Ah the VITA, feels like ages since I’ve gotten to review something on it, a purchase that just keeps on justifying itself eh? Well at least what I get for it seems to be pretty good, case in point is New Little King’s Story, a sequel to the Wii cult classic Little King’s Story. A new art style and obviously some new controls are at play here and for better or worse they seem to work. Lord knows VITA owners have been craving something (oh god anything) new to play and this just might be it; it’s not perfect but at least it’s a lot of fun.
So for the uninitiated, the gameplay here is the same as that of the previous title in that it’s Pikimn meets Harvest Moon. You, as the titular Little King, can recruit a number of villagers to act as your royal guard and they will follow you around and act as living human missiles you can fire at whatever you feel needs interaction. They come in a variety of flavours, each a different job with different abilities and strengths. You have farmers for digging holes, grunts for subduing monsters, carefree children for climbing trees, and a ton of other occupations all with their own uses. For all the options available to you the core gameplay is actually refreshingly simple. You pretty much have two commands, sending off one of your guards to interact with whatever’s ahead of you or commanding all of your guards to return from whatever they’re currently engaged in, basically charge and retreat. It’s light and easy to pick up but the variety of units and an insane amount of gear to equip your guards with adds a ton of depth. That said the game doesn’t exactly do much to explain all that depth to you and you will feel lost in all the extraneous systems like alchemy and marriage.
Of course the other half of the equation I mentioned earlier is the whole Harvest Moon aspect and while you’re not exactly farming in this game, the sense of growing a community is certainly there. You see in order to unlock new types of units and increase the amount available, you need to raise funds, scout out new lands, and create housing. Throughout this process of freeing the land and creating infrastructure you’ll see places that were once the hunting grounds of monsters swell with commerce and your citizens roam free and unhindered. While you’re sadly not managing any of this economy, or really doing anything beyond just saying what you’d like built and putting up the funds, you do get the feeling of truly building a kingdom and that sense of progression is really something to enjoy.
Moving onto the presentation, things have switched from the cartoony look of the first to full on anime and while I preferred the original style the new one works fine enough for the content. Honestly it’s not really all that evident in the actual models, it’s mainly the character portraits that have been all anime-ed up. That said the kind of cutesy normal-things-as-monsters design aesthetic remains with enemy turnips, chickens, and smiley face Onis which act as the series’ mascots. The music is also the same, lots of good public domain classical music which again works well with the context of building an idealized medieval kingdom.
I guess all that’s left to talk about is the story which isn’t exactly a literary masterpiece but it’s certainly clichéd enough to be enjoyable. The premise is that you, the Little King, were having a party with the seven princesses of the land (because as the dialog loves to imply you are a mad pimp) when the castle is attacked by monsters who then proceed to capture the princesses and take over your lands. You and your advisers are forced off to a small corner of the kingdom from which you must rebuild your power base, craft another stronghold, rescue the princesses, and take back your kingdom. While the story is probably one of the weaker components of the game it at least strings you through the actually pretty fun boss fights that not only require some more strategy than your standard enemies but sometimes are different kinds of gameplay altogether.
I only managed to get through about 8 hours of this game (what looked like about halfway through) before having to write the review but in that time I had a ton of fun building a kingdom. I like this game for the same reasons I like Harvest Moon or that weird princess game I reviewed a while back but there are a couple of issues here that prevent it from getting a perfect score. First off the camera controls feel a little off, the camera swings a little slower than I might like and it’s just generally a bit unwieldy. Another major issue is that the A.I. of your royal guard is pretty frigging dumb; it’ll fall off cliffs because they aren’t smart enough to navigate paths and if you don’t aim them just so then instead of attacking the monster you targeted or digging the hole you asked for they’ll just bang stupidly into the wall behind it. The biggest problem though is this incredible slowness the game seems to have when you’re toting around a bunch of guards with you. It being the VITA I can’t exactly turn on FRAPS and start counting frames but it doesn’t exactly feel like a frame rate drop, more just the system chugging on so many models and so much A.I. at once; your movement is slowed and your personal attack becomes sluggish though the world and your allies seem to move at the normal speed. The gameplay is fairly passive so this isn’t game breaking but it is a little annoying and it can make some of the grindier segments of the game feel overly tedious.
Any issues I have with the game aside, I’m just happy to have something to play on my VITA again and I feel like this game will help many a semi-regretful VITA owner reconnect with the little handheld that should. It’s got some minor issues but the quirk of the original remains and the Pikmin style of gameplay isn’t really seen all that much so it’s worth a look at the very least. For a kingly experience that falls just ever so short, New Little King’s Story gets a 4 out of 5 stars. While I don’t think this game will be for everyone there is certainly an audience for it, personally I think this is just thing JRPG fans on the VITA need to hold them over till the release of Persona 4 Golden.