It's hard to believe that there aren't more games like Kingdom Come: Deliverance—the medieval RPG that has proven to be a hit (and also the subject of much debate) over the past week. You'd think "Medieval Skyrim" would be a natural subject for developers to explore, but that hasn't really been the case.
The closest games I've really been able to find are multiplayer action games like Torn Banner's Chivalry: Medieval War and War of the Roses, the latter of which has since been discontinued. Mount and Blade scratches a similar itch, but it's notably ahistorical. When it has ventured into historical territory—as in its various DLC releases—it's generally been panned for being too restrictive.
So it's not hard to understand why Kingdom Come has resonated with RPG fans. Realistic, hardcore RPGs certainly have an audience, even if Kingdom Come feels a shade stilted at times. And after so many years of having to make allowances for Skyrim, it's kind of cool to play a game where people will judge you for being covered in the blood of your enemies.
But what has really made Kingdom Come a lightning rod is its historical subject matter. And that's what I'm going to focus on here; specifically, how it meshes with the roleplaying genre.
As I mentioned, it ventures into territory rarely covered by RPGs. When games have engaged with history, it's usually been through the lens of strategy games, flight sims, and military shooters. Roleplaying games, being descended from Dungeons and Dragons and J.R.R. Tolkien novels, have long hewed toward fantasy. Not only are dragons and goblins more fun to fight, but they avoid sticky questions like, "How shall we portray the Crusades?" At the end of the day, it's much easier for game developers to adapt their Dungeon and Dragons campaign than to try and accurately portray a period in medieval history.
It's a gap that Kingdom Come is happy to fill. It sets out to tell the story of Bohemia circa the 15th century, with a particular focus on the power struggles between the ruling elite of that era. It's pitched as a history lesson as much as a game—a window into the latter days of the Holy Roman Empire.
It's undeniably a history nerd's RPG, with secondary characters happily falling into political debates from the period. Should the population support Wenceslaus or his younger half-brother Sigismund? What about the role of the Germans? Discuss!
This approach naturally appeals to the Hardcore History listener in me, but also can't help in giving me pause. Walking around villages and castles listening to the common folk yammer on about politics, it's striking to me what a top-down approach Kingdom Come takes to its history. It's about lords, kings, and great events. It's one where the peasants are decidedly in the background.
But who wants to be a peasant, right? It's much more fun to wield a sword or get knee deep into historical politics.
Which makes me wonder: RPGs are necessarily about big heroes and great events. They're almost invariably "rags to riches" stories. Can a historical RPG tell a compelling story from the vantage point of someone who isn't deeply involved in medieval politics? How deep can RPGs go in telling the stories that we've never heard before?
It's a question that seems to strike at the limitations of the genre itself. We like to think of RPGs as being this limitless space where we can be whoever we want, but the reality is that you're typically a guy with a sword exploring a hole in the ground for loot. That's certainly the case in Kingdom Come, which leans heavily on traditional roleplaying tropes, like the murder of Henry's parents and his subsequent quest for revenge.
It may simply be that I'm caught up in the phrase "historically accurate," which is a term that's been applied to Kingdom Come quite a bit. With games in particular, it often seems as if there's only one vantage point—the one that deals with history's elites. We're told that there's no room for women in the story of Kingdom Come. That naturally makes me wonder if it's possible to make an interesting RPG that puts me in the shoes of a woman in 15th century Bohemia. It makes me wonder what other stories there are to tell.
To get back to my original observation about the lack of historical RPGs, I think that developers simply enjoy having the freedom to develop their world as they please. It's so much harder to offer a nuanced portrayal of real world history.
But as I said before, Kingdom Come: Deliverance clearly resonates as a realistic medieval RPG. For all the controversy around it, it's managed to sell more than 500,000 copies, which suggests to me that more are on the way. When that happens, I'd encourage the developers to step back and see if they can take a bottom up approach to history rather than a top down one. They might be surprised by what they come up with.
Looking Ahead to the Rest of the Week
We're in for a packed week of releases, despite the fact that it's only February. Buckle down and get ready folks!
- Age of Empires: Definitive Edition [February 20]: For PC gamers of a certain age, Age of Empires is right up there with StarCraft and Command and Conquer. It's a reminder of how painful it was to lose Ensemble Studios—one of the great strategy developers of our time. Play this game and remember.
- Metal Gear Survive [February 20]: It's appropriate that the first post-Hideo Kojima Metal Gear game should feature zombies. After all, what is Metal Gear if not a shambling zombie itself? But who knows, maybe it's not so bad. We'll see tomorrow!
