As I mentioned in the first part of this retrospective, our King’s Field was not the first game in the King’s Field series, a fact that many of us North American gamers did not learn, until late into the 90s. It was actually the 2nd installment, following closely to the Japanese only game, with the same title. As you can imagine, I was pretty surprised when I found this out.
The fact that we never got the original King’s Field is unfortunate, since the Japanese game introduced a huge amount of lore, characters, items and game play elements that were to become staples throughout the entire series. Names like John Alfred Forester, the Dragon Gods, the Moonlight Sword, Dragon Crystals, Earth Herbs, Antidotes, Verdite, Moon Stone, Blood Stone, the Truth Glass… all of it originated here, in King’s Field (JP). Our first King’s Field, usually called King’s Field (North America) or King’s Field (NA) was actually the 2nd game in the series.
Like all of the King’s Field games, King’s Field (NA) was developed by a relatively unknown and obscure, Japanese game development studio called From Software. You might recognize that name, because of the success of the recent Souls series: Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls and Dark Souls 2. Much like their predecessors, these are fantastic games, renown for their difficulty, challenging game play and unforgiving brutality. These games are often known as the spiritual successors to the King’s Field legacy.
King’s Field (NA) was released here in the U.S. on February 15, 1996. That gives this game the honor of being one of the first role-playing games ever released, for the PlayStation, here in the west. I will admit that King’s Field (North America) was not my first taste of the King’s Field series. I was actually introduced through the U.S. King’s Field 2, (actually King’s Field 3 in Japan), but after just a few minutes behind its controls and a handful of deaths, I was hooked. I wanted to know all I could about the world of King’s Field, uncover all of it’s secrets and watch its story unfold. However, I did not want to start from King’s Field 2, I wanted to start from the very beginning of the series. I thought, ‘Hey, if there is a King’s Field 2, then there has to be a King’s Field 1.’ So, that weekend, I went down to the local gaming store, found a copy of King‘s Field (NA) and bought it. That was such an awesome day!
The Story Unfolds….
King’s Field (NA) can be classified as a first person, dark fantasy, hack and slash, roll playing game. Taking place on a mysterious island called Melanant, you assumed control of a knight named Alexander, who had just washed up on the island’s rocky shore line. You are the only survivor of a powerful expeditionary force, sent by King Forester, to find and retrieve the stolen, legendary, Moonlight Sword. Of course, having lost all of your supplies in a powerful storm, you have nothing, save for the clothes on your back and your trusty dagger.
King’s Field (NA) was a very difficult and unforgiving game. The enemies were relentless, the environments allowed for very few mistakes, and the buttons stand as some of the most complicated controls I have ever mastered on a console. I racked up so many deaths within my first few hours of game play, it was staggering.
However, despite all of that, the game compelled me to push on, to fulfill Alexander’s duty and to retrieve the Moonlight Sword. For me, it was the lure of the unknown, the challenge of exploring the winding and claustrophobic interiors of the island and discovering the bits and pieces of lore, spread throughout Melanant. The entire experience was epic.
As you progress through the game, you begin to uncover a myriad of terrible secrets. You learn about the dark history of the island, the fall of ancient kingdoms and the rise of a mysterious warrior calling himself Necron.
You eventually discover that Necron controls Melanant and has enveloped the island in a powerful darkness. We also find out that he serves the dragon demi-god, Guyra and has obtained powers that allow him to summon monsters and control the undead. Greed, despair, and death, seem to permeate the interior tunnels, passageways and halls of Melanant and its inhabitants are doomed to a miserable existence, toiling in the underground crystal caves, trapped, having to relying on the island’s healing water, to keep them alive.
Playing King’s Field can be a very solitary and lonely experience. There are only a few small villages, homes, and communities dotted around Melanant and most of these locations are empty and deserted. Of course, you do find a few NPCs along your travels, but most of them have been driven half mad by the islands dark energy and trusting them can sometimes be a dangerous proposition. It is a good idea though, to talk to everyone you meet and to gather as much information as possible. Otherwise, you will have no idea what you are supposed to do. (Don’t worry, they do tend to let a few trustworthy tidbits slip out, from time to time.
Like most RPGs, you can find a few shops and merchants, littered around some of the villages, but they all seem to have an insatiable lust for riches and charge WAY to much gold, for even the simplest of items. It is my experience that most of the good weapons and armor available in the shops, can be found for free throughout your travels, so leave them in the shops.
Melanant is a dangerous place and it punishes you at almost every turn. The island is littered with secret tunnels, mining complexes, ancient shrines and the ruins of once mighty kingdoms. Unfortunately, most places are now teeming with vengeful monsters, the undead and restless spirits, so you must tread lightly.
Eventually, you face off against Necron, who you learn has become a pawn of Guyra, the Black Dragon. Once Necron falls to your blade, Guyra awaits, guarding the fabled Moonlight Sword, the very sword you were tasked with retrieving. Only after defeating him, can you reclaim the sword and rid the island of all darkness and evil.
King’s Field (NA) stands as one of my most treasured games and I spent well over 150 hours playing the game (that was a lot of hours back then). Exploring the island’s vast network of tunnels and ruins was extremely addictive and the game was amazing for it’s time. Being in a fully explorable, 3D world, surrounded by the unknown was something that I had yet to experience in a console game. Everything about King’s Field (NA), held me spellbound, even after countless deaths and game overs. The environments, the music, the characters, the enemies… it was all pretty awesome.
Even though I loved King’s Field (NA), I have to admit, this game was not without it issues. Graphically, the game was filled with strange visual anomalies. Surface textures had the annoying habit of distorting and tearing, draw distance for faraway objects seemed to fluctuate wildly and the graphics were not really the prettiest to look at. The game also suffered from inconsistent frame rates and massive slowdown, all of which could get you killed… very easily.
Never-the-less, I adored King’s Field (NA) and I still consider it a classic. It is amongst my favorite RPGs of all time. Aside from Final Fantasy Tactics, this game stands out as my 2nd most played game of the 90s. I have such found memories tied up with this game and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good old-school RPG, as long as you can get passed the outdated graphics. If you haven’t played it, you really should. If nothing else, at least watch a Let’s Play over on YouTube! It is quite a game.
Up next, we will spend some time taking a look at the awesome sequel, King’s Field II. So stay tuned.