Once upon a time I would flip through my beloved GameFan magazine (let’s have a moment of silence for the passing of such a great mag…), see a Japanese game that looked remotely cool and immediately have it imported. During these times I spent entirely too much of my cash on videogames and frequently ended up with $85 import titles that were pretty poor to say the least (*cough*…Zero Divide…*cough*). I no longer act so impulsively when purchasing games, but I must say there were a few titles I would have missed out on if I hadn’t been so free with my money. One of these games is King’s Field.
A very slow moving, first-person RPG, King’s Field is certainly not for everyone. Those who prefer in-your-face action titles and have little patience will likely consider this game to be a complete waste of time. But, for those like me who enjoy exploring expansive fantasy worlds, even at a somewhat slower pace, King’s Field is a wonderful breath of fresh air when compared to traditional PlayStation role-playing games.
When I first popped the game into my PlayStation I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. I started a new game, watched the very poorly done intro movie and promptly found myself on the shore of an island at night. Immediately curious as to my surroundings, I began to explore. I walked along an outcropping of craggy boulders and came upon some large octopus-like creatures creeping along the beach. Figuring I had nothing to lose, I walked over to one of the beasts and struck him with my dagger. The creature let out a yelp, calmly turned around to face me and then struck out with one of its long tentacles, killing me instantly. At this point the game hooked me. I was so happy to see that I had access to an area that was populated with powerful enemies at the very start of the game! No more going though hours of cakewalk battles and tutorials before getting to a real challenge, this game meant business right from the start.
That’s pretty much how the entire game is played. You are give complete freedom to wonder around the large island at will, the only things that hinder your exploration are enemies that are at a much higher level than you and doors that require keys. I found myself playing for hours at a time just to see what was around that next corner. Sometimes that area just around the corner would be a creepy underground graveyard complete with skeletons rising from the ground and ethereal specters floating about. Other times it would be a lair for oversized ants with a confusing labyrinth of tunnels hindering my progress. No matter what environment I found waiting for me I was always amazed at the immersive and moody, atmospheric quality of the surroundings. It almost seems like the entire island is in some dream world, with something strange and compelling to see around every bend.
The visuals in King’s Field aren’t really that impressive, but what the game lacks in raw polygon pushing, it more makes up with splendid art direction. The caverns, pillars, walls, and staircases all seem to have been designed by some ancient, long-forgotten civilization, so you are often swept over with an acute feeling of awe as you pass through the massive chambers and decorative halls. If you completely play through the entire game you will have seen enormous marble caverns, underground magma lakes, beautiful, glimmering ice caves and much, much more.
The enemy models also look uniquely compelling. Their only weakness being the lack of turning animation, so they just walk in place and slowly rotate when trying to track you. You will encounter plenty of different types of creatures during your exploration of the island — sword wielding skeletons, large ice golems, winged demons and one very, very cool last boss all await you.
The battle system is very simple in King’s Field. You use an equipped weapon to strike out at a monster, and then move around waiting for your stamina gauge to recover so you can attack again. If you feel the need, you can attack many times in succession, but each blow you land with a low stamina meter will do very little damage. There is also magic in the game and it works very similar to regular attacks. The only difference is that you can run out of MP (Magic Points) when using spells. The magic attacks range from very simple fire, wind, ice and healing spells to visually impressive (and often quite destructive) blasts. There are even some special weapons that you find later in the game that can be used to cast a spell attack at the same moment you swing your blade. Yes, the battles can be tedious and the combat system is fairly basic, but it never hinders your actual enjoyment of exploring the game’s massive island.
Music in the game is mostly used as ambiance and it does the job well. You won’t be tapping your foot to any of the game’s offerings, but such is the way with ambient music. Oddly, sword clashes, monster cries and other sound effects in the game all seem to echo. This also adds to the game’s dream-like quality that I mentioned earlier in this review.
If you have the patience to sit down and play a unique, slow-moving RPG with great ambiance, then I think you will really enjoy King’s Field. Think of it as Morrowind-lite. It doesn’t have the character interaction or depth that Morrowind has, but the fun is in the exploration of a believable fantasy landscape that constantly pulls forth feelings of wonder and awe.
Nine out of ten