Following the releases of Eternal Ring, Evergrace and Armored Core 2, From Soft finally made us another King's Field game. The last proper one in fact, discounting Additional 1 & 2 and Mobile. Which you should, because they don't look worth a damn and aren't available in English. The game in question being King's Field: The Ancient City, or King's Field 4, if you live in Europe. Why they gave the number 4 to the region where only KF2 got released as King's Field is a mystery for the ages. Then again, calling it King's Field 2 would have made things even more confusing.
Japan got it on the 4th of October 2001, about 1 and a half years after Eternal Ring. America got it on the 25th of March 2002. Europe got shafted again and got it on the 28th of March 2003. It's the unfortunate way of things.
I think the game was supposed to kickstart a trilogy in a new setting beyond Verdite, but sadly, it was not to be. But the one game we got is great. I think I like it more than KF3, but they both have their strengths. KF3 has a better story, while KF4 has more interesting lore and a greater atmosphere. It's a bit closer to the Souls-games and comes recommended to anyone curious about the roots of the Souls-games. But it's not an easy recommendation, as the game is very particular in how it is played. You'd have to learn exactly what the game expects from you as a player.
So let's get to it!
The Japanese cover is much in line with the previous King's Field games. I still can't tell you what it's supposed to look like, but at least it's unique.
The American cover looks about what one would expect.
The European cover...
Good lord Metro3D! There are some things in this world that are not meant to be rendered. It's still better than the cover for Eternal Ring though. A sign of things to come, trust me.
The plot of KF4 is much easier to digest than the one in ER. It goes something like this:
The kingdom of Heladin lies cursed, it's king dying thanks to an accursed idol of sorrow gifted to him. For the good of the land, the Swordmaster Septiego took a battalion of his best men on a journey to break the idol's curse. They sought to return the idol, but were never heard from again. It was presumed that the idol was lost with them. In spite of this, the curse endured.
Meanwhile, the adjacant kingdom of Azalin, a shrouded figure appears before prince Devian. It gifts him the idol and vanishes. The idol was taken from the Holy Land, now known as the Land of Disaster. If the idol isn't returned, the curse will extend to Azalin too. Devian sets out on a quest to return the idol to the ancient city before it's too late.
That's about all the story in the game. There's a bunch of lore to discover, but it's very vague and sparsely placed out. It's a big changeup from KF3 and ER, it's more in line with Shadow Tower. Still, it's nice to play as a prince again, as is King's Field tradition. Speaking of traditions, something fun awaits us as the game begins. Instant death by lava!
Start as you mean to go on and whatnot.
If you take three steps to the right as soon as you gain control, Devian breaks through the ground and falls onto lava. It really sets the mood. What also sets the mood is the excellent music of the game. It's a step up from all the earlier games and well worth a listen. It's very atmospheric and really helps you distinguish areas.
The game features no loading and doesn't have super strict lines to draw between areas. Sometimes you can tell when you get into another area, but other times, it just flows seamlessly between similar places. It's great and makes the game a joy to explore. But that's just the areas themselves. Unlike ER, there's secrets and loot around every corner. It's so good that I kinda blew through the game without wanting to stop, it's that engrossing, in spite of the controls.
At long last, we have analog stick support. Sadly, From Soft were lazy and just hooked up the D-Pad input to the sticks. This means that the stick only responds to four exact positions, making the game awful to play. I just used the D-Pad like usual. Even then, it took me a while to get the controls down. That's because KF4 is somehow even slower than previous games. It's kind of amazing. It takes Devian an eternity to turn, move and swing the first few weapons. You get used to it and you can level up the stamina regen like usual, so it's not that bad. It's just a real shock to the system of someone who has played a bunch of Dark Souls 3 recently. And I have some comparisons to draw to that game, but that can wait. We have a friend to say hello to.
This man right here, is a part of Septiego's battalion, who faked sickness in order to stay behind like a coward. He is the progenitor of the Crestfallen Warrior, a mainstay of the Souls-games. And weirdly enough, he doesn't suffer a horrific fate of some sort. There isn't any voicacting, which might be for the best. He is nice enough to gift us a club though. Which is nice, since Devian is currently naked. No clue what his master plan was, probably got robbed on the way here.
