When it comes to talking about Japanese video game companies, developer Cing often gets left by the wayside. It’s understandable; having filed for bankruptcy over five years ago, there hasn’t been much reason to talk about them as of late. Still, Cing was responsible for some of the best games on the original Nintendo DS, such as Hotel Dusk: Room 215 and Another Code: Two Memories, both of which got sequels in later years. Their other prized gem was actually a console game, which came in the form of a little title known as Little King’s Story.
Originally released on the Nintendo Wii over six years ago, Little King’s Story debuted to critical acclaim from fans and critics alike. While it never drummed up the sales to back up its glowing reception, the game was praised for its life-simulation and real-time strategy elements, and it’s arguably ascended to cult status since its initial release. Personally, I never had the chance to pick up my own copy years ago (although I got to play through a good portion of the game), and I regularly look for it when I visit my local used game store.
Unfortunately, Little King’s Story fell by the wayside after Cing closed up shop. A follow-up was released a few years back exclusively for the PlayStation Vita, which was for all intents and purposes a reimagining of the first game, albeit with a different look and feel. It was serviceable at best, although a lot of the charm that made the original game stand out was stripped away and replaced with an entirely different visual style altogether. Up until now, there’s been no convenient way to relive the magic of the original game short of playing it on original hardware with a retail copy (which can be hard to come by in person). You can imagine my surprise then when publisher XSEED announced a PC port.
For those who never had the chance to play it before, Little King’s Story follows the tale of a young boy, who stumbles upon a mysterious land and in turn, a magical crown. After donning the crown, he finds that he has the ability to give people orders which they cannot refuse. Shortly after, he is appointed to be ruler of the kingdom, with a helpful staff and a group of citizens in tow.
The premise is fairly simple, but it’s the game’s charm and humor which draws you in. You’ll be glad to know that the PC port draws from the original version on the Wii, as opposed to the rather subpar Vita version. The same visual style, which is an attempt to mimic a hand-drawn storybook is still on display here, although you have the option to play at a much higher resolution than the original release (there’s even support for 16:10 displays and downsampling from 4K if that’s up your alley).
There’s no real voice acting this time around as well, as the game still make use of a gibberish language for in-game dialogue (though this fake language only adds to the charm). Similarly, rearrangements of famous classical pieces are still employed as opposed to an original soundtrack, though they still sound great and mesh well with what’s happening on screen.
Similarly, the core gameplay has remained untouched. As the newly appointed king, you’ll balance your time between building up your kingdom, and adventuring beyond the borders, completing quests and conquering neighboring empires. Thanks to the charm and control afforded to him by the crown, the king can issue orders to citizens, and the way they are controlled and herded around is very reminiscent of Nintendo’s Pikmin series. Over time, you’ll train the townsfolk in an attempt to specialize and prepare them for a specific job, from hunting and farming to serving as a soldier. As you might expect, different jobs bestow strengths and weaknesses to citizens, so you’ll want to cultivate a diverse pool of citizens to work alongside with.
Aside from building up the town, you’ll have to explore the surrounding areas in order to advance the plot. Progressing through the in-game story is done by conquering the seven rivailing kingdoms, which is done through exploration and combat. The king himself is fairly weak in battle, but with a strong group of citizens in tow, you’ll be able to take down enemies and bosses, as well as terraforming and reshaping the land in order to get rid of environmental obstacles which impede your exploration.
Little King’s Story truly brings weight to the saying “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” and the same holds true on the PC version. Unfortunately, while the day-to-day responsibilities of ruling your land and conquering rival kingdoms holds up well, the game’s PC port leaves much to be desired. While some noticeable improvements were made during the transition from console to PC, there are an equal number of shortcomings which are bound to disappoint longtime PC players.
To its credit, Little King’s Story does look much sharper and cleaner than the original Wii version. While much of the core artwork is still being used, the ability to ramp up texture and shadow quality, along with rendering the game at higher resolutions is a big boon. Some artwork and cutscenes are still displayed with a much lower level of fidelity though, as I imagine some of these assets would have needed to be recreated from scratch.
While it doesn’t recommend it, you do have the option to run the game at a capped 60 frames per second, with the recommended option being a rather low cap of 30. Running the game at 60 FPS did cause a handful of problems, mainly when it came to interacting with menus and other characters. Some animations would run at incorrect speeds, and I had a few instances where menus would disappear if I didn’t select an option quickly. Slowdown and frame rate dips also occurred, even when running the game on a fairly beefy GTX 1070, though we’ve been told that a day one patch is in the works to address some graphical issues.
Unfortunately, there are a few issues which are going to dismay interested players from taking the plunge. While the original game was released for the Wii, Little King’s Story never took advantage of the Wii’s motion control capability, meaning that you could never use a Wiimote to point at the screen and aim. This design shortcoming hasn’t been rectified on the PC, meaning that there is no support for the mouse. PC players will have to tough things out on the keyboard alone, and with no ability to remap the controls, you’re at the mercy of the rather awful default control scheme, which is both unintuitive and a pain to use. Thankfully, the game does support a variety of different controller types, including Xbox 360, Xbox One, DualShock 4, and Direct Input gamepads. They work much better than the less-than-fluid keyboard controls, although movement is mapped to the eight cardinal directions, meaning you can’t control the king with a full 360 degrees of movement via the analog stick.
Control issues aside, the entire suite of options is rather barebones. You cannot adjust any settings in-game, which necessitates a restart if you want to change graphical settings, frame rate cap, or control type. Audio wise, there are no sliders for music or in-game effects, and I experienced plenty of instances where audio would cut in and out or refuse to play (I’ve been told the developers are trying to address this issue as well).
At the end of the day, I want to wholeheartedly recommend Little King’s Story with no reservations, but the shortcomings of the PC port are too prevalent to just brush them aside. For those who are curious about giving it a go and don’t have the ability to play the original release, I’d still recommend the game as a whole, with the warning that you should probably invest in a controller rather than relying on the mediocre keyboard controls.
As for the rest of us, who have already played the game on the Wii (and still have access to it), it’s really a wash either way. Personally, I’m still torn between spending more time with the PC port, and trying to track down an original copy. Here’s hoping an update or two can fix some of the more egregious flaws.
This review is based on the PC version of the game, which we were provided with for review. The game was played on a PC running Windows 10, sporting an i5-6600K, a GTX 1070, and 16 GB of DDR4 RAM.
If you can look past the various issues and shortcomings that have cropped during the transition to the PC, Little King's Story is still one of the most fun games from the original Wii's catalog.