Wednesday, November 11, 2009

King's Island 2

I'm by no means a big RPG player. Perhaps I just don't have the patience, but computer RPGs have just never been able to keep my attention for very long. Unless it's something more original than "Thou must taketh thy longsword and slay the beastmen of Krignerak etc.," I have a hard time getting into them. Still, there have been a few RPGs over the years that caught my eye and kept me interested for more than ten minutes, largely due to their accessible gameplay and interesting stories. One such game was a Flash RPG called King's Island, which had you control a hirsute berserker across an idyllic countryside, beating the snot out of farmers and trying to locate the big bad guy as well as some pants. There was more to it than that, but not a lot, and I actually found myself engrossed in the whole thing.

Then King's Island 2 was released, and it was like the most beautiful woman in the world planting a kiss on your lips before kneeing you in the crotch.

King's Island 2 picks up where the first one left off. Our hero has stupidly jumped into a vortex that sends him through time and space to a Hell dimension, where a magician with an exposed skull named Kottom welcomes him as the Chosen One, the one who will set the prisoners of this world free. So far, so samey. But the wizard does grant you the power of a warrior mage, and that's got to be cool, right? I mean, who wouldn't want the brute strength of a melee warrior combined with the mystical knowledge of a powerful mage?

It doesn't work like that, though. It's not that you can play as warrior and mage; you really have to decide between the two classes. And speaking as someone who doesn't play a ton of RPGs, mages suck balls. Maybe that's a little harsh, but in my experience the magical characters have always been the weakest of any group, constantly sucking on mana potions so they can hopefully stay relevant. It might say more about me than I'd like to admit, but I've always preferred playing as a warrior. I'm not the type of person who stands back and attacks from afar; I enjoy getting in there with my battleaxe and splitting heads. So excuse me if I decide to forego your poxy spells.

Except I don't really have that choice. Oh, sure, I could play through the game as a warrior, if I really want to. But here's what happens if you decide to do that:

Gang raped by undead soldiers. Nice.

Aside from the occasional sword, you will find nothing for your warrior guise. No armour, no other weaponry, nothing to help build up your melée strength whatsoever. What you do find are lots of potions, clearly designed to make your mage persona as strong as possible. I call shenanigans on that bullcrap.

Anyway, Kottom sends you off on your first mission, to retrieve the Flower of Knowledge that will help him remember how he can get you home. What follows is an aimless wander around dark grey streets that all look the same, shooting blue energy orbs at monsters who seem to appear out of thin air. You have no idea where to go, walking in every direction, occasionally entering new areas where even more drab landscapes and unoriginal skeleton creatures await. One of the things that most annoyed me about the first King's Island game was the lack of a map or any other discernible way to figure out where you were going. It's a problem they haven't fixed in the sequel, but now it's even worse, because at least in King's Island 1 it was largely bright and colourful. This just looks like every other dungeon-based RPG in existence.

I literally found the flower by accident. I just happened to walk by and spotted it on the ground, right there in the first area. Can you imagine how pissed off you'd be if you travelled through numerous areas, slaying dozens of evil beings, only to come back and find the bloody thing was right there, almost at the start of the God damn game? You could easily miss the flower, as it's only just brighter than the surrounding scenery, and considering some of the weird crap you pass on your journey it would be really easy to not give it a second glance.

So I took the stupid flower back to Kottom, who then tells me I have to go find some other wizard, who'll tell me how I can start breaking the seal that keeps Kottom trapped in a pentangle. And then I upgrade to Level 2. That's right - I wandered around for fifteen minutes and killed everything in my path, but I couldn't level up until I brought this flower back to Kottom. Sure, nothing stops me from levelling up once I've gained enough experience points after that, but it's still military grade BS if ever I saw it.

Oh, and if that wasn't enough, every time you go back to an area you've previously cleared of bad guys, all of the monsters respawn in the exact same places they were last time. I can understand why you'd have creatures respawn - no one wants to have to trudge through empty room after empty room - but seriously, all of them? And every time you come back? This means that if you struggle and fight and manage to defeat a powerful enemy, something that drained you of energy, spells and mana, you'll have to fight that same enemy all over again when you next return to that area.

And you meet some real bastards in this game, really quickly. I was continuing my blind search through this giant Hell world when I bumped into not one, but two soldiers who were invincible to everything. I threw every spell and incantation I had at these assholes and they took it like I was attacking them with a fly swatter. And let me tell you, some of those spells cost a lot of mana. But that's OK, because your health and mana automatically replenish themselves over time - as long as you're standing still. I didn't really have that luxury, so what I ended up doing was running in a circle as these two pricks chased after me, using as many of the piss poor health and mana potions as I could, depleting my inventory of any worthwhile items. And even then I had to give up and retreat back to an easier area.

But at least they weren't the dark mages. Oh, let me tell you, I fired poisoned darts and fire lances at them for a grand total of one hit point! So I was left to just run around even more, trying to avoid their attacks, while all the time skeleton warriors and archers were turning me into Swiss cheese. Eventually I ran out of mana altogether and had no choice but to change into warrior mode, which went about as well as you'd expect.

For those of you interested, I did reach the other wizard on at least one occasion. After boring me to tears with what I think was an attempt on the writer's part at humour, the wise old wizard started listing about a dozen items that I had to obtain for him. At first I thought this was another joke, but no - you actually do have to find all of these things. Then, assuming you can find him again, you have to go back, at which point you'll no doubt be sent on another contrived scavenger hunt.

I guess this is why I don't play many RPGs - I'll run around to a certain extent, but don't send me halfway across the planet for a friggin' unicorn hoof, only to tell me I got the wrong one. What fun I found in King's Island has been completely squeezed out of its sequel, leaving a drawn-out, laborious affair that doesn't allow you half the customisation it promises. If you really like playing as a mage and have the patience to work your way through the confusing maze of dull grey city streets, then maybe you'll really enjoy King's Island 2. Just don't expect an invitation to my guild.

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