Game: “The Cruel King”
Almost everybody has a favourite childhood book. They come from a time when we’re still learning about the world and our imaginations are almost entirely unfettered by reality, and the characters and settings can make a huge impact on our development and interests. I was always partial to stories about monsters, or more specifically, dragons. Imagine my delight then when Nippon Ichi Software released their adorable children’s book-inspired RPG, The Cruel King and the Great Hero, complete with adorable Dragon King!
At A Glance
|+ Absolutely stunning storybook visuals
+ Memorable characters & heart-warming story
+ Rapid combat system
|– Slow world traversal
– A lot of reused backgrounds
– Side quests all rather samey
|Price (When Reviewed)
|PS5, PS4, Nintendo Switch
The Cruel King and the Great Hero tells the tale of Yuu, a small girl with an overwhelming wish to be a hero. Yuu is being raised by the Dragon King after her father, the last Great Hero, entrusted her care to him before his death. Each day Yuu aids the Dragon King in running the monster kingdom, helping his subjects and secretly trying to build bridges with the distrusting human populace in the world outside. The Dragon King teaches Yuu how to become a hero and allows her on little adventures to test her skills, though he’s always keen to sneak along to keep watch from a distance, as any nervous parent would. The lovely tale takes a turn though, and a revelation rocks the father-daughter relationship, requiring Yuu to overcome a personal tragedy as well as a plethora of enemies on her adventures to save the kingdom.
Stylistically, The Cruel King and the Great Hero is an absolute smash hit. With a mixture of scribbled storyboards to help narrate the plot and beautiful watercolour backgrounds and sprites, the hand drawn style is drop dead gorgeous from start to finish. The palette is bold and eye-catching, with each new area standing out as entirely unique from the last, with the individuality further emphasised by the wonderfully catchy soundtrack. The art style is a perfect combination of function and premise, and each and every backdrop and character would look perfect upon the pages of a children’s book. Unfortunately, many of the backgrounds are used over and again, and with nothing to differentiate one screen from another within the same biome, exploration does become a bit samey as there’s so few noteworthy landmarks to navigate by. None of that takes away from the fact that by the end of my playthrough I had over 250 screenshots saved on my Switch, such is my desire to go back and gawp at the visuals again despite my time with the game being over with.
The story is as saccharine sweet as the visuals and perfectly in keeping with the children’s book premise, though there are some bleaker moments from time to time to hammer home the moral. What deserves particular praise though is the character design, which is stellar. Each character displays a unique and consistent voice and I really got attached to the Dragon King, Yuu and the tribes inhabiting the monster village throughout the story.
As you progress through the story you’re treated to some beautifully voiced Japanese narration too, though sadly, it was mostly wasted on me, since my understanding of Japanese is incredibly limited (read: nil). While the narrator’s voice is lovely to listen to and adds a certain otherworldliness to the plot, it did make me wish there was an option for an English dub to help bring that bedtime story nostalgia to the western audience as well.
The gameplay in The Cruel King and the Great Hero follows a pretty traditional turn-based RPG script, with Yuu and one travelling companion navigating the overworld until you’re faced with an unseen random encounter and you’re whisked away to the battle screen. The host of enemies you’ll face is varied enough and like the characters, wonderfully designed, and their individual cries are particularly characterful as well. There’s only a few character statistics to worry about in battle and while there’s a simplicity to the combat that more experienced RPG players might find lacking, I found the ease and speed of the battles incredibly refreshing.
Yuu and her companion can attack, use special abilities or items if they choose to fight rather than run away, and by including a cursor memory function you’re able to select the best course of action and idly hammer the confirm button to use the same actions turn after turn as your team repeatedly wails on the enemies. And should you get a little overzealous with that confirm button, there’s a handy little timeframe between finalising your actions and the turn taking place where you can cancel and go back to selecting something else. It’s the tiniest feature but one that I immediately wanted to see included in every other RPG until the end of time; I cannot tell you how many times I’ve picked the wrong action in an RPG by being impatient! Keeping up the theme of speed and ease, there’s no long, drawn out attack animations to slow down the battles, and you’ll find that you can wade through a tonne of fights in no time at all which keeps the combat fresh. It wasn’t until nearing the end of the game that I even started to find the battles a bit tiresome, and used the ‘Monsterbane’ item to ward off some encounters. But in fairness, at that point in the game Yuu was crushing the baddies with a few hits and I didn’t need the EXP anyway, so it just sped things up by not fighting every few steps.
There’s plenty of simple status effects to keep you on your toes, as well as some fun mechanics for attacking groups of enemies that are aligned next to one another in rows or columns as well. I particularly liked that alongside a standard elemental trait that could see monsters taking modified damage, each creature also had a specific weakness that could see them stunned if you managed to take advantage of it. Some of the weaknesses are straight forward while a few are a little off the wall. For example, there are flower enemies who you can stun by simply blowing their petals away with a wind attack, but other attention-seeking enemies will become stunned if you ignore them for a few turns in a row. It’s rather fun learning what each monster’s weakness is and trying to work them into your battle plans, though you can get by without them if you choose to. I don’t think there’s anything especially groundbreaking in the battle system here, but everything you get has been crafted to be easy to use and quick to navigate, and I’ll personally take a robust and rapid system over a more complicated and in-depth one any day.
One of the few problems with The Cruel King and the Great Hero is the speed at which you navigate the overworld, in that it’s painfully slow. There’s a system where Yuu walks everywhere until she’s a high enough level to start cruising past the monsters, at which point she’ll run through the area instead, and whether you walk or run has an effect on the encounter rate too. While I liked the idea of knowing how much danger I was in while I explored and that I could manipulate how often I’d get into fights by walking around, the traversal speed just wasn’t quick enough and it made getting around feel pretty lethargic.
The navigation speed particularly becomes a burr when you’re trying to complete the side quests later in the game, where you’ll be sent all over the map in search of various items for potions and other such tropes. While you do have a fast travel option, there’s only certain points on the map available to you, and wandering through screen after screen at such a slow pace is more than a little tiresome, especially when almost every side quest is a rather uninspired fetch-quest for somebody in town. That said, I’d recommend completing as many of the side missions as you can muster, because you’ll not only be granted some pretty decent equipment options as rewards, but Yuu will also be granted stars for completing her ‘Acts of Kindness’. These stars can be spent on your Collection screen, and unlock concept sketches and other behind the scenes tidbits that make all the traipsing around more than worthwhile if you’re someone who likes to peek behind the curtain.
It’s been a long time since I played an RPG that I enjoyed as much as The Cruel King and the Great Hero. The mix of charming storybook visuals, memorable characters and sweet plotline is simply wonderful. In combination with a rapid-fire combat system and some quirky (if never groundbreaking) mechanics, and a host of interesting enemies, this was an experience that pulled me along from start to finish and I had me smiling all the way – I’d recommend it in a heartbeat.
In the interest of full disclosure, the publisher provided VGamingNews with a copy of the game in order to conduct this review.