You can actually fight with your fists in this game, which is a first. Normally, you need a weapon of some sort to attack. It's not that great, but your fist does have sword magic. It's a ki blast, not unlike what you can do with the Bonefist in DS2. Sadly, it's useless. How useless? So useless that I have yet to use it, or any other sword magic. The input is the same as before, just use magic during an attack. The problem is that you need to level a weapon up to level 3 before you can even check if the weapon has sword magic. You swap weapons much faster than they level, so you have to make an effort to grind. Which isn't something I recommend, since the game is designed so that you won't need to grind.
We need something stronger than a club. Something solid. Something sharp. Something spiky. Something like... a mace.
FYI, this video's adress ends with "ass".
Like I usually do, I recorded the start of the game. The goal is to show off the best route through the early parts that'll take you to the almighty mace. I'm using this excellent guide in order to speed things up. You have no idea how much easier this was to make since I can emulate the game without progress killing glitches. Beyond the semi-broken textures, there is a nasty bug I'll talk about later though.
Around the starting area are many things of note. The game is technically linear, but there's loads of extras for the adventurous type to find. Like armor. Remember that? It's pretty vital to keep your gear up to snuff. The game has an equip load system, but it's not much of an issue. You get more as you level, so you'll eventually get more than you know what to do with.
The maneater plants have made this place their home and have recieved a face lift texture-wise.
A club is technically a weedwhacker, right?
The official website had a little bio on them, but it died a few months ago it seems, so I can't tell you the rich lore of this demonic foliage. There's a well, just like in KF3, except this one actually holds some secrets. But much like the one in DS2, you need to be able to survive the drop. And for that, you need some more levels under your belt. There's also this guy sitting next to a broken bridge.
Never! Split! The party!
This is Duhrin Pathwarden, according to my guide. The reason his and the other NPCs' names are what they are is apparently because Agetec named them after forum members. That's really cool, I can't imagine what that community was like back in 2001. That's like ancient in internet time. Across the chasm is the box that houses the mace. It must be claimed!
Ignoring a locked chest, we can go down some stairs to David Bunch's shop. This is your best source of healing herbs for a long while. You can actually sell him the idol of Sorrow, but then you have to rebuy it later. He has some decent gear too, but as always, you can find most stuff nearby before long. There is a boarded up hole in a nearby wall. You can break it down with a big weapon, but I know of another way to make it fall.
In the other end of the area, past some giant bugs, we find some more people.
What a lovely young lady.
This girl and her mom can be found in a little cottage that has seen better days. She wants the cure for her mother's non-specific disease. The cure is a Rock of Life that can be found the nearby mine. The nearby poisoned mine, that is. That has to be a record for earliest poison level by From Soft. Getting the rock is our first proper goal, so we'll need to prepare. There is a cave behind the cottage with some antidote, but the enemies in there are a bit mean, so that'll have to wait.
In a nearby cathedral looking building we can find the closest we get to a companion in the game, Chad.
Not only does he tell us how to proceed, he also offers to trade a Rock of Life for a potion bottle. This would make for an interesting choice, deciding who should get a rock. But in truth, it's a false choice. There are actually two rocks to find in the mine. That's not very easy to realise, I'll have you know. One of them is a bit... occluded.
There is more stuff in the cathedral, but that can wait until we possess the means to progress. I'm not certain on the triggers, but talking to everyone seems to make Duhrin break the way into the hole next to the shop for you. I find this much easier, since you have to brave the mine for a bit in order to open it yourself. He also buys the map of the area if you don't, which isn't much of a loss. The maps in KF4 are rather useless, only one is worthwhile and that one is a map and a half, I tell ya.
After a bit of spelunking, we emerge next to a locked house and some more old friends.
I think he wants me to leaf him alone.
The Elder/Reaper trees are back and not much of a threat. Their new trick is sticking their branches underground to strike you, not unlike a certain Scholar of The First Sin. There's an actual church behind them where Duhrin sits.
Well, only if it isn't a bunch of rats. A man has to have standards.
The monsters in question are a bunch of skeletons. And let me tell you, King's Field 4: The Ancient City is a a skeleton's game. Just going here we ran into a few and that's a trend that will only continue. There are only a handful of areas in the game bereft of skeletons. You could call that lazy, but I see it as retribution for the lack of skeletons in Eternal Ring. Besides, who could get enough of these bony bastards?
