King's Field: The Ancient City - Review

Return of the King

By Martin Drury

Review Breakdown
   Battle System7
   Music / Sound5
   Replay Value5
   Time30-45 hours 
King's Field 4: The Ancient City

    Believe it or not, it has been almost 5 and a half years since King's Field II (which is actually King's Field III) appeared and over 6 years since King's Field (King's Field II) became one of the first PlayStation RPGs released in North America. Now the series has returned, with King's Field: The Ancient City providing upgraded graphics, loads of weapons, armor, spells and first person Role-Playing all for the PlayStation 2.

    King's Field: The Ancient City's story focuses on the Idol of Sorrow, an ancient talisman that pretty much ruins everything with which it comes into contact. One of the first victims of the Idol of Sorrow was the "Holy Land", home of the Forest Folk. In modern times, the Holy Land is refered to simply as "The Land of Disaster". For many generations, the Idol lay dormant in the Land of Disaster, until one day it was presented to the King Lucien IV of Heladin as a ceremonial idol representing the highest ideal of peace. Immediately, disasters begin to befall Heladin, and the King's Sages quickly discover that the Idol of Peace is actually the Idol of Sorrow. An expedition is organized to return the Idol, and its members are never seen again.

   It is at this point that King's Field: The Ancient City truly begins, with the player taking the role of Prince Devian of Azalin, who is visited by a strange wanderer. The stranger hands Devian the Idol of Sorrow and charges him with returning it to the Land of Disaster, in order to break the curse.

    King's Field: The Ancient City continues the tried and true game mechanics of the series. The only major change is the ability to travel underwater. Initially the amount of time Prince Devian can spend underwater is miniscule, but as he develops more time can be spent underwater. Along with gaining experience points to raise his own level, Prince Devian can also gain Magic Experience and Weapon Experience to increase the levels of his Magic and Weapons. Also, since the world of King's Field: The Ancient City is so large, the Ancient Forest Folk invented a system of symbols, markers, guide stones, and wands that allows instanteous travel from one section to another. Other than these few changes, the game mechanics of King's Field: The Ancient City are the same as the rest of the titles in the series.

An Approaching Mine Cart
An Approaching Mine Cart  

    Prince Devian has only a few of the typical RPG stats, namely Experience, Level, Hit Points and Magic Points. Along with these he has Physical and Magical stats, which function as Strength/Speed and Wisdom/Intelligence, respectively. Weapons and Armor do not normally affect these stats, but instead affect a second set of stats. Weapons can affect Devian's attacking ability, by modifying his Slash, Hit, Stab, Fire, Earth, Wind, Water, Light, and Dark attributes. Obviously, armor affects his defense against attacks of those attributes. It should be noted, that Devian can only equip weapons and armor which has a total weight equal to, or less than his current weight limit (which is related to his Physical Stat. Finally, weapons and armor will degrade with use, but the speed of the degradation is relatively slow and once Devian finds Harmurah the dwarf, his weapons and armor can be repaired or upgraded.

    One of the toughest aspects of King's Field: The Ancient City to adjust to is the first person combat, especially when switching between weapons of vastly different lengths or weights. In order to effectively fight with a particular weapon, it is important to know the attacking range of a weapon, and how quickly the power gauge will refill when using it. There are only 4 types of weapons in King's Field: The Ancient City, Swords, Clubs, Axes, and Bows and Arrows, but differences that can be found in each group can require a little time to adjust. Quite possibly, the most annoying class of weapons is the Bows and Arrows. At certain points within the game, the player's skill with the bow will be tested, in order to get past a trap or puzzle. For these puzzles it appears that the target area required to hit in order to proceed is approximately 1 pixel by 1 pixel.

