Knights in Shining Armor: Our King’s Tale - Episode One review
In a time when fantasy adventures come few and far between, the promise of a new indie series by Fluff Entertainment offered some hope for fans of ye ol’ genre. And indeed, the first episode of Knights in Shining Armor: Our King’s Tale opens on a stirring picture of death and destruction that promises an epic story on an emotional rollercoaster. Unfortunately, it’s all downhill from there. Even as a prologue, this “episode” barely develops a story, and the very few puzzles scattered amongst the drawn-out dialogue provides little encouragement to follow where this series may be going.
Players control Prince Rupert, a visiting noble in a foreign land looking to win their princess as a wife. How he plans to do this we are not told, nor are we informed of what kingdom he's in or even Rupert’s own name during the entire episode. (Thank goodness it’s mentioned in the credits.) The absence of even the protagonist’s identity makes the experience feel detached from the start. In fact, there is very little you actually learn about anything, making it very difficult to feel interested in this world.
As its title suggests, Knights in Shining Armor has a very medieval feel, but the whole first episode takes place in a tavern. Prince Rupert talks to only three other people: Gilbert, the bartender, a flirtatious girl, and another man who disappears for good after the lengthy opening dialogue. There is also a bard playing music that becomes part of a puzzle, and Prince Rupert will make an offhanded comment to him, but no more. That’s probably good, as there’s so much dialogue between Prince Rupert and the others, the last thing this episode needed was more conversation. What’s worse, the lack of any substance to these exchanges leaves them feeling both excessive and pointless. It seems like the writer was trying to be witty by writing lighthearted banter, but it just comes across as boring overkill. Spending nearly half of the episode talking to a girl about such things as the age of her furniture doesn’t exactly scream “immersion”.
What we do know about Rupert’s character is very clichéd, but it works for this game. He is very self-absorbed, not even wanting to know the name of the princess he is supposed to win. He thinks he is better than the peasants he talks to but is generally pretty polite to them, while they are surprisingly unimpressed with his royal status. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t allow dialogue to be skipped forward, which can become quite tedious when the characters continue to babble. The few interactive dialogue options must all be explored to advance the story, and each launches into a whole new long discourse.
With all this talking, at least the conversations are fully voiced, though the acting varies from Rupert’s slightly boring tone to Gilbert’s exotic accent. The quality of the girl’s part, unfortunately, sounds like it was recorded in a garage, marring what is otherwise a reasonable acting performance. No matter who is speaking, there are long pauses between sentences sometimes, which makes the lack of dialogue-skipping much more frustrating. Some of the sound effects don’t match up with the action, either, like an unlocking noise coming before the actual animation. Even the music doesn’t fare much better. It starts well, with a wonderful opening soundtrack that creates a medieval ambience, but once into the game it doesn’t seem to fit very well. The songs playing in the tavern sound more like something you would find in a western.
The protagonist’s comments about hotspots are not voiced, but the game is fully subtitled, and even actions like smiling are written in the subtitles instead of shown. Such visual shortcuts are common, as the graphics in Knights in Shining Armor far from shine. There are no camera cuts during conversation, so you’ll do nothing but stare at the back of Rupert’s head for long periods at a time, and the animation leaves a lot to be desired. The characters’ outfits are nicely designed when they are still, but as soon as they start moving they look stiff and unnatural, while their faces are expressionless and lips don’t move even when they’re speaking. The backgrounds, although mostly composed of browns, works well enough for the setting, although we have no idea what the outside world looks like.
Since the whole episode takes place in just two rooms of a tavern, this greatly limits the scope of the “series” so far. The world of Knights in Shining Armor seems mainly similar to our own Middle Ages, but when the characters throw in some simple French phrases, it feels a little too familiar to be a unique fantasy world. The use of an unknown name as a deity, Ontar, is the only thing to suggest this isn’t simply a historical adventure.
While made entirely in 3D, the game still uses traditional point-and-click controls. Clicking a spot on the ground will make Rupert slowly walk, and the cursor changes over people or interactive objects, but these are so few and far between the game often feels like you are simply directing Rupert from hotspot to hotspot, always obvious what you need to do. The few puzzles scattered in the episode include a difficult 4x4 Ontar-related slider puzzle, and an out-of-place inventory door puzzle that doesn’t make much sense, with no explanation of why it’s locked in the first place or why the girl who locked it doesn’t have a key handy. The game spells out the solution to a different inventory puzzle, even though you could have easily figured it out, while not explaining what you need to do for another, which can be very frustrating in both cases.
In all, it took less than an hour to complete this episode. Hardly anything has happened so far in this king’s tale, and it’s hard to tell if the series is going somewhere or not. Apart from wanting to get married, there is no plot established, and no major characters introduced apart from the as-yet-still-anonymous protagonist. And while no one expects cutting edge production values in a small indie adventure, neither the script nor the gameplay helps atone for that here. The Silver Lining recently debuted with a similar short prologue that does exactly what this episode fails to do: develop the premise to a story you’ll immediately feel invested in while offering more locations and better production values, totally free of charge. The introduction to Knights in Shining Armor: Our King’s Tale is not an expensive game, available from either GamersGate or co-producer Corbomite Games, but even at its budget price, people curious about the series would be better off waiting to see if future episodes raise the bar to acceptable levels.