Total Games Played
Played in 2023
Recently Played See More
Recently Reviewed See More
I think a big problem for people going back to play an old game is not being able to immediately survey the linear progression in game design between games of the period. I remember when I first got a PC, I was so excited to finally play Half-Life 1 after loving HL2 on The Orange Box, but sadly on first playthrough I totally bounced off. It was very frustrating because I was playing it like I played Half-Life 2: slower, and not using all my resources creatively and appropriately. Way later, I went even further back and played Doom, then Quake, which both directly affected how I played shooters - seeing all my weapons and ammo as necessary resources to be traded for progress, instead of just using the shotgun all the time (i like the hl2 shotgun a lot). Now when I go back to Half-Life 1, I see it as the natural progression of those games and can apply the skills I learned in them.
It's a joy when I do go back to an archaic, hard game, but I don't have to go back further to instinctively understand what the game's design is gesturing towards. In King's Field's case, it's no secret that they influenced the Souls games, and the effect of that is I can see all the strands connecting their game designs together. It's probably incorrect critically to assess the game through that lens - King's Field is King's Field and presumably had no pretentions to have decades of influence - but I can't not love seeing the vestigial elements of FromSoft's later works all the way back here on the PS1, in all its blocky polygonal skeleton glory.
The game starts with you being plonked down on a beach with no fanfare. At this point, your retro games sense may tingle and tell you to read the manual. You read the manual. Ok, I know who I am now. Let's go. The playable space is the most compelling part of this game. Unlike most PS1 games, I can't really say levels because there's no loading screens: every footstep is your own, except for when you engage with its strange teleportation system (which if you haven't figured out within a few hours of playing, you should probably look up because there are totally pits in this game you can get softlocked in and have to load a previous save. really.). The space in this game is pretty inventive for the time, occasionally looping on itself and having a nice amount of traps and intrigue to keep you on your toes. As you're starting out, you may notice that the framerate, for lack of a better word, sucks gorilla donkey dick through the anus of a warthog. It hits 30 sometimes. When it feels like it. But mostly it loves to be around 10-20, depending on how many triangles exist. This is a problem, because the game will often slow down and speed up mid-combat, leading you and the enemies to go from moving through treacle to slipping on custard, with no equally tasty in-between. This makes timing attacks harder, and is easily the game's biggest flaw.
Let's talk about the combat in all its satisfactory glory. In this game, you will see mind-boggling enemies with mind-boggling effects. Oddly enough, approaching enemies is fundamentally the same as a Souls game even though you're in first person. You observe them, bait an attack, move around, know the timings and hitbox of your weapon, and strike until dead. For some reason, it was funny to me how the premium technique for most enemies is to get behind them; years and years before you'd be able to backstab them, stunlocking and staying out of their hitboxes still works beautifully. All this is just far clunkier than it would become, as you'd probably expect. It plays how it looks - very chunky and functional. Chunktional. In addition to straight combat, you have spells and items. I couldn't help but notice how healing is done through consumable grass, refilling flasks with different effects, and spells using an MP system. FromSoft would be doing riffs on these systems for years to come.
The music is fairly standard but moody fare. The game's mood is entirely drab and depressing actually; the colour palette is muted, NPCs have no faces which means you're always emotionally isolated if not physically. This plus the lack of variety in textures became draining for me towards the end. My brain was stretched to the absolute limit of similar looking corridors it could remember. Luckily, the game ended soon after that. And what a truly fascinating ending it was. I have no idea what happened to be honest; I think I broke out of reality in a way I'm 100% certain no future games will ever reference. There are interesting smaller stories within the game though, even if the overarching one never coalesced for me.
I recommend this one if you're interested in old RPGs or are a huge Souls fan. It carries the same flavour of being stranded in a mysterious Western fantasy environment, but through the eyes of Japanese devs. I've put some tips throughout this review, but ultimately when you go into the past like this, part of the fun is discovering all the novel layers of bullshit that newer games have ironed out. Read the manual, look a few things up, use save states to a degree that saves you from tedium but still preserves challenge (it's a learning curve), and you might find it as weirdly compelling as I did.
Nintendo tributes Super Mario Bros. 3, one of the most inventive, joyously meaningful leaps they've ever taken, by taking a bunch of iconography from it for their kinda lame advertisement for a side gimmick most people turned off anyway.
Ok it's not as bad as that makes it sound, but we're scraping the barrel of Nintendo's game design here. Literally one of the first ? blocks has the raccoon suit in it for you to fuck around with. The easy criticism is that they want you to remember old thing to feel good, but the real problem is that this game has a lack of progression. You don't get the cape in Super Mario World until the second area for a reason; that game had design principles and ideas to introduce and wanted you to get to grips with the basic movement before unleashing you with the cool shit. This is so important to the game that when I watched people play that lovely SMW ROM hack where it was remade from memory, one of the first big things that jumped out to people was that they gave you a cape in the first area. And yeah that's because we've all played it 1000 times, but also because it fucks with the progression in a clear way. I shouldn't have this. In 3D Land you get that item within 10 steps because there's nothing they want or need to teach you. We're all on autopilot and everyone knows all you need to do is run and jump.
There's no concept of how the disparate levels fit together through theming or design, just some vague idea of gradually increasing difficulty and making sure there aren't like two Ghonst Houses in a row. It's a linear sequence of level ideas Shigru Miyamo had inbetween giving bad instructions to the Paper Mario guys for fun. The thing is, a lot of those levels are pretty fun, even though Mario's moveset is by far the lamest it's ever been. It turns out the minimum viable product baseline Nintendo platformer is still enjoyable because they know basic movement, momentum, and how to direct you through a level. They know too much to fuck it up but weren't ambitious enough to make it good.
In conclusion: play 3D World instead. I really like that game despite a fair number of these criticisms also applying to that. Does that mean I'm full of shit? Probably. But presentation means a lot. Plus it has more everything AND that more is higher quality. It brings my brain electricity to higher than 0, which is what I want in life and love.