King's Field: The Ancient City


Review by Greg Wilcox



Graphics: 8

Sound: 9

Gameplay: 7

Overall: 8

kingsfield1ps1.jpg (36310 bytes)It's tough to be a King's Field fan in this day and age. With all the faster paced action/adventure and cute as hell focus tested mascot of the month titles out there, the KF series has always managed to balance its slower pace with challenging combat and the thrill of exploring an ancient, mysterious world.  Longtime fans of the series know what to expect, but many game magazines and newer players have given it no respect at all.

If you've never played it, but are curious, know ye this: King's Field: The Ancient City will be quite frustrating at first. But give it some time and effort, and the real pleasure will come from the high level of challenge and ability to go just about anywhere in the game once you're well-prepared. Unlike more popular console RPGs, there aren't any cute pointy-haired angst-filled characters, random battles, or oddball merchandising tie-ins. KF is a first-person RPG that will consume hours of your time in a stretch. Yes, that's partly because of the extremely languid pacing, but it's also because of the huge, sometimes deadly, often creepy environments. No two people will play the game the same way, as there are a number of hidden items and areas here not necessary to complete the quest (often guarded by something or some things quite deadly)

The basic plot has your character attempting to return a cursed idol to its place after it was discovered and removed. All hell has broken loose, and monsters have begun to appear across the land. The game has nothing much to do with the previous games in the series, other than a few surprises tossed in for longtime fans. From Software has spent the time to improve the game for the PS2 from the ground up. The controls are basically the same as in previous installments, but you can now use the left analog stick to move (a welcome touch), and the pace of the game has been slowed even more. The monster AI is better, although you can easily take out most on foot or crawling enemies easier than before. You'll have to conserve your magic points even more in the game, and it's entirely possible to play through to the end and not buy a single weapon if you're really clever. You'll definitely want to carry a backup or two though, as weapons now have durability ratings and need repair to keep them in tip-top shape (a feature introduced in From's excellent, underrated Shadow Tower).

King's Field has always been about exploring and surviving hazardous environments and assorted traps, and this time out both can kill you a few seconds into the game. I actually survived about 10 hours before I heard that familiar "YAAAAAAAAAAH!", and saw the game over screen- I ran out of antidote and was done in by some poison. You'll definitely die quite a few times in quite a few ways, and some of you will be keeping track of the agonizing (and sometimes amusing) ways in which you leave the planet. All I'll say is this: save frequently, and use two or three slots before you try something new or crazy. Leveling up takes a lot of time and even more patience, but it's necessary in order to use the more powerful crushing weapons to take out those pesky skeletons that can make the early part of the game a nightmare. There are also giant trees with slicing whip limbs, zombified armored troops and archers, and a number of magic-using monsters and bosses to contend with, and for the most part, they all look great.

kingsfield2.ps1.jpg (45401 bytes)Subtly rendered from afar, each new area in KF: TAC reveals realistic detail up close, and the much of the combined texture and lighting effects are often amazing. When you see many pairs of glowing eyes in the distance of a huge room, or strafe behind a monster to bash its skull in, you'll be in total awe of the game engine's capabilities. It's all about atmosphere, and this game has got it going on like a brand new color TV, as the kids say. There is some occasional texture glitching in some areas, and monsters behind secret doors or walls will often give themselves away when their weapons clip through what should be a solid surface. Personally, I was so into the game world that I didn't mind too much. There's a sense of scale here that's quite impressive, especially once you find out that there are also massive caves and underground areas with no loading between them once you fire up a save or start a new game. The music is quite lovely at times and eerily haunting at others, and much of the sound design is polished and refined from previous KF titles. It's all about being too spooked to forge onward sometimes because what's ahead SOUNDS too terrifying to face.

So far, so good, but what's not to like? Well, the game is highly off-putting if you're looking for a fast-paced, balls-out action game with bodies falling like cordwood every three seconds. Again, the pace here is slow and methodical, and takes some getting used to if you've never played a KF game before. There's a bit of a learning curve as far as the controls go, but the enemies at the beginning are slow enough to sidestep or glide past to safety while you're practicing your monster-killing skills. NPCs in the game are still the stereotypical KF citizens- not very much to say at first, but the game keeps track of all your conversations so that you can piece together crucial information if (and when) you get stuck. This is a good thing, as the story spreads itself out a bit. There aren't any really standout characters in the game, and as usual, you don't want to get attached to anyone for any period of time. The sad tale of the elf, Lyn was the highlight of King's Field II- nothing here comes that close, but the game does have its moments. There is a bit more sly humor here (much of it added in the English translation) but you'll have to be a regular customer at the KF bar to get all the references. Some out there will find other things that annoy, but my particular list is pretty short.

However, that's no reason to pass up the experience of trying something new, if you're curious and up to the challenge. King's Field: The Ancient City definitely qualifies as a unique role-playing experience for those willing to try it, and longtime fans will definitely be pleased. Rent it first if you're willing to experiment, and you'll more than likely be pleasantly surprised at just how good this game really is.


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Last updated: Wednesday, October 05, 2005 12:52 AM