King's Field: The Ancient City Review

King's Field: The Ancient City will strongly appeal to a small subset of RPG gamers, fans of From Software's similar endeavors in particular.

A cloaked stranger appears at your door and presses a small stone statue into your hands. This stone idol from a once sacred land has brought the kingdom of Heladin to ruin, and you are tasked to return it to the place of its origin. As a prince from the neighboring kingdom of Azalin, you cannot let anyone else suffer the idol's terrible curse. With a cursed statuette and a naïve heart, Prince Devian begins his journey.

There are two things that become blatantly obvious when you begin King's Field: The Ancient City. The first is that while you carry no weapon or armor of any kind, your movement is very slow. Many players will find the prince's walking speed to be either maddeningly or excruciatingly slow, while running comes closer to providing a bearable clip but by no means can be described as fast. King's Field: The Ancient City is indeed a game with a slow pace. The second thing that the player will find is that the game doesn't hold your hand. It's quite possible for one to die after taking two steps from the starting location, and you can bet that the number of adventurers who have suffered such a fate is steadily growing. It could take several deaths before you're able to find a save point and finally log some progress.

Combat happens in real time, albeit slowly. A simple graphic display shows your health, magic, and two stamina meters. The first is physical, and it depletes when you swing your weapon; the second is mental, and this one depletes when you cast spells. The larger the physical stamina bar, the more damaging the attack will be. Swinging heavier weapons and casting more powerful spell results in a slower recharge; running decreases both meters. You'll have to keep this in mind when engaging the enemy.

Most enemies make no attempt to dodge and can easily be dispatched with simple tactics. An enemy attack can also be interrupted with a properly timed swing. More advanced opponents try various attacks and evasive actions, making for a much more interesting fight. However, even these enemies sometimes turn their back to you at certain ranges, taking some of the satisfaction out of a victory. It may take some time for players to get the hang of this sort of combat, and your painfully slow turn speed can lead to very frustrating situations when facing multiple enemies.

Some players will recoil right off and may even feel insulted that the game is trying to inflict itself upon them. The phrase "not for everybody" is of major relevance here. But if you can accept the game's slow pacing and sometimes overwhelming nonlinearity, there is a well-realized and consistent world, heavy with atmosphere, waiting to be explored. The game's most notable achievement is that despite a few lapses, the world feels very real. Architecture and environments, as well as the sounds that accompany them, are functional and of serviceable quality. They convey the impression that the land is laid out naturally and that there are no discernable load times while exploring--which does a lot to immerse you in the game. You'll spend most of your time in dungeonlike areas, but there are a few outdoor environments to provide at least some variety.

The way the game flows is an even greater contributor to the world's believability. There are very few instances where you'll have to clear a puzzle, solve a puzzle, or defeat a certain enemy to move forward. There are only a handful of items that are necessary to completing the game, although there is a huge assortment of things to be found. A practical approach will bring you closer to your ultimate destination, and careful exploration will yield numerous weapons, armor, magic, and other objects that aid your progression. You're not really required or expected to find them, so many objects are well hidden and can require quite a bit of effort to get at--unfortunately, it's easy to miss some of the most helpful items. Thus, the game's difficulty is highly relative to what you find.

Although exploring and manipulating environments is fairly natural, sometimes you'll encounter undue difficulty while attempting to examine or place an object, since the game sometimes requires a very specific angle to do so and offers no automatic adjustment or help. You'll also have to find or purchase maps, which vary in style and usefulness. Even the most detailed maps are of minor importance to your navigation compared with your sense of direction. This is interesting and somewhat realistic, but it makes the nonlinear game more confusing. At the very least, your 3D navigation skills should improve through playing the game.

Though you won't find any bustling towns, there are several townspeople whom you can interact with. This interaction often works to your advantage, but you're in no way obligated to listen to townspeople or help them with their problems. In fact, anybody you talk to can also be murdered with your equipped weapon. Doing so, however, will prevent you from receiving any kind of help from that individual and is never advised. After all, you'd be a fool to slay the shopkeeper, who supplies you with your most basic needs.

Making your way through the game is quite challenging and requires a lot of patience, but a practical design method gives you an expansive world where you can move forward logically. You'll be able to backtrack at any point in the game, and shortcuts become available gradually. As you gain levels, become more skilled at combat, and discover various nuances of the game, you'll continually draw closer to reaching the end of your quest and returning the idol to its rightful place.

King's Field: The Ancient City will strongly appeal to a small subset of RPG gamers, fans of From Software's similar endeavors in particular. Although it would require serious dedication to replay The Ancient City, and although the game offers only a few more innovations than the previous titles, the lengthy journey will be well enjoyed by those who can appreciate the style of gameplay. Many more players will find this game unforgivably slow, overly difficult, and dull. For them, the game will be a total waste of time, if not emotionally scarring. Several hours with the game should let you know which group you belong to, and a rental is definitely advised for those who are not already familiar with the series.


The Good

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The Bad

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