Whoever first said “less is more” clearly did not play King’s Bounty: The Legend – nevermind that whoever said that is probably dead and gone. Might and Magic fans, and, more pertinently, ye olde King’s Bounty fans should rejoice if they have not picked up this gem. While the game didn’t catch too many people’s eyes when it snuck its way onto store shelves, those who haven’t been stricken with ADHD due to today’s fast-paced, active gameplay trends should give it a double take.
KB:TL does not try to win you over with a moving plot, romance, or end-of-the-world scenario. Nor are you the child of a single parent, ostracized by your hometown, or constantly taunted by a fellow classmate stricken with douchebaginitis. Nay, you are a prodigy youth who just happens to earn the favor of the king, despite his better judgment. Crap. Well, although the game manages to dodge most of the clichés, it’s not necessarily for the best. For those who just want turn-based strategy goodness, this is fine, but if you’re looking for a tear jerker or inspiring story, you won’t find it here.
After your teacher/parental figure gives you your last test, he recommends you to a skeptical, but good, king. This king assigns you the role of “treasure searcher.” That’s right, you are the royal treasure searcher. While the title begs for a little creativity, there can be no confusion. At first, you are assigned small tasks and these lead to more serious ventures as you gain promotions. Nothing too climactic pops up until much later in the game, and when they do, you won’t find them motivating. The game tries to offer interesting sidequests and lore, but the writing itself leaves nothing to the imagination and oftentimes feels like an excuse to send you on bounty missions and fetch quests. While the components for a well-developed world are there, they fail to be fleshed out, but part of this could be due to the poor translation.
Okay, maybe “poor” isn’t the right word. This game is in dire need of editing. Initially, gamers may be tempted to just stop playing before they fight any real battles, simply because the game’s atrocious editing makes it feel like a hack-job. Don’t let this scare you away. For some reason, the beginning phase of the game is especially butchered, but it clears up somewhat quickly. Eventually, you will either notice them less, or just stop reading the text entirely.
In my case, I continued to read the dialogue, hoping that I might be swayed in favor of the writing. Like the shoddy editing, maybe the writing itself would improve. To my surprise, the game threw me a couple laugh-out-loud moments. Admittedly, these are few, and maybe that unexpected glint of humor is why these appear so funny. Will you see them? Probably. The game tries to follow a BioWare-esque method of storytelling, where you can choose how you respond to virtually every NPC you encounter. Unfortunately, what you choose has little to no influence on the game or quests themselves. Typically, if you’re curious enough, you’ll find yourself starting up a new conversation just to see what the other options yield.
Fans of the old King’s Bounty will absolutely fall in love with this game. KB:TL manages to maintain all of the core gameplay components and builds on them perfectly. Every addition fleshes out the strategy aspect, and makes nearly every unit feel unique and significant. In this way, comprising the perfect team of five can seem deceptively easy, but the joy of variety and customization will ensure that fans of the first installment won’t be left wanting. Well, except for the successor. Or a replay on a higher difficulty setting.
However, getting started may feel like you’re dropped on a deserted island with nothing but a small knife and your underwear. Although a tutorial is offered, it teaches you very little. This is probably the game’s weakest point, which is both a huge sigh of relief and groan. Oh, and don’t bother cracking open the instruction booklet; you won’t find any help there. The good news is that gamers who tend to skip tutorials won’t mind this much, but when simple key commands and interface explanations are almost completely omitted, that’s just unforgivable. I was learning new things about the interface and commands almost halfway into the game – and the game’s freakin’ long!
Yes, long. The game doesn’t offer an in-game clock, but I’d say that the game ran me 60 to 80 hours (it tells you how many “days” you’ve played, but finding an accurate conversion is difficult). Fair warning, I’m almost OCD in my completionism. Whether length is a good or bad thing is up to taste. If you just played through a huge, epic adventure, and don’t want your next game to be too taxing, this is a good game to hack away at for weeks or months. The best part is that, while the gameplay changes very little over the course of your adventure, it is addictive. Battles are the centerpiece of the game, but exploration plays a huge role, as well. In fact, I’d say that about a fourth of your time playing will be on exploration alone. Unfortunately, some of this includes backtracking, but the game tries to remedy this by offering alternative forms of transportation. Also, the game is somewhat linear. Unlike the original, where you are free to travel practically anywhere you want, gaining access to certain areas requires key quest completion, and even if you go to advanced areas, unbeatable enemies can restrict passage.
