[In case you have yet to master Arabic numerals, this is the SECOND part of my From Software First Person Retrospective. Part one is this a way.]
Aiming to refine their craftmanship and make some dosh, From Soft decided to start working on a sequel to King's Field almost immediately after the first. This time aiming for a western release as well, courtesy of ASCII.
King's Field 2 was Originally released on July 21st 1995 (Six months after King's Field!) in Japan. It was then published in the states later on December 31st and Europe got it a mere day later ( Do you hear me Atlus? One! Day! Later!) They also filed of the 2 from the name, thinking they could sell better by pretending this was the first game. Only 90s kids will remember this particular practice.
Is it a law that Europe gets the best cover art? It should be.
As I mentioned before, KF2 is the Dark Souls to KF's Demon's Souls. They took the basic ideas of the first, expanded upon them, improved the level design and introduced Seath as a character. Being the sexy sequels that they are, they also attracted more attention in magazines. Let's look at some and learn a thing or two. But due to my limited research-budget, we will have to make do with a Gamespot Review from 1996 and an old, angry Gamefaqs user-review from 1999.
The gamespot review praises the game for its atmosphere, simplicity and sense of adventure, while harping on the graphics a bit ( compared to the magnificent photorealism of Playstation games in 1996, KF2 is potato mash). The user-review on the other hand (which I may or may not have cherry-picked) declares the game as one of the worst on the Playstation. He calls it ugly, uncool, hard to control, lacking in comedy(KF3 actually tried humor, to limited success), drab and uncool. If you are a seasoned Souls-player then this dichotomy should ring some undead bells. The Net is full of heroes singing the praises of Dark Souls and plebians with factually( Yes factually. Ask my uncle, he works at Nintendo) wrong opinions calling it fucking bullshit bad and unfair. Just like with King's Field decades ago. Dark Souls is of course the better game, but why do they share this fate?
The answer is a simple one. These are demanding games that respect the players abilities. As such not everyone can enjoy them. Something, something different strokes. In order to convey how such a dichotomy arises, I have prepared something special. It's a video detailing all the fun shenanigans one can run into at the start of King's Field 2. I'll be referring to it a bit later, so drink it in.
LOW DEFINITION 15FPS GAMEPLAY|| KINGS FIELD 2!??!!!
The first thing I should mention is how KF2 presents its story compared to the first one. It distances itself from normal linear storytelling just like Dark Souls did going from Demon's Souls. Instead we get an opening narration, some notes in the manual and a whole heap of lore. The plot can almost be diluteted into ”Alexander goes to the island of Melanat to find the moonlight greatsword”. There is a bit more I don't wanna spoil yet, but that's the gist of it. As there is so little concrete story to discuss I'll just meld the story & game discussions and just go area by area. I'll also use some down time to talk about some things general to the series that I skipped before hand.
Alexander, the second prince of Granatiki and life long friend of king Jean Alfred Forrester (Still such a boss name) has been tasked by his highness to retrieve the stolen moonlight sword. I think it was stolen by the villain, Necron. But I'm not too sure.
And this right here is one of the things that makes it so interesting to write this retrospective. These games are so old and niche that I can't just look up an answer to everything. The stats required for sword magic in KF was something I deduced myself (not that tall of an order, I know) using some sparse gameguides for support. And I still have no idea what the ground bell is used for. Compare that to Dark Souls 3 now, where EVERYTHING has been catalogued. From cut weapons and movesets to stats and secret dialogue. I prefer that the information is available, but there is something special about drawing conclusions from incomplete information. I think this is the feeling that From wants to convey with their RPGs, to make sense of an uncaring world. As such, don't be mad if I trip up some lore. I am writing this mostly from memory of a playthrough a few weeks back. Besides, I doubt there are many King's Field loremasters out there to correct me anyway. I could tell you that Seath is fact a Gundam and you'd have no choice but to believe me. But I won't tell you that, that'd be silly.
Alexander washes up on the western shore of Melanat with but a dagger, a pittance of mp and a whole lot of gusto. And if you are a normal player, he will probably return to the sea as you earn your first death within seconds.
