In my humble opinion, the 1990s were a GREAT decade for gaming. We witnessed the birth and the death of some of the most legendary gaming systems: Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, Nintendo 64, Sega Saturn, Atari Jaguar and even the vaulted PlayStation 1. It was the heyday of many of our “classic” video games. The 90s gave us Super Mario Bros. 3 (1990 in the U.S.), Super Mario World, Act Raiser, Super Castlevaina 4, Super Metroid, Mega Man X, Final Fantasy 3/6, Star Fox, Final Fantasy 7, Final Fantasy Tactics, Secret of Mana, Chrono Trigger, Golden Eye 64, Doom, Doom II, Command and Conquer, Unreal Tournament, Half Life…the list can go on and on. In those 10 years, we saw massive changes come to the industry. Games made huge strides in the area of graphics and game design, levels became more intricate and environments began to be fully rendered, 3 dimensional landscapes. It’s safe to say that the 90s blew our collective gaming minds.
However, there is one particular series of games, born out of this gaming renaissance that are often forgotten and overlooked by mainstream gamers. Personally, I always include at least one of them in any list of my all-time favorite games; an obscure, 1st person, action RPG series called King’s Field.
Combining gloomy and foreboding elements of dark fantasy with knights, swords, sorcery, dragons, gods and even demons, King’s Field was an engrossing, multifaceted world with a rich and captivating storyline. It was truly a unique experience and one that forever changed how I played video games.
Created by FROM Software, the King’s Field series was groundbreaking amongst RPGs of the time. Utilizing a first person view and a fully 3 Dimensional environment, the first installment of the series helped to launch the original Japanese PlayStation system, in 1994. King’s Field showcased the system’s rather impressive capabilities and was one of the original launch titles for the new console, but only in Japan. Unfortunately, we in the U.S. would never see the first King’s Field as an official disc based release. This game, which is unofficially referred to as King’s Field Japan, can only be found through fan translated ROMs running on PlayStation emulators. Of course, these are notoriously difficult to get working, but they are the only way to play the original title in English.
In Japan, FROM Software created a total of six King’s Field games, however here in the U.S. we only received the 2nd, 3rd and 4th installments. Since King’s Field Japan gathered a dedicated fan base throughout Japan, it spawned two direct sequels for the original PlayStation, one title on the PlayStation 2 and eventually two titles on the PlayStation Portable. The King’s Field series also helped to create other games such as Eternal Ring, Shadow Tower and even today’s Souls series (Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls and Dark Souls 2). I’d consider that a pretty impressive set of credentials wouldn’t you?
Most of the King’s Field games shared common ground with one another. They all used a good deal of the same weaponry, armor, items and magic spells, while pulling from and building upon the same pool of characters and lore. Weapons like the Moonlight Sword or items like Earth Herbs or Antidotes are perfect examples, popping up throughout all of the King’s Field games. Some of these elements even managed to make their way into the current Souls games, giving us King’s Field fans, a much needed sense of nostalgia. Also, the brutal and unforgiving nature of the original King’s Fields have continued right down to the present day, becoming a major selling point for both Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls. (We’ll explore these two games later on, as I have very strong feelings for both.)
In the King’s Field series, players were left up to their own devices. There was NO hand holding here. If the player was going to survive, THEY had to uncover all the items, weapons, secrets and lore. Since the game’s NPCs gave little help, this was always a challenge. At the start of each game the player was stranded in a strange landscape, with little to no equipment. Which way you went and how you developed your playing style was up to you. That was a freedom of game play that, back then I had yet to experience.
When I first played the American King’s Field, I fell in love with it and I became an instant fan. It was the perfect combination of 3D visuals, creepy and engrossing sound, brutal difficulty, catchy music, underlying fear and a profound sense of anticipation for the huge journey that lay ahead. It set the benchmark for every other action RPG that I played and in my head… few live up to the comparison. Over the next few posts, I plan on diving in and exploring each individual game, as I remember them. I am only going to refer to the American releases to try and limit confusion, but I do plan on eventually doing a separate post to give information on the Japan only titles. Up next, we will take a look back at the American King’s Field, as seen through my eyes and my controller. I hope to see you there.