The Ancient City, by MandelBrot Julia

I had fun writing this, hope you enjoy reading it.

Ok, let's get this out of the way first; if you've never played a King's Field game, do yourself a favor and rent this game before you buy it. We're talking about a love-it-or-hate-it affair here. Much like a signed photo of Leonardo DiCaprio, either you will fall in love with it or you will not understand why someone would waste their money on such a thing. Well, I'm of the first persuasion (concerning this game, not the dude from Titanic).
This is a first-person RPG. It is first-person like Doom or Quake, yet it is an RPG in every sense of the word. You fight monsters (in real-time, not turn-based) to gain experience points and become stronger, you need to eat strange plants to regain health, there's way more weapons and armor than you'll ever need or use, and, for some reason, almost every single monster carries gold. You get the picture.

I don't play games for story, but some do, so here goes: All you need to know is, don't sell the idol in your possession. You are returning the idol to where it came from, so to lose it would make your entire journey pointless, no? Yes, the idol is a "cursed" piece of wood (or ivory or stone) that causes kingdoms to fall, cute critters to turn into evil monsters, and intelligent people to vote for Bush. I mean, we're talking CURSED!
The beautiful thing about the storyline is that it is made up almost entirely of subplots, thus making it an optional feature. You could take the time to do research on the different races of the land, or you can devote your playtime to kicking some buttocks.

I LOVE the controls. You want complex? Go play a Descent clone that has more commands than can be assigned to the control buttons. The controls are near-perfect. Direction pad to move, shoulder buttons to look up/down and strafe. That's all you need. The analog sticks do something, but I never use them so I don't know what. Why, when the controls are already perfect as is? Actually, NEAR perfect as I said before. I would have included a jump button. But hey, that's me.

Game play
Everything is slow. Get this through your head now, before you play the game. This is surrealism, not commercialism. The emphasis is on atmosphere, not action. You want non-stop action? There are ten million other titles for you to choose from; Have fun. This is for people who want something DIFFERENT. You will WALK through this game, not run. Your sword will take 4.6 seconds to swing from the top of the screen to the bottom. You will wait ten seconds for the gauge to refill itself before striking again.
Why is this fun to me? Because it all works together to draw you into its world. Without these elements, the gloomy, 'atmospheric' angle of the game wouldn't work.

Bonus Payoff:
Because of the grogginess, there are NO LOADING TIMES in the game.
Anyhoo, the emphasis of the game play is not combat, it is exploration. You heard me, NOT COMBAT. I mean, the combat is a huge aspect of the game, it's just not the POINT of it. The point is to discover. There are tons of items to find here, many of which can only be found as secrets. You can search the walls to find either hidden compartments, doors or traps. Sometimes secret doors will lead to entire new areas to explore, leading to more secret areas.

What can I say? Astonishing. Gorgeous. Breathtaking, in fact. This does not try to be photo realistic because it is not trying to emulate our world; it creates a completely new world. It is, however, very detailed and realistic. The clouds are perpetually rolling and morphing. The light sources are haunting and moody. For having a visual scheme that revolves around grays and browns, there is an impressive array of colors that blend into the scenery. The architecture is creative, with crumbling stone walls and uneven caves, etc. Almost every aspect adds to the element of despair that this series is so good at creating.

Creatures, Monsters and Magic:
Cos, really, this is what makes or breaks a game for me. Why am I going to play several different levels with the same five enemies and only a couple of weapon upgrades (coughalientrilogycough)? So here's the scoop:
There are more monsters here than you can shake an analog stick at. There's something like 80, or some ridiculous number. And this game doesn't completely rely on the age-old RPG trick of giving the same enemy design different colors and calling it a different enemy. Here you will find creepy-crawly bugs, skeleton warriors, huge stone golems, violent apparitions, flying, fireball-breathing dragons and plenty of bosses.
Armor? Weapons? Jewelry? Yeah, you might say that. Try seven-piece armor sets, including helmet, body, arms, legs, shield, pendant and bracelet. Try literally dozens of swords, daggers, clubs, axes, bow & arrows. Yeah, you'll be busy for awhile if you expect to collect everything in the game.
As for the magic, most are pretty standard to the King's Field series, with a few new additions. They start off simple, but get powerful enough to make you feel like a god. And they look great.
One of the most noteworthy enhancements of the game is the ability to level up both weapons and magic. Hit something over the head enough times and your weapon will become more powerful. One of the OTHER most noteworthy enhancements of the game is the durability system. That's right, that rapier will dull down after stabbing that stone golem forty thousand times. They don't break though, which is good.

As stated earlier a couple of times (in fact, I'm sure you're getting tired of hearing me say it), this game is about atmosphere. The audio is no exception. There are no crescendo-ing symphonies to be found here, only moody pieces consistent in their pacing. We're talking blankets of woeful organ complimented by an agonizingly slow, hollow harpsichord. And then we're talking a subtle-but-bouncy bass line popping in out of nowhere to make you bob your head in silent acknowledgment. And yes, all of this is again a good thing. Somehow this all fits together in the grand scheme of all things doom-n-gloomy. Robert Smith would be proud.
The sound effects are pretty decent, but it is the way that they are handled that really matter. They are not placed incidentally, but can be important for learning the whereabouts of an unseen foe. And they are sometimes downright creepy.
Did I mention that this game was all about atmosphere?

Well, that depends on what kind of person you are. I wrote a positive review of Pokemon Channel and have no interest in playing Final Fantasy. I prefer instrumentals to vocals and smooth flavors to spicy. I not only sat through, but enjoyed "Unbreakable".
What I'm trying to say that if you like mellow gaming thick with (here it comes again) atmosphere, chances are you will like this. If you prefer jalapenos on your pizza, this may not be for you.

Overall (finally!):
I give this game a 9 out of 10. It has its share of faults and glitches. There are a couple of areas where the game stutters. Enemies can hit through walls. I find the durability system to be more of a chore than an enjoyment enhancer. However, the cons do not come close to outweighing the pros. Simply put, I love this game.



© 2004