It's a running gag the Souls community that gravity is the ultimate unbeatable boss (it's the only power known to man that can defeat hackers after all. Well most of the time ). But it, along with many other things has its origin here. It's also a consequence of the level design, which has recieved a facelift. Just like with Dark Souls they abandoned individual levels and instead tied all areas into one big vertical interconnected world. From a pure gameplay view this kind of level design is great as it cuts down on backtracking. This does however make the island feel a bit cramped. It's not as bad Lordran and its majestic wall that surrounds a town, a forrest, a sewer, a swamp, a tomb and a eye-melting lethal lava land all stacked on top of eachother. This is mostly because the areas in Melanat flow into eachother quite well (no doubt thanks to the pitiful amount of textures in the game).
As is evident in the video,there is a whole lot of things to do at the start of KF2, just like in Dark Souls. I'm not too sure just how non-linear KF2 actually is. I would need to draw an abstract map detailing how the key items connect to eachother in order to determine this. The game is full of sidepaths containing small amounts of loot and you generally have two big goals at time. But just like in many other games there is a ”best” path to traverse in order to master Melanat. The first thing to do is of course get the semi-broken mace, all else is secondary.
But let's be kind and take things as they come. Around the corner from the start is a life fountain with infinite use. I think the drinking water on Melanat makes you unable to leave if you drink enough of it. This is how Necron keeps the villagers obedient despite the monsters. This has no bearing on Alexander and just serves as a mechanic. Red water from Forbidden Siren this is not. Our mandatory skeleton friend hides behind a hidden wall here, guarding a leather shield. The way the hidden walls are handled in this game is different from KF. Instead of losing collision and letting you through as you wall-hump them, the walls insted slide up. There is also some hidden alcoves that can contain gold, items and traps. Wall-hump with caution.
If the hidden walls sound familiar it's beacause thay are identical to the ones found in Dark Souls 2. The reason for this is because Yui Tanimura, the man who saved DS2 from disaster has cited either the series, this game or the first game as one of the reasons he joined From Soft(context).And just like DS2 there is only one wall you need to attack in this game. The mace in DS2 is even more OP as well.
Back outside is a fisherman willing to dump some lore. The NPCs are a tiny bit better this time, but are not afforded much character. They do have many things to say so it can be worthwhile to return to them a few times. In the water behind him there is a lighthouse housing a fire-crystal to be claimed.
Magic has recieved a big overhaul. And by that I mean a nerf, a proud From Soft tradition. The fast-casting light-dart has been axxed until it's reappearance as Farron Dart in DS3. Your MP pool has also lessened greatly, though it is easier to replenish. Alexander gets spells a bit differently too. Alfred inherited some mojo from his momma and learned spells via levels or was taught them. Alexander has no such luck and must find four crystals of every element if he wants some spells. I find the magic system from this game onward lame and it only gets worse. I would say that it wasn't until Demon's Souls that it bacame fun again, and that's because magic in DeS is bonkers strong. There isn't a good way to grind MAG either, so you better munch up any Verdite you can find.
There are a few more things to talk about on the shore before we can cut ahead a bit. You can find a crystal flask in a chest guarded by som snails. These are your prototype estus flask which can be filled with water of differing colours. By collecting big crystals (small ones should be sold) and turning them to the craftsman you can get quite a lot of them. Later games limit how many you can get a bit more.
The first of three maps can also be found guarded by a MIMIC SKELETON!
None of you are safe.
The maps in this game are a bit weird. As seen the video it tries to detail multiple floors at the same time, making it only useful in the immediate vicinity. This is the reason why no one has made any proper maps online, it's better to get a feel for the general layout of the island and use the map sparingly. Which is...
The giant squid is a showcase of how the bosses are in KF2. Except for the final two, they are literally upscaled versions of regular enemies with more health. Given that KF only had two I guess this isn't surprising, they focused on levels and normal monsters instead. You can use it to grind too, since the top of the squid gives XP and respawns if you go away from the area.
Before leaving shoreline you can run into the headeater plants. They are kind of the mascot of King's Field and are featured in every game.
Going forwards leads to the core of the island which connects the northern, southern, central and eastern villages. And it's at this point the game's horrendous framerate refuses to be ignored. As soon as 3 or more enemies occupy the screen your FPS is forfeit. Enemies with ”complex” articulation like soldiers and skellys make it even worse. It's like Blighttown was a whole game. This is the price we pay for real-time 3d and no load screens. The latter games get better, thankfully.
The soldiers of Necron themselves remind me of the soul-starved soldiers and hollows from the Souls-series. I think they are under a spell or something, they aren't very talkative. Though I swear they told me to die once. The northen village houses Al Hunt and his item shop. As is custom for the series, the equipment you can buy is easily found around the world. Money should be spent on a few herbs and saved for treasure keys.
