"Conceptually sound but riddled with technical flaws and a lack of polish, New Little King's Story is a perfect example of the adage 'good idea, bad execution.'"
Finally, another RPG for the Playstation Vita! Why is this such a big deal, you ask? We're eight months into the system's domestic life cycle, but at the time of this writing, we have a measly two reviews in our Vita section. Worse yet, one is a port of four-year-old game, and the other is a remake of a Japanese title that isn't likely to make its way across the Pacific. I hadn't touched my Vita in months, and so it should come as no surprise that I greatly anticipated the arrival of New Little King's Story. Unfortunately, I'm sad to say that my enthusiasm was misplaced, thanks in large part to a poor localization and baffling technical problems. While the game features some engaging core mechanics, the experience is significantly hampered by touchy controls, bland aesthetics, and an absurdly unsteady framerate.
In New Little King's Story, the player controls the titular King Corobo, who is forced to flee his kingdom following a surprise raid by the evil Devil King. After making his escape, Corobo and his advisors settle into a makeshift castle in the countryside and begin planning a counterattack. In order to reclaim his former territory, Corobo must save seven kidnapped princesses and expand his influence across the realm, building a new kingdom in the process. If this all sounds tremendously cliché, that's because it is. The story has little function aside from giving the player a reason to leave the castle. If the tale was populated by memorable characters, this would be forgivable, but that simply isn't the case. Instead, the characters are boring, one-dimensional caricatures of anime stereotypes that never stray from the mold. The always-blushing Princess Apricot loves King Corobo unconditionally for no discernible reason, while advisor Azul is a gloomy swordsman with a not-so-mysterious backstory. I felt the most connection to Pancho, a cow that inexplicably sat in my throne room, because it's hard to be annoying when your only line of dialogue is "moo."
An underwhelming story is the first of many letdowns in New Little King's Story. Another issue is the embarrassingly unsteady graphical engine. The game struggles to render more than a few characters or objects on screen at once, which is absolutely unacceptable for a game that requires the player to command upwards of twenty troops at any given time. The framerate frequently dips so low that the game seems to be playing in slow motion, while objects pop in with wild abandon. Here's the kicker: these graphics are actually worse
than those in Little King's Story. Characters have bland models with stiff animations, landmarks are simplistic and unimaginative, and there's a strange filter over everything that gives the game a washed-out look. Occasional cutscenes featuring some pleasant art break the tedium a bit, but I'd describe the overall art design as "uninspired."
Perhaps the game's biggest failing is its inability to charm the player. With zany enemies like fanged watermelons and areas like a forest full of giant pastries, New Little King's Story is replete with opportunities to make the player laugh, and yet it somehow misses the mark. This is no doubt due to one of the most amateur translations I've seen in years. We're talking mislabeled menus, overly literal dialogue, and grammatical errors aplenty. It's as if an intern ran the Japanese script through Google Translate and had an editor give it a quick once-over before rushing it out the door. It doesn't help that the font is several sizes too small, making text a pain to read. I truly believe that a great script can make a game shine, while a bad script can suck the personality right out of it. New Little King's Story falls squarely into the latter category, and I find it inexcusable. This is why I value competent translations so highly; it could be that companies like XSEED and Atlus have raised my standards to the point where I can no longer tolerate such laziness, but I cannot comprehend why Konami spent so little time polishing this localization.
At its core, New Little King's Story is not a bad game. Its Pikmin-meets-SimCity gameplay structure is surprisingly robust. As King Corobo, the player ventures out with an ever-expanding number of citizens in an effort to defeat monsters, make money, and expand the kingdom. It's a cyclical experience: monsters drop money, which is used to build new structures, which are used to power up citizens, who are used to defeat more monsters and conquer more territory. Bosses are especially fun to take down, as they feature unique attack patterns that require some actual strategy to overcome. They drop the biggest rewards, too, so every victory is something to be celebrated. Watching Corobo's dominion evolve from a tiny shack to a bustling metropolis is really quite satisfying. I'd even go so far as to call it addictive – that is, if the game's technical issues didn't bog down the experience so much.
In addition to the aforementioned graphical problems, an uncooperative camera and finicky controls can compound the player's frustration. The camera sometimes refuses to move when it's too zoomed out, or suddenly becomes fixed upon entering particular areas. It feels clunky and unintuitive. Similarly, if the player tries to have a citizen interact with an object that is too close to Corobo, the citizen will run straight into an invisible wall and miss the target. I quickly learned to back up before attempting to send my soldiers at enemies, but it feels like an artificial handicap rather than a gameplay mechanic.
There is very little to say about the game's soundtrack. Just about everything I can recall hearing was a slightly-arranged piece of classical music. While I am a fan of classical, I don't think it suits the game's chibi art style especially well, and its inclusion struck me as another lazy design decision. I realize that the original game featured a similar music selection, and while the compositions themselves are solid, I was not left with much of an impression. The music is in contrast to cartoonish grunts, boinks, and other sound effects that I found generally irksome, though it could be that my patience for the game is wearing thin at this point. Finally, I would be remiss not to mention the infrequent but awkward English voice acting that was clearly not recorded by native speakers. It's pretty low-quality, but fairly easy to ignore in comparison to the game's other, more glaring problems.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it looks like RPGFans are stuck waiting a little longer for a killer app on the Vita. Conceptually sound but riddled with technical flaws and a lack of polish, this game is a perfect example of the adage "good idea, bad execution." There is no reason why a remake of a three-year-old game should be worse than its predecessor, and yet New Little King's Story takes clumsy backward steps in just about every area. If this "story" is to continue, I would urge the authors to spend a little more time honing their craft before spinning a new tale.