As you play the hidden object game Romance of Rome, many thoughts will go through your head. Thoughts like "This hand-drawn art is exceptionally lovely," and "How wonderful that the items are era-appropriate," or "Hey, neat, I get to have a dog!" But the one thought that is more likely to run through your mind far more often than any other is undoubtedly, "Holy crap, this game is hard!"
Romance of Rome is the spiritual successor to Cradle of Rome, but shares little with that puzzle game beyond its general setting and your advancement from lowly peasant to wealthy Roman citizen. You begin Romance of Rome by saving a lovely girl from a wolf attack, then upon learning that she is the Emperor’s daughter, set out to earn enough status to win her hand. And by "earn," what I really mean is "buy." You can have a noble heart and quick mind, but the Romans won’t really take you seriously until you flash some major cash. This is where the object hunting comes in.
For every item you find as you venture from location to location, you’ll earn a certain amount of gold; the harder the item is to find, the more cash you collect. At the end of each chapter, you’ll use the gold you’ve earned to kit yourself out in progressively nicer gear, eventually buying yourself into a lifestyle worthy of the Emperor himself.
You’ll also earn status by completing missions for certain key characters, including your would-be lady love and the smarmy senator trying to steal her away from you. They’ll ask you to perform tasks like clearing rats out of the pantry for finding a lost fibula (which I thought was a leg bone, but apparently it’s the pin Romans use to fasten their cloaks); during your searches, you’ll find key items that will help you complete those tasks.
The hidden object sequences of Romance of Rome are easily some of the most difficult I’ve ever encountered, simply because the items are well and truly hidden. Sometimes they’re half-transparent and laid over top of another object, other times they’re tucked behind scenery so that only a small part of them is showing. If you think about how you might hide an object in real life, say, under a sofa cushion or inside a heating vent, that’s kind of how Romance of Rome approaches it. It’s actually a rather exhilarating challenge for a hidden object pro, but could be quite daunting for someone looking for a more relaxing game.
The one frustration that kept cropping up was that you’re given images of the items you need to find (as opposed to a list) and those items aren’t represented to scale. Each item in your task bar is the same size as the item next to it, whether that’s a spear or a mouse. This can create confusion when the art isn’t exactly quite up to par; I thought I was looking for a walking stick, but I was actually trying to find a nail.
The game also trips you up a bit by making it impossible to find certain items until you’ve located key items in other locations. The key that you found in the Forum might unlock a cupboard in the Tavern, revealing the last three items you’re trying to find. Fortunately, the game will let you know when you’ve found everything possible in a given location, which spares you from fruitless searches. If all else fails, you can use one of your endless supply of rechargeable hints, but fair warning: certain achievements depend on your finding items and clearing locations without using any hints at all.
Romance of Rome is one of the most challenging hidden object games you’ll ever play, but not in a cheap or aggravating way. I wish there had been more strategy to gaining status – you simply buy every item in the store at the end of the chapter – but overall it’s still a fun and rewarding experience.