Back in February 2019, Nippon Ichi Software (NIS) released the gorgeous The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince here in the West – an emotional action-adventure puzzle game. Although not a sequel, the developer has just released The Cruel King and the Great Hero on the same platforms – a new adventure that utilises a similar hand-drawn visual aesthetic and an incredibly mesmerising soundtrack. However, this time around we’re presented with a turn-based strategic RPG with some rather ‘grindy’ trophies, encased within a rather emotional yet somewhat predictable narrative.
As stated above, Nippon Ichi Software are both the developers and publishers of this beautiful game, with their western division (NIS America) publishing the title both physically and digitally outside of Asia. Despite how similar this game looks to the previous title by the same team, there is no correlation with the story or gameplay, so there’s no prior knowledge of The Liar Princess required – although, I do highly recommend you check it out as I loved the game when I reviewed it.
I had to take a sneaky look at a Japanese guide at one point, during my quest for the platinum, and I saw that the average time of completion is around 25-35 hours (although someone in America did it in around 20 hours). I, on the other hand, maxed out the timer at 99:59 hours (just like the original FF7, the timer stops before it hits 100), all due to the wild goose chase I went on for a few of the very grindy trophies. Not to mention I had to play the entire game twice due to a glitch – which I’ll talk about later. However, did it feel like a chore or did the hours fly by? Let’s find out…
Although this story sum-up below may seem like spoilers, it’s what is described on the official website – so if you don’t want minor plot points revealed, please move on to the Gameplay segment…
Once upon a time, a young, valiant hero faced the evil Demon King, a demonic dragon that ruled over the entire world with hatred and destruction. Not willing to kill this mythical beast, the mighty warrior fought the creature and severed one of his horns, relieving the King of his powers and wickedness. Realising that the demon was no longer a threat to him, the hero stayed with the wounded tyrant and nursed him back to health, strengthening their friendship as the days passed by.
Sadly, the hero sustained a fatal injury whilst fighting another demonic creature, an injury which was surely going to drain him of his life. So, as one last favour, he asked the Demon King to look after his young child, Yuu, raising her as his own and keeping her safe from the dangers of the forest. The Demon King agreed to do this, changing his name to the Dragon King so that he could raise the young child without any prejudice and hatred as he tells her stories of her great father and how he’d slain the Demon King.
As the young child grew up, Yuu had one wish – to become a great hero, just like her biological father once was. The Dragon King knew this day would come, watching over the young adventurer and providing secret assistance as she grew stronger whilst facing the evil creatures in the surrounding areas. However, the loving dragon knew that there was only one way for the girl to achieve her wish and for him to honour his deceased friend’s final request – if Yuu was to become a great hero then “-If you were to defeat me one day, then so be it.”
The Cruel King and the Great Hero is a turn-based strategic RPG – it’s strategic as you really have to find and abuse the weaknesses of your foes if you wish to beat them in battle, rather than simply mashing the Cross button and hoping you win by simply waving your sword (or branch) around. The game itself begins as a linear experience, with the Dragon King giving you a destination to visit with most branching pathways locked off so you don’t deviate from the path. However, once you’ve shown the King that you can be trusted to venture out on your own, many more pathways and areas open up for you to explore.
The map is created as you enter each new screen, revealing a rather big world with a number of fast-travel fountains, secret areas, unique region designs, and a bunch of chests you can either open as Yuu or require the use of a colleague’s unique ability. Combat is also done via invisible random encounters – one of the aspects I didn’t initially like due to the high probability you’ll be pulled into a battle every few seconds whilst you’re underpowered for that particular region. However, I’ll talk about this in more detail below.
Aside from the main story, which should take you around 20 hours or so to work through (if you’re reading everything and only sticking to the main story), there are a lot of side missions to accept and a rather time-consuming enemy release mechanic which you have to perform if you want the platinum (again, detailed below). There’s also the tedious task of levelling up all of your characters, the main thing which totally ruined the flow for me and almost had me quitting before I grabbed the elusive platinum trophy.
