This lovely game may not seem like much at first, but is a surprising little adventure about a young girl and the dragon who loves her. Nippon Ichi’s The Cruel King and the Great Hero is a heartwarming tale about a young girl being raised by a mighty dragon. The game itself is modeled after this simple fairytale, with the art style and loading screens resembling the pages of a children’s book. The storyline for this game is the central focus, and that fairytale style is featured throughout the entire game. While some aspects of the game can become tedious, playing through until the final chapter of this living storybook is so worth it. The majority of the game, including the main storyline, can be completed in around 15 hours, though completing all the side quests could take longer.
The main character of this story is Yuu, the young daughter of a Great Hero who is renowned for defeating the Demon King and bringing peace to the world. After being orphaned as an infant, Yuu has been raised by the fearsome Dragon King, who she refers to as Dad. Yuu has one goal, and that is to become a Great Hero just like her Papa. She spends her days training, and at night curls up to listen to the Dragon King’s stories about her Papa, the Great Hero. Every night, her dad’s stories reveal more of the Dragon King’s past and how he came to be the one to care for Yuu.
The Dragon King encourages Yuu to follow her dream, and soon enough Yuu is exploring their mountain home. She spends time helping monsters solve problems through acts of kindness, creates positive relationships between monsters and humans, and defeats a great evil all while learning the truth about her past and her parents. Yuu faces many challenges on her journey to become a Great Hero, and this heartwarming tale showcases the true heart of a hero while teaching the importance of acceptance. While the storybook style of the game may look simple, the game itself is full of adventure; the details and themes give depth to the story.
The Cruel King and The Great Hero is a cozy and laid-back side scrolling game where your character traverses areas by walking in mostly straight lines (unless turning off the path). It closely resembles a storybook coming to life; even the screens load as if they were pages turning in a book.
The story begins with our young hero Yuu, finally able to traverse down the side of her mountain home all by herself. There are no obstacles to dodge or jump across, and most of the scenery is part of the background. There are occasional NPCs you can interact with and various monsters to battle. These monsters are never visible on the path, so Yuu will walk right into them without any prior warning.
Exploring the Mountainside
The Dragon King follows Yuu and gives her special abilities at the beginning of the gameplay. It’s a pleasant experience seeing him sneak along the background of the screens. There is a lot of walking in this game, especially at the start. You will spend a lot of the gameplay traveling back and forth between areas as you complete tasks. The soft graphics and music make the travel a peaceful experience, and the fun effects of the screen turning like the pages of a book also help make the journey more enchanting.
The map in this game is one of your most useful tools. As you complete tasks, you will unlock access to different areas of the map. There is a map key that explains the symbols used, as well as where those symbols can be found on the map. Areas that have already been explored show up as dark patches, and dashed lines represent paths. If a dashed line simply ends, that means it is a path that still needs to be explored. The map screen will also list the current objective you are working towards. It also indicates where you can visit the Peddler and buy various items, and where the spirit fountains’ warp points can be located.
What the map doesn’t show is where any possible monster encounters may be. Those are all completely random and cannot be avoided without using items. You will be able to walk back and forth between areas in a straight line to get from point A to point B. Any obstacles while exploring are indicated on the map as a purple question mark. Those obstacles vary but are usually either a wall blocking an area or an NPC. When it is a wall, the Dragon King can help you get through. If an NPC is the obstacle, that will require completing a task to be allowed past.
NPCs will show up on the map when in need of your assistance (referred to as Acts of Kindness) as a red chat bubble symbol. Interacting with them provides you with information and various side quests. These simple requests supply an opportunity for world-building and backstory, and are a great way to help Yuu level up. They are also a great source of items that can be used throughout Yuu’s journey, as the NPCs will give gifts as rewards. Some of the most helpful gear and fruits for health and stamina can be gained by completing the many Acts of Kindness scattered throughout the map. These side quests also tell various stories, many of which are sweet and help the NPCs improve their circumstances in some way. There are quests to help both monsters and humans, and many of the tasks also help bridge the gap between these two groups. Chatting with the NPCs about their requests also moves along smaller stories in the game. For example, one of the first Acts of Kindness is to find a recalcitrant young monster who then gets put into time out in a cage that Yuu will walk past many times on her adventures. Another simple request starts out by gathering a small item, and then continues on through more requests until the NPC has a brand new home and start to a new life. While the side quests are worth doing, they are also steeped in details and lengthy dialog that helps to tell their story. Additionally, almost all of the side quests require some sort of backtracking through areas you have already traveled. Eventually, you can use Spirit Fountains and the ability to run to move faster, but side quests often take much longer than it seems they should due to the constant random battle encounters.
