Overview – developed by Nippon Ichi Software and published by NIS America, The Cruel King and The Great Hero is a turn based JRPG with a charming storybook design. Follow the story of Yuu, a young girl who wishes to become a great hero, supported by the Dragon King who watches over her during her quest. This title is available for Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4, with links to each version of the game available at the bottom of this review.
Disclaimer: before I get into the review, I would like to thank NIS America for providing the copy of the Cruel King and the Great Hero that was used for this piece. The provision of this software has not influenced the contents of this review, all thoughts and opinions contained within are my own.
Now with the introductions out of the way, let’s get into the review. I will be skipping the story segment as I believe it is best experienced first-hand, so with that being said, I will be moving straight into discussing the gameplay.
Gameplay – the Cruel King and the Great Hero is a JRPG with a unique twist, as the narrative and action is presented in a manner similar to that of a children’s story book. With story scenes being read aloud by a narrator, alongside transitions that feature the turning of pages from a book. The core objectives of this release are to complete quests, battle enemies in turn based battles, explore the world and help its inhabitants with tasks that they have.
At the start of each chapter, the story segment sets up the main objective for Yuu to complete, which includes reaching a specific point on the world map and helping a fox save their family. As the chapter progresses, the main objective may change, along with further story segments to further the narrative and push Yuu further on in her adventure. When all objectives have been cleared, Yuu must return home and end the day, so that next quest may begin.
During the adventure, Yuu must travel through the different regions of the world. Each area that must be explored is split into side scrolling rooms, with paths that can lead in different directions and may contain obstacles, treasure and characters to interact with. To help navigate the different zones, a map will show all explored “rooms” with dotted lines showing the directions that each path will go and icons for different destinations/objectives, but some will be blocked off until a later time.
When exploring the world, Yuu will encounter enemies that will engage her in battle. These battles are mostly random unless dictated by the plot or a secondary objective, with different foes tied to that area appearing to fight the hero in training. When a battle starts, Yuu (and a companion if she has one) will have several options that they can use in battle, here are the choices that can be made each turn;
- Attack – Yuu swings her sword and strikes the enemy, dealing damage to them for that turn. The amount of damage will vary depending on her equipment (discussed further down).
- Skill – Yuu can use energy to activate a powerful attack, check the status of her opponents and more. All skills use up energy, which is recovered incrementally at the end of a round.
- Defend – Yuu will take a defensive position, reducing the damage that she will take from enemies that turn.
- Item – use an item in the inventory to heal, recover from negative status effects and even deal damage to the enemy with different effects.
- Escape – Yuu will attempt to escape the battle, with success varying depending on the strength of the enemies. But be aware that not all battles can be escaped from, so it is important to use caution.
When a battle is complete, Yuu will receive rewards for defeating the enemies (unless she escaped). The rewards are experience points that will level her up at specific milestones, shells that are used as currency to buy items and even treasure that will occasionally be dropped by enemies. When Yuu levels up, her stats will increase and new skills can be unlocked to be used in later battles. As she gets stronger, Yuu will also gain the ability to run in different areas, allowing her to avoid combat.
To help Yuu in combat, various pieces of equipment can be collected and purchased from vendors. These include weapons, armor and support items that can be used in and out of combat. The equipment will alter the stats of Yuu and her friends, with strength, defense and speed changing depending on the gear that has been equipped. Selecting the right gear for the task will make battles more comfortable, taking some of the stress away from a potentially dangerous situation.
An important mechanic that can help to optimize combat, while also providing something to do for players that want to learn about their foes is the Monsterdex. This feature is an encyclopedia of each enemy that can be encountered, giving details of their attacks, item drops and more. To fill this out, the player must use Yuu’s special survey skill, which investigates the enemy and adds their details to the book for reference later.
Be aware that it is very important to keep an eye on the stamina level of Yuu and her friends, as defeat will immediately return the player to the title screen. However, there are a couple things that can be done to reduce the losses that can be sustained. There is a very generous save system, with the ability to save freely throughout the game, alongside a quick save option that allows the player to continue immediately from the title screen.
There is also a special item that can be obtained during the game, allowing Yuu to teleport to the monster village immediately, where the merchant can much needed support items. These features won’t make the game easy, but they will lessen the pain that can occur from a game over, so it is important to make good use of them during play.
Away from the main quest lines and plot focused objectives are the side missions, called acts of kindness, these tasks allow Yuu to interact with different side characters. These tasks are optional and act as a little side challenge, providing special rewards for completion that can be used to unlock bonus content. The bonus content provides an extra layer of depth to the gameplay experience, encouraging players to talk to all the different characters.
The last thing to discuss about this title is the badge system, an achievement mechanic that tracks the progress of Yuu and provides simple visual rewards for meeting different requirements. This extra piece of side content doesn’t add anything to the core of the gameplay, but does work as an additional piece that the player can work towards for completion. All of the different mechanics and features work well together, creating a fun and rewarding time.
Now with the gameplay covered, it is time to move onto the other aspects of the game, starting with the controls.
Controls – the controls for this title are tight and responsive, with a simple button inputs and intuitive movement. The menu and battle menus work fantastically, with simple to follow button prompts that show up on screen for players to easily follow. All inputs and button prompts work in both handheld and docked mode, playing very comfortably when using either a pro controller or the attached Joy-Cons on the Switch unit.
Difficulty – there is a steady difficulty curve for this title, with the challenge of the battles gradually increasing over time, but taking a little time to grind experience can make it easier. While the punishment for defeat can be harsh, the quick save feature and generous save/load slots can offset the potential losses that can be sustained. Navigation is also integrated into the difficulty, with the world map that is available is a useful aid in reaching the objective for each chapter.
Presentation – the overall presentation for this release is beautiful, with a hand drawn art style and storybook presentation that adds a whimsical touch to the experience. The character designs, story segments and action scenes are all wonderfully designed, giving more depth to the world that the game presents. There are no issues with frame rate or in game performance, with no frame rate drops during play.
The sound design for this release is fantastic, with a soundtrack that features music that has that signature Nippon Ichi flair, with a mix of fantasy and atmospheric sound that fits each area. This combines with the sound effects for enemy monsters and companions, which are deceptively cute in their presentation while they are meant to be a threat. The main story scenes have a voice over, with narration that sounds like a parent reading a story to their child, which ties the whole product together.
Final Thoughts – upon the reveal of this title, I was intrigued by the art style and narrative presentation as the storybook art style is something that is rarely seen. Upon getting to play the game itself, I was very pleased with the experience of the gameplay and the story, which pulled me in and I had a lot of fun exploring the world and interacting with its inhabitants. There are zero flaws with this release, the time I spent with this game was a real treat and a fresh experience that is worth the time and effort.
I have no problem recommending this game to fans of the JRPG genre and those who never played one before, especially since the soft edge to presentation and mechanics don’t make it feel like a JRPG. I personally feel that this can be a great experience to share with loved ones, especially children and spouses who have an interest in these types of story. I suggest picking this game up wherever possible.
In the end, I give The Cruel King and the Great Hero a final Score of 5/5. This is the latest and greatest JRPG experience from Nippon Ichi Software, the hand drawn storybook presentation, narrative and overall quality of gameplay make this an excellent title that anyone can enjoy alone or with others. if you want to check this title out for yourself, links to the game will be below.
Link to Nintendo Switch version (HERE)
Link to PlayStation version (HERE)