Heals instantly, no mixing required!
The southern village has the keysmith and his expensive services. The silver and gold key should be bought and the magicians key can be found on the eastern shore. You can also make him copy Rhombus keys. These keys are generic and are used to traverse doors one-way. With proper play you don't need to copy any, but it's nice to have some spares. The villages also have a day/night cycle (suck it Ocarina of Time!)which serves no purpose. Apparently Necron provides artificial sunlight in trade for crystals.
On the way to the central village there is an important stop to make. Hidden in a hidden wall inside a jail cell is the dragon fountain, built by Seath the magic dragon. Here you can offer a pair of dragon stones to activate it. Make sure to activate the mana water first, as the other one only cures status effects. Once one or both have been activated the fountain acts like a checkpoint in exhange for a dragon fruit. These can be found on dragon trees if you have the patience to make them drop.
This also unlocks some awesome shortcuts making this your hub basically. There is a smaller one for healing convenience to the east as well.
By this point a normal player should be familiar with the combat of KF2. As far as first-person melee systems go, this is pretty good. Not the best mind you(that honour goes to something else in this retrospective), but decent. I think it is actually better than anything Bethesda has put out(for further reading Weslikestacos and TheLimoMaker have some blogs on Bethesda). And that is for one reason and one reason alone, scope.
The battle system is very honest in what it does. It never pretends to be better than it is. You circle-strafe, time strikes and squese in some magic. And the game is built to reflect this, projectiles generally behave like the ones in Doom making them easy to dodge. The enemies are slow like you as well. It also helps that most attacks stuns enemies no matter what.
Somewhere around this part of the game you can pick up a star key and matching stargate.
Ever wanted to drink a interplanetery worm-hole?
These items can be used to turn a savepoint into a warp-point and are necessary to escape some sealed treasure rooms. It is cool to manipulate your warp-spoints, but there are only a few places worth turning into warps. This is mostly because there are only three sets of gates to find. So you have to be a bit stingy with how you place them.
The most interesting thing in the central village is the crystal trader. Giving him 2 big crystals earns you another flask or 20 arrows. Yes, there is a bow in this game. I kind of forgot about it honestly. It isn't bad, just unneeded. It's a bitch to aim to boot. But still, health potion or unnecessary ammo. Do the math.
I'm now going to take the liberty to skip ahead a few dungeons until I get something to talk about. The mid-game is a bit bland. Engage gravo-metric warp-drive, aim for ludicrous speed!
I think I'm gonna hurl, gurl.
Arriving on the eastern shore Alexander can finally pick up a new good weapon, the crescent axe. It's inside a row of rooms guarded by skeletons and a double hidden wall(gotta love 'em). A bit further on we can find an elder elf, Karen Shore sitting in a rocking-chair. She has a figure of Seath for you and a clue for a puzzle. Once you turn around she disappears but the chair keeps rocking. Oooooh, spooky. It's a good idea to put a warp key here in order to do some suicidal platforming. And you know how fun it is to platform in a From Soft game. You can find another figure of Seath and the Shinden katana. Because of course there is a pig-steel butterknife on a lone samurai's grave in the middle of the water only accessable by a diagonal sprint jump. Never change, From Soft.
After this it is time to conquer the big mine and its fun minecart section. A section that can kill you randomly because enemy arrows have knockback. Like I said, ”fun”. Beyond that place is the poison path. It's slimy and full of poison. Here you can find Teo Budwell, father of the little girl in the eastern village, dead as knobs. By giving him a Seath action-figure, he returns to the mortal plain using his amulet. This is the most convoluted event in the game. I think the fortune-teller can tell you what a figure does, but that is a crap-shoot. (S)He(?) can be found in two places randomly(one of them behind a hidden wall). Doing this quest gives you the amulet for on-site revival once you return to Gigi's and Teo's house.
Continuing forward and stabbing some rock dinosaurs(or farming them for the spider sword) grants access to the elf grave. I believe they were the first residents of the island and were servants of Seath. Here amidst the ghosts is the elf key, which is really important. There is an arbalest somewhere too.
