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Having played and been a fan of the predecessor to The Cruel King And The Great Hero, namely The Liar Princess And The Blind Prince, I was surprised to find that despite a similar art style and cutely dark story, that this was all the games had in common. While the former was a decent puzzle platformer, the latest entry winds its way down the route of RPG, and has an interesting way of doing so. Its unique art style, touching story, and interesting combat do make up for some pretty tragic pacing issues across a condensed length of around 15 hours, short for a game of this genre.
You can check out gameplay in the trailer for The Cruel King And The Great Hero below
You play as Yuu, a young girl whose father was a great hero sadly taken down in his prime. Left in the charge of a local dragon, your papa raises you to one day become a great hero in his image - and to do this this often involves teaming up with various beasties, to help resolve issues around the monster kingdom. All of this in the hope that one day you will be strong enough to take on the Demon King, who challenges the peace in the realm.
After you are carried away by the pleasantness of how The Cruel King And The Great Hero opens - the dulcet narration, the dreamy soundtrack, the weird adorability of an orphan adopted by a dragon - you are bombarded with walls. Walls of text in the form of tutorials for everything from how to use an item, to how to open the menu. Walls of enemies, which you encounter with every few steps. Literal walls, where you need to backtrack to grab a different partner and return with them in tow in order to get past. This would be all manageable if you could, in no certain order, repel battles, escape fights, or simply run through and traverse the overworld faster. Because it's a big old world indeed, and going back and forth can be a chore.
The pacing of the game is its greatest, cruelest negative - because elsewhere, it shines. The map has the vastness and variety of a dungeon crawler, and there's nail-biting drama to when the next (rarely found) checkpoint is. The game's cast of characters come complete with abilities varied enough that you could easily argue a case for including any of them in your party of two. And while it is easy to get carried away with the simple beauty of it all, the deceptive challenge of the old-school style combat is what gives this hero its edge.
Don't be deceived by the art - the boss fights offer a delightfully difficult challenge, as you have to manage the skills of your partner along with an absolutely dizzying array of buffing accessories and items. While sometimes an enemy may get five turns in a row, sure to make you feel like it's unfair, with practise and proper planning it's more than possible to beat a host of adversaries while even at low level. Exploration leads to much-improved combat items, which with some good strategy on your side leads to eye-wateringly punishing synergy for the bad boys.
It's not flawless, though. It'd be great if battles offered the option to skip smaller grunts, and sometimes the game forces single combat over partner battles, which turns a strategic plan into a slogfest more often than not.
Overall the positives outweigh the negatives, and if you're into the genre then The Cruel King And The Great Hero is still an RPG very much worth playing - and it's also worth a look if only to experience the storybook aesthetic and the tear-jerking story. I only wish the training wheels had been pulled off, letting me explore freely, skip battles, rush bosses, and die again and again. I would have enjoyed testing out my ability to stack damage and observe weaknesses, instead of being forced to wear my water wings.
Pros: Gorgeous art style, heartwarming story, variety of combat playstyles
Cons: Pacing has serious issues, single-party battles can suck, needs more options for overworld traversal
For fans of: The style of Paper Mario or EarthBound, with the combat of old-school Persona or Romancing Saga
The Cruel King And The Great Hero releases on PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch on March 11th. Review code for Nintendo Switch was provided by the publisher. Find a complete guide to GAMINGbible's review scores here.
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