This year’s E3 had plenty of surprises, but arguably the most surprising announcements came out of FromSoftware. The renowned developer of the Souls series and Bloodborne announced three different games, each one unexpected in its own right: Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, Deracine, and most unexpected of all, an HD remaster of Metal Wolf Chaos, FromSoft’s hilarious shooter about a fictional U.S. President piloting a mech to fend off a military coup staged by his own Vice President.
While these three games may be vastly different from one another on the surface, there’s a pattern running through each of them. That pattern is FromSoftware’s own long and varied history as a developer, and the way that history shapes their contemporary titles. Director and CEO Hidetaka Miyazaki has often pointed out that FromSoft isn’t afraid to pull ideas from its time as a niche studio before the Souls games catapulted it to widespread popularity. Yet, one of the studio’s most significant properties has fallen by the wayside, lost in the wake of the Souls series, but still represents such unfulfilled potential: King’s Field.
King’s Field was the first game that FromSoft ever produced. One of the earliest games to be released on the PlayStation, it was a first-person RPG in full 3D that was unique, cutting-edge, and divisive. In spite of its incredibly slow movement, combat and controls, the game garnered a cult following due to its intriguing atmosphere, seamless world and minimalistic storytelling. The modest success of the original King’s Field in Japan was enough to get FromSoftware off the ground as a studio, and the game was followed up by three sequels before going dormant for years. Eventually, Demon’s Souls was named a spiritual successor to King’s Field, and we all know where things went from there. But King’s Field deserves to be more than a footnote in the legacy of the Souls franchise – it deserves another chance in the spotlight, remade for a modern audience.
So why should King’s Field get its own remake? You might be thinking that it simply morphed into Demon’s Souls, and that the Souls games are just a better realization of King’s Field’s mechanics – but you’d be wrong. The Souls titles merely co-opted some of the themes and design principles of King’s Field, and it is still a very different beast than Souls in many respects. King’s Field (or King’s Field II in Japan) is as much a puzzle game as it is an RPG, and it places a far greater emphasis on exploration and discovery than combat and bosses. The non-linear, loading-free island of Melanat presents you with a new mystery to solve at every turn – whether that’s a door with a confusing keyhole, a specific series of traps, or an enemy with an unusual weakness. Solutions to these problems are not nearly so evident as in the Souls games; they require a keen eye, a good memory and plenty of legwork to find the necessary items and discern their uses. Solving these puzzles and uncovering the secrets of the island is deeply gratifying, and gives the game more of a Myst-plus-Resident Evil feeling than anything else.
I won’t pretend that the game is perfect, though. Many elements of King’s Field still hold up well, such as the unsettling atmosphere, freakish enemies, and sense of discovery, but other elements of it… uh… don’t. As an early PlayStation game, the controls are the worst offender: movement is locked to the d-pad, which handles both walking and looking (imagine tank controls in first-person) and strafing is bound to the bumpers while aiming up and down is bound to the triggers. The general speed of the game is also very slow in order to maintain a half-decent frame rate without loading screens, and it still chugs sometimes. Combat mostly consists of strafing around an enemy in a circle, avoiding their attack zone while waiting for your stamina to recharge so you can attack again. The graphics are also remarkably chunky, with a drab color scheme and very few open spaces. But all these issues could be easily fixed, and that’s precisely why King’s Field should be remade – its core design is still sound, it just needs a mechanical rework and a visual upgrade to meet today’s standards.
FromSoft has certainly gained plenty of experience (and expanded as a company) over the past decade, but it could also benefit from looking at other influences in making an improved version of King’s Field. Faster, more dangerous first-person melee combat in the vein of Condemned. Expanded focus on puzzles and the pervasive sense of dread, similar to Resident Evil 7. Better worldbuilding through suffused lore and subtle, natural storytelling, not unlike the studio’s Souls series. These are just a few examples that would produce great results, and help create touchstones for new players unfamiliar with King’s Field without diluting its own formula.
Now that FromSoftware has shown a clear interest in bringing its older games to new audiences with the upcoming remaster of Metal Wolf Chaos, King’s Field should also get an opportunity to shine again. I’ve been waiting and hoping for the series to reemerge for a long time, and with FromSoft’s modern prevalence in the industry, the studio has everything to gain by appealing to fans from its olden days while also generating appreciation for its history among more recent fans.