Review: Heirs of the Kings (Nintendo Switch)

Heirs of the Kings is a retro-styled Japanese role-playing game that’s so by-the-numbers it might as well be in binary.

A hero from a small village meets a mismatched crew of three other characters: two cute girls—one of whom’s a healer, the other who’s a fighter—and a snooty guy who’s nowhere near as good at combat as the hero. Following an attack on (say it with me now) the small village where the hero grew up, knowing little about the outside world, they embark on a quest to visit the shrines of the elemental kings who died creating a shield to protect the world from dark forces.

Is the shield now fading unless a group of four mismatched but perfectly complementary characters manage to fix it? Yes, yes it is.

You fight monsters in random encounters, improve your weapons and armor, gain skills, and cast spells. And just when you start to wonder when the airship is going to show up, the airship shows up.

I’m not complaining; I cut my teeth on games like this back in the Game Boy/PlayStation days. Even with the massive graphic updates that are available now, there’s something to be said for pouring your imagination into 16 bit sprites marching their way across an overworld map.

And if the baseline of that experience is what you’re looking for, Heirs of the Kings has it. The skill tree, based on “Soul Maps,” is an interesting touch—a web of stat upgrades that you unlock, along with new skills tied either to the characters’ fighting style or their elemental affinity.

The problem is that while Heirs of the Kings has the form of a retro JRPG, it lacks the heart that made those games memorable. I found the relationships between the characters to be shallow, with very little interaction between them until they get into post boss-battle areas where the talking goes on for too long. We find out, abruptly, that the warrior woman is jealous of the cute healer, and apparently the snooty academic has an antagonistic flirtation going on.

The game also tries to hold onto a mystery about the hero’s heritage long after we’ve started to unlock his elemental affinity.

Even if you’re willing to put up with the underwritten story, combat (the other big draw of an RPG) is a muddle as well. While your characters have elemental attacks that might have strengths and weaknesses, the enemies you’ll be fighting are almost completely randomized, meaning you’ll get a mix of fairies, dragons, boars, and things which resemble muffins with kitty faces. Until you get to a boss fight, there seems to be no thought put into the arrangement of enemies.

The game features an auto-fight function you can turn on and off by pressing Y, and I was able to play the game for hours without having to strategize my attacks. On the first occasion when my party was completely wiped out, I was able to spend special experience points that I’d accumulated over hours of play to revive the party at full strength in the middle of the battle, with the enemy as weak as the point where it had ended.

KEMCO’s Heirs of the Kings works as a retro-throwback to the days when the limits of computing power had to be augmented by writing characters that caught in your head like a song that you can’t get out. Unfortunately, this game has the tempo, but not the heart.

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