Something I’ve come to realize more and more clearly as time goes on is just that: time goes on. And the games that were once new become old. Developers that have achieved greatness years past become decades past. Games we cherish nowadays from our favorite franchises have sprinklings of the series’ and titles that came before them, giving ever more nostalgia to gamers from yesteryear. Man… it sucks getting older, doesn’t it?
As one grows in their years they are hopefully growing in experience. The more games played, the more connections one can make to this game or that franchise or this developer versus another. Finding the links between old games and new is oftentimes the precise reason I personally enjoy playing retro games. The nod to a past title, maybe in a character name or location, doesn’t mean much in the overall narrative of the game being played. However, I find myself eating these nuggets of knowledge up any chance I can get. Savoring every morsel of nostalgia, every tidbit of information that makes one go, “Aha, I see what you did there!”, really brings a lot of joy to this old gamer’s heart.
With all that in mind, you might be able to now understand my sheer noob-ness when it comes to playing the original King’s Field. The first person dungeon crawler on the PS1 is sometimes called a progenitor to developer From Software’s later series’ (you may have heard of them: Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls, Bloodborne…. relatively tiny games, right?), but I couldn’t really tell you from personal enjoyment as I’ve never played any of those games. Or rather, I’ve played a small amount of each to realize the intensity and strategy required to defeat the simplest of foes isn’t my cup of video game tea. You can say the same to the King’s Field series as well: I have heard of it for decades, but only just recently sat down to give it a solid chunk of my time.
And wow, was I impressed. This RPG is a throwback, or maybe given it’s 2023 at the time of writing, a throwback throwback to the intensely immersive and difficult dungeon crawling RPGs from the 80s and early 90s. Games like Wizardry or Dungeons and Dragons: Eye of the Beholder come to mind. Game that had you moving one space at a time, and confronting whatever was lurking around the next corner, be it dangerous foe or friendly ally. In these older games damn near everything could kill you, and just getting through a single area was quite a feat. King’s Field is very reminiscent of that, albeit in a very primitive 3D setting.
King’s Field (which pulled a Final Fantasy on North American audiences and is actually the second game in the series, since the first never released (and subsequently the second King’s Field in North America released as King’s Field II despite being the third game in the franchise)) doesn’t pull it’s punches. From the very beginning you just kind of get thrown into a shipwrecked world and aren’t told anything. Hopefully you can find a weapon and some armor soon, because I can guarantee the monsters will find you fast. Slaying and evading and exploring and surviving is the name of the game, and apparently the name of From Software’s game, as they essentially kept this formula for years and somehow made their entire studio’s worth on that concept. Glad that’s worked out for them…
Initially I was skeptical about if I even liked what I was playing. 20 or 30 minutes in I was thinking if it was even worth it; if the grind to kill just one enemy was worthwhile. But that I hit that glorious level up and saw my character grow in significant strength, and I think I was hooked. Leveling up in video games has been such a catalyst for my personal enjoyment of games, and that was on full effect in King’s Field. HP increases, stat bumps, and eventually learning magical spells are the building blocks of a leveling system, and I can say they feel solid here as well. Had the game treated itself in what more modern From Software games have been come to known by it might have actually lost me. However, the traditional leveling system really did wonders to hook me from the early beginnings and the latter halves of my first play session.
I also hypothesize this small sense of familiarity is what made me stick with the game. It had just enough tradition, just enough stuff from past games to make me feel at ease in some aspect of the game. With that foothold in place, I was more capable of braving the rest of the unknown the game threw at me. Be it annoying to hit flying enemies, fast as hell ghost enemies, or even those fire spitting rat things? I don’t even remember, but the point is I was ready to take it on and gain ever more experiences playing a new game. And for that, I was happy.
There’s actually a King’s Field III on the PS2… or wait… technically King’s Field II on the PS1 is actually King’s Field III, and the third game on the PS2 is actually King Field IV in Japan, but… okay, nevermind. There’s another King’s Field game on the PS2 called King’s Field: The Ancient City, and having just now played the PS1 game I’m immediately intrigued by this next generation sequel. Sadly though, it reviewed much lower than the PS1 games, and as such as actually been the last entry in the once mighty series. I wonder if From Software will go back to this one, having its spiritual success Souls series’ taking over the masses these days. Who knows. Maybe one day we’ll get to venture back to the slower paced, yet still creepy and hard as nails world of King’s Field.