“This is the story of how one day, you will defeat me…”
- Turn based JRPG with random encounters
- Relatively short game ~12-15 hours for the main story; 25 hours to beat the game and all side quests
- JP voiceovers only. The narrator narrates all of the voices during story scenes
- Party consists of only two members total during battle
Nippon Ichi Software is best known for their Disgaea games and other related titles. However, they do have a number of other smaller titles that often get overlooked, which is a shame since some of them are worth playing through. The Cruel King and the Great Hero is one of them.
The game is a successor to the art style found in The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince—both games making use of the “storybook” style in presentation. There is no relation between the two games (as far as I know). The gameplay in the Cruel King is also a turn based JRPG, as opposed to the Liar Princess’s platforming style.
The Cruel King and the Great Hero follows a young girl named Yuu. She was raised by the Dragon King, who would often tell bedtime stories about Yuu’s father—a great hero who slew the Demon King that terrorized the lands. At some point in time, Yuu came into the care of the Dragon King after her parents’ deaths. After hearing countless tales of her great father, it is no surprise that Yuu wished to someday be a hero just like him. Thus begins Yuu’s journey to become a hero. What that basically means is that Yuu spends most of the game helping the monster citizens in the surrounding areas.
As seen with the game’s presentation and art style, the story is, in general, mostly lighthearted. The mini stories (chapters) throughout are essentially something that can be found in a children’s book. There are a lot of good feelings and happy moments. Also, as expected, these stories aren’t particularly complex.
While each of the chapters have very little to do with each other and are quite episodic in nature, there is a single overarching storyline in the background that’s always at the front of your mind. It is also where the game’s serious moments are usually found due to the twist in the story. At the beginning, you learn that the Dragon King is indeed the same Demon King from the stories, which puts Yuu unknowingly on the path to someday defeat her foster father.
For me, the simple and mostly lighthearted story was executed very well. At no point did I find it boring despite the story’s small scale and how episodic it felt. The bigger story parts were full of emotions and had me feeling sad and happy at certain moments. The ominous tagline regarding the Dragon King that lingers throughout the chapters in the background also kept me invested to the end.
The game has a number of fun characters you meet throughout, although most are of the monster variety. Many are written well enough that despite not being particularly deep or complex, are easy to connect and sympathize with. As the main character, Yuu is an endearing protagonist with an overabundance of kindness. Her good-natured attitude made me just want to root for her when things got difficult. She also wears a steel pot on her head which acts as her “armor”.
The other supporting story characters don’t get as much screentime as Yuu, but do a good job in helping develop Yuu’s character. Each of the party members get their own mini-arc to further develop their character.
The dynamic between Yuu and the Dragon King is a highlight of the game. Yuu is very affectionate towards the Dragon King while the latter is constantly doting and protecting her. It is interesting to see their relationship develop as the game progresses.
Another highlight of the game is the collection of NPCs. Excluding the NPCs that you meet in the dungeons since they just give one liners, the NPCs in the Monster Village are written surprisingly well. All of the monsters in the village are involved in the side-quests in one way or another and they all have a story to tell (some more than others).
The Cruel King’s most striking feature is the story book presentation with the water painting graphics. The game looks beautiful and the art style is very distinctive. The character designs are charming and even the enemies have mostly cute designs. The different expressions and animation for Yuu in particular are well done.
The game’s soundtrack fits very well with the storybook theme and light hearted tone of the game. There aren’t a whole lot of tracks overall, unfortunately. What it does have as a standout are the very few vocal tracks sung by Akiko Shikata, of Ar Tonelico fame. Takeshi Matsumoto serves as the Sound Director with Tomohiro Horihata, Svyatoslav Petrov and Mika Koga make up the remaining composers. Other than Akiko Shikata, I am not familiar with any of the other ones. A quick check with VGMdb revealed that they have a short history on composition. Regardless, their work on the soundtrack was great and it’s one of the few soundtracks where I would listen to most of the songs outside of the game.
When it comes to voiceovers, the female narrator is the only voice actor in the game. She also narrates the dialogue for the story characters as if she was a mother reading a book to her child. Her renditions of the characters are not drastically different, but you can hear different variations in her tone and speech depending which character is speaking. For me, I thought she did a good job overall and I found the different voice variations interesting and unique for the game.
Most of the time, you’ll be exploring and traversing dungeons which consists of forests, caves and mountains. You move mostly from one side of the screen to the other side while engaging in random battles along the way. Several areas have branching paths that sometimes leads to treasure chests and side quest related items. You always have a waypoint in the map to show you where your destination is (including side quests), but the dungeon map only covers areas you visited already, so you only have a general idea of where the destination is.
The dungeon layouts are all on the simple side. There’s no platforming required. Areas may be blocked out or inaccessible until going back at a later time or acquiring something to remove the obstacle.
Going straight to your destination doesn’t take very long, assuming you know the direct route to it. However, if you’re going to explore every different path and area, it will take awhile, particularly due to the high encounter rate.