I mean, look how happy they are to be here. They even cackle as they rise from the ground!
I of course ran like headless chicken straight to the site of the mace. It's sealed in a box, so you need to liberate it. They way I understand things, breakables require a certain amount of damage before they break. That's why you need to be like level 3 or 4 before you can break it. Barrels and boards need something stronger, like the one true god.
A true legend never dies. It only takes on new forms.
It's not as stupidly strong as in KF2, but it has good range and let's you smash through fodder enemies in one hit less. The skeletons didn't stand the ghost of a chance. I could swear that one of them was the skeleton of a child, but that can't be true. This is medieval fantasy, full of heroics and joyfu...
Quest Failed: ”The Bone Carver”
He is kind enough to leave behind a key to a nearby house where he left the useless map and a healing potion. Woohoo...
With mace in hand, it's child's play to roam the starting area, kill stuff, break barrels, get armor and generally just kick ass. One of the things to pilfer is the Clarity Bracelet from another tree. This is one of two bracelets in the game that can heavily dictate how your experience will be. It multiplies your max MP by 5, which is ridiculous. Since your basic MP is so low, this is the only way to cast multiple spells in a row. The trade-off is that I think it lowers damage done by spells by a little bit. I swear it screws with your stat gain on level-ups as well, but I'm not sure. Many sing the praises of this bracelet, but I don't like it. I think the game should give you more MP and the bracelet should let you overcharge spells by waiting longer to cast instead.
As stated before, magic is pretty garbage in this game, save for a few spells. The spells are weak and only gain any worthwhile speed at endgame. You can make use of it for stunlocking, which is nice in a few situations. But I find the best course of action is to sell the bracelet instead. This limits your access to magic severly. But it's very much worth it, because the bracelet sells for 37500(!!!!) gold. Why submit to slow magic, when you can have the power of mad cash instead?
By selling it, you have access to borderline infinite healing items and never have to worry about monetary troubles. It's a nice feeling to be able to run around with 99 herbs at the start of the game and munch on them with no fear of running out. It really is a predecessor to Demon's Souls!
Time to go spelunking in the poison mine and make good use of all of that healing.
Its entrance is guarded by an army of poisonous red slimes. The reason why I get the mace as fast as possible is because it has greater range than the club. This makes it so much easier to hit them. Just like in previous games, you can step on a green slime to cure poison. Antidotes are the optimal solution of course, but it's a nice touch. There's also a tiny little healing puddle that'll run out very fast. A stark contrast to the infinite fountains in the other games.
Is there any game out there where bats are more dangerous than annoying?
Over a log, we find what I can only describe as a hollow miner. They're our first humanoid enemy, and don't have much of note. They puke at you. That didn't stop someone from making a figure out of it.
Of all the things, in all of fiction, you choose this?
One of them drops a peasant's livelihood, das pickaxe. It's a trash weapon, only used to break down barriers at the start of the game. Still, a peasant with a pickaxe, sorry, pickax, as the game writes it, is still something to fear.
In order to teach you to use the pickaxe, there's this sign in the middle of a pathway.
Biatch, I walk my own path!
Destroying it and some planks takes you back to the start. Going down a slow ladder around here takes you to a manly miner man.
Did I walk in on a porno shoot?
He gives some warnings and tips, not unlike the miners in KF1 and KF2. Just beside him, a frightful sight awaits.
That can't be kosher.
In a collapsed part of the area, we see a Rock of Life. Down the path, the actual poison part begins. The shaft is drowned in poison gas, so the best bet is to run and find this thing.
You might not see it, but I'm actually dying of poison in this picture.
Killing the blob gives us our first rock. The other is up by the log and down an elevator.
I ain't no expert, but a gigantic bonfire in an enclosed space doesn't seem like a good idea.
Just to reinforce this as the game's poison level, we also get a poison pool to traverse. The trick is to run before the logs sink. Our reward is the other rock, guarded by the corpse of the girl's father.
With all that out of the way, we can cure the mother and earn a fire crystal from the girl. I really like whenever you get a magic crystal. There's a nice spinning animation with a pop that teaches you a new spell and refills MP. A pity that it's pretty much trash. We have devolved even further than KF3, so now every spell levels individually, instead of every element. And since magic levels at a glacial pace, you have to either grind or spend the whole game with one spell. My money is on Flash, due to it's penetrative properties. Giggity.