Let’s talk about the combat within The Cruel King and the Great Hero, it’s your usual old-school side-on turn-based mechanics. You pick what actions you wish both of your characters to perform and then sit back and watch both you and the enemies take their turns based upon the character’s speed. You have your standard attack and the use of items, as well as the ability to run away or block if you want to take less damage due to an upcoming deadly attack. You also have special abilities which are unlocked as the character increases their level.
Each of the four characters (Yuu is mandatory and the other three are rotated out as the story progresses) have their own unique ability, with Yuu initially having to rely on the Dragon King watching over her in secret to light her weapon when performing the Flame Strike – otherwise, she’ll look all confused and thrust her weapon down without it being aflame.
I suppose my biggest complaint with the combat lies in the visual information aspect. Each enemy has three life hearts, gradually reducing as you land an attack upon them. However, it’s very inaccurate and hard to judge how much life they have left due to it being indicated via only three icons. Also, when you’re facing a boss, they don’t have any indication of how much life they have (not even the three hearts), so some take upwards of 20-30 minutes as you have no idea if you’re even making an impact when you slash away.
One thing which I found quite interesting is how Yuu moves about the overworld as the game progresses. At first, upon entering an area, she’ll walk really slow, resulting in being forced into battles very often. Then, as you level up, re-entering these areas has her running much faster (due to being a higher level than the enemies in this location). This, combined with the item that limits encounters for 50 steps, means you can run through areas without having to fight whilst doing side-missions – unless the enemy is a higher level, as the item doesn’t stop those from engaging with you.
Yuu got a friend in me…
As mentioned above, in The Cruel King and the Great Hero, “it’s dangerous to go alone”… Thankfully, you have three companions which are willing to stand by and help you out – once you’ve helped them, of course. The first half of the game, maybe two thirds, consists of you helping out each of these with their own storyline, venturing into new areas and working with them to overcome an issue or save someone they love dearly. Whilst acting as your companion, you have full control over their weapons, armour, accessories, and use of them during combat.
Each character also has a unique ability that can be used within the world to gain access to new areas and hidden chests. Rocky can dig up chests and uncover tunnels to new areas, Princess Flora can imitate Princess Peach and float through the air with her big dress, and Cybat can throw his juggling knives at balloons to drop chests and makeshift log bridges. Thankfully, once you get to a certain point of the game, you can freely swap between each of these back at your home.
Not only do these characters have their own main-story narrative, but they also have one exclusive side mission dedicated to them – so, if you see a side mission but can’t activate it, you probably have the wrong person in your posse. Also, due to each having their own unique abilities, if you’re going for the platinum then you’ll have to constantly swap them around to find and exploit each of your foe’s weaknesses (so you can release them)…
Set them free!
Aside from levelling up each of the characters to level 50, the most time-consuming mechanic within The Cruel King and the Great Hero is to allow every single enemy type to run away. This may sound easy, and it probably will be by now as there may be guides on how to do it, but pre-release this was hair-pulling frustrating yet incredibly satisfying upon completing all of them.
So, what do you do? Yuu has the ability to ‘sense’ enemies, read their info and store it in her diary. This info tells you about the creature and what their weaknesses are, it’s not always in plain English but the cryptic clue should be easy enough to interpret without resorting to looking online. For example, some enemies don’t like being burned, some require you to attack multiple enemies at the same time, you may have to poison yourself then temp them to lick you so they become poisoned, or maybe you just have to simply ignore the enemy five times until they throw a tantrum. Once you’ve abused their weakness a few times, they’ll become dazed.
Once dazed, Yuu has one turn to use her ability that lets the weak enemies escape from battle – you’ll still get all the experience and monetary rewards, but your diary now shows you let that poor creature go. Aside from four enemies who have no weakness, you have to find, abuse, and release all 56 creature types within the game. There are some chapter-specific enemies, in chapter 5, but these can be found during the endgame if you venture into the Black Fountain, meaning you can complete this task whenever you wish and it’s not missable.
