Developer: Sky 9 Games
Publisher: Curve Digital
Platform: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4,
Xbox One, PC (via Epic Games Store)
Release Date: October 10, 2019
ESRB: T for Teen
Note: This review is based on the Nintendo Switch version of the game
It’s always a bit surprising to me that we don’t see more games use 3D Zelda titles as a base, given the series’ immense popularity. Sky 9 Games' A Knight’s Quest is one of the first indie titles I’ve seen recently that attempts this and actually gets much closer to replicating the experience (especially the adventure aspect) than most other games have. Unfortunately, there are also a number of aspects that hinder it from living up to its potential.
In A Knight’s Quest, you play as Rusty – a clumsy adventurer who unwittingly unleashes an unknown, presumably malevolent force that has been sealed away. In order to fight this evil, Rusty is tasked with seeking out four spirit heroes and their powers, which in turn means going on a journey to find each one in their own dungeon. The story isn’t necessarily the most original ever, but it works for setting the game in motion. Likewise, the dialogue often aims for funny and nonsensical, but is hit and miss. This is mostly due to just about every character being written with a combination of snarky/sarcastic wit and internet meme culture; kind of like that awkward friend who tries to be funny by repeating outdated internet memes and jokes. In the end, the character dialogue comes off as more of a first draft and could use a bit more refinement.
The game takes a good half hour to really get going, but once it does, its world shows off impressive potential. Though it isn’t the open-ended, interconnected wilderness featured in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, it’s apparent the developers took a lot of inspiration from it. There are many large, detailed areas for you to explore with treasure chests and other loot off the beaten path, skeletons at campfires, different enemies littering the landscape, and sidequests you can undertake from certain characters you come across in your travels.
In fact, the design of the world and its various areas is perhaps the most impressive and compelling aspect of the game. Not only is it appealing from a visual standpoint, many of the areas are massive in size and can take 20+ minutes or more to traverse for first-time players, adding to the feeling that you’re on a long journey. There is also an oddly satisfying ‘Zelda meets Mario’ aspect to the gameplay, where it incorporates a lot of 3D platforming and vertical exploration in certain areas, giving the game a bit more of a unique flavor in contrast to typical adventure games.
Likewise, the soundtrack composed by Will Bedford is excellent and evokes a real sense of adventure and wonder. The overworld theme has a heroic melody reminiscent of the Hyrule Field theme from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and the Desert Proving Grounds theme is a real symphonic highlight, featuring an eclectic mix of strings, horns, flutes, and different kinds of unique percussion (such as bells). Unfortunately, that’s just about where the games’ good qualities stop.
While the world is expansive and looks great, the actual characters look rather bland and mediocre. The enemy design is much more miss than hit, consisting of such things as generic, one-eyed snake creatures, generic skeletons with swords, scorpions, and other creatures that just aren’t that original or interesting. Making matters even worse is that they all use the same two or three sound effects, making them even more irritating.
Perhaps the biggest issue of all is the combat and controls. For the most part, combat works just enough that you can get through the game, but it’s uneven and loose at best. Where it gets a bit dicey is when you face multiple enemies at once. There’s at least one major instance in the story where you’ll be faced with this scenario; however, you’ll realize that the battle system is largely designed around you fighting one enemy at a time. So while you’re attacking one, the rest are still doing (sometimes major) damage to you, and it’s impossible to dodge every attack. There are certain items (such as bombs) designed to attack large groups, but they’re not terribly effective, and the few multi-enemy attacks you have are not super viable because of how long they take to perform (you must wait and charge a few seconds before unleashing them). The flow of battle also simply isn’t fast enough for you to fight large groups of enemies evenly, leading Rusty to slowly fight one enemy and clumsily move to the next.
Beyond that, a number of standard quality of life features that are generally present in games like this are either simply missing in this one, or not implemented as effectively as they should be. One major issue is there are no maps of each area beyond a simple, illustrated overworld map in your sub-menu. There’s a compass at the top of the screen that will show you which direction your objective is in, but it’s not 100% foolproof and can sometimes misguide you. Also, fast travel is something that’s implemented fairly early on in many games, yet you don’t even get access to it in the first half of this game even though you pass by many fast-travel stations (that you can't yet access) in your travels, forcing you to sometimes retrace your steps through long, winding areas.
There’s also no way to sell off any loot you acquire early on, as well as no meaningful way to buy items (especially health-recovering ones) until the second major area you get to. This leads to another issue in that you simply don’t have enough inventory storage slots in the beginning, and thus no way to store some of the more valuable items you come across when you run out of room. And last but not least, there were a number of clipping issues I faced. In one area, my character simply stopped responding to any control input and I had to restart the game entirely to continue, and in yet other areas I would clip through the wall or floor and die instantly.
Despite the negatives, I still had fun throughout the game, and there’s a lot to admire about A Knight’s Quest. Its world is one of the most impressive I’ve ever seen created by an indie team. The soundtrack is also exceptional and could easily be mistaken for a AAA title's score. Even much of the gameplay (especially dungeons) and main quest itself is pretty fun and compelling. There’s arguably a good game beneath a rough exterior here; if the game had another half a year or more of polish, I might’ve been able to call this a pretty good game. As it currently is, the negative aspects drag a good experience down to just a decent one at best.
+ Large, impressive world with lots of sidequests and ripe for exploration
+ Soundtrack is great
+ Dungeons are surprisingly fun and capture a bit of the Zelda magic
- Issues with the fluidity of combat; fighting large groups is incredibly difficult and not really fair for players
- Lack of standard quality of life features (especially early on) that would make the game much better and a lot more pleasant to play
- Character and enemy models are a bit bland in design
- Infrequent clipping issues at various points
Overall Score: 6.5 (out of 10)
An impressive world (both visually and in design) and epic musical score are undermined by a number of issues plaguing gameplay as well as a lack of standard quality of life features, causing this Zelda-like title to be just a decent adventure at best for those brave enough to overcome its problems.
Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable Switch code provided by the publisher.
Edited by Jason Clement