But now we possess the means to progress, so it's time to return to the church where Chad resides. The flask he trades us is useless for now, since the healing spring outside is busted. You can snipe a Dragon Flower from here though, which is like a Megaelixir. If it isn't clear by now, KF4 has tons of interesting little ways to interact with the enviroments.
I adore this kind of unique design that let's you get shinies in different ways. It's one of the reasons why I love Kingdom Hearts over it's sequels so much, you actually get to explore a bit and find secrets in that one. Remind me never to do a Kingdom Hearts retrospective, that would end me.
Down some stairs, we find the skeleton guarding a leather shield behind a hidden door. He's a real trooper, this one. This skeleton wouldn't be seen again until 4-1 of Demon's Souls, where they guard Graverobber Blige who sells a leather shield. Just gotta pick it up an...
It was scary in the other games, and it's scary here too, ugh. Asssholes. There's also a slab of lore here.
Are we absolutely sure people aren't shoting a porno around here?
There are a few of these spread around the game to try and help you understand the Forest, Earth and Dark folk better and how they serve the plot. There's also a sort of lore journal where we can read some sparse details about the world. I much prefer item descriptions, but it works.
It's still hella confusing to comprehend. I'll do my best to draw conclusions. But it's not like anyone will play the game and correct me, so I could get away with anything. Given enough time, I could probably bullshit my way to a story connection between Demon's Souls, Bloodborne and King's Field 4 and you'd be none the wiser.
Burning some webs away takes us underground to some spiders.
Red-eyed spiders. That's a bad sign.
The game takes place mostly underground, and this path leads to the center of the titular ancient city. The spiders are actually super easy to fight. It's the webbing that you should worry about. It slows you down. And let me tell you, being slowed in the slowest game in the series is not fun. You can barely move and it takes an eternity for it to run out. Thankfully, I can just be a cheap bastard and unlock the framerate to speed things up.
The proper thing to do is just to burn the web, as it doesn't respawn. In a side room we find our first warp altar, a returning feature from KF2. You can place a guide stone in one later and warp to it from a teleport pad. It's more restricted than in KF2, but at least it doesn't cost MP. It's cool that you get to set up your own fast travel. I wonder how a Souls-game would be with that feature. RIP bonfire creation in DS3.
In the opposite room, we run into Lee Maynor.
That's not the words of a true warrior of the mace!
He is just mopey and useless for the moment. He holds the key to the source of the spring, but we can't get that now. And even then, you need the Icon of Healing to activate it. You can actually skip activating the healing spring, which I don't recommend. What I do recommend however, is to run straight ahead a bit and grab an axe. It's the next decent weapon to find, and makes an encounter next to the icon a bit easier.
The way there is a sort of two-floor crypt stuffed to the torches in skeletons. It's pretty decent, barring a room filled with poisoned mushroms that requires either magic or antidotes.
The goal is to find two Release rocks, which unlocks a door later. There a nice little shortcut back to the shop here too. The game isn't full of shortcut porn, but there's usually a good one every few levels. After finding the Release rocks and humping some graves for treasure, we find a real asshole move by From Soft. There's a little pond here, that's not used for healing.
Oh no, it's a poisoned pond! And just to rub it in further, taking some poison water is really crucial in a ”quest” in the midgame. I dare say no one brought poison with them and had to backtrack for it. Not fun. There's also an old man here. Who's name is Mista Fopa. Is that a rapper? It must be, or maybe a One Piece villain.
”If only I could recall why kids love the taste of Cinnamon Toast Crunch(tm)”.
He is here to pay respects to the dead, but can't continue. Thankfully, Devian is here with both Release rocks in hand. The door opens and takes him...
To the bone zone!
This is a miniboss, not unlike a mix of the Skeleton Lords and the Royal Rat Vanguard bosses of DS2. It's just you against an army of skeletons. It's not hard as long as you keep spacing in mind and don't attack any gravestones. It'll take a while, but the bones will break and the door to the Icon of Healing shall open. Mista Fopa (sic) bemoans the fact that people fought over the healing spring until its creator, Oricalum removed the icon.
