Knights Contract review
Interesting narrative bogged down by frustration
Developer: Game Republic
Publisher: Namco Bandai
In many ways, I feel sorry for Game Republic. They are, financially, a much smaller company than many other third party developers, and seem to never get the credit and respect that they deserve for their games... okay, Clash Of The Titans sucked, but every company needs a blunder to make the rest of their projects seem better, and when they consist of games such as Folklore, Genji: Dawn Of The Samurai (can't say I cared much for Days Of The Blade, however), and one of my personal favorite games, Majin And The Forsaken Kingdom, it's actually surprising (at least for me) to see a lack of enthusiasm for this company.
Conversely, Knights Contract ended up... well, I wouldn't say that it was shit, because I'd be lying, and as a reviewer, I am sworn to never lie. However, it's not exactly good, either. Really, it's in that dark grey area, where it's not a terrible game, but at the same time, it's hard to consider this good or even average because there are a few amatuer mistakes thrown around the place and many moments that could've been a lot better, had they decided to ditch some other junk. In other words, it had a lot of potential, but it didn't reach for the sky on account of some stupid shit!
Heinrich was once an executioner back in a time when random women were accused of being witches, cursing villagers with the black plague (but we all know it was caused by rats). Now, he is an immortal knight, seeking a way to rid himself of the curse that keeps him from dying, because one of the witches he executed wanted him to think about what he was doing. Eventually, they do meet, and bound by a knight's contract, they must journey across the land to defeat the witches that he had executed. Eventually, you learn that there was an ulterior motive in executing the witches, as Faust wanted something from them, and would kill them if they didn't comply. You see, the witches... were actually helping the humans, but then Faust wanted attention and a very powerful object that the witches had possessed, so... well, you know where that ends up going. The story is actually very well told, managing to give each element presented ample time to develop through explanation and some surprisingly interesting dialogue. Unfortunately, the story is one of those that you have to experience for yourself, rather than read, especially to describe how effective it really was; unfortunately, the story and music are all that can be considered really good, and everything else ranges for mediocre to complete shit.
For instance, the combat wasn't anything special. It felt like yet another Devil May Cry/Soul Reaver inspired engine full of hacking and slashing a bunch of monsters to bits without getting yourself killed, all while collecting souls so that you can buy upgrades. Unfortunately, I suppose due to being immortal, Heinrich himself cannot be upgraded; his companion, Gretchen, gets them all for her spells, but I'll get to that in a sec. Learning that Heinrich cannot use souls to upgrade himself, it's nice that at least what you get is what you'll end up using quite often, anyway. There's no real need to go beyond. Seriously, I'm actually rather annoyed with games that give you seventy billion combos when only like three of them are actually useful...
As for the spells, most of them are long ranged attacks, dealing damage in different ways. Some spells, like an energy sword that spikes out of the ground, can penetrate and destroy armor, while the lance can deal significant damage to faraway enemies, and even when you upgrade these spells, the lower forms aren't gone forever; in fact, you can equip the two lower level lances even after acquiring the level three lance! On top of all of that, spells can make battles more interesting, as when you use the right spells, more blood will be spilled, and more ass will be kicked. The mindless mashing alone was fun, and the spells just make things more fun.
Unfortunately, the fun stops there, because there are a number of things that will wreck your good time and make you want to choke kittens and kick puppies. Firstly, the level designs are *bleep*ing atrocious. You'll be spending quite an insurmountable lot of time trying to figure out where to go to find some items necessary to complete the level, and then you'll realize “oh snap, I gotta go BACK to the beginning”, dabbling into the forbidden world of backtracking, and to make matters worse, the map you can access via the Select button is even more useless than the town map from Pokemon Yellow, because it doesn't pinpoint anything; just gives you a general layout and nothing more. Could it get any worse? Yep – just about everything in a level looks the same. God, help me...
