King kingdom

School of Hard Knocks RPG Storybook

Having played and been a fan of the predecessor of The cruel king and the great heroto know The lying princess and the blind prince, I was surprised to find that despite having a similar art style and a nicely dark story, that was all the games had in common. While the first was a decent puzzle platformer, the latest entry meanders down the RPG route and has an interesting way of doing it. Its unique art style, touching story, and interesting fights make up for some pretty tragic pacing issues in a condensed runtime of around 15 hours, short for a game of this genre.

You can check out the gameplay in The Cruel King And The Great Hero trailer below.

You play as Yuu, a young girl whose father was a sadly downcast great hero in his heyday. Left in the care of a local dragon, your dad raises you to one day become a great hero in his own image – and to do so often involves teaming up with various beasts, to help solve problems around the kingdom of monsters. All in the hope that one day you will be strong enough to face the Demon King, who is challenging the peace in the kingdom.

After being swept away by the sweetness of the way The cruel king and the great hero opens – the suave narration, the dreamy soundtrack, the strange loveliness of an orphan adopted by a dragon – you are bombarded with walls. Walls of text as tutorials for everything from how to use an item to how to open the menu. Walls of enemies, which you encounter at every step. Literal walls, where you have to backtrack to grab another partner and come back with them in order to pass. This would all be manageable if you could, in any order, fend off battles, escape fights, or just roam and traverse the overworld faster. Because it’s a big old world indeed, and going back and forth can be a hassle.

The cruel king and the great hero Credit: NIS America / author

The game’s pacing is its biggest and cruelest negative – because elsewhere it shines. The map has the vastness and variety of a dungeon crawler, and there’s biting drama when the next (rarely found) checkpoint is. The game’s cast of characters come with enough varied abilities that you can easily argue for including one of them in your party of two. And while it’s easy to get carried away by the simple beauty of it all, the deceptive challenge of old-school combat is what gives this hero its edge.

The cruel king and the great hero Credit: NIS America / author
The cruel king and the great hero Credit: NIS America / author

Don’t let the art fool you – the boss battles offer a deliciously difficult challenge, as you must manage your partner’s skills with an absolutely dizzying array of buffing accessories and items. Although an enemy can sometimes get five rounds in a row, be sure to make yourself feel like it’s unfair, with practice and good planning it’s more than possible to beat a crowd of opponents even at low level. Exploration leads to much improved combat items, which, with good strategy on your side, lead to mind-blowing bad boy synergy.

It’s not perfect, however. It would be great if battles offered the option to ignore small grunts, and sometimes the game forces single combat on partner battles, which turns a strategic plan into a slogfest more often than not.

The cruel king and the great hero Credit: NIS America / author
The cruel king and the great hero Credit: NIS America / author

Overall, the positives outweigh the negatives, and if you like the genre, then The cruel king and the great hero is still an RPG well worth playing – and also worth checking out, if only to experience the storybook aesthetic and heartbreaking story. I only wish the training wheels had been removed, allowing me to freely explore, skip battles, rush bosses, and die over and over again. I would have liked to test my ability to stack damage and observe weaknesses, instead of having to wear my water wings.

The cruel king and the great hero Credit: NIS America / author
The cruel king and the great hero Credit: NIS America / author

Benefits: Gorgeous art style, heartwarming story, variety of fighting game styles

The inconvenients: Pacing has serious issues, single party battles can suck, needs more options to traverse the world

For fans of: Paper Mario or EarthBound style, with old-school Persona or Romancing Saga combat

7/10: Very good