Review – The Cruel King and the Great Hero
I won’t lie, I’d been looking forward to The Cruel King and the Great Hero for quite a while now. After all, this was the successor to The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince, which won our hearts back in 2019 with its beautiful art style and super saccharine premise. The Cruel King and the Great Hero looked to be in the same vein as its predecessor, and in some ways, it was. However, it also tried to do something different this time around, and unfortunately, this was where a lot of the game fell flat.
Like The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince, the story in The Cruel King and the Great Hero has a ridiculously sweet story. You play as Yuu, an orphaned girl and daughter of the Great Hero of old, who perished while defeating the Demon King. Upon losing her father, she is adopted and raised by the Dragon King, who had befriended the Great Hero before his passing and promised to look after her. The love between Yuu and the Dragon King is heartwarmingly showcased through moments of him training her to become the next Great Hero and regaling her with tales about her father’s heroic deeds at nighttime. It’s precious through and through.
Before long, Yuu is sent out into the world to make a name for herself as the next Great Hero, albeit with her overprotective father hiding in the bushes to secretly lend her his aid where he can. Unlike The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince, which is a puzzle platformer, The Cruel King and the Great Hero is a turn-based JRPG. At first, this delighted me greatly, as I saw this as a huge step up from the previous game. The art style alone is a perfect fit for the genre. Unfortunately, my enjoyment was short-lived.
For all of its cutesie visuals, The Cruel King and the Great Hero is a surprisingly challenging game at first. It takes a while for Yuu to level up enough to unlock her first special ability and she starts off her adventure (mostly) on her own. Since Yuu is so weak at first, many of the beginning enemies actually pose a real threat. After a while she’s joined by a companion (and eventually several others), which makes the fights much easier to manage. As is to be expected, each character has their own set of attacks, skillsets, strengths, and weaknesses. She can only only travel with one ally at a time, so they’ll be swapped out from time to time to assist her with missions that are tailored to their skills and personal quests.
This is all pretty standard JRPG fare, but what brings the experience down is all of the unnecessary padding. In order to earn her place as a hero, Yuu has the option of performing Acts of Kindness for the friendly monsters that she comes across throughout her adventures. These Acts of Kindness are The Cruel King and the Great Hero‘s sidequests, and completing them will grant you powerful rare items. In the early sections of the game, I found many of them to be quite endearing, some even having some truly touching moments.
It seems though that the developers ran out of ideas for poignant sidequests after a while and relegated the later Acts of Kindness to little more than fetch quests. It’s a shame too, because about halfway through the game I found myself no longer caring about many of the monster-folk I once liked. I even found myself mostly annoyed by several who kept needing me to find things for them or refusing to ask for help from the monster standing ten feet away from them.
While you can certainly choose to ignore the Acts of Kindness and just focus on the main story missions, there’s a pretty big difficulty spike in each new area that will require a lot of grinding in order survive. The battles aren’t necessarily difficult or complicated, it just that enemies in new regions have a lot more health and strength than you will. If you try to just power through the main missions, more than likely the enemies will wipe the floor with you. I found that by sticking to completing the Acts of Kindness first, uninspired as many of them might be, at least it gave me something to focus on while I leveled up more organically. That way, I came to think of it as grinding with rewards in between.
Adventuring quickly becomes a slog because there are only a few different regions to visit and there’s very little variety to the backgrounds in each region. There’s also only one tune for each area, all while the melodies are pretty and whimsical, they get repetitive quickly. This makes all the linear questing feel even more monotonous. Not to mention the fact that there are only about four to five different enemy types in each area, so battles rapidly lose their excitement.
The pacing is The Cruel King and the Great Hero‘s biggest issue though. Even though the Acts of Kindness feel little more than menial tasks, at least you’re able to fast travel from region to region to change up the scenery every once in while. At one point in the game though, you get locked into a dreamy cloud-filled area for a very long time and you’re unable to leave until you complete the main quest in that section. This portion of the game brought the adventure to a screeching halt and I was so relieved when it was over. This happens again in the very end of the game as well, but by then at least it’s the end so it’s slightly more bearable.
I don’t think I would have taken issue with those other gripes nearly as much if it wasn’t for the insane amount of random encounters The Cruel King and the Great Hero has. I’m not exaggerating when I say that you’ll be stopped to fight an enemy about every ten to fifteen seconds. Between the frequency of the encounters and the lack of enemy variety, getting from point A to point B can feel like a tedious chore after a while.
That being said, it’s not all bad. As I’ve already stated, the art design is fantastic, with hand-drawn visuals that look like they’re ripped straight out of a children’s fairy tale book. Leaning even further into the storybook aesthetic, the whole game is expertly narrated in Japanese, as if you’re being read a bedtime story. It’s wholesome and adorable, and by far The Cruel King and the Great Hero‘s biggest saving grace.
This is a tough one to recommend because, while there are plenty of worthwhile aspects, there are just as many shortcomings. If you’re a diehard JRPG fan and like a more mellow experience, then you might enjoy The Cruel King and the Great Hero‘s charm. However, if you don’t like games with excess amounts of filler and an overally lack of strategic challenge, then you’ll more than likely find this game on the boring side. I think The Cruel King and the Great Hero would be best suited for a younger audience as a possible entry point into the JRPG genre, especially given how sweet and touching the story is.
The hand-drawn storybook-like visuals are absolutely gorgeous. My only complaint is there’s not enough enemy designs or environments.
Fairly standard turn-based JRPG gameplay. Each character has their own strengths and weaknesses, and a very small set of skills and attacks.
Leaning into the storybook aesthetic, the whole game is expertly narrated in Japanese, as if you’re being read a bedtime story. The soundtrack is fittingly whimsical, but the songs get repetitive after a while.
While incredibly charming at first and visually appealing, the magic eventually wears off due to an overly padded runtime filled with linear missions, an abundance of fetch quests, and frequent random encounters.
Final Verdict: 6.5
The Cruel King and the Great Hero is available now on PS4 and Nintendo Switch.
Reviewed on PS5.
A copy of The Cruel King and the Great Hero was provided by the publisher.