With Elden Ring currently wowing gamers I thought I’d take a look at the series that began FromSoftware‘s journey into the action RPG genre, and that would be King’s Field – released in Japan only in 1994 for the Sony PlayStation – and, to be honest, it couldn’t be any further removed from Elden Ring in terms of presentation…
I’ve played a lot of RPGs in my time, and I would go so far as to say that it’s my favourite genre of video game, but King’s Field came as a bit of a shock to me. Yes, King’s Field was an early 3D RPG on the PlayStation, releasing the same year as the PS1 was launched, but it post-dates Ultima Underworld by two years and is archaic in comparison.
King’s Field is a first-person dungeon-crawler, with combat, swords and magic, and it’s about exploring a vast underground labyrinth in order to discover the source of an invasion of monsters. Survival is difficult and combat is governed by stamina meters that are shown at the top of the screen. When you swing a weapon, or fire off some magic, you cannot attack again until your stamina meter has re-filled. These two features it does have in common with FromSoftware‘s later Dark Souls games, and the aforementioned Elden Ring – difficulty and stamina play a significant role in the game.
To succeed at combat the technique is to NOT stand in front of an enemy, just hacking away. You’ll be killed in a few hits if you do that. You need to time your movement so that a swing hit lands when you’re near the enemy, then back off quickly so you don’t get hit. Next, you wait for your stamina to regenerate, then do it again. Also: you need to pick and choose your initial battles when you’re low level. Don’t jump in fighting higher-levelled monsters straight away. Fight a few plants, trees, and scorpions first – although you have to be careful of the scorpion’s poison sting. If you do get poisoned you’ll need to use an antidote herb to cure yourself, but early in the game you’ll have a limited amount of them so don’t want to get poisoned too many times.
After a few hours of careful hack and slash you should then have risen enough levels to be able to take on monsters like skeletons and mummies, and maybe even have found the Dragon Cup and returned it to its rightful place in the Dragon Temple (where it will then activate a very useful healing fountain), and you’ll have only really scratched the surface of this painfully slow and clunky JRPG.
You can save the game at crucifixes at certain locations, and a number of shops are also available for buying and selling items. As seems to be the case in all King’s Field games: it’s not really necessary to buy upgrades to armour and weapons from shops because you tend to find free alternatives as you push yourself to explore. Selling items to raise gold is important, though – especially on the first level, because you need to buy a gold cross from a merchant for 1800 gold to advance the story.
As you progress through the game you’ll get to travel to lower levels in the dungeon and the monsters get tougher; some even using offensive magic against you, which can be problematic. As in all FromSoftware‘s games: death is frequent, and the going is difficult, and the best way of making progress is to learn from your mistakes and play extremely carefully. And also to use quicksaves (if you’re playing in a emulator), and maybe refer to a set of maps. And if you need more guidance you could also watch someone else play it on YouTube.
The graphics in King’s Field are pretty bad, the truth be told, but the music and sound effects are atmospheric. And although this game looks terrible, it’s actually quite compelling to play.
A fan-made English language patch is available, and you’ll need to apply this to the original Japanese version of the game. Since this first King’s Field was never released in the West, and the sequel, King’s Field II, was released in North America as “King’s Field“, it’s easy to get confused by the titles. Further adding to the confusion, King’s Field III was released in North America as “King’s Field II“.
Although the King’s Field games won’t be for everyone, those looking for a challenging series of RPGs on the PlayStation might get something out of them. They’re dated and clunky, but are interesting to play and were the seed that grew into the smash hit Elden Ring that many gamers are playing today.