As you may imagine, this task took me many, many hours due to not keeping a record of where I saw certain enemies. So, despite having the record that I’ve killed a few Spiked Mice, for example, it took a long time to realise the only place they showed up was in a single cave in the far corner of the ‘Hunee’ region. Another annoying and time-consuming aspect was meeting some of the required criteria, such as the enemies where you have to dodge their attacks three times – you’d be surprised how hard it is to dodge an attack, I had to simply guard on every turn and occasionally heal before returning to being a ‘human’ punchbag
A Random Act of Kindness
Yuu is adorable, aside from her aspirations of becoming a great hero, like her father, she also wants everyone to be happy and for humans to live in peace alongside the creatures which live in the forests, caves, and honey-drenched fields. As such, she’ll happily go out of her way to help everyone she bumps into, resulting in forty (yes, 40) side-missions – known as Yuu’s Acts of Kindness. Although each chapter introduces new quests to take on, these didn’t seem missable as you can accept them at any time then leave the screen for the quest giver to activate the next one.
The quests are straightforward, go collect certain items from places marked on your map, defeat enemies, find the missing characters, and solve riddles to locate specific landmarks. None of these are difficult due to every single one literally placing a marker on your map telling you exactly where you need to go, even in the case of locating the landmarks. However, some of them involve a lot of back and forth with no fast travel fountain nearby, resulting in a lot of battles (or running away) and often jogging around quite slow due to Yuu’s tiny legs.
Upon completing these missions, you’re rewarded cash, items, and stars. The stars are used to unlock the art in the Collections menu – a big collection of early design, comic strips, and concept art for each of the characters. Although the gameplay aspect of these tasks is quite samey, they each are linked to their own mini-narrative such as helping a lizard find certain foods before he throws a tantrum, resolving the differences and correcting misinterpretation between two opposing species, helping gather materials to make costumes for the Star Festival, and searching for a missing travel diary.
The grind will kill Yuu
I believe there’s a much more efficient way to play The Cruel King and the Great Hero, but as I was playing the game blind (with no guides or help online), I found myself wandering around for literally hours trying to complete certain trophies. Most of the trophies will be unlocked through regular play, but allowing every single creature to escape at least once is a very hard task if you’ve not noted down where you saw each of them. This is because you can’t free them at the beginning of the game, you get the ability later, and you can’t always perform the right action when you first encounter them. Sometimes, you’ll have to return in the final chapter with another character, as you need their ability to abuse the weak point.
But, I think the longest and more frustrating grind has to be increasing the level of all four characters to the max (50). This wouldn’t be too bad but, just like when fighting the bosses, there’s literally no indication on how much more levelling you need to do to hit the next level. You can see what level you’re on, but there’s no “x experience to the next level” gauge! Not to mention, once you reach level 40, it’ll take you about 20-30 minutes of constant battling in the room before the final boss just to go up one level!
Thankfully, I had found an item that lets you level up 50% fast, so I was using that to reduce the time it took, but it still took a very long time as I ended the game with Yuu at level 45 and the others around 38-40 – and that was only because on that save I had explored 100% of the world and done every side-mission. To help with the tedious task of reaching level 50, I was playing the game whilst watching a few films on my iPad at the same time – it helped pass the time and reduce the mind-numbingly repetitive battles against the same foes for hours on end.
The Cruel King and the Great Hero is a freaking beautiful game, I love the art style and found myself captivated by the incredible visual style, unique characters, detailed enemies, and adorable Yuu. I don’t know the actual metrics, but it’s a PS4 game without a PS5 native version, so the resolution could be anything – yet it still looked crystal clear on my 4K TV. The framerate also felt very smooth, as if it’s 60fps, but it’s hard to tell with a game that uses this art style and has slow turn-based combat as its core mechanic.
Along with the eye-watering stunning visuals, the music is very emotional, fitting, and memorable. It reminded me a lot of The Liar Princess (for obvious reasons), but I don’t think any tracks were recycled from that game. In terms of the music, it appears certain physical editions of the game come with the ‘Scores of Bravery’ digital soundtrack, but there doesn’t appear to be any way to actually buy it on its own – I wish NIS America would start releasing all their soundtracks on PSN, I have a few of them on physical CDs and I listen to them a lot.
