SummaryNo kraken is an island, and every clod is washed by the sea
The GoodThis game was released as King's Field in the West, but in fact it had a Japan-only predecessor, so I shall henceforth refer to it by its more accurate name. King's Field II is one of those sequels that carefully preserve the formula already defined by another game, trying not to change any of the basic ingredients that made that game tick and sticking as close as possible to the familiar concept. However, it is also one of those sequels that are "bigger and badder", basically throwing at us the same things in larger quantities. Is this good or bad? I think the answer largely depends on how good the first game was. In this case, I'll certainly vote in the affirmative, since the first King's Field was awesome, and more of it could not be possibly bad.
I won't dwell on the fine qualities that made the first game a groundbreaking, addictive action RPG ahead of its time. I think my review of it made all those points clear. Suffice to say that King's Field II preserves everything that made the previous game great. It is an intensely atmospheric, non-linear, challenging game that refuses to cater to the mainstream and remains a hardcore RPG that only true fans of the genre will be able to savor to the full. It doesn't offer any compromises and has no features that would tone down the severe, unforgiving gameplay of the original. It is a very similar experience and retains as much respect and loyalty to its predecessor as it is only possible.
What makes it a really excellent sequel, however, is its determination to expand and offer more to the player without harming the soul of the gameplay. King's Field II is larger, more varied, and more open than the first game. The world is vast and feels more organic, more logically interconnected than the five dungeon floors of the original. There are more secrets to discover, more alternate paths to takes, and more freedom to go wherever you want and do whatever you want. Right from the beginning you are thrown into an expansive area where multiple exploration venues are available. You can theoretically wander far, far away from the starting point and deep into the heart of the game's world straight ahead. In the first game, with all its exploration possibilities, you were still confined to one floor you had to complete before gaining access to the next one. Here, you can explore huge areas with several floors each right off the bat. The freedom is nearly exhilarating, and the sequel manages to be even more addictive than the first game.
The first King's Field took place in dungeon-like areas. The sequel offers a whole island for us to explore. Like the original, King's Field II is magically atmospheric. You begin the game standing on an islet, with dangerous deep waters separating you from land, and from that moment on you are sucked into the game's world. There are beautiful outdoor areas, settlements, ominous caves, but they do not detract from the hermetic nature of the world: it remains contiguous and cohesive, with unified style and atmosphere, and yet with more variety and scenery change than before. I felt that the island of King's Field II was even more interesting to explore and map out than the grim graveyard of the first game.
Other than that, there isn't really anything here that we haven't seen in the original game in one shape or another. New monsters, weapons and equipment go without saying. But the core gameplay is remarkably similar, and all the tricks and tactics you used in the previous game apply here as well. An interesting difference, though, is the necessity to learn magic from various crystals found in the game, and the ability to sprint. That's right, you can actually move around pretty fast in King's Field II. Does this mean that the deliberately slow-paced, methodical gameplay that made the first game so distinctive has been ruined? Not in the least: sprinting completely depletes your stamina and magic for a while, so running around during combat is not an option. But it is certainly a welcome addition that makes those endless trips to healing fountains and save points a more tolerable routine.
The BadKing's Field II doesn't do much to welcome new fans to the series. It requires the same amount of patience and dedication as the original, perhaps even more so. The initial learning curve is perhaps even steeper for those who attempt to tackle the game without being familiar with its predecessor's peculiarities. At least the first King's Field started in a relatively secure area where you could explore a bit before being overwhelmed by killer plants and their companions, and the first save point was conveniently placed beyond the monsters' reach. There are no such consolations in the sequel. There are multiple paths to take right from the beginning. Literally, your first step in the game may result in an unpleasant death in the deep waters surrounding the island. One of the game's boss enemies is right around the corner, and it is needless to say he will kill you in one hit if you dare to come near him right away. The first save point is located on a different floor, requiring you to mow down multiple krakens to reach it. At least a healing fountain is functional and pretty near. But overall, don't expect any mercy from this game: it is hard, it will make you curse and want to quit more than once, unless you accept it for what it is and connect to its strange vibes.
The Bottom LineIt's a pity the real first King's Field was never released in the West, but its sequel delivers plenty of the same goodness in a different setting, plus even more flexibility and refinement in gameplay. A real gourmet dish for hardcore fans of action role-playing, King's Field II is a proud testimony of a creative epoch of game design, marking the beginning of FromSoftware's international recognition.