I love kingdom building games. I enjoy developing my realm, getting my citizens happy, exploiting natural resources, and so forth. I’m not so much a fan of the inevitable wars with other kingdoms, but I’ll put up with them if the AI doesn’t cheat too badly. I’m also not terribly enamoured with the slew of kingdom building games for mobile and tablet that require you to fork over real money or slowly accumulate in-game currency to progress.
Earlier this year, I found myself really getting into Ni no Kuni II’s kingdom building mechanic, and, within all the above constraints, I wanted more of the same. I wanted something absorbing, but not a Civ-level timesink that would steal away the next few weeks of my life before I even noticed. Ultimately, I decided to settle for a game I’d purchased ages ago but never quite got around to starting – New Little King’s Story.
New Little King’s Story is billed as a PS Vita “reimagining” of the original Little King’s Story for Wii. It’s not quite a remake, and not quite a sequel – the game takes place late into the events of the original Little King’s Story, but essentially resets the world and forces you to re-explore the same locales, fight the same bosses, and rescue the same princesses as the original. I picked the Vita version of the game because I thought it was an enhanced remake that would be superior to the original, but there’s actually quite a bit of hate for it online. The brightly coloured graphics and super deformed characters are replaced with a bland world and generic anime-style designs; the game slows down in the latter stages when you have 50+ followers, and the dark twist ending is completely gone. I can see why people might be annoyed, but since I had never played the Wii version, surely I could judge New Little King’s Story on its own merit, without making unfavourable comparisons?
New Little King’s Story is described on Wikipedia as a “real time life simulation strategy role playing game”, although arguably this is only accurate if your life consists of being a juvenile monarch with unfailingly obedient citizens. You take on the role of boy king Corobo, and your task is to explore the world for treasure, defeat bosses, and use the spoils to expand your kingdom. Since Corobo is quite frail and useless, you’ll need to recruit citizens to join you on your travels. Like Pikmin, citizens are biddable minions who will do most of the work for you. Within the safety of your kingdom, you assign them various jobs – usually related to construction, removal of obstacles, or combat – and then venture out into the wild to gather gold. Citizens who spend a lot of time together will eventually fall in love (heterosexual couples only, alas), and in due course may even produce children.
I played New Little King’s Story pretty intensely for a few days, and whilst I did feel drawn to keep going the whole time, the gameplay always induced some low level stress in me. In retrospect, it’s easy to point to some reasons why.
First off, the translation is really poor. Arguably, there’s not much story to speak of, so it’s not like I’m missing out any amazing plot developments, but it’s so bad that it also affects the gameplay. For a while, I bemoaned the lack of various useful shortcuts I thought should be in the game, like being able to quickly assemble your party or swap members in and out without running round the town trying to find them. It turned out that these options did exist, but were so badly named and explained within the game that I didn’t really know what I was doing. For example, I would issue some command at the town square which I thought would gather my citizens, only for them to inexplicably disperse.
Even when I got on the road, the controls felt clunky. I would fire melee attackers at an enemy, only for some of them to miss and return to the back of the queue. I’d then have to cycle through all the other classes of citizen I’d brought with me just to get those melee attackers back to the front and ready to deploy again. In boss battles, where the enemy is large, fast-moving, and liable to deal lots of damage, it can unnecessarily ramp up the tension to be much less reactive and precise than you need to be. It quickly became clear to me why so many games of this type work best with a mouse and a proper UI rather than relying on console or handheld button mappings.
Ultimately, New Little King’s Story was a bit of a disappointment. In the short-term, it satiated my cravings for a kingdom building game, but the general blandness of the environments, the less-than-fun bosses and awkward control system all soured me on the experience. I might go back and finish off the game some day, but I don’t feel in any particular hurry to do so.