Retro Review: King’s Field; the genesis of Demon’s Souls (Japanese PSOne Classic download)

5 mins read

One of the highest rated PlayStation 3 games is Demon’s Souls, a game which successfully fuses stylish Gothic horror with rock-hard gameplay and brilliantly realised action. It was a sleeper hit and while it has sold nowhere near as many units as the likes of Final Fantasy XIII, it should end up in most people’s list of top 20 or 30 games on the console.

It also was successful enough to see a spiritual sequel of its own, Dark Souls, which is now quite possibly the most anticipated game for PS3 RPG fans.
What people might not realise is that both Dark Souls and Demon’s Souls are spiritual sequels to one of the most underrated RPG series’ in console history. PlayStation One owners (especially those with Japanese PlayStations) have probably heard of 1994’s King’s Field. PlayStation 2 owners might have read a review or two of the ‘biggest’ release in the King’s Field series – IV – which was critically slaughtered. But many, many people who love Demons Souls probably haven’t actually played the genesis of that brilliance.

Not the most inspiring cover; but you know what they say about judging books by their covers…

If you have a PlayStation 3 or PSP with access to the Japanese PSN, you can download a handful of the Kings Field games. The series was consistent in quality, but the best one to start with is the original.
And from the moment you install King’s Field, you’ll see where Demon’s Souls came from – the game is dark, dripping with Gothic atmosphere, and brutal. Death comes easy, resources such as healing items are thin, and the enemies hit hard. Avoiding the attacks of the enemies is the name of the game here, which is a refreshing change from the damage-soaking instant-healing superheroes of most modern RPGs.

Not really scary, but he’s still gonna slaughter you
Like Demon’s Souls, King’s Field is a slow-paced dungeon hack, heavy on the secrets and light on story. The enemies that you’ll be hacking are standard horror fare – undead, demon thingies, spiders and ugly monsters. Given they’re strung together by a handful of polygons, the game now lacks the smooth animations and interesting designs of Demon’s Souls beasties. The setting, too, is incredibly bland. Wall and floor colours are muted, monotone, and ugly.
Despite this, King’s Field is brilliant at creating a horror ambiance. From Software has always been brilliant at creating a claustrophobic atmosphere, and this game achieves the same through its graphical limitations. There is no real sense of relief in the game – you’re isolated and alone within a dark, cold dungeon, and you know it.

How about ‘free’?
Aside from the visuals, the main difference between King’s Field and Demon’s Souls is that with the older game, you’ll be playing from a first person perspective. Admittedly, this tunnel vision effect does make it slightly more challenging to be fully aware of everything that’s going on around you on those rare moments where the dungeon areas really open up beyond tight corridors, but it’s still very playable, and you’ll rarely feel cheated.
Although Japanese RPGs and non-Japanese speaking people rarely mix with success when it comes to understanding the action, King’s Field is relatively palatable and easy to get on with. The plot is inconsequential, and with a bit of experimentation, you’ll work out what the various objects do.

And this is Demons Souls. Wow has this series come far
This is a game that was never officially released in English (though there is a fan translation out there). It’s unfortunate, because I suspect the success of Demon’s Souls would have people rethink the initial critical panning the games were given.
Well worth a download.

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