Legend of the River King
By Sam Marchello
Those who are familiar with Natsume published titles are probably more familiar with the ever popular Harvest Moon series, which debuted in North America back in 1996. What most RPGamers were unaware of was that Pack-in-Video, who developed many of the early Harvest Moon games, had created a little fishing RPG that has been around since 1990 where it debuted on the Famicom. I am, of course, referring to Kawa no Nushi Tsuri, better known as the Legend of the River King.
Unlike the Harvest Moon series, Legend of the River King has not been as fortunate in terms of having nearly all of its games localized. What does stand out, however, is that this particular series has just as strong a fanbase as Harvest Moon in Japan. It would be silly to do a fishing feature without including the fishing RPG that started a lot of what we've come to expect from fishing minigames. North America first got its hands on this gem with the release of Legend of the River King on the Nintendo GameBoy in 1998, less than one year after the release of the first Harvest Moon title on the Super Nintendo.
This was one of the first games I ever played on my GameBoy Color. I remember fishing for hours on end during long car rides to my parents' cottage. Many of the stories presented in the River King series focused on themes of friendship, family, hardwork and of course, to catch the elusive fish, River King. Some of the games, such as A Wonderful Journey on the PlayStation 2, allowed players to take on the role of one of four family members searching for the River King while also partaking in town requests and battling wild animals. In the original GameBoy and GameBoy Color titles, players took on the role of a young fisherman who must seek the River and Sea gods by, you guessed it, fishing!
Much like Harvest Moon, the River King games are not heavily focused on story, but stand out on the constant improvements made to the easy-to-use fishing mechanics. Fishing itself is fairly easy to grasp, but there's a lot more depth than simply launching the lure into a body of water. In order to catch the best fish, players need to improve their rods and lures, but it's not as simple as going to a bait shop to get all the upgrades. Depending on the game, request systems were used as a way to obtain better fishing gear in order to make progress.
While the Harvest Moon titles, excluding the Rune Factory spin-offs, are more sim-based, the first few River King games featured turn-based battles against many creepy crawlies. In the GameBoy Color titles, players had the option of BEAT (attack), EAT (item), and RUN. The fisherman had a limited amount of hit points, and in order to increase his level, needed to fight the various enemies surrounding the lake. River King is far more RPG than Harvest Moon is, and the extra addition of providing a combat system was a welcome change of pace during long car rides.
The fishing in this series is fairly standard and changes as new games are released. For example, River King: Mystic Valley featured Fishing Battles that would occur when a player hooked a fish. These battles consisted of the player using the stylus to launch the lure, and when a fish was hooked, players could view it on the bottom screen to see how much fight the fish had. Using the face buttons on the DS, players have to battle the fish to the point of wearing it out. The larger or rare the fish caught, the more Special Hit (SP) gained by the player. SP can be used to buy new equipment from the game's bait shop.
Compared to the Harvest Moon series, Legend of the River King never seems to get its due. The games have so much to offer in terms of a relaxing experience, and the fishing mechanics are easy to learn, making these games great for pick-up and play. There's no learning curve, and the real challenge and reward comes from the player's own personal satisfaction. If you're someone like me, River King is one of those series where you can waste hours simply fishing your life away in hopes of improving upon the size of your daily catch. It's a shame these games are so hard to find because they are amazing RPG comfort food.
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