After this it is time to backtrack to Mr. Big Squid and kill him ded. Doing this earns us a shrine key, one of two. After that Harvine's castle beckons. Harvine is the closest we get to what I like to call a king character. The king is a staple of From Soft and serve to represent the ruined kingdom the player explores. Think Allant, Gwyn, Vendrick and Oceiros. Sometimes they are the antagonist, sometimes the are a failed hero or a side character, like Harvine. I think he was the one that drove the elves away from the island. Reminds me of the ages in Dark Souls. First there was elves and Seath, then Harvine and lastly Necron.
In order to loot his castle you need his key from the big mine and a flute traded with some crystal flasks in northen(?) village. Inside is pots full of flame spirits and a boss consisting of four big copper knights (think Ruin Sentinels from DS2, only with more spell-spamming and less spin-to-win). Beating them gives way to the second shrine key, some Verdite and a angry painting of the king. Stabbing it gives you a wind crystal. Success!
Going back to the big mine and taking a left at Albaqurqe leads to Necron's domain. Here we can free the half-elf smith Leon Shore (son of the spooky lady). He goes back home and ask that we procure the dark crystal so that he can make something. Beyond his cell (and a few dungeons) is the high elf shrine. Here is an elf spirit who served Seath that wants to help Alexander. It tells us to take the dark crystal alongside Seath's sword with us. There is also a dragon tree that gives a lore dump. It says, amongst other things, that Guyra intends to use the desire of men who covet the Moonlight sword in order to desend upon the land. Going back to Leon's house and giving him the dark crystal means the ultimate weapon, the Darkslayer is near. But first you must burn some time and gain a level. He then says that Necron swung by and knicked it!
And it's such a sexy weapon too!
Deprived of his ultimate knife, Alexander bumrushes through the shrine puzzle, a demon lab and a boss-rush in order to face of against Necron. Using the truth glass reveals his true identity. He is Dias Bagil, brother of Nola Bagil who we can find in a village somewhere. The fight itself is the first proper duel boss From Soft has done. He has sword strikes and some really unfair magic on his side, just like Alexander. Once he finally falls we finally get the Darkslayer. This beast of a thing regens MP and is the strongest weapon in the game. Unlike the Moonlight Sword (which is Guyra the black dragon's weapon and light-elemental) the Darkslayer is every other element and blessed by Seath the white dragon. This reinforces their duality and foreshadows KF3. It also has sword magic, remember that?
Sword magic gets worse the longer the series goes on. Here in KF2 it only unlocks at 60 MAG & STR. This is only reachable with grinding or at late game. Which is dumb, because there is actually two sword magics per magic weapon. Why they didn't make the weaker magic unlock at 40/40 like in KF I'll never know. The weaker one is cast like normal by hitting magic during a sword swing, while the advanced is cast with confirm, swing, magic(X, Square, Triangle). At this time the sealed Seath armour can be claimed for extra insurance.
Look at the pretty colours!
Beyond Dias' throne room is a ondulating cube leading to Guyras dimension.
This maze is an illusion, conjured by Satan
This is a lame final level. It's just a see-through teleportation maze with an even mix of old enemies.It doesn't really feel necessary to have the Darkslayer even. They could have at least stuffed in some giant snakes or something. Getting through the maze puts Alexander face to face with the black forrest-dragon Guyra, guarding the Moonlight sword. Looking at the dragon fellow Dark Souls players noticed something funny about him.
Guyra appears to be the inspiration for the black dragon Kalameet in Artorias of the abyss. Which is rather fitting when you consider that Kalameet is a genuine dragon and Seath in that game is a mutant. Making them almost the opposite of eachother. The fight itself is the best boss in the game. Guyra has summoned bits flying around, which absorb all magic you try to fling at him. This can be exploited in order to lure them into meleé range, letting you cast magic on Guyra until he explodes and flies into the heavens. This lets Alexander claim the Sword of Moonlight and return to Verdite a hero.
This image is blue
A crafty player can actually vault over Guyra and steal the Moonlight sword. If you then suicide you can warp out and play with the sword a little bit. No alternate ending though.
I told you he explodes and flies into the heavens
And that was King's Field 2. What a difference six months can make. Barring some screw-ups and the framerate this is better than KF in every way. It is larger, more complex and less linear. Few sequals can hope to improve this much. And I hope I've showcased just how much of this game influenced their other games.
Only 90's kids will remember this hyperbole
I find it fascinating that they have basicaly remade the same game since their inception as a company. As we progress we will see more and more ideas get refined and reused until they finally appear in the Souls-games. But it's a long road there and I walk it alone. Next time we will see the thrilling conclusion to the Verdite trilogy, with King's Field 3!