I'm not surprised, magic healing water is more incredible than people make it out to be in fiction. Someone write me a high fantasy story about how the world would break down with the creation of healing potions. It's a moneymaker, I assure you. There's also a light crystal stuck in a hole here that you can shoot down and pick up not far from Lee.
Who is very happy to see us. Just look at that mace. It's the ultimate symbol of (not ultra gay) friendship between two warriors (who are totally not ultra gay (totally, like, for realsies)).
Since the guy upstairs isn't gonna suffer, Lee has to pick up the slack and go hollow. Except, neither soulstarving, hollowing or beastmoding is a thing in this game. Instead, soldiers go all graylike and try to kill you. When they die (again?) a giant bug runs away from the body. As horrible as that sounds, let me make it worse. The soldiers fall down forwards when they die and the bugs originate from the legs. Can you draw a conclusion from that information? Allow me to speak write the words.
M i n d c o n t r o l l i n g A n u s I n s e c t s
If you manage to slay these nightmares before they despawn, you get a nice reward in the form of gold, xp, maybe a healing potion and healthy refill to your sanity meter. Lee also drops his key to the source of the healing spring where a giant spider has gotten stuck on the ceiling.
You know, giant spiders don't seem so bad anymore. They can at least be stabbed without fear for your bunghole.
This is our first proper boss and it's absolutely pathetic. It's stuck to the ceiling, and in spite of its rotational power harkening from it's membership in the Beyblade cosplay community, it's super easy. You just hunt for that spider booty like you're the milquetoast protagonist of one those monster girl anime shows you degenerates watch.
Unless the monster girl in question is a pursuer of proper knowledge, I will judge you until the end of days, months and the Assasin's Creed franchise.
It drops a water crystal that teaches you an antidote spell. But more importantly, you can place the icon and restore the spring on the surface. It too runs out and we don't have an empty vial, so its use is rather minimal.
”Ma, the teapot's haunted by aliens. Again.”
More importantlier, killing the spider should push you to level 12. That's just enough HP to survive a trip down the well. Sadly, there isn't a softspoken rodent monarch to greet you down there, but it's still worth a look.
There are some midgame enemies down here who can prove a bit tanky. By hitting a switch you can lower the water to another water crystal and release some evil maneating fish. I think they despawn if you leave. They do guard something weird. In the deepest underwater part of the well, there's a hidden wall with a skeleton. If you want, you can beat down these poor innocent bones for its very hands! You monster.
The legacy of this pillaging can still be felt to this day.
As you can probably guess, these bone gauntlets are cursed. Super cursed even. They drain your health and gives you regen on kills like the Ring of the Evil Eye in Dark Souls. The stats are nice, but the game isn't fast enough to let you murder stuff faster than you'll die. It's probably a reference to cursed items in DnD, which is fun world building. Skelecide notwithstanding.
The spell from the crystal is Endure Fire, one of the better spells in the game. You can have some real fun with it later. Leave it to From Soft to make a buff the one actually good spell. Good thing they never did that again.
Now we can actually move forward into the Guardian gate, the final area before we reach the city proper. Beyond some more butt-raided soldiers, lies a wall of infinite arrows, kind of like the one on the first floor of KF1. Boy, that was a while ago. I feel like it's almost time to reboot the retrospective. I won't do that, because god no, but it's important to reminisce from time to time.
Around the bend is a hidden wall and some barrels...
Curse the fiends at From Soft, their children too. And their children forever true.
The titular guardians of the gate are giant stone golems with holes for faces. That rings an undead bell. They will instakill you if they catch you, but are thankfully sedated with a magical thingie called a Binding Crown. You need to steal one and put it elsewhere to progress, easy dungeon crawling.
In the other end of the area, the handax is hidden behind a bed. There's also a locked door that can't be opened for an eternity. There is a bunch of optional backtracking to be done in this game, most of which isn't worth it. There's no Verdite equivalent to pilfer at endgame. This door gives you some guantlets that grant a bit extra attack, at the time in the game when you almost have ultimate armor. Also, for some reason, there's a dog locked alongside the Red Guide Stone.
Run! Run and be free!
The dog runs away, never to be seen again. I don't get it. The girl has a dog, maybe it runs there? I'm surprised we don't find it dead by the arrow trap. Said trap can be turned off and the last part of the area opens up. Here you place the crown in order to get by more guardians. This finally let's us go to the center of the ancient city.
I can see the endgame from here!