Battle sequences happen in a simple, turn-based combat style. Players will have a choice between Standard Attack, Special Attack, Item, Guard, or Escape. Each character used to battle has health points that determine their ability to continue fighting and energy points that show their energy levels for using special attacks. Players can recover health points by eating fruits designed for that purpose or by visiting Spirit Fountains. Energy for special attacks in increased by one point at the end of each battle turn. Most of the time Yuu has a companion who will fight at her side during battles as well as help throughout the journey. Three such companions appear over the course of the game, and while they are assigned to Yuu depending on the stage of the game, once players have progressed far enough they will be given the option to choose which friend to fight with. This can be a helpful boost when deciding how to gear up for the final boss battle.
The turn-based battle system is pretty standard and does not require much thought or strategy to complete. The moves used are repetitive and, especially in the first half of the game, don’t require the player to put forth much effort. Players can make it through the majority of this game pretty mindlessly, alternating between attack and special attacks. Rarely does the player need to guard against attack, and only needs to escape a battle if you’re simply tired of fighting them. Later on in the game, several battle sequences require a bit more thought and planning. There are a few mini-bosses towards the end of the game that have strong special attacks and high levels of defense, and the game’s final boss provides the hardest challenges. The battles towards the end of the game are best fought when you have a full stock of consumable and wearable items to help with health and stamina as well as to cure the various status effects that are caused by the later stage monster attacks. Most of the weapons and gear can be obtained and upgraded through normal gameplay, not requiring the player to go out of their way to get powerful weapons.
While the straightforward battles that players encounter in this game aren’t frustrating, just repetitive and boring at times, the way those battles are encountered can cause frustration. The encounter rate is entirely random, with no way to avoid the encounter. This means that moving through areas can be painfully slow, especially in the beginning areas of the game. Eventually Yuu will level up enough that she can run through areas with weak monsters or use an item to repel monsters, but until then the amount of time Yuu encounters a battle makes traveling through areas a chore. Luckily the player can easily choose to escape a battle and if successful there is no penalty for not defeating the monsters. In general, leveling up your character is pretty easy and can be done through side quests and the occasional battle so constant battling isn’t necessary to progress faster and most of the time the constant repetitive battles aren’t worth the effort.
Graphics and Soundtrack
Though the journey is at times lengthy and tedious, it is accompanied by delightful and pleasing sights and sounds. The graphics reflect the theme of a storybook, similar to sketches done on paper. While the game starts out as simple ink sketches, eventually the illustrations gain color and depth, with many cute details added in. Each area on the map tells a different part of the story, and that theme can be seen throughout. There is a high level of detail in each illustration and sound design, and while there aren’t many songs, they are sufficient enough that the repetition isn’t bothersome. The sounds are authentic to the situation, even the sound of pages turning as the screen loads.
The game has a lot of text, and there is a Japanese or English text option. While there is a narrative for the text, there is only a Japanese option. For players who prefer to listen to a story, this game could benefit from the narrative told in multiple languages.
The Cruel King and the Great Hero is truly a heartwarming tale that seems simple but has a surprising amount of depth to it. The story represents the importance of working together with others, even if they’re different. The storybook theme is well-represented with soft and soothing visuals and sound designs, and the attention to detail helps keep the game pleasing throughout the entire gameplay. While the abundance of side quests that can be completed before the final boss battle can help extend the enjoyment of this fairy tale experience, the slow pace brought on by the unpredictable random encounter rate can lead to frustration. The battles are numerous and can be repetitive, but they do not require a whole lot of thought or planning until the end. The short gameplay and ability to use items to avoid the battles mean it doesn’t take long to get to the final battle. There are plenty of positives to this game that make it a good choice for cozy style gamers that don’t mind turn-based combat. I enjoyed the story of Yuu and her dragon father, and the plot twists in the story kept me engaged.
The Cruel Hero and the Great King gets an 8/10.