If Le Morte d’Arthur is considered a classic in the world of literature, then King’s Bounty is not only a classic amongst RPGs, but all of gaming. King’s Bounty has withstood the test of time. Go on, find a copy of the Genesis version, or whichever of the several versions are out there, and try it out. I dare you to not enjoy it.
But this review isn’t about King’s Bounty. This review is about King’s Bounty: Armored Princess. True, the first “real” successor was King’s Bounty: The Legend, and while that game was an inspired success, it suffered from a few major flaws that held it back. Now, Armored Princess takes everything that was good about The Legend, and not only fixes these flaws perfectly, but shows continued improvement to the formula that the original KB laid out.
Graphics / Sound
Veggies first, cake later (yes, we’re eating beans and cake for dinner). If you have read my review of KB:TL, you know that I praised the graphics and sound reasonably, but not with unbridled fanfare. I say this because I can’t add much to that! This game serves almost entirely like an expansion, so not much has been added to the graphics and sound. The developers added some new artwork, and the additions stand out. It’s clear that a new artist hopped on board. Of course, as the title implies, the protagonist is a princess. Would I call her armored? Eh, I suppose, but, honestly, she has got to be the least practically armored warrior / paladin / mage (especially mage) ever. Other than the new artwork, not much has changed. New units mean new graphics there, but everything has remained the same, which isn’t a bad thing. However, fans may feel gypped by the lack of new visuals. As for sound and music, I did not notice anything new, but there may have been a new song. This uncertainty should speak volumes about how unmemorable the tunes were in the original.
I have to congratulate the developers on one addition: You are no longer symbiotically attached to your horse! While trudging around caves or mines, you are forced to move on foot. Though, I’d be lying if I said the tradition of a pseudo–centaur protagonist wasn’t a little endearing.
No complaints here, this game is bug free. Movement is not only more fluid, but collision with the environment is a lot smoother. Thankfully, gone are the days of getting stuck against a river or invisible dwarf. Plus, escaping enemies on the overworld is a viable option with some skill. Fighting battles, working the menus, and clicking units on the field are all intuitive and easy to do. Also, in this game, you might get some use out of the zoom feature. (Wink, wink.)
King’s Bounty: Armored Princess takes place in the same world as The Legend (TL)–for the first few minutes, anyway. You’re Amelia, the god–born daughter of the king of Darion. Baal, a demon from TL, has come back for revenge on the home of Bill Gilbert, the hero and player character from TL, and threatens to destroy your home. However, Bill is nowhere to be found, so Amelia ventures into another world / dimension to find him. And, here, your adventure begins.
One thing is clear: The writers were busy with this game! Unlike KB:TL, AP features long and exhaustive text that sometimes left me… well, exhausted. This is both good and bad. The writers definitely attempted to create a living, breathing world with its history of wars and legends. However, the game feels like a buffet in that you get a little bit of this, a little bit of that, and while you’re full at the end, you’ve got a headache and you’re hungry again an hour later. I didn’t especially like any of the characters I was helping, and no one felt real. Not even the recurring characters from the original game. The extent to which I was excited was limited to the idea that the developers were focusing on continuity, and creating a series within the same universe.
However, while the game certainly puts forth more effort (and content) in terms of writing, I was still left unsatisfied. Why? During my travels of mouse clicks, emulating the clickity–clackity of my horse, I thought and thought, and then it hit me: All the action’s already happened! The rightful king’s family has already been murdered, the dwarf king has already been betrayed, and Baal has already assaulted your entire home world. Unfortunately, all the good stuff has already happened. So, what do we, the loyal fans, get? Walls of text (exposition) detailing a war, and how we have to murder the guy who framed the Duke of Delaware. Oh, okay. If you say so, guy.
To be fair, AP doesn’t lend itself to the kind of active storytelling that most RPGs showcase. What I mean is that the battles are turn–based, there’s absolutely no active element other than outrunning enemies on the world map, and accepting missions in order to police the world imply that something bad has already happened. Armored Princess is the kind of serious game that is more relaxed and reminiscent of a beer–and–pretzel board game. Yes, you’re killing things and saving the world, but AP makes no attempt at getting you emotionally involved. The entire draw is the gameplay; the story is a much smaller motivation to continue on your quest – it’s all about the battles. Does it excuse walls of text that could easily be skipped over with minimal loss in enjoyment? No, but context is important, so I want to make this known: The game’s not out to pull on your heartstrings.
