You Too Can Have a Kingdom this Grand.
XSEED Games is making empire building as cute and fun as possible with its soon to be released Wii title Little King's Story. I briefly got a demo of this game about a month ago during E3 and I have to say that I wasn't terribly impressed at the time. The reason for my lack of excitement was due primarily to the fact that we were dropped straight into a battle with little context. I was left with the impression that it was a strange version of Pikmin but with a cute king. Thankfully, XSEED was able to give me a second look at the game to clear up a few of my misconceptions and at the same time show me a lot of the charm that's packed into the title.
The game starts off with a beautiful hand drawn watercolor animation opening accompanied by classical music, very reminiscent of old classic Russian animation. Actually, the whole game has a very classy feel to it since the entire soundtrack is composed of classical music and classical remixes, including a couple techno mixes. Two songs that stuck out in particular were the Nutcracker Suite and a very appropriate rendition of the William Tell Overture that played while I fought a giant cow boss. It's the kind of music that's easily recognizable and just as easy to unwind to. But, what good is a great soundtrack without a solid game to back it up? Your primary task is to build up your castle, kingdom, subjects, and if need be your territories through conquest. You start the game of as a newly appointed king with a shack for a castle and a small rundown kingdom. Your subjects aren't much better, acting more like carefree children than adults. So how exactly do you transform your rundown kingdom of slackers into a glorious and productive empire? Through exploration, quests, the occasional bout of conquest, and most importantly, putting your lazy subjects to work for you.
As you wander around your kingdom you can walk up to your subjects and recruit them as your royal guard to accompany you out in the field. Each of your subjects is a unique character with their own names, personalities, and tastes. As you wander about the field, for either exploration, resource gathering, or a quest, you send your guard to fight for you, remove obstacles, and to collect money and resources. Initially, you can only take a handful of people with you at a given time, but over the course of the game your personal guard can swell to the size of a small army of 30 subjects.
The Royal Guard Likes to Huddle Before A Fight.
The money and resource gathering is particularly important, because cold hard cash is how you build up your kingdom. As you gain enough funds you can build new buildings and sites in your kingdom. The most important buildings you can build are workplaces. What fun would the game be if your royal guard army was composed of ordinary citizens. That's where the workplaces come in. If you have the funds you can build, for example, a farmhouse workplace or a guardhouse workplace to upgrade your subjects to new jobs. Each new job has particular perks, like farmers who are excellent at digging up treasure and have the special ability of being able to find hot springs which can heal your army. Upgrading your subjects is as easy as recruiting the subject of your choice with the B button and sending them in to workplace with the A button. There are 15 jobs and workplaces that can be unlocked over the course of the game and once you have enough money and meet certain conditions. One advanced workplace I tried out was the guard house, which allowed me to upgrade my subjects to Soldier Grunts who can latch onto enemies to deal greater damage. The best part is that workplaces kill two birds with one stone, they make your kingdom larger and prettier and give you access to a set of more diverse units for your battles.
Now that I have all of that context the battles make much more sense. After building up a kingdom and interacting with and recruiting my loyal subjects it is easy to build attachments to particular units. They all have something cute to say and your subjects help you build up your kingdom and upgrade your castle through their hard work. The combat is just one component of being the best little king you possibly can. The combat itself is rather fun and simple. All you really need to do is launch your troops at an enemy with the A button and recall them if need be with the B button. The strategy comes in setting up your guard with the right mix of jobs and knowing when to attack and when to retreat. I personally got a lot of joy out beating a boss or clearing a quest to see what I could buy next for my kingdom or if I annexed a new territory to add to my holdings. It is deceptively simple, which easily lends itself to play by a wide range of individuals. Just be careful, younger kids might start to question the futility of war and the moralities of aggression towards neighbors.
The cute presentation, the easily hummable classical music, my lovable subjects, and my obsessive need to upgrade my kingdom and to transform my castle from a shack into a palace has sold me on a game that, not to long ago, I really didn't care about. It may not be the most complex kingdom builder or minion based combat game out there but it's fun and easy to get into. On a console like the Wii with a very broad audience, charm can go a long way, and Little King's Story has that in spades.