Oy, where you off to?
King's Field was Fromsoft's dark fantasy banner title before Demon's Souls and Dark Souls became their new jam. After reading through the taxonomy of dungeon crawlers from Antiquated Game Play we can label this as a first person, real-time, solo dungeon crawler.
So where best to begin, this is as atmospheric a dungeon crawler as you can get. A short intro cinematic sets up the story fairly well. Obviously as you get deeper into the game you learn more about the world, if only just slightly, but there is definitely a slow and steady flow of characters and story to give you something to think about as you push forward in this game.
And really that's always the main goal of a good dungeon crawler: push forward. As you progress you find character after character who have seemingly given up on escaping this ancient city and just wait, hoping for death to be merciful. There's even a soldier you find who can't find his sword. He just sits down and mutters to you about not being able to find his sword.
The land is cursed and your goal is sort of the inverse of nethack, you need to return a valuable mystical artifact to try and set things right. You start the game with nothing but the idol in your inventory and the idol has a description that anyone who has it will suffer. It's a great way to start the game as the player will suffer a lot if they don't pay attention to the world around them.
The game has a great soundtrack, but I really suggest you turn that stuff down and turn the sound effects all the way up. You'll find secret passages by hearing enemies behind them, you'll eventually learn to tell enemies apart by their sound effects - if only slightly.
But the music is amazing, a mix of haunting and tepid pieces that subtly influence the tempo of your dungeoneering. Switching between almost a dirge-like soundtrack and more atmospheric pieces you begin to equate pieces to the places they're from and how great it feels when you finally make your way through a particularly arduous path only to hear the music that lets you know you've finally looped back and opened up a shortcut.
And this game does have that aspect of "run around until you open up a shortcut" that the souls games preserve. Eventually you'll get items that help you warp around the world and it's worth noting how few you really need to get to the different vendors and such with only short walks and it's indicative of actually great game design.
This game has a weird pace though as you get stronger you move through areas much quicker and where it took me several hours to figure out the first few areas eventually you'll be moving through the last zones in less than half an hour a piece. The combat is really tough starting out as it takes forever to swing your sword or charge up a spell, add to that controls and enemy placement that requires kiting and strafing it can be a hard system to adjust to. However as the game progresses and you can do these things quicker the combat gets way more enjoyable.
You don't have a character build like in a Dark Souls. Every level up gives you a little more HP MP and equipment burden. Also you can get more magic and physical power. However these stats can be a bit confusing as they relate to how quickly these bars in the top left corner of the screen fill up. With weapons you can swing before the bar is full but you do less damage and your weapons seem to degrade quicker while with magic you can't use any spells at all until your bar is full. Raising these stats do help you swing bigger weapons more often or recover from using spells quicker, but they don't actually make your spells or weapons stronger. However, to be more confusing, all weapons and spells level up after being used and get stronger. So if you stick with a weapon or spell it will become more effective.
But as I said this system takes a while to get used to and means combat is basically super cheesy in the beginning. You have limited resources and basically don't want to take any unnecessary damage so you kite enemies to the edge of their zone to pick away at them. Yet once you take care of the enemies in an area usually none of them respawn excepting one or so in each area pushing that foreboding and isolated state the game creates so well.
After combat is done though this game has a lot of puzzles to figure out and items to find. Like any dungeon crawler worth its salt you look around for equipment to use and useful items for puzzles. Puzzles aren't stupid at all in this game, really more like obstacles requiring a bit of memory. It's hard to explain. But the puzzles are not weird obstructions that come out of nowhere, it all feels fairly organic.
Also there's that "tough but fair" thing that the souls games have. Though the game does have some drops to your doom throughout a lot of the traps can be survived and escaped from. As always you really want to make sure you save as often as possible and even have saves to roll back to if you are worried about misusing an item.
The game gives you a lot of leeway. Many bosses are skippable, for better or worse, and while there are many spells to find in a playthrough of varying levels of power and utility you're never forced to use or seek out any uber magics. I stuck with about 3 spells for the majority of my playthrough. Outside of the healing spell which you better max out stat.
I whole-heartedly recommend this game. Though it being in first person and having slower combat that a souls game might automatically nix it for many souls fans, if you want a game with lots of atmosphere and takes you on a really great journey this is it.
Possibly a high water mark for this sort of game style it really deserves to be played. I could talk about how I felt when I walked into a certain area the first time, or pontificate on what I think happened to this ancient city beyond what's explicitly stated, but this is a game that players deserve to find out about on their own by playing it. You deserve to fill in the gaps on your own and not have someone else ruin all the great little moments along the way that you can only get by getting stuck and talking to everyone too many times.
But I'll relate one story that explains how different this game is from many RPGs. You get dropped off at the start and find there's a sick woman who you can help. She needs an item that you, as the adventurer, can get from a cave. You go and get it, and give her that item, saving her. Well, she gets out of her sickbed the next time you show up and is sitting at the table in this abandoned mining camp with a graveyard outside her daughter spends all her time in. She thanks you for saving her, but eventually her dialogue just repeats "please leave me alone." You saved her, shouldn't she be happy? She's alive.
But that's the problem, isn't it? Throughout the game you'll meet many more people who sort of end up reflecting this woman's problems back at you. This darkness pulsating out of the ancient city reflects our own darkness, our own abstract horror and while some might see this as a dark game, which it definitely is, the insistence to keep pushing forward to save this world makes it one of the most positive games I've seen.