Nadia's Note Block Beat Box: Burmecia from Final Fantasy IX
The TV says there's a big rainstorm a-coming to my corner of the Earth, and every aching fibre of my body concurs. I thought I'd highlight a "rainy" piece of game music for the occasion, and here it is: Burmecia from Final Fantasy IX.
Bit of a downer choice, huh? When the party first enters Freya's hometown of Burmecia (aka Awesome Rat Kingdom, aka Disneyland), they discover it's been razed by Kuja and his cronies. Sorry, Freya. Every Final Fantasy game needs a decimated town, and you got the low roll for IX.
Burmecia's theme reflects its dark and dreary atmosphere, but its repetition is its most interesting quirk. It very much sounds like a rainstorm that has no intention of letting up. It's sad, it's soggy, and it weighs on your soul after a few minutes. If you're not in the mood to be pelted with feelings, maybe opt for the variation that plays in Gizamaluke's Grotto.
Mike's Media Minute
I was waiting for this weekend, for Black Panther to kick off the blockbuster phase of 2018. And the film did not disappoint. Black Panther destroyed the competition, in the theaters and on all-time charts. The film had early estimates of an $80 million opening weekend, but it has vastly outperformed that: Black Panther made $201.7 million over the three-day weekend, with an estimated take of $235 million for the four-day weekend.
Here are the records Black Panther has broken. It's the fifth-highest three-day weekend opener, behind Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Jurassic World, and The Avengers. It's third-highest four-day opener, behind only Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Star Wars: The Last Jedi. The estimates for today put it as the second-highest Monday of all-time, behind The Force Awakens. Basically, Black Panther is performing like its a Star Wars or Avengers film.
It's frankly absurd in a box office that's already performing strongly. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle took in another $7.9 million, bringing its domestic total to $377 million. That makes it the biggest Sony Pictures release other than the original Spider-Man. (Yep, it's already passed Spider-Man 2, Spider-Man 3, and Spider-Man: Homecoming.) Internationally, it's reached $904.6 million, putting it second behind only Skyfall, and it still has to open in Japan. The Greatest Showman also continues its excellent run with only a 21 percent drop week-to-week.
And in the middle of all of this, as part of the Lunar New Year holidays China dropped $543 million into its box office over the weekend. Monster Hunt 2 earned $190 million, Detective Chinatown 2 earned $154 million, The Monkey King 3: Kingdom of Women earned $79.9 million, Operation Red Sea earned $70.3 million, and Boonie Bears took in $40.9 million.
This was a record-breaking weekend in the box office. Amazing.
Caty’s AltGame Corner
I love a good bullethell game, from old school Touhou to Deathsmiles. Untitled (The Flower Game) from Withering Systems, the collaborative label from developers Loren Schmidt and Katie Rose Pipkin, is a bullethell like I've never seen before. That's because it's not just a bullethell game—but a drawing tool too.
And The Flower Game will set you on edge. If you leave your headphones in, you'll be treated to an ominous symphony of horns, like there's a traffic jam beneath the dark sphere that's etched with white kaleidoscopic patterns. The game's playable from your browser, or with a downloadable version too. There's two modes in particular that are playable: an arcade mode, which is complete with enemies and collectables, and a drawing mode, which is a chilled out, enemy-free version just for players who want to skip the bullethell aspect all together. Since the game's available for free, there's nothing to stop you from testing it out on itch.io.
This Week's News and Notes
- I'm still wrestling with Kingdom Come, but I was able to take a break and finally knock out my white whale in Monster Hunter: World. It's actually a pretty cool story that highlights why Monster Hunter is my favorite game so far this year.
- The outsized success of Black Panther has already gotten people wondering if there will ever be a game that captures the power of the film (the forthcoming Avengers game from Crystal Dynamics isn't a bad bet). In the meantime, you can always play as Black Panther in GTA 5.
- Mega Man Legacy Collection 1 and 2 are coming to the Switch, but not everyone is happy with Capcom's solution. Why can't anything be simple anymore?
- On the other hand, Bayonetta 1 and 2 on the Switch are good. Very good.
- The unexpected hiatus of the System Shock remake is a reminder that the buyer always beware when engaging in crowdfunding.
- The USgamer Podcast: Nadia officially returned from Japan last week, and the crew discuss her adventures. You can find that and all the rest in the latest episode of our flagship podcast. Subscribe here!
- Axe of the Blood God: We've moved to Mondays! This week's episode focuses on Kingdom Come: Deliverance and the Secret of Mana Remake. Wondering whether to get the PS4 version or SNES version of Secret of Mana? Find out this week. Subscribe here!