Bold and bright, stuffed with charm and whimsy, For the King is gorgeous.
And its beguiling world is all a little misleading. Yes, the animations bring this oh-so-cute board game to life, and no, the game doesn't take itself too seriously. But beneath that day-glo veneer For the King is brutal, unflinchingly unfair in the way only a roguelike game can be. Right at the heart of it lies the stone-cold heart of a savage RPG... and pretty or not, this is not a game for the faint-hearted.
The story's one you've likely heard before; a cherished leader is dead, chaos is unleashed across the kingdom, and it's up to you - yes, you, mysterious stranger - to put things right again. Only in this instance, Chaos is a malevolent force of the same name that's intensified by too many lurking baddies, the sad demise of your squadmates, and even so much as a hint of dilly-dallying.
You'll become intimately familiar with the opening sequences, traipsing through Fahrul's hex-based Guardian Forest, visiting villages accompanied by the gentle plink-plonk of the minstrel music in the background. The first time you play, you'll cautiously step into your inaugural combat event - you'll get through it, but probably not unscathed - as you leisurely explore your stats and loadout, getting to grips with the numerous menus and systems. Then likely as not you'll make your way to the Glittering Mines - again, it won't be easy, but you'll get there - at which point your squad will be unceremoniously slaughtered, their bones and blood - the latter depicted by sweet red-pink triangles - scattered across the ground like macabre confetti.
And that's what life is like in Fahrul; an endless cycle of fighting and fleeing, everything moving along quite smoothly right up until it isn't, and you're suddenly dead. Again.
You get to choose your squad - Scholar, Minstrel, Hunter, Blacksmith, and more; they each bring their own unique skills to battle - and all sport varying degrees of armour, resistance, and evasion, as well as a small difference in starting coin and health (HP). As you no doubt suspect, it's in your interest to bring a well-balanced team; cooperation is key, as is experimentation.
There's a lot of moving parts, though. As well as the turn-based random number generator combat, randomised drops, and day/night cycles to juggle (naturally, things get worse when the sun goes down), you have to organise your party's loot, complete fetch quests, and complete missions, some of which will see you traipse far across the game's hex-based overworld. There's a substantive inventory to manage, including recovery herbs, armour, weapons, scrolls, and ships, to name but a few. You'll find yourself routinely switching priorities, one minute chasing experience points or cash, the next trying to settle Chaos elements, and you won't always get it right. This means you'll die, a lot, particularly in the opening hours. Yes, even on easy. And yes, your progress is wiped.
But while your drops are randomised, you can take back some control by seeking out vendors and keeping an eye on the wares for sale across the kingdom. Weapons vary in strength and buffs with many easily broken, but you'll quickly learn which class suits what weaponry, and how to tweak your stats to work with your preferred loadouts. You'll also learn the value of keeping your squad huddled together... especially if you're ambushed.
There are dozens of delightful little touches, too. Loot and coin can be shared with players in the immediate vicinity, making it easier to purchase those big-ticket items, and an encyclopedia helps you get to grips with the mechanics and lore. A timeline at the top of your screen ticks off the hours, letting you know how long you have until the sun sets and Chaos reigns once more.
It's a busy screen, though, that map, with a lot of visual noise that occasionally makes it difficult to discern who's who, and what's where. However, animations are on point, and there's no end of the type of enemy you might encounter. Wolves, goblins, skeletons, bats, crows, bees, bears, sea hags, a Kraken, and even jelly cubes (yes, really) - For the King has them all, each foes offering their own buffs and weaknesses that make every encounter unique. Some will burn you and/or your gear, some poison, some nick stuff and run off with it, while others just bludgeon the living daylights out of you. And how you return the favour really does come down to luck.
And that's the one issue here, I suppose. The odds seem ever stacked in your enemies' favour, your foes always landing critical hits at precisely the right time. It essentially comes down to item management and luck - or lack thereof - which might be too bitter a pill for some to swallow.
That said, you can massage your odds of winning by using Focus, a limited perk that guarantees one successful roll for every Focus point you spend. At first you'll hungrily hoard them, but as you progress you'll pick up herbs that replenish your stock, as well as other rewards that unlock additional Focus slots, so you can better rely on them when you're next in a precarious predicament. Which you will be, of course.
Is it frustrating that it's a wipe every time your party fails? A bit. But with every replay the enemies you meet along the way will differ, as will the loot you'll discover. The Lore Store - accessible at the beginning of your adventure - is the only place that offers items that stay with you even after you wipe, offering new classes, weapons, and more, to strengthen your loadout at the start of each attempt.
And if you're really fed up and can't bring yourself to head into Fahrul again, you can also explore Dungeon Crawl and Frost Adventure, two additional modes that are exactly what they say on the tin.
It's not for the uninitiated, For the King. It's pretty, yes, but it's also pretty brutal, and quick to punish even the simplest of mistakes. But if you're a fan of tabletop RPGs and have a couple of sadistic pals to keep you company, it's a Kraken little game that's sure to delight - and dismay - in equal measures.
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