That said, an atmosphere is adequately established, and the writing is done much better than in The Legend, so, major kudos for the improvements there. Now, find yourself a quasi–albino, slender girl wearing laurels to strum a lute next to you while you tap on your keyboard, and the ambiance is complete!
When fans of the original King’s Bounty hear about the series revisited, they’re not excited about the possibilities of an epic tale, or cinematics of dragons sieging a castle from above while catapults assault the walls (yeah, because we haven’t seen that before—ever). No, they immediately contemplate the possibilities in game design, or at least I did, anyway. Whatever the case, King’s Bounty IS the battle system. Tried and true, you command an army of five groups of units, be they fairies, dragons, dwarves, or drones. Of course, several spells are at your disposal, and the rage system is reused.
Rage works a little differently, however, in AP. You choose a dragon companion who eventually learns nine different abilities to use in combat, depending on how much damage you deal or receive. Less emphasis is put on resting, while more is put on having a secondary source of magic. Unfortunately, the rage–spells available to you in AP are less imaginative, and the designers clearly did not think outside the box. If you were a fan of the creativity in rage skills of TL, then you might be disappointed, as well. However, this isn’t to say that battles aren’t fun, and that the rage system is unwelcomed and unappreciated. It just that takes such a big step backward from The Legend, and that confuses me.
Fortunately, more spells were added, and some balancing has been done. Also, cheap tactics from The Legend can’t be used here, which forces the player to think more critically about what they can do with their chi–ish arsenal.
Speaking of cheap, the battles avoid gimmicks entirely not just in spell usage, but actual units. Certain units were exploitable throughout much of The Legend, whereas, in AP, I didn’t find any particular unit overpowering. Relying too much on ranged units will get you slaughtered quickly; while having all melee units will crowd the field, making focus–fire an impossible strategy. Oh, and don’t think one ranged, one magic, and three melee units is a formula for success, either. The depth and abundance of units in Armored Princess demands quite a bit of thought, as no units are superior to every other unit. Of course, the amount of thought required depends on the difficulty you choose.
Options are plentiful in AP. While choosing difficulty in an RPG is a bit of a novelty, AP offers some old and new features that ensure the game is more than just hexagonal battles. Like the previous installment, finding a companion to don some armor for you and offer various stat upgrades is available, but this time it’s a male. No kids, either, as that would make it difficult to throw on some platemail, let alone battle. Digging is just as gimmicky as ever, but feels less important in AP. As for new stuff, achievements rear their ugly / awesome head in this game. Love ’em or hate ’em, achievements are hot in the gaming industry. And, really, as long as they don’t step into the foreground or needlessly complicate things, are they all that bad? This reviewer appreciates them, and found them an exciting addition. Just don’t fall into the trap of mindlessly casting certain spells in combat just to get an achievement.
One last thing: The tutorial is astoundingly improved upon. One of my biggest gripes with TL was the tutorial, or lack thereof. Well, the developers made sure that wasn’t a problem in Armored Princess. You can be rest assured – everything is explained in adequate detail.
King’s Bounty is a timeless classic in gaming, and King’s Bounty: Armored Princess does it justice. The developers stoke the fires of what made the original great by both adding generous amounts of content while staying true to what makes King’s Bounty amazingly fun, even today: the gameplay. And although the style of storytelling isn’t going to win any awards, Armored Princess has, indeed, made grand strides toward creating a living, breathing world.
This isn’t to say that King’s Bounty: The Legend didn’t accomplish much of the same, but AP is enhanced in just about every way. Does that mean you should pass The Legend up and go for this game? Well, you needn’t worry about missing out on too many references, and if this is your first look at King’s Bounty, I’d definitely say go for this one. However, if you simply want more, more, more, like I do, then go for The Legend. Just don’t expect to be as impressed. I think the publishers are painfully aware of the glaring flaws in TL, since the game is but a tiny footnote on the King’s Bounty web site, almost as if The Legend is the malformed first experiment that eats ham hocks in the attic.
While the gaming world has become fixed on looking for innovation, AP tosses those expectations aside, and builds on what has worked. At the end of the day, if new doesn’t work, what’s the point in playing the game? Although creating something new that works deserves resounding applause, in this industry, it’s all about fun, and there’s no shame in returning to the classics if you can do it right. I’ve said all I can to praise this game, so I’ll just offer this fantastic piece of work the greatest compliment a reviewer can offer: I can’t wait for the sequel.