Also, just like The Liar Princess, The Cruel King and the Great Hero is narrated, in Japanese, during every beautifully-drawn cutscene by the very soothing voice of Reina Kondo.
I mentioned at the beginning of the review that I had to play the game twice due to a bug – what was this? Well, every time you complete an Act of Kindness you get stars, to unlock items in the Collection. After I completed my first playthrough and completed everything, I had two stars left yet I needed three to unlock the final item. This meant I literally couldn’t get the trophy for unlocking everything. Since this happened, I’ve sent my save to NIS America and they’re investigating it, it’s an issue that also occurred in the Japanese version until it got a patch to fix it.
However, as I wanted the shiny platinum and didn’t want to wait, I started a new game and spent around 25 hours completing all 40 Acts of Kindnesses (you literally have to work your way to the final boss for them all to unlock). Thankfully, this time I had enough stars to unlock everything, so I don’t know what happened the first time! I hope this was a one-off or something the developers can fix, but until then – if you do everything and don’t have enough stars, you’ll have to start a new game for that trophy. Also, unlike Bee Simulator, you can’t even just start a new game and unlock the one you didn’t do on your other save, you have to literally unlock every collection item in a single playthrough.
Despite the tedious trophies, annoyingly numerous random battles, and lack of damage/experience information, The Cruel King and the Great Hero is a gorgeous and emotional experience that all turn-based RPG fans should pick up. I thoroughly enjoyed not only the main narrative but the numerous side-missions and random conversations you have with the friendly creatures who live within the world, leaving me with the desire and want to help out everyone, rather than making it feel like a chore. Certain trophies were a pain, yet it was incredibly satisfying to work out the solutions and complete them, requiring a little thought and thinking outside of the box.
I’m hoping that The Cruel King and the Great Hero is an indication that there’s going to be more games with this art style coming from Nippon Ichi Software in the future, following from this and The Liar Princess yet with new mechanics and gameplay. I can’t recommend this game enough – sure, I had an issue with the Collection trophy and found a few to be an unnecessary grind, but they didn’t lower or restrict my enjoyment – if it did, I wouldn’t have played the entire game a second time and spent hours levelling up all of my characters.
If you’re someone who likes physical games over digital ones, NIS America has, as usual, released a few variants of the game for collectors. First, there’s the ‘Storybook Edition’ – this contains the Game, an “Adventures of the Great Hero” hardcover Art Book, the “Scores of Bravery” Soundtrack, a 15cm ‘Great Hero’ Plush, and a Collector’s Box. This seems to be out of stock on the NISA Europe website but you can find it in other places such as Base.com and 365Games.co.uk (although stock is apparently low)
The second version is the ‘Treasure Trove Edition’, which is still in stock but very low in stock on the NISA Europe site (Here). This includes everything in the above version plus an Acrylic Jigsaw Puzzle and an 8 Inch Dragon King Plush.
On a side note, although the European store is low on stock (with many items sold out), the American Store (HERE) seems to have everything up for pre-order with no indication anything is out of stock. However, it appears the American Store won’t ship to PAL regions (the UK and Europe, for example) or Japan, which is unfortunate considering the game is region-free and the EU store is low on stock. It’s also a shame as both regions have their own trophy stack, so you could technically grab two platinum trophies should you wish.
Storybook Edition / Treasure Trove
The Cruel King and the Great Hero£24.99
- Beautiful visuals and very memorable music
- Very soothing narration throughout
- The side-missions were fun, each with its own mini-story
- Very detailed character design, looking like you're playing a hand-drawn manga
- You'll love everyone you meet
- The grind to increase all your levels is very tedious
- Finding all the creatures, learning their weakness, and setting them all free can take a very long time
- This may just have been my game, but if you get the Collections Stars glitch, it is very frustrating having to play the game again for the trophy
- No soundtrack on PSN