Within the dungeons are peddlers who will sell you items and special fountains that will heal you. These fountains can also be used as fast travel across dungeons and the Monster Village.
My issue with the exploration is how frequent the random encounters can be. You can have up to 3 battles before making across to a new room. It gets worse when Yuu can’t run for some segments. She’ll walk if the enemies in the room are roughly “stronger” than her, but if she gets stronger due to leveling up, she’ll be able to run instead. Even then, the encounter rate remains high and can be an annoyance to deal with. You can help mitigate it by using an item that removes encounter rates for the next 50 steps, but it won’t work when she’s in a room with monsters that are stronger her. Overall, this aspect of the game is one of its worse parts.
The combat system is a pretty standard turn-based one. You have your typical attack, guard, run, item, and skill functions. There’s no visible turn order that is prevalent in many JRPGs these days. You input your commands for all of your party members first before any of your characters and enemies act. Only two party members are allowed in battle. On a related note, Yuu’s partner rotates out every chapter so you don’t have a say on who to bring in battle.
The part where it differs is the Energy Point system which is ultimately the same as SP/MP in other JRPGs. You recover one EP per turn, but you gain an additional one if you guard that turn which does slightly provide an additional layer of strategy.
Yuu does come with some unique skills in Survey and Release. Survey allows Yuu to observe the monster and reveal the monster’s monologue to the player. This often directly or indirectly reveals what their weaknesses are. This is where the Release skill comes into play. Once you exploit a monster’s weakness, they will enter a dazed state for about 2 turns. During that state, they won’t act and will take considerably more damage.
After a monster becomes dazed, Yuu can then use her Release skill to send them running off. It’s guaranteed to work, but you don’t get the full experience points as compared to defeating them normally. In return, you have a better chance to get an item drop from them although it’s not guaranteed. In practice though, the Release skill isn’t that useful. Oftentimes, it’s easier and efficient to just attack them normally with skills which saves you time and even items in certain cases. The conditions to exploit weaknesses can vary from simple to very impractical.
The battle flow remains simple for most fights and you don’t need to adjust strategy all that much. The battles are not that challenging, but mindless attacking can lead to a game over since enemies deal a surprisingly large amount of damage unless you’re significantly over-leveled. The boss fights on the other hand provide a larger degree of difficulty due to their bloated health (especially in the second half of the game) and high attack stat. Skills and items that aren’t particularly necessary during regular monster battles do become more useful during these fights. That said, the combat system isn’t particularly deep here.
My other issue with the battle system includes the two party system. Having less party members during battle does take away the potential options and strategies you can play around with. Some monster battles don’t balance very well with just two party members, especially when a hoard of five or more monsters show up. Due to their high damage, a party member can quickly die in one turn if they all gang up on that member, which isn’t all that rare.
Overall, the battles come off as mostly just serviceable—decent, if you aren’t looking for a deep combat system with many mechanics to mess around with—but it does get repetitive otherwise.
Side quests make up a substantial part of the game, which significantly increase game time. Called Yuu’s Acts of Kindness, the side quests are all about Yuu helping monsters from the Village or the ones in dungeons. At its core, the side quests mostly amount to fetch quests and a few that require beating a specific monster. While the core gameplay sounds generic, the side quests are a game’s highlight due to the story involved in each of them.
Doing the side quests will provide the background story for each NPC and make the world feel more alive. The stories are all slice of life, but are interesting nonetheless with a decent amount of dialogue. Many of them are part of a series of side quests which provides further development as well so it’s not just a one and done thing. Some side quests include finding rare food for a dying lizard, helping an idol manager search for his idol bee sisters, searching a forbidden tome to help a child become a witch apprentice, helping members of the sheep and wolf clan make peace between their two leaders, helping a wolf gate-keeper exchange letters with a mysterious pen pal, and searching for a way to remove a traumatic memory for a friend.
The actual in-game rewards for the side quests are Star Fragments that you can use to unlock stuff in the gallery in addition to money, other currencies and equipment like accessories and armor.
As much as I liked the side quests, they do have their issues. Due to the nature of the (many) fetch quests, you’ll be running back and forth through the same dungeon areas over and over. The time spent in random battles in between will build up over time, and does significantly increase the game time unnecessarily. It goes back to the same frequent random encounter rate issue I had.
With everything said, the side quests are well worth experiencing just for the stories, which make up a core part of the game’s experience.
The Cruel King and the Great Hero is essentially a game full of charm, cute characters, and fun and heartwarming moments. The gameplay is on the simple side, but it’s great for those that are looking for a relaxing feel-good game without anything complex from story to mechanics. It doesn’t have an epic story, but it does have a good one that can move you emotionally and possibly appeal to your inner child.
The game is also on the relatively short side of 10-15 hours if you focus only on the main story. Completing all of the side quests and exploring every area of the dungeons will put you around 25 hours.