   Magic spells in King's Field: The Ancient City are learned via magic crystals. Not only do magic crystals teach Devian new spells, they also replenish his magic points (by differing amounts, depending on the size of the magic crystal) and also raise the magical skill by one point. Like weapons, magic also takes a bit of time to master, but an essential tip to remember is that the spells always seem to go a bit lower and to the left of where it appears aimed. Also, it is possible to hit Devian with offensive spells, proper aiming is important.

The Infamous Black Scar
The Infamous Black Scar  

    Excelling at combat is important, not only to raise Devian's level or for acquiring gold and items, but also to raise the levels of his weapons and magic spells. Both weapons and magic spells have a maximum level of 3. When a weapon reaches level 3, Devian is able to perform the Sonic Wave attack with that weapon. Each time Devian hits and enemy with a weapon, it earns one experience point. Leveling up magic spells is more important than leveling up weapons. When a magic spell levels up, Devian gains one Magical point and his maximum Magic Points go up by one. Not only that, but the power of the spell increases. For instance, when leveled up, the Fireball spell will continue burning after it hits an enemy, causing additional damage. The Flash spell will split into 3 bolts upon contact with an enemy at level 2, and 5 at level 3. Other spells, such as Earth Heal and Shadow Skin can add additional status conditions/magical attributes to Devian's weapon for a brief time after use.

    King's Field: The Ancient City provides over 100 different types of enemies to practice your combat techniques on, from ground crawling Beetles, to flying Lava Birds, and stationary Reapers to the lightening fast Fire Lord. Early in the game, it is very easy to be tricked into believing the enemy AI is incredibly stupid. The enemies travel within a very well defined and limited patrol area, and happily turn their backs to Devian when they reach the edge of it. Sometimes, the enemies Prince Devian first encounters will stand without moving as he repeatedly whacks them with the weapon of his choice. After a few hours of play, Devian begins to encounter more intelligent enemies, which require more devious tactics to fool them into an easy kill.

The Wise Man Mista
The Wise Man Mista  

    Like the previous titles in the series, King's Field: The Ancient City contains only a few NPCs, choosing instead to concentrate on the combat elements of the game. Most NPCs you encounter, however provide help information, items, or function as shops. Some are even a mixture of the three and show up a different locations as Devian progresses through the Ancient City. Perhaps the most shocking thing about the NPCs is that they can be killed. Thankfully, most NPCs can withstand an attack or two so it is difficult to accidently kill them, unless Devian has reached very high levels or stats. The worst part however, in the lack of NPCs, is often Devian will find himself wandering around aimlessly without a clue as to what to do next. As well as not having more than a dozen or so NPCs, King's Field: The Ancient City lacks any of the mini games that are so prevalent among RPGs recently.

    The most noticeable change in King's Field: The Ancient City is the graphics. The graphics are extremely detailed, rivaling those of even Ico and Final Fantasy X with one significant difference: King's Field: The Ancient City's graphics are extremely dark. Granted, a large portion of King's Field: The Ancient City takes place in an underground city, but even with the in-game brightness meter at full, it is sometimes difficult to see. Fortunately, the dark graphics do little to detract from the game, but instead help to set the mood approrpiately when combined with some of the more haunting pieces of music. Unfortunately, the problems with the graphics are not just limited to the darkness level. Several areas of the game suffer from occasional clipping, but in one area in particular, its almost choppy enough to make the gamer sick.

Underwater Corridor
Underwater Corridor  

    As previously mentioned, King's Field: The Ancient City does have some haunting music, however, most of the music is easily forgotten or ignored. The only good thing about the music, in general, is the change of music as Devian moves from one area of the game to another, letting the player know to expect different, or possibly new enemies and scenery.

    King's Field: The Ancient City arrived with very little fanfare, almost 2 years since its first appearance at E3 in 2000. While providing an interesting change of pace with its First Person perspective, the fact that it progresses slowly and often leaves the player wandering where to go next can be frustrating. King's Field: The Ancient City is a nice break from mainstream RPGs, but pales in comparison to recent PlayStation 2 releases such as Final Fantasy X and Grandia II.

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