King’s Field IV was developed and published by FromSoftware in Japan in 2001 for the PlayStation 2. It was later released as King’s Field: The Ancient City in North America in 2002, and in Europe (as simply King’s Field IV) in 2003. It is another first-person RPG and is the fourth and final game in the King’s Field series.
You play as Prince Devian, on a quest to return the cursed Idol of Sorrow back to The Land of Disaster and return prosperity to the kingdom. The game plays pretty much the same as previous King’s Field games, with melee-based combat; magic that you gradually learn as you progress through the game, and Non-Player Characters (NPCs) who give you quests and impart information when you talk to them. There are of course merchants who buy and sell stuff, and monsters and traps galore that will kill you in an instant if you put a foot wrong. In fact: dying is part and parcel of the gameplay and saving your game regularly is the only way to hang onto the stuff you’ve collected when you’re killed (you basically lose everything you picked-up when you die in a King’s Field game). You can save the game by interacting with an angel statue.
While I do enjoy the King’s Field games (in a perverse kind of way, because they’re hard, and they look like shit), I do have a bit to complain about with this fourth game. Mostly relating to usability issues. Firstly: movement is achingly slow. The first three King’s Field games were slow, but this one seems particularly glacial. You can hold down the ‘X’ button to speed up movement, but it doesn’t speed up turning (which it did in the third game in the series) and I was frustrated that it didn’t in this. Turning 180 degrees (ie. doing a u-turn) seems to take forever, and it would’ve been good to at least have had a way of turning around more quickly. Secondly, in this game you have to be directly facing an object to pick it up off the ground, which wasn’t necessary in previous games. In the first three King’s Field games you could just stand above something, hit action, and if something was underneath your feet you would just pick it up. Having to look down at something before you can pick it up in this game seems like a backward step to me and it makes the game even more difficult. Thirdly, during combat, when you make a swing with a weapon, it sometimes rebounds and misses for no apparent reason. I couldn’t figure out why this was happening – unless the game wants to penalise you for not moving and trying to make a second hit. I found this very frustrating.
Graphically, King’s Field IV is very murky – especially at the start of the game. There’s very little light to make the 3D environments interesting to look at and many of the colours used are low contrast and samey. And while I understand and accept that presentation has never been King’s Field‘s strong suite, I couldn’t understand why the game’s designers had not taken advantage of the PlayStation 2‘s infinitely better capabilities to at least give you an impressive-looking opening.
On the plus side: the monsters are much improved in some areas. While the woodlouse and slimes are underwhelming, the skeletons and spiders are absolutely bloody terrifying. The movement of the spiders is superb and will freak out anyone with arachnophobia (the only spiders I’ve seen that are comparable are in either Legend of Grimrock or Limbo), and the way skeletons move is also super creepy. Watch out, though, because King’s Field IV does have skeletons hiding inside chests on occasion, waiting to ambush you, as was seen in the third game. It’s a dirty trick, and is the kind of thing that makes a player obsess over saving.
Another plus is the way you can compare the effects of using different weapons and armour. By using the ‘Status’ button you can see the raising of stats in blue and the lowering of stats in red, which is very useful. This at least allows you to compare equipment quickly instead of having to go to different screens to check your stats, as you did in previous games.
King’s Field IV features other new elements, including ladders, zombies that spit pools of damaging drool, reflections in water, boss fights, and subtle lighting effects.
Although King’s Field IV is frustrating and difficult it is a very compelling game to play – just like its predecessors – and this fourth and final game in the series is arguably the best. If you don’t like RPGs then it’s unlikely to convert you, but if you can put up with the slow, almost tortuous pace, and like a serious challenge, then this atmospheric and large-scale adventure will provide many hours of captivating gameplay. Check out some of the videos on YouTube if you want to see it being played.