Starting off our The Cruel King and the Great Hero review, the game harkens back to a time when some developers would make entry-level RPGs for children. Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, the Paper Mario franchise or Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest proved that simplified turn-based combat and a very basic story can work and inspire young gamers to explore the RPG genre.
The only problem is that The Cruel King and the Great Hero will not keep a child’s attention span at all. The story uses a story-book style framework to tell its scenario of an orphaned girl named Yuu who is taken in by a huge dragon. The set-up and writing is a solid foundation; the narration is worded with easy to understand vocabulary and is genuinely sweet.
Where The Cruel King and the Great Hero fails to deliver is its utterly glacial pacing and low-energy presentation. This is a fairly short RPG- clocking in at around 10 hours, but feels like 30. A lot of this has to do with how overly drawn out the gameplay is and the lack of variety.
The Cruel King and the Great Hero
Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Publisher: NIS America
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch (reviewed)
Release Date: March 11, 2022
Price: $29.99 USD
The first thing anyone will notice about The Cruel King and the Great Hero is its beautiful and illustrative, story-book art style. At first, this game looks charming and the cute designs will draw most people in… but it does not take long for its limitations to become apparent.
None of the characters in this game are expressive enough to convey anything but the most broad of emotions. Yuu’s sprite/model has a very limited range of motion and comes off as a stiff paper doll. This was something that was capitalized in Paper Mario with Mario folding into different shapes or flattening himself between wedges.
The story can be best described as a coming of age plot with a young person learning about where she came from using a fantasy setting. There are a few minor twists along the way, but the narrative won’t engage anyone over the age of 12. Playing The Cruel King and the Great Hero will also prove to be challenge since the game is very good at putting the player to sleep.
The music is very languid and whimsical. It rarely energizes with an exciting tempo or melody. This made extensive sessions of The Cruel King and the Great Hero review very hard to stay awake.
Compounding upon the lullaby-like score is the extremely slow and drawn out gameplay. Yuu walks at a snail’s pace when she is not over leveled compared to the rest of the enemies in the area. She will only be able to sprint and bypass encounters if she is a high enough level for the zone. This wouldn’t be so bad if the environments were not all exactly the same.
Every area is effectively the same hallway with only the art serving as a superficial change of scenery. There are no hills or obstacles to negotiate; just one large maze of a map that has major routes blocked by story progress checks.
Even with fast-travel, Yuu still will slowly be trudging through long hallways and getting to encounters with slow animation speeds. In battle, options are very limited and there is not a lot to consider when forming a strategy. Sometimes enemies will change their stances or maybe will be in a position for an AOE ability and that is as complex as it gets.
There are no “mini-game” style inputs for special attacks to liven the action or timed hits. If HP is low, healing items are cheap and easy to acquire. The balancing is designed for kids to easily calculate with low figures and SP gradually regenerates after every turn. This makes battles over slightly faster since players will have more chances to use powerful attacks more often.
The downside is that most enemies are given a tad bit too much HP to compensate for the liberal usage of the more devastating attacks. Yuu is always the most powerful party member and the party can only be a maximum of two characters and Yuu cannot be removed. There is no way to have a party of Rocky the fox and Cybat only, so there are no novelty parties possible.
Disappointingly, the side quests in The Cruel King and the Great Hero are not worth the time to do them. Completing these optional objectives means doing a tedious fetch quest and being forced to do more slow waddling in another hallway and the only thing Yuu will have to show for it is some concept art.
For a game that is mostly comprised of drawings and flat imagery, one would expect it to run smoothly. Sadly, The Cruel King and the Great Hero does have some noticeable frame rate drops on Switch. This is mostly relegated to some battles and entering some areas.
Who is The Cruel King and the Great Hero for? Children who are learning to read will likely be bored by the slow pace and droll scenario. There are almost stakes in the plot and the story is far too juvenile and gameplay too simple for older gamers or RPG fans to enjoy.
There are not many RPGs aimed for kids these days. It is sad to see a worthy attempt wasted due to its misplaced priorities and lack of creative vision to hold back The Cruel King and the Great Hero. The environments don’t feel like a world and come off as a permeable barrier that the player has to slowly pass through to make progress.
There is no energy in this game. No fire or excitement to suck the player in or inspiration to spark the imagination of a child. The most defining aspect of The Cruel King and the Great Hero is its art, which is appealing and makes an impression. Sadly, this loses its luster after while when its revealed just how limited it is.
The character designs can only be viewed at very specific angles and are not emotive. It is a major drawback to the style chosen. Even with the better aspects of the art supporting the game; The Cruel King and the Great Hero is ultimately a very hallow and bare bones RPG with severe pacing issues.
The Cruel King and the Great Hero was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a copy provided by NIS America. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here. The Cruel King and the Great Hero is now available for Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4.