What KB:TL adds to its ancient predecessor is hexagons, quests, a much more fleshed out spell book, a multitude of new and colorful units, and rage. This translates to depth. Mmm, substance. Quests are in great supply throughout the game, so you rarely feel like you’re purposelessly roaming, but the relationships you build with these villagers and whatnot end here. Don’t bother returning to previous locales to see how your old friend in the cemetery is doing, or what the humble hunter in the forest has caught. Nothing changes, and nothing new is added. A shame, yes, but this can be overlooked on account of the rest of the new flavors offered.
Rage is like spells for the less magically inclined (read: low intellect). The more you exchange blows, the more rage you get. Using abilities expends rage, and the cycle continues. Simple, but executed well. While the variety is lacking, and rage isn’t offered straight away, the creativity in abilities must be saluted. The same can be said for the plethora of spells you’ll find and learn while you scour colorful countrysides. And marshes. And Hell.
This game is beautiful, but probably not for the reasons you’re thinking. Its greatest asset? Color. Perhaps it’s a sign of the times, but even when I think about games of old, it’s hard to remember many games that enjoyed such grand strokes of the palette. On the flip side of the coin, however, some of the design is just… strange. For example, when you hop on a huge ship to sail across the ocean blue, the barrels and crates on the ship will jostle around with the bouncing and rocking of the ship. Fantastic detail! But, uh… who’s at the helm? No one. The wheel is turning by itself. Or maybe you’re just chaotically letting the currents take you to your new land. Every single time.
Another one of my gripes is the hero. Whoever you decide to pick, the visuals are practically the same, and that’s fine, but what is not fine is the way the horse you’re riding moves. While in motion, the graphics are adequate, but once you reach your destination, you come to a full stop, and the horse’s legs just freeze in a still, straight position, like a toy horse. This is awkward and jarring, but perhaps that’s just me. Rolling to a stop or a little idle shifting by the horse would do the trick.
Despite these complaints, I cannot emphasize enough how gorgeous the game looks. Just in terms of looking at the game, you’re immersed. The game truly feels like a big world with interesting homes for its inhabitants. This certainly helped to motivate me to explore, and definitely alleviated the arduousness of backtracking. What’s more, the ability to fully rotate the camera at almost any angle earns the graphic designers further kudos, with few blemishes to be found.
The game is fluid, fully rotatable, and has lots of little buttons to poke at all over the place. As mentioned before, you may not know what some of these buttons even do until you experiment a little or look at a FAQ. I, myself, could not figure out how to swap units in and out of my party and had to look it up. The method was kind of common sense, and I facepalmed, but to offer no explanation anywhere, not even the instructions, is just plain forgetful.
Another grievance with the controls is traversing the land, only to get stuck on an invisible tree in the swamp or dwarf in the mines. You could literally ride on the horse you’re superglued to through one area almost a hundred times, and then the one time you veer too close to the river, bam, you get stuck. Before you know it, you’re frantically clicking, trying to figure out how you even got stuck in the first place, and then you’re free. This isn’t too time-consuming or alarming, and I never had to reload a save, but the fact that it happens is annoying.
Aside from these complaints, everything works without a hitch. Battles are smooth and easy to work, and everything is clickable where it should be clickable. The oh-so common and impractical zoom option is also available, but without a female protagonist, who needs it? Oh wait, there’s always Armored Princess…
The music is pleasant, but not memorable. It almost feels like they were trying not to take any risks, which, in a sense, works. On one hand, no jarring, annoying tunes pry their way into your head or burst the bubble of immersion, but on the other hand, only one tune comes across as striking. That particular piece, however, is extraordinarily elegant, and the singing has a particularly medieval feel to it. All of the other sounds, like your dying allies or a celebrating, earthy cyclops are appropriate.
King’s Bounty: The Legend certainly has its fair share of problems, but what it does right, it does perfectly. If you can get past the ample supply of typos and don’t mind stumbling your way through the beginning, you’ll definitely enjoy this game. Fans of the first King’s Bounty will find it difficult to say, “Meh, most of these changes are alright, but they coulda done without that.” Of course, after nearly twenty years, it’d be hard to not make improvements.