This is where just about every area in the game connects to. There is a central tower with 3 levels and multiple bridges connecting them. Most of these are either broken or raised, making them worthless. It wouldn't be right if we could just waltz through the tower and skip half the game, would it?
Around a corner, barricaded from some soldiers, we find the the merchant Ramirez Martin. He is rather thankful, and offers a reward.
Arrows sold separately.
The bow in KF4 is decent. It's not as vital as in Shadow Tower, but it's not as worthless as in KF2/KF3. And thanks to my stand 「Loadsa Money」, getting 99 arrows is no issue. Nor is picking up a bunch of potions. That amount of arrows is actually enough to last you the whole game, if you count a few extra you can pick up. He hints that you can fight the guardians with arrows. Sadly, you have to go in and out of the buy screen to get his dialogue. It would take until DeS before they invented a talk prompt. He also warns you about explosive barrels, which I of course didn't die to once. Ahem.
Shooting the guardians let's you steal all the stuff they guard. These things include a Keystone for the bridges of the city, a magic crystal that gives you Earth Heal and an amulet to boost its power. You also need to keep the Binding Crowns if you want to save yourself some backtracking. There's also a Forest Carver sword. It's a super fast curved sword, probably the ancestor of the Carthus Cancer sword in DS3. But this speed comes at a price, that being durability.
The reason I liken KF4 to DS3 is because both games took ideas from their respective spinoffs and butchered them completely. DS3 features super fast enemies like in Bloodborne, despite the player being weaker. KF4 has a durability system that doesn't establish itself into the main gameplay loop properly like in Shadow Tower and only serves to hamper the experience.
Weapons degrade in power with just about every point of durabilty and have a hard limit at 60% durability. What this means is that weapons don't break, they just get weaker. The result of this is that the game slows down even more and makes you compare all your weapons for the one that has 2 points more of pierce damage. It sucks, since you can't repair weapons on your own. There's a smith later on who can, but that's not for a long while and he has his own problems.
Thankfully, you can swap weapons out for new ones, but that requires you to find just about all of them and save the good ones for the right moment. I would have taken DS3's non-existant durability system over this. It's stupid, but at least it doesn't hamper the experience.
Beyond the tower lies the North Gate, one of many gates to come. Here we find somehting that should look familiar to all you Chosen Undead in the audience.
Eh, the anthropomorphism kinda takes away the snake-induced horror potential.
Yep, the Man Serpents from Sen's Fortress were knicked from this game. Original IP my big toe! They were supposed to be in DeS as well. They are called the Widdas and are sorta our main antagonists. At least going by how many of the damn things you have to fight. The two ones here are more like minibosses and can two-shot you. They also have paralysis weaponry, which is only an issue for poor people with more MP than sense who can't afford Forest Roots. Looking down, we can see a bridge to an area we won't get to for a while.
Hear that? That's the sound of speedrunners crying over the fact that you can't survive this fall.
The reward for defeating them is an Expedition key, used nearby for a nice little Long Sword and at the start for a useless anti poison bracelet. In the central tower there is a wall used to display how many spells you've aquired.
As you can tell, there's a bit more game to go.
On the way out, one of the firespewing birds who haunt the tower turned into a camera diva.
Crap, I forgot to add the instagram filters. Quick, pretend it has a stupid hat!
Normally, they fly about and hit you with the odd fireball. This one decided to get up in my grill and suffer my wrath. My reward was a good deal xp and about 400 gold. That's pretty good. Thank you AI based god. With that out of the way, it's time for the Silver Gate. The second best gate, apparently.
There isn't much of note since it's a small area with little of note. There's the first dark spell, which offers another connection to DS3, since the dark magic of both games is utter crap. There's also some Xenomorph-looking lizards who can blind you and slow you down.
In here, just about everyone can hear you scream. Echoey walls, you know?
Going up from here finally takes us back to the surface, which should be exciting. But we've approached the limit for what is a safe length of a blog post, so we'll call it quits for now. If we go on for much longer, you run the risk of permanent damage to your chances of enjoying my brand of comedy. I could not imagine a worse fate for a fellow human being.
See ya next time on the From Software firstperson retrospective, when we talk about how much of this game DS2 ripped off, emulation bugs and a boss using summoned swords! And maybe even some godforsaken katanas.