River City: Knights of Justice - Review  

Run to the Hills
by Sam Wachter

Less than 20 Hours
+ Button mashing combat
+ Retro look and feel is spot on
- Linear story with no flare or fun
- Awkward menus
- Lacks the charm of older RCR games
Click here for scoring definitions 

   Every so often "Our Man in Japan" Michael Baker reviews a game that piques my curiosity in the worst kind of way. The weirder the game or the crazier the premise, the better. I am also a sucker for seeing a franchise go in an unexpected direction, which leads us to Nekketsu Mahou Monogatari, which Natsume has localized as River City: Knights of Justice. This Dragon Quest inspired adventure has a great retro feel, but it lacks substance in so many areas.

   In this medieval fantasy setting, the intrepid paladin Kunio-kun (or as he has been named in this version 'Alexander'), is asked by residents of a small town to help in the vanquishing of evils in the surrounding area. Visiting kings and towns along the way, it is apparent that a dark power is attempting to corrupt the world and take it over. There's not much in the way of story other than Kunio going from place to place, beating up baddies, and getting closer to the evil plaguing his world. What little dialogue that is there is localized well, though it lacks the personality of previous River City Ransom titles, going for a much more straight-faced approach instead of the series' signature humour. It also ends in the worst kind of cliffhanger, where players know there is no resolution in sight.

   In the span of six hours, Kunio will move to different locations either to punch out thugs and foes, gain information to move the story along, lather, rinse, repeat. This short game doesn't outstay its welcome in terms of the amount of content in it, but there's not a lot here to give this game any sort of staying power either. One of the larger issues is the amount of backtracking and constantly fighting the same sets of encounters repeatedly. While you can collect a few new party members through these encounters, there's not much incentive to do these battles.

Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal! Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal!

   Since the game is a beat 'em up, the combat allows players to take control of Kunio and his companions as they fight through waves of enemies along the world map. The A and B buttons, punch and kick respectively, see a lot of use in the game, to the point where it feels like the player is button mashing. Using items scattered in environments helps keep the combat somewhat varied, and players can change party members during battle by pressing the R1 button. Using money dropped by baddies allows Kunio to buy new moves, weapons and armor, though there isn't a lot of customization options for his buddies, which is a bummer. There's not much to the combat system, but what exists is serviceable and given how short the experience is this isn't entirely a bad thing.

   The menu interface in Knights of Justice is sadly quite offensive. There's a limited menu, saving can only be done on the world map and even that isn't in the most obvious spot. Players can only have nine items in their inventory at any given time and it's easy to get bogged down with random crap and be constantly discarding useless items. Equipment management is quite important to make good progress, but it's the constant toggling between menus that just feels completely dated. Retro can be great, but if it's done in a cumbersome way it defeats the purpose of players wanting to root around in the menus to try and accomplish anything.

Spoiler Alert: This guy becomes your bro later! Spoiler Alert: This guy becomes your bro later!

   Where this game shines most is in its presentation. Sporting an 8-bit retro look, the fantasy world that Kunio inhabits visually pops on the screen, be it the choice of colour or even the pixelated designs of each location. Where it fails graphically is that sometimes the characters and enemies look blocky and chunky on the screen. The music suits the cheesy fantasy setting well, and does a great job of complimenting the graphics. It's very pronounced and epic, while still adding to the retro look and feel.

   River City: Knights of Justice succeeds in many ways as a retro piece of nostalgia, but it fails at having enough variety to keep it engaging. It lacks the humour of the previous games in the series by instead amping up the cheesy factor, and while that's fine and dandy, I wish it hadn't been so straight-laced in its approach. While I am glad the game clocks in around six hours, I feel like the amount of repetition and padding is still a large issue in Knights of Justice. While it's fun to transplant a series into a new setting, it's hard not to expect that more be done with it. Knights of Justice is a simple, straight-forward title that is mostly unremarkable. There isn't enough here that makes it different from other River City Ransom titles and that really is the true shame in all of this.

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