King's Field: The Ancient City

a game by Agetec
Platform: Playstation 2
Rating: 7/10


It is a hard thing to truly speak ill of a game. Ranting, bashing, and all other criticisms aside, when you realize that a game truly has more flaws than merits, it's a tough thing to truly convey. Aside from complaining, what are you really doing? When I've encountered things like this in the past, I've tried to give a good, unbiased view on the strengths and weaknesses of the game involved, so that I'm not being unfair to the company that developed it.

Keeping that in mind, King's Field: The Ancient City is most certainly not what I'd call a good game. It does have its strengths, including the pedigree of the King's Field series, the first of which happened to be the very first RPG ever released for the PSX. However, its weaknesses are numerable, including an irritatingly slow interface that makes you feel like you're in a really slow first person shooter.

The Ancient City begins with a tale of woe. Long ago, King Lucien of Heladin was gifted with a great treasure, an idol of amazing beauty. Praising it, and keeping it in his throne room as one of his great treasures, King Lucien unwittingly doomed his beautiful land to a terrible misery. For his treasure was already known to one of the peoples of this world, as the Idol of Sorrow. And so it cursed Heladin, turning the skies dark and bringing a plague upon Lucien's people. Finally, at the brink of civil war, Septiego, the [[Sword Master]], led a legion of Lucien's bravest men back to the Land of Disaster, and the Ancient City at its heart. The Ancient City was rumored to be the resting place of the mysterious Forest Folk, the enigmatic creators of the Idol.

His legion disappeared, never to be heard from again.

Prince Devian Rosberg, nobility from Heladin's neighboring country, Azalin, was a student of Septiego, and a wicked swordsman in his own right. Approached in the night by a stranger, Devian was given the Idol of Sorrow, and instructions to return it to the Ancient City, lest its evil corrupt all the lands in a foul darkness. Sorrowful over the loss of his friend, but knowing the duty he must perform, Devian sets out to return the idol, and in so doing, you begin your quest.

Gameplay, Controls, Interface

Playing Prince Devian is no small challenge. First, unlike most RPG's, King's Field relies on a first person interface, where you look through the eyes of your character at all times. This works rather well in first person shooting games, where aim, speed, and reflex are all vitally important. I firmly believe this could've been a good appearance for King's Field, were it not for the depressingly slow movement of the controls. Your character moves sluggishly whether he's moving forward, back, strafing left or right. I've personally never known anyone who took three seconds to raise their head to look at the ceiling, but who knows, maybe all my friends are actually squirrels...on speed.

That aside, the game proceeds smoothly through the introduction cutscenes. Remarkably sparse in detail, they give you just enough information to get through the start of the game, and nothing more. For those of you looking for more detail on the story of King's Field: The Ancient City, be sure to check out Agetec's website. Once finished, you're put right into the game, standing outside a locked and barred door, looking down a tall stone trench, with a cave just ahead of you, and various patches of lava dotting the landscape.

That's where I first died. Less than three seconds in. I'd moved forward about one step when the screen tilted back and my character screamed, indicating that he'd suffered the humiliation of humiliations, being killed by a piece of scenery. The second go, I realized that there were small patches of discolored ground that may or may not drop out from underneath you as you walk across them, pitching you into lava. Consider that a free hint on behalf of the GameFabrique staff.

Be sure to take note of the fact that your character can't swim until later in the game, meaning that any underwater areas are instant death (like oh so many different areas in the game). Also, obstacles like a small barrel, something you could easily climb over in real life, are yet again an impassable obstruction, until you're strong enough to break them.

Proceeding further through the game, you're given the usual obstacles to overcome, with pitfalls, puzzles, and of course, lots and lots of monsters. Interacting with characters is a simple matter of pressing the 'event' button next to them, and listening to them spew out simple, repetitive dialogue, none of which is actually spoken, but displayed in text on your screen. After a lengthy bit of exploring and efforts to horde money to afford some equipment, I came to two conclusions:

  1. The controls suck. You move really slowly and attack really slowly. Really. I'm not kidding. It's like the Matrix in the reverse. With magic spells introduced later into the game you get the ability to call down lightning and heal yourself, you gain a bit more versatility, but without getting better armor and leveling up to increase your hitpoints, you're toast. I especially didn't like getting killed by the only monster I've ever seen that resembles the rock monster from that old Star Trek episode. Truthfully, if you're unable to swing a club faster than once every three seconds or so, you might want to put away those weapons and consider getting a bib and sippy cup.
  2. The point behind this game isn't to interact with the story. A lot of work went into the story so the characters would have a lot to tell you, but as far as substance goes, there isn't much to look at. This led me to the conclusion that, much like Diablo, King's Field: The Ancient City is nothing more than a dungeon crawl. Kill monsters, get treasure, buy equipment, and repeat. Not that I have a problem with dungeon crawl games, but add in poor control and a mind-numbing combat system, wherein you charge up your attack, swing, wait five seconds and then attack again, and you've got a recipe for a frustratingly slow RPG experience. Given the proliferation of RPG's like Final Fantasy X, and Okage: Shadow King, providing such a stunted experience is definitely something that works against King's Field.


Much to its credit, the designers of King's Field: The Ancient City did a good job on the graphical design of the game. While some areas are relatively poor graphically speaking, a lot of them do look quite good, and for once, I was happily presented with pre-packaged cutscenes that were not only good looking, but designed smartly, hiding such flaws as an inaccurate face behind masks and helms. All the characters in the game have a good, unique look that lets them appear more realistic instead of looking like distorted versions of one basic character model. The outdoor scenes, while sparse, can be some of the more impressive parts of the game. Although they don't always use lighting properly, their severe restraint in both design and color suits the dark mood of the game well.


With next to no spoken word, and a mild, unobtrusive soundtrack, I can't say that I was either moved or disturbed by the audio in this game. It wasn't anything compelling to listen to, however.

Bottom Line

I can't really bring myself to recommend this game to anyone, but I also can't completely vilify it. On a visual scale, I'd have to say that King's Field looks damn tasty. Unified themes of form and color, combined with a good eye for design, leave the game something worth looking at. Like many games in the modern age, however, glitz doesn't override the fact that the controls for this game are pitiful at best. Shape up the way the game flows, its speed, and a better control/attack system, and this might be worth looking at. As is, I wouldn't buy it, even as a pity gift to a friend.

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