the interior of Wei to gather troops and weapons.  Captured generals also had to be showered with gold to get their loyalty up but for some reason they would never take more than one thousand golds at a time (taking about three installments to gain full loyalty).  I suppose this was to represent that it takes time to gain their loyalty, especially just after slaughtering their master.  There was no aggression on behalf of any of the other nations and after all the armies had been repopulated, the conquest begun anew, this time at the eastern and western edges of the mainland.  Though the opposing forces were no match for the superior Wei, they did manage to drag out battles by relying solely on setting their own lands ablaze.

The fire tactic I had so much fun with in the early game quickly became a nuisance after every single state ruler employed it constantly.  This results in a lot of moving around to non-burning territory as the ruler hides in his castle, quite safe from all the flames (except in very rare cases).  I stopped using fire altogether because in every fight I knew I was going to get ass-buckets of it soon enough.

Yeah, alright then.
Oh geez, come on.

You see the little white sack in the bottom left corner of the last pic?  That's the entire army's rice supply ON FUCKING FIRE.  I mean, there's flames burning up the entire countryside and walls of fire all around the castle and their every action is to add more fire?!  Luckily there comes a point where it becomes much harder to set an initial blaze.  This doesn't stop the bloody pyromaniacs from trying every single round regardless of how many times they fail.  Whatever, they all fell to Nung, er, I mean Cao.  After completing the initial goal of conquering 40 states, the game tries to egg me on to take over all of China but I've my fill of fire, thanks.

December 04, 2011

[Game 009] Romance of the Three Kingdoms (NES - 1988)

Oh good!  Another not-RPG.  Whose idea was it anyway to do strategy games as well?  Oh right.  Can't I just say that this is the same as Nobunaga's Ambition but set in China and call it a day?  No?  *sigh* Alright then.

Another grand strategy game from the history buffs at Koei, Romance of the Three Kingdoms takes place between 170 - 280 AD after the Han dynasty had fallen.  Many warlords vied for power during this most bloody period and three major states came to be dominant.  These were the Cao Wei, Shu Han, and Sun Wu empires.  As is common in most Koei games, players can pick from different start dates with the empires at varying degrees of power.  It should surprise no one that I will be donning the garb of the ruthless Cao Cao in my bid to unite the lands.

No wei can I lose with badass
base stats like this.

Starting in the year 201 (scenario #3 of 5), most of the empires are well established while still having plenty of unoccupied states to take over.  Cao Cao (blue) soon starts to send his intelligent but militarily weak generals to govern over the nearby open territories.  Defense is largely unnecessary as these states are not adjacent to any enemy states.

Primo beach front estates in 8, 9, and 10.

Gameplay structures are similar to other Koei games.  Commodities are rice and gold.  States can improve their land for greater rice yields and increase protection against flooding.  Troops must be trained and armed and generals kept happy with gifts of gold.  Battles are also very parallel to other Koei titles with one very important addition — FIRE!  Great for smoking defending units out of their castles or keeping attackers at bay.  It cannot always be used though.  The prevailing winds may not be at the army's back or, even worse, a blazing inferno could come back at you if the winds shift.

Even the mountains burn in China.

Diplomacy between empires is limited to borrowing rice, sending a gift, arranging a joint attack, or establishing a marriage by offering one of your daughters.

Well, you should have been born a boy then.

Arranging any of these options requires sending a general to negotiate. A high charm attribute increases the chances of success which is crucial since a bad impression can mean death for everyone involved.  Not only is there an option to recruit or kill the messenger general (having strategic ramifications) but you can also kill the bride-to-be which only serves to piss off the opposing ruler even more.

I don't like that slight scowl
she has. Kill 'em all.

As the empire expands, more and more generals need to be gained in order to protect vulnerable borders or just to make runs to interior states for gold, rice, or troops to be brought to the border states.  This can be done by either seeking out free generals that may be residing in currently owned states or by capturing enemy generals in battle and then gaining their favour by dump trucking golds onto them until they like you.  With many generals having a propensity to having the same family name (and similar portraits), it can become difficult to keep track of everyone, resulting in multiple trips to the status screen.  Only a few names really stick out at all.

♫ Everybody Wang Shuang tonight! ♪

In order to win this scenario, Cao Cao must conquer and rule 40 of the 58 available states.  Currently he holds 14 territories and has plans to start a massive offensive to the northern states of his arch-nemesis Yuan Shao and to the southern empire of Sun Quan.  Losing a two-front war doesn't happen very often, does it?