Each action game has to have bosses – otherwise, there's no clear goal. Even one boss is enough to get an action gamer going, so.... why not have 9 bosses? Well, technically, 8, as there's a boss you'll be fighting twice, but whatever; the bosses seem like they'll be a ton of fun to go through, just hacking at them and occasionally unloading a spell combo onto them, it's all good. They're all big and fearsome, and they can probably kick your ass, but no worries, because the deaths may be fair, right? NO! Most boss fights like to take place where one hit can knock you into the great abyss, resulting on game over. Imagine if you got knocked outside of the battlefield JUST as you're about to defeat the boss? Yeah, I don't think you'll be too pleased with that, and it's not really because you lack the skill necessary to dodge the attack, but more because they're cheap pricks and they want you (as in, the player) dead.
And of course, like every action game, there have to be quick time events – you know, because people like them with their action games, not just on their own. Knights Contract does not, in any way, make quick time events seem fun or interesting; more frustrating and full of shit. You're given about a sixteenth of a second to react, but considering that (unless you looked them up on the internet) you wouldn't know what button to press, it becomes a trial and error affair, and incredibly unfair as you'll have to re-fight the boss. Sure, they only regain a third of their health, but it's enough to make you wish you could just try it again without fighting again... and remember, you can be defeated if Gretchen dies or you get knocked off (depending on the battlefield). Also... why the *bleep* does every goddamn video game need to plaster the screen with prompts when flashy stuff happens? Seriously, while I'm waiting for the next button to come up and strike itself with a bloody X, Heinrich and Gretchen are doing some stuff that I actually want to watch, and I'm sure you do too... good god, this is just stupid.
But lest we forget the gamer's true objective in this game. If you've played through Enslaved or Resident Evil 4, the concept ought to be familiar - you're essentially a fully capable warrior, able to destroy armies of monsters with little to no effort, but you're forced to keep an eye on your companion, who isn't as good with combat as you are. However, Gretchen seems to make Ashley from Resident Evil 4 look overly intelligent and fully capable of making her own decisions, because Gretchen sure as hell can't do shit half the time! What I mean is that if you aren't commanding her to use spells, then forget asking her for help; she's too busy running boob first into enemy territory without a care for her health, and rather than actually do something, she'd prefer to stand there and do absolutely nothing, except get killed, and MAYBE - you know, if she's nice enough to do so - cast a weak spell to stagger some of the enemies for a bit while you play what is essentially mayor's bodyguard and take down all the monsters for her. Pitiful. If that's not enough, she has a nasty habit of being oblivious to design hazards, such as lava, so expect her to burst into flames if you don't set foot into the lava and grab her out of there. God, this game pisses me off. Good thing you can grab and hold her so that if they want her, they'll have to get through Heinrich first (plus it heals her wounds - awesome). You'll let go of her when you use spells or attack, though, so... you know, if you're opting to hold her, just mash X to move around faster. But still... You know what, I got nothing else...
Now, it's actually rather tricky to grade the graphics without too much personal opinion stuff getting in the way. What I mean is that I love the designs of the enemies and the level designs as a collective, but each level individually could use a lot of work as the colors and catacombs or whatever really begin to look the same when you have to do some backtracking. I guess the best way to put it is that they're mixed. Artistically, the graphics are fantastic with some interesting designs. Technically, the graphics are horrible with some lacking textures, desaturated and boring colors, and framerate issues during combat.
The audio is much better. In fact, I'd go as far to say that these tracks could give the God Of War trilogy's soundtracks a run for their money. Whether they enhance the mood of a cutscene, or they give you the adrenaline rush you need for battle, each score is excellently orchestrated for maximum efficiency. Even outside of the game, the soundtrack just sounds awesome. If you didn't get the hint, it's a blend of classical music and medieval flavoring to go along with the storyline. As for voice acting, well, most of it at least sounds like they give a damn like Heinrich, and the others are just phoned in, like Gretchen, and it's pretty obvious whose voice acting is good and who just phoned it in for the paycheque, but the latter never hurts the story too badly... maybe because of the music? Yeah, I'd say so...
What could've been a rather interesting game especially for one with a medieval setting, is instead a pain in the ass to play. The core mechanics may be well done, but the piss poor level designs, oftentimes horrific checkpoint locations and wretched ally AI manage to make this game rather frustrating to play through. *bleep* this game.
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