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SummaryIs that a Silviera's key in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?
The GoodThe first King's Field by FromSoftware was, without exaggeration, a groundbreaking 3D action RPG, unfairly forgotten for a long time and only recently given some attention thanks to the Dark Souls boom. The second game was released in the West as the first, which means that the game I'm reviewing here is actually the third in the series. It is also the last Playstation-era King's Field, and the finale of the so-called "Verdite trilogy": the next game departed from the overarching storyline of its predecessors.
King's Field III is the logical conclusion of the trilogy as far as gradual expansion is concerned. It is by far the largest game in the series, and decidedly the most ambitious one. Instead of the secluded dungeon of the first game and the island of the second we are given a whole land to explore here. Much of the game is set outside, and you'll be exploring plains, forests, and towns as you advance towards your final goal.
The sheer scope of the game is extremely impressive. Of course, its world is much smaller than that of Daggerfall, but let's not forget that much of Bethesda's masterpiece was randomized. Here, everything is hand-crafted. Every area is unique, every location is carefully planned and designed. The first two games may have featured even tighter level design, but King's Field III is still meticulously constructed out of familiar elements, yet in a much broader environment. It is big and open to the point of not fitting the definition of a "dungeon crawler" any more, though the traditional lack of safe areas and complexity of level structures applies here as well.
There is more variety in this King's Field than ever before. Basically, almost every type of scenery used in the previous games makes an appearance here, in addition to the open-air areas that were all but absent in the predecessors. You'll explore familiar underground skeleton-infested passages, caves with environmental hazards, and ominous castles. There is still plenty of atmosphere in King's Field III, and the game manages to grab and immerse you with the same intensity that distinguished other works by FromSoftware. The familiar challenge as well as the constant growth and reward continue their triumphant march. There is a wealth of new weapons, magic spells, equipment, and items, including the extremely helpful automap you acquire early in the game. In most ways, King's Field III is the culmination of everything that made the series great.
One of my favorite aspects of King's Field games are their exploration possibilities. King's Field III does not disappoint in that aspect, offering huge maps with a mind-boggling amount of optional content. You can try to run to the exit and see what the next area looks like, or you can take your time and clear a level, exploring it to the full. The exploration is exceptionally rewarding, and the hunt for secrets can get exhilarating. You explore new areas, get new items and go back to check out that mysterious cave with difficult enemies guarding a chest you couldn't open back then. Even though there is a certain order in the areas, and they are less naturally interconnected than the seamless passages of the island in the previous game, there is still plenty of non-linearity, and the areas themselves are so big that even if they were arranged strictly they would be still immensely fun to explore.
There is always something to check, to fight, or to collect; there are secret doors, chests with different locks, special people and enemies, unique weapons, puzzles, and everything you would want from a video game, whose goal is to immerse us in a virtual world where we dictate the pace. Like its predecessors, King's Field III is great at creating an illusion that its world was made specifically for us. It is as if the designers did their best in obfuscating their presence, leaving everything to us and letting us decide where to go and what to do. You don't feel that someone is telling you how to proceed, and when you figure it out you feel you came to the conclusion yourself, and chose your own path rather than guessing what the developers intended. You'll obtain key items and solve quests the same way as any other player, but the actual gameplay experience will be vastly different for everyone. You'll have your own adventures and your own memorable moments, because the game gives you just enough material and just enough freedom to play to your heart's content within its borders.
King's Field III is also more "epic" than the earlier games, feeling more like a large, world-embracing RPG. There are many more characters, and a more coherent sense of a world with its own geography instead of just one secluded area. The story is also more developed, building up suspense leading up to a fateful battle the game's protagonist is personally involved in. There is more information about the background story, longer conversations, as well as interesting side-stories concerning some of the characters.
The BadWhile the second game was bigger and more varied than the first, it was still quite similar to it in structure and atmosphere. You explored claustrophobic passages and you knew you were confined to one area, however huge it might be. King's Field III, on the other hand, goes even further and offers a whole land for exploration. It sounds great on paper and indeed add plenty to the formula, but also destroys a certain balance distinguishing the series so far. The sense of survival is greatly diminished when you walk through open fields and visit dozens of houses populated by friendly people. The imminent feeling of danger resulting from limited space is no longer there. Immersive as it still is, King's Field III doesn't quite convey the same cozy-scary atmosphere the previous games so masterfully created.
The bigger a game is the harder it is to design its levels. King's Field III is still beautifully structured, but the feeling of sheer perfection of level design isn't there any more. There are some mundane, repetitive passages and even symmetrical mazes that lack the inner logic and the natural architecture that were so attractive in the two earlier games. Sadly, it seems that technology couldn't quite catch up with the ambitious design. The more modestly built previous games could be visually more convincing because certain types of terrain were deliberately avoided. King's Field III, however, tries to re-create a much larger world consisting mostly of outdoor areas in 3D, and the lack of detail and graphical power immediately show. Pitiful little houses without furniture, depressing featureless meadows and forests, and rehashed plain textures are clear testimonies of the engine's limitations.