The Japanese developer Arc System Works is a case of bipolarity which should be studied by specialists. On one hand, they constantly outdo themselves with fantastic and incredibly well-polished fighting games such as the Blazblue and Guilty Gear series, as well as the upcoming Dragon Ball FighterZ. On the other hand, for some reason, they insist on constantly shoving out forgettable shovelware, such as the disappointing Double Dragon IV or tons upon tons of budget titles for the Nintendo Switch, including a cheap Othello game and a card game featuring sheep (I’ll review those bad boys someday). Their newest title for the 3DS, and the newest title on the River City (or Kunio, for all you purists out there) franchise, River City: Knights of Justice, isn’t exactly a completely underwhelming piece of shovelware, but it definitely doesn’t reach the same level of quality as the rest of Arc’s catalog.
Knights of Justice might look like a JRPG, might sound like a JRPG and might be marketed as a JRPG hybrid of sorts, but it’s just yet another beat-em-up from the Kunio series. Take out the silly medieval clothing or the HP bar on the top of the screen and you’ll realize the game has actually less new features than it seems, even though its presentation is actually very charming.
I’ll start with some positives: the game does indeed look very interesting. The nice mixture of polygonal environmental graphics with 2D characters and assets, with the addition of the retro medieval coat of paint, is indeed a sight for sore eyes. Knights of Justice nails in its visual presentation, doing its best in order to emulate the feel of the Super Nintendo-era JRPGs, even though it’s not one. The addition of new enemies, like zombies, knights, ghosts, and dragons is also splendid, given how everyone in the River City series looks like each other. Finally, some in-game songs are quite pleasant. Those are all the positives I could find.
Sadly, the amount of negatives is quite staggering. First of all, there are issues in the visual and sound departments, the ones I’ve just praised. While the game indeed looks very charming, its animations are still 8-bit. Therefore they look pretty choppy in a polygonal world. The sound effects are also pretty outdated and generic, oozing a “budget game” feel all over Knights of Justice‘s sound department.
The biggest problem with the game, however, is in its gameplay department. Sure, River City games feature incredibly simple controls and combat mechanics, with just one punch, one kick and one jump button. As simple as it is, it’s still very flawed. For starters, your character moves at a snail’s pace, and so do your attacks, given the sluggish character animations. The hit detection is quite wonky as well. The initial button setup is horrendous, mapping Y as the jump button for instance (though that can easily be fixed by making a quick visit to the options menu). Saving is limited solely to the overworld, with no previous indication of it in-game.
And finally, the biggest flaw in the gameplay department is its touchscreen utilization, or better yet, its lack thereof. The bottom screen of the 3DS constantly shows a short inventory of 10 items you’ve previously shortlisted, such as recovery items and weapons. You can’t access this menu through touch controls, however, even though the menu is designed to do so. In order to access the item you want, you need to constantly mash the L button until it highlights said item. I cannot stress how infuriating this “addition” is to the already cumbersome combat, and it makes fighting enemies way more complicated than it should be.
The game’s story mode isn’t well polished, either. The biggest issue with it isn’t even its dull plot. Its biggest flaw is in how repetitive and uninspired its (literally) hundreds of sidequests are. They are mostly summarized in either being a quick fight scene against as many enemies the screen can fit at any single time or excruciatingly boring fetch quests, in a beat-em-up. That’s yet another problem with Knights of Justice: it thinks it’s more than just a beat-em-up, adding tons of JRPG elements which don’t fit at all in a brawler. Instead of making the game feel unique, those extra elements don’t add much quality to the overall package, making the game feel like it’s facing an identity crisis instead.
River City: Knights of Justice has lots of charm, indeed, but charm alone doesn’t make this game a good one. Its gameplay is overall boring, and it has an excessive amount of flaws, which is one heck of a sin for a beat-em-up game. Fans of the Kunio series of games might find a bit of enjoyment with this title, but the rest out there won’t be impressed at all by what Knights of Justice offers. While it’s nice to see the 3DS getting games even after the release of the Switch, this title isn’t something worth bragging about.