GDC 18: Hands-On Preview: For The King (Switch)

For fun and country!

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 03/22/2018 11:00 Comment on this     ShareThis

I’ll admit, I’m not totally big on procedurally-generated content in my video games. At its worst, randomized game elements can make the experience feel disjointed and glaringly artificial. Lesser studios seem to lean on procedurally-generated content in lieu of a strong vision for what they want their games to be about and, ultimately, the finished product and fans both end up suffering. Thankfully, For The King, published by Curve Digital, is shaping up to be an example of how to do this sort of game the right way.

For The King has had an interesting journey from conception to realization. It started with a very successful Kickstarter campaign back in 2015. The original vision for the project was to create a tabletop board game, but that eventually gave way to the video game that’s hurtling towards release on Switch. For The King draws from a number of different genres and styles, hoping to merge them all into a unique, coherent package that will set it apart. My time with the game revealed a confident mixture of JRPG combat, strategy, roguelike elements, and more, resulting in a delightful first impression that has me stoked to play the finished product.

Before I launch into the gameplay, I’d like to take a moment to say that the visuals in For The King are a breath of fresh air that I couldn’t take my eyes off of. In today’s video game industry, there’s a tendency to go “retro” by merely slapping some 8-bit pixels on the screen and going 2D. It’s nice to see, of course, but after the thousandth platformer that’s aped the style of old NES games, the gimmick is starting to wear a little thin. For The King has avoided this predicament by going old-school in a different way by emulating the look of an entirely different but now no less retro era: the days of Nintendo 64!

When’s the last time you saw a new game boldly showing off its polygons on-screen? I can’t think of many outside of Rextro in Yooka-Laylee, but in that situation it was more a gag than anything else. Developer Iron Oak Games is embracing the aesthetics of the late 90s and early 2000s, but with a twist: while the polys are indeed visible, gone are the crude geometries and overly jagged edges that are a hallmark of the halcyon days of 3D gaming, replaced with much smoother textures and more detailed character models, among other changes. Throw in a color palette that heavily reminded me of Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light on DS, and For The King is pushing boundaries when it comes to visual design.

So it’s pretty, but what else does For The King bring to the table? Glad you asked! It brings a lot. For starters, while I didn’t get to play hours upon hours of the campaign, what I did experience felt far more deliberate than the garden variety procedural title. For The King‘s world is exquisitely detailed, with lots of items, enemies, locations, and more to uncover. Everything is seamlessly woven together and as I trekked out for the first time with my squad of heroes, I legitimately felt like I was entering a real world. Speaking of the heroes, it was a delight to not be greeted for the millionth time with the generic knights and wizards typical of an RPG in a medieval setting. For The King instead introduces character classes more in line with the everyday people of that time, like a hunter, for instance.

Your crew is also highly customizable. Skin tone, gear, gear color, and more are all able to be modified to a player’s liking. What’s more, items and gear unlocked and equipped in-game are actually reflected on the character, which is always a bonus in an RPG. As Art Director Gord Moran and Game Designer Colby Young pointed out, when a character ventures into a desert area to explore, they wanted him or her to actually look like they’d been there. With such a beautiful graphical style to bask in, I greatly enjoyed seeing which items I’d come across and watching them alter the look of each character.

The game world is explored tile by hexagonal tile. Much like a strategy game, players have a limited zone of movement during each turn. Hit a tile on the grid and you can set up camp to heal, or randomly encounter a hidden enemy, and so on. When it’s time to battle, the action switches to a more traditional JRPG style. Well, at least from a cursory view. One touch that pushes For The King in a different direction (and speaks to its board game roots) is the ability to focus. Every character has a success and fail rate for a given action or attack in their repertoire. The game will show what percentage chance the character has to “roll” successfully and pull off the given action or attack. The number of “rolls” varies, but your odds can be improved by focusing.

Each member of the party has a certain number of focus points to call upon. If a given move requires four “rolls” be made successfully in order for the maximum effect to be achieved, a player can elect to utilize a focus point to ensure that at least one (or more) of those rolls is a success. It’s a brilliant inclusion that throws in an extra layer of strategy: should I use my focus points now or wait until I’m about to hit a really nasty boss to fight? It’s a wonderful dilemma to have and spiced up combat quite a bit. Speaking of the combat, it’s fairly stock JRPG fare, so fans of the genre or even newbies will feel right at home as they slip into For The King.

I just scratched the surface of For The King during my play session. I know that there’s a king and a kingdom that needs saving. I know that I had missions and side quests to complete. I know that there was a litany of shops and other characters to interact with, along with new character classes to unlock. Perhaps most importantly, I know that I can’t wait to play For The King in full when it lands on Switch sometime this year. We’ll continue to update on this and other games as GDC continues for the rest of the week!

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