Princess Amelie, the titular character of King’s Bounty: Armoured Princess, spends her days clippety-clopping around a series of disparate islands on horseback buying magical swords and levelling up. Sometimes she pauses, not for the traditional princess pursuits of kissing frogs and feeling peas through mattresses, but to battle an enemy army in a tactical, turn based fashion. I do hope Kate Middleton’s taking notes.
Somehow, it all adds up to a pure shot of RPG goodness at a time when more and more RPGs are simplifying their role-playing elements and replacing them with extra shooting. Yes, the story and dialogue border on nonsense, the characters are indistinct and the setting has a lazy stab at pretty much every fantasy cliché you can think of. But who cares? Inventories are extensive and there are plenty of stats to fiddle about with and tweak as you journey around the fantasy world of Teana.
Teana itself is split into a number of themed islands, with each one being occupied by a different fantasy race. Everyone’s got problems and you can sort them out by killing people, finding stuff and delivering things. You gallop around the overworld map picking fights, plundering treasure chests and recruiting troops. Each race has plenty of different unit types to recruit, each with their own set of stats and skills.
The islands are quite pleasant to explore, none of them are too large and you can quickly travel around using your boat. This means you rarely have to put up with arduous back-tracking or hunting around. When your horse gains the baffling ability to fly about a third of the way through the game, it only gets easier to flit about.
The graphics lack some of the bells and whistles of a top-tier game, but they’re clean, attractive and do a great job of showing the personality of the world. Elven forests are lush and green while graveyards are suitably creepy in black and deep purple; birds circle overhead and waterfalls glint in the sunshine.
The overworld map is also the place to improve skills, fiddle with your expansive inventory and equip that glowing sword of loveliness you just found. The range of items in the world is randomised for each game but there’s always a great variety. Almost every aspect of your character and army can be boosted through equipment and skills; this makes it easy to fine tune your character to your style of play. Levelling up occurs pretty frequently and items are plentiful, which lends the game a nice sense of pace and progression as you’re always improving.
Enemies roam the lands randomly and, when you get close enough, they charge towards you like a lady in a Lynx advert who’s just caught her first whiff of the latest sexy smell. Provided you don’t scarper in the other direction, the moment of impact initiates a tactical battle, which is where all your preparation comes into play.
At this point you change views to a hexagonal grid with your troops lined up on one side and the enemy on the other for a good old-fashioned, turn-based, knock about. Troops act in order of their initiative stat, they move further with high speed, hit harder with high attack and so on. Each turn also brings with it an opportunity to cast a spell and get your pet dragon to jump off the sidelines to use one of his abilities; such as kicking someone in the face or digging up a treasure chest.
There are nine dragon abilities, more than seventy spells and most kinds of troop have at least one special ability. This leads to a great level of flexibility in terms of how you want to approach battles. Do you get your dragon to build walls around the enemy troops and pelt them with ranged attacks and offensive spells? Maybe you’d prefer to soup-up your guys with magic, use your dragon to boost their movement and have them dash over to wipe out the strongest enemy unit before it gets a chance to act? It’s up to you.
There are an almost endless number of strategies that will bring success. Unfortunately, despite enemy armies being diverse, once you’ve hit a strategy that works it will generally keep on working for almost everyone. Of course you’re free to try different tactics, attack more powerful enemies or just turn up the difficulty, but it’s easy to just keep on winning fight after fight by doing essentially the same thing every time.
Whilst the main characters don’t have much to offer, the body language and animations of the battlefield units lends them a fantastic sense of personality. Paladins are upright, stiff and serious; vampires glide around the battlefield with their red capes outstretched like b-movie Draculas; pirates stagger drunkenly forward to lunge at the enemy. Even if the story’s not strong, touches like these really make the world feel alive.
Sound is quite serviceable with individual grunts and cheers from all units and a fairly nice mix of ambient sound scattered around. There are a small number of different musical tracks that repeat throughout the game but they’re not particularly distinct. You won’t be whistling them in the shower but they’re also not likely to drive you to the mute button.
King’s Bounty: Armoured Princess may not terribly original, but it is a deep, entertaining game with plenty of content to keep RPG and strategy fans going for months. A charmingly nonsensical story does nothing to harm a world that thrives because of the little details. The staggering amount of choice in how you approach battles means that by the time you’re finished, you’ll be tempted to start again from the beginning with a different class and selection of troops. King’s bounty has an excess of charm and is a great example of classic, thoughtful, RPG gameplay.