King’s Field is Inspiring in its Ruthlessness
King’s Field is one of the earlier games from the developers of Dark Souls. It’s probably not surprising to hear that it is very hard and unforgiving. It happily tosses you onto a hostile shore and leaves you to figure everything out. Besides a bit of guidance from a local fisherman, you’re on your own and will be for quite some time. It can feel downright unfair. It can be nerve-wracking due to how much danger is all around you that you know nothing about. But it can also feel inspiring with every successful step you take.
Once the game begins, you find yourself on the coast of Melanat. If you take a single step to the right or left, you’ll immediately fall into the ocean and drown. That’s exactly what I did. I thought I could just hop down to the shore, but wasn’t paying enough attention to notice the abyss below. The game immediately set a tone right there, telling me that any mistake could get me killed. If you miss that lesson while playing yourself, a walk down the left shore will teach you instead. The massive Kraken there killed me instantly when I tried to step up and attack it. Even when I just tried to beat up some ordinary fish, I still died in moments. Definitely a predecessor to Dark Souls.
King’s Field doesn’t much let up with its ruthlessness. I tried walking across a bridge and tumbled through a gap into the ocean. Got dive-bombed by some fast killer fish while exploring. Every time, I found that I was taken all the way back to the start of the game. If you haven’t saved your game, you go all the way back to the title screen. And unlike Dark Souls, this game makes no attempt to take you to a save point. The very first save point I found was behind a hidden wall. The game feels outright hostile in the beginning because everything kills you and it makes it unusually difficult to even save.
If save points are behind hidden walls, what other goodies are buried there? Well, there’s lots of spiked traps. Skeletons in treasure chests that will cleave your head in half. While you can find some vital stuff when you’re poking around, there’s naturally some danger, too. This adds some tension to exploration. Messing around caves and dungeons full of lethal monsters is hard enough. However, you might not even be able to find a save point on the main path to protect everything you’ve found and done. You pretty much HAVE to look for hidden things, which puts you at added risk of being hurt or killed in an instant. As if the monsters didn’t do that to you enough already.
King’s Field also benefits from being in first person. While the Dark Souls games can be cruel to the uninformed as well, seeing it all from third person makes it a little easier to take. When a skeleton is going to beat me down, at least it’s happening to an avatar. It’s only those moments where I don’t see an enemy that make me jump. Purely from the nature of playing in first person, there’s a lot of stuff I can’t see as I have a limited field of view. Also, all those traps come surging out right at you. It left me feeling even more on-edge than I normally feel when playing other FromSoftware games.
I thought the hostile game world would calm down a bit as I played. It didn’t. Having to play with clunky tank controls probably doesn’t help this (the game came out in 1995), so it’s hard to fight monsters without getting clobbered. Even though they might look blocky and silly by today’s standards, they’re still scary in how quickly they can sneak up on you and kill you. It’s still challenging when you have to work so hard to land a single hit with its challenging movement style.
Between the monsters, dangerous lands, controls, and viewpoint, I felt nervous and endangered every minute I was playing King’s Field. That said, there was an incredible sense of satisfaction every time I overwhelmed that danger. If I beat a single enemy, I’d feel a twinge of excitement. There’d be this exhilaration if I fought off two foes at once. If I found something new, I felt a jolt of happiness. I’d be ecstatic if I located a new save point or useful hidden room. Because of the great sense of danger, it made the rewards and victories feel even better.
In hard times, that can feel especially inspiring. There’s been many periods in my life where I’ve felt lost. It’s seemed like a hard, brutal failure lay in every direction. All of the decisions I made seemed to go wrong in some way. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed in these moments. When you have no idea where to go and things keep going wrong, you feel paralyzed. Staying still seems like the safest thing, even if you know you aren’t getting anywhere.
King’s Field feels like that often. Just the same, though, when you take a few steps forward into something new and survive it, there’s a hint of hope in the terror. When you overcome some enemy or find a hidden place, it’s such a small victory. Even so, it really FEELS like a victory. It’s only a tiny step, but you are further than you were before. And soon, you start finding places that let you heal. Monsters you learn to beat easily to grow stronger. You build these little footholds in the world, and slowly, things become easier. Not by much, but even at its most ruthless, you start feeling like this is all possible.
King’s Field can feel relentless. It gives even less direction, and feels even more hostile, than Dark Souls. It seems designed to be cruel. When I keep at it and try new directions and things, there’s always that chance I’ll find something that keeps me going. Even when it feels like it’s time to give up, you never know if you’re one turn away from finding something that saves you. While challenging, that satisfaction in overcoming that challenge reminds me of what it’s like to overcome hardships in my own life. In this, it makes the hard moments seem a little bit easier to tolerate.
Plus a Giant Kraken is probably not gonna clobber me right outside my front door. Probably.