Under a veil of adorable-looking characters and cutesy sound bites, Little King’s Story deals with some pretty heavy themes. The game places you in control of an imperialistic king with aims of world domination, and it’s up to you to lead your citizens through days or hard labor and battles in order to make your kingdom as great as it can be. Along the way players are confronted with issues of religion, polygamy, death and the apocalypse. It’s intense stuff, and gives LKS a depth that made my experience with it truly memorable and enjoyable, even in the face of archaic-feeling game design choices.
In LKS you only directly control the King, and you use him to tell your citizens (think minions from Overlord, only with more manners) what to do. After gathering your citizens — as you progress you get to control larger and larger amounts — you assign them jobs by ordering them into various job buildings. Different jobs tackle different problems — woodcutters clear out fallen trees, miners break up rocks — making it so I had to strategically plan my “Royal Guard” so that I’d be able to take on a variety of situations. It was a lot of fun when I was in an intense situation where I had my various citizens working together toward an end goal — miners clearing a rock while my warriors fought off enemies, for instance — but it was frustrating when I’d explore deep into unknown territory just to find that I didn’t have the right job-type to proceed.
Controlling a variety of differently skilled citizens could work great with the abilities of the Wii’s unique controls, but LKS doesn’t take advantage of the system’s abilities at all. Rather than smoothly ordering your citizens around by pointing and clicking the way that Overlord: Dark Legend did, you’re stuck with using the analog stick to simply point in a direction you want your guys to go and then watch them run off accordingly. It’s serviceable, and would have been perfectly fine if this was on the GameCube, but the fact that it doesn’t make use of the more precise pointing abilities of the Wii Remote is a missed opportunity.
Control woes aside, I found LKS to be extremely addicting because it keeps you perpetually busy with one small quest after another. Just like a good MMORPG, LKS blends quest lines into one another, making it so I always thought, “I’ll quit after finishing this next little bit…” And we all know how that works out, where you finish one quest and it leads into countless other small objectives, and before you know it the sun has come up and you’re still searching for some object or boss like the fiend that you are. LKS does this especially well thanks to the fact that on top of the game’s long main quest line — which is to take over all the neighboring kingdoms by overthrowing their respective leaders — you’re also given a constant stream of small quests you can do for money when you want a break from the main story.
As in so many of our lives, money is the driving factor in LKS. While expanding your kingdom by force is the game’s main plot, a huge part of the game is building up the quality of life in your own lands. Grinding through quests and killing enemies provides money, and this is used by your king in order to purchase new buildings — which often allow you to assign citizens to different jobs — as well as upgrades for your subjects. You gain these lands through small bits of conquest where you clear out the remaining monsters from your territory, and it provides yet another venue to lose far too much time in when you’re not aggressively pursuing the game’s main plotline. A constant goal in the back of my mind was to finish all my cities’ upgrades before completing the game: This gave me access to new, important jobs, and I also found it rewarding to walk through my territories and see the bustle of new growth.
I enjoyed all the secondary goals the game gave me quite a bit, but I often found the conquest of rival kings (the main goal) provided as much frustration as fun. I absolutely loved how each of the kings you face are taken on in a completely different manner from one another — one I fought in a pinball-like game with my soldiers as the paddles, another I “fought” by answering a series of trivia about the game — but they were almost always overly difficult. Granted, each of these kings — like all enemies — has a pattern that the player can figure out and use to beat them without too much trouble, but I’m tired of games where failing a few times in order to learn the “trick” is an acceptable boss design. If I’m good enough I should be able to beat a boss the first time I fight them.
Maybe I wouldn’t be quite as bothered by the hard fights if the game had a better save system. The only way you can save your game in LKS is to sit on your throne in your castle and select the save option. If you’re in the middle of exploring a new land or are about to fight a boss you either have to trek back to your throne or roll the dice and hope that you fare ok with the guys at hand. Boss fights at least allow you to start from right at the beginning of the fight, as opposed to going back to a save. But even this is painful since boss fights are often long, drawn-out ordeals. I don’t consider myself a violent person, but LKS definitely pushed me to the I’m-going-to-break-my-freaking-controller point on several occasions. Didn’t game designers figure out that regular checkpoints or the ability to save at any time was a good idea like a decade ago?
Little King’s Story is a game that I’m glad I played through to completion, but I sometimes wonder if I would have if it wasn’t my job. I appreciated the places the story took me in the end, but the final series of boss fights not only felt forced into the game’s plot, but also were so long and arduous that I wondered if I’d ever beat them at all. Still, despite this and an absolutely terrible save system I found LKS to be one of the more unique experiences I’ve had with my Wii, and think that this is one game that people will be talking about long after it’s consigned to the used bins.