King's Field (US) Review
Hello readers. It has been a while since my last post (mostly school and the winter blues), but I am back in action, and come to tell you about a really cool game I played recently; King's Field; A PSX title which has for this last week completely engrossed my life.
A game that takes you seriously
The modern video game is plagued by "hand holding". They tell you exactly where to go, why you need to go there, and in (particularly shit) games they explain puzzles you are in the active process of solving. Even Fromsoftware, my favourite developer, have fallen astray in this regard; by making it impossible to kill NPCs while they're in the round table hold (instead of allowing a player to come to the obvious conclusion themselves that attacking a friendly, useful NPC is a stupid thing to do).
If you don't like being treated with kiddie gloves, King's Field is the game for you. It leaves everything on the table, and expects you to figure it out via experimentation and reason. For example, there is a late game area at the start of the game guarded by a giant squid that can kill you in one hit. Instead of pointing this out, or moving the area somewhere else, the developers expect you to figure out that this is not the right time to fight it and move on. More boldly, you can sell important keys, thereby locking yourself out of important areas and equipment. It may even become impossible to beat the game by doing this.
The world of King's Field is cut from metroidvania cloth; The whole island is interconnected, and you will often be revisiting prior areas with new keys and abilities. A word of advice: be thorough while exploring. The best weapons and spells are always found in vestigial areas and rooms not essential to the main path.
Many rooms in this game have hidden walls that pull away when you interact with them. On rare occasion, they will uncover powerful loot that will help you out. Many players for this reason will smash their head against every wall in the game looking for secrets, but I think this is rather unnecessary. You can easily get many of the secrets simply by 'feeling' the layout of the room. Regardless, there are usually multiple opportunities to get an item, so don't sweat it too much.
The rhombus door is an essential game play mechanic, and I believe it is worthwhile to understand before playing. A rhombus door is unlocked by a rhombus key on one side at a time. Thereby, requiring two keys to go through a door both ways. Keys can then be taken out of the door and reused in another. Through this, the game demands a strategic use of rhombus keys, and makes it possible to earn a surplus of keys by using your equipment intelligently. For example, there is a room near the beginning of the game that enemies pour out of. The interior of the room is unlocked with a key, but the outside isn't; Once you acquire a teleportation gate, you can go inside the room, grab the key (thereby locking yourself in), and then teleport out.
The combat is very clunky at first, but gets significantly better once you get access to better weapons and spells. It sort of works like a real time Final Fantasy III action system, whereby your ability to attack 'charges up' for a couple seconds before allowing you to attack at full damage. You can risk getting attacked head on, but generally it is better to strafe behind an enemy before hitting them. In situations where there are many enemies, this becomes an absolute necessity. I would recommend practising your abilities on the plants and squids at the beginning of the game. This also gives you the opportunity to get some early levels.
Throughout the game you get access to more and more spells of increasing spectacle, many for offence but plenty of auxiliaries as well. Once you get a healing spell from the termite queen, I found that I pretty much never had to worry about having enough healing items again. Some advice: The magic cool-down charges up independently of your melee, so if you hit an enemy with a spell while you're waiting to attack, you can stun them and prevent them from hitting you, even if you are right in front of them.
They generally aren't very good. Most are just scaled up variants of common enemies. Those that do not fall in this category are atrociously spammy and are more of a test of your healing abilities than anything.
Should you play it?
Even to this day, there really is nothing like it. I recommend this game unequivocally. There are, however, some reasons why you might not have a good time playing it.
The game runs at a maddeningly low frame rate. Worst of all, it isn't even consistently low, and unfortunately, game logic is tied to it. In practice, this means that when there are lots of things on screen, you and the enemies will move very slowly, and the scene will get progressively faster and faster as the fight goes on. This can be mostly mitigated by using "GTE Overclock" on Beetle PSX emulator, but beware, there are still parts of the game that tank.
As I stated previously, the game really does not hold your hand. For me, this is a positive attribute for a game to have, but I could easily understand the contrary perspective. Expect to consult a guide multiple times during your first play through.
You use the D-Pad (left analog stick) for tank controls, the bumpers for strafing, and the triggers for camera pitch. You really have to try the game out yourself to appreciate how awkward this feels while you're starting out. If, however, you stick with the controls, you very quickly become accustomed to it, and it becomes very natural. An unsung benefit of learning the controls as intended is that all the classic Fromsoftware games use this same schema, therefore, if you learn it once, you can play them all. If it is too daunting for you, you can always remap the controls in the emulator.
The last time I have enjoyed a game so superficially unappealing to me was back in 2020 when I played Dark Souls III for the first time. In the year thereafter, I found myself playing Fromsoftware's other games, and finding a deep appreciation for them. King's Field recaptures, or perhaps, precaptures a lot of that magic for me. Give the game a couple of hours, you might love it as much as I do.