Review: River City: Knights of Justice

River City renegade.

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 08/04/2017 07:00 Comment on this     ShareThis
The Final Grade
1-Up Mushroom for...
Delightful mix of RPG and brawler mechanics; fun use of Medievil setting; brawling has hidden depth; diverse locales to explore; that world map!
Poison Mushroom for...
Simplistic visuals might be divisive; simplified combat won't be everyone's cup of tea, despite what depths can be mined from it

River City has been experiencing something of a renaissance on 3DS here in the West. This past September, River City: Tokyo Rumble debuted on the handheld, which was the first entry in the series to see a release on a Nintendo platform in our region since River City: Soccer Hooligans and Sports Challenge back in 2010. Now, publisher Natsume has followed up Tokyo Rumble by bringing River City: Knights of Justice to 3DS, as well. Where Tokyo Rumble focused more on traditional Kunio-Kun (the Japanese name for the family of games that River City belongs to) brawling, Knights of Justice is a very different beast. For this installment, developer Arc System Works has transported the action to a medieval setting and inserted more RPG elements than ever before. It’s a departure that works astoundingly well, with only a few blemishes to an otherwise delightful experience.

Knights of Justice starts players off in the land of Riverandia (see what they did there?), where the Crystal Tower has been shrouded in darkness. The world is in a state of chaos and unrest, awaiting the coming of a fabled savior to come and rescue Riverandia and restore the tower. The events of Knights of Justice start with the appearance of that savior—Alexander Valford! Alex and his allies make their way through Riverandia via the game map, engaging in different side and story quests along the way. The map itself is interactive and calls back to old-school RPGs like Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy. Rather than free-roam it, however, players instead travel from location to location much like they would in Super Mario Bros. 3 or Shovel Knight. It helps to delineate the action, which is good for quick bursts of play on the go, but I also would have been pleased to see Arc System Works truly embrace the RPG genre and let players venture beyond the beaten path.

One of the highlights of Knights of Justice is the game’s hybrid 2D/3D art style. The backgrounds are rendered in 3D, while the characters and enemies are presented in the series’ signature simplistic, pixelated style. River City games aren’t traditionally graphical showstoppers. Tokyo Rumble certainly took things in a bolder direction with its 3D becoming more and more pronounced the higher the 3D slider was cranked up, but even it, ultimately, maintained the requisite look and feel of Kunio-kun. Knights of Justice isn’t nearly as ambitious on this front, choosing to embrace the rough edges of previous River City titles, but it’s done to great effect. Some might not be so patient with the game’s art style, but it struck a chord with me and likely will with others. I enjoyed the soundtrack, as well, which skewed more retro and lent itself well to the action on-screen.

RPG elements aren’t foreign to River City games; as players bruise their way through the hordes of punks and gang members littering the streets, their character becomes incrementally stronger. What Knights of Justice does different is focus the gameplay on the RPG mechanics that the series has heretofore only dabbled with. The emphasis on talking to townsfolk, shopping at stores, and staying at inns has been wonderfully implemented here, with the switch to a medieval setting serving as a perfect complement to the gameplay. At the same time, while some might worry that this shift could potentially come at the cost of the brawling hijinks that define River City games, they can rest easy, as that’s not the case.

While touching enemies does initiate battles, rather than engage in turn-based fights, players instead get into brawls much more akin to traditional River City adventures. Kick, punch, and bludgeon with items is the same recipe for success it’s always been, but this time around the reward for all the fisticuffs feels much more palpable thanks to the RPG progression system in place. As Alex’s party grows, players can switch between him and his allies at will to take on baddies. The engagements are snappy and become truly chaotic (in a good way) as more enemies fill the screen. While there are certainly more complex brawlers out there, the fun of combining punches, jumps, and kicks in Knights of Justice is undeniable, and the simplicity of its combat genuinely belies some of the depth that can be mined from it. I also appreciated the era-authentic weapons like swords and spears.

Speaking of the era that the game takes place in, by transitioning the Kunio crew back in time, Arc System Works has been able to work in a greater variety of environments than ever before. There are graveyards, deserts, castles, and more, all rendered in the wonderful, simple style that I discussed above. Some of the background, three-dimensional assets appear a little washed out in my eyes, but I was overall very pleased with how the development team was able to make the time period suit River City as it does. I sincerely hope that not only are there further Knights of Justice outings, but that they also branch into other time periods and locales for them.

It’s a tad rough, but outside of some okay tunes and likely divisive graphics, Arc System Works nailed Knights of Justice. It’s an addictive blend of RPG and brawler mechanics with a charming story and a wealth of Kunio characters to utilize and interact with. It’s digital-only, so there’s no excuse to pass this one by; everyone should consider giving Knights of Justice the download it deserves, as it’s proof positive that, at six years old, 3DS is still home to some of the most fun and innovative games on the market.

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