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Machine Knight (3DS) artwork

Machine Knight (3DS) review

"Pretty standard stuff, done pretty well."

So, I play RPGs. Of all different kinds. My very first JRPG was a little gem called Golden Sun, on the GBA. My first Western RPG was Morrowind, on the XBOX. My first RPG on the PC was Neverwinter Nights. I take it as a matter of faith that no game that follows will be as good as those that I lucked into in my first forays into the genre.

Machine Knight is a JRPG that follows that Golden Sun tradition. Itís been around for a while as an iOS and Android game; it was ported to the 3DS in February of 2018. Iím an old-fashioned guy, I guess; Iíd rather buy a game outright and be done with it than mess around with microtransactions (though reports are that this game can be played and won without spending any money). Iíd also rather have buttons for input, rather than my stupid fat fingers on the screen in front of me.

Itís a game published by Kemco. Now, some folks see the name Kemco and get all excited, because itís their favorite developer. Others see it and get all excited, because itís their least favorite developer. I fall into neither category. Iíve played Kemco games that donít hold my attention, and Iíve played a couple of games that I think are pretty good. This is one of the latter. (The other, for those who are interested, is called Chronus Arc. These two games share a developer called Hit-Point. I guess Kemco works with several developers; Hit-Point definitely seems like one of the better ones).

Kemco games, for the uninitiated, are similar to games developed for the SNES. Thatís what everyone says, anyway. So, if you played RPGs of the SNES era, you know what youíre getting into. There are sprites, there are random encounters, there is turn-based combat. But Machine Knight features all sorts of improvements, frankly, over the average SNES game. Have you booted up Breath of Fire II* lately? Goodness. The graphics are better. There is a journal system that keeps track of quests, large and small. You can use fast travel, once youíve first arrived at a place the hard way. The menus are easy to use, and utilize actual words, where back in the day terms were abbreviated sometimes to the point of incomprehensibility. There is a crafting system. There is an elemental system that can be used to change the stats of your weapons or spells. The leveling system is more complex, and gives the player a couple of modest choices.

Machine Knight, according to the Nintendo website, is a ďscience fictionĒ adventure. That is not strictly true. Our protagonist is a scientist who teleports to the game world in the opening cutscene. Heís followed by a robotic invasion. So that SOUNDS like science fiction, but the gameworld really is a European Middle Ages sort of setting, with some magic thrown in. Our hero quickly learns that heís pretty handy with a sword. Early on, he forms a typical adventuring party with a young woman who uses elemental magic and another who is a healer. Pretty standard stuff.

That party of three is all you get in the game; there arenít others you can swap in or out of the party. Those three, though, are diverse and interesting, have their own histories and agendas, and engage in the occasional squabble. Theyíre likeable, and fun to hang out with.

Machine Knight has a pretty good premise, story-wise. Our hero is teleported to another world, tasked with the mission of contacting the citizens and forming an alliance with them. The ultimate goal is to get access to the energy that they have, and that the protagonistís world now lacks, due to its overdevelopment. What we quickly learn, however, is that this is a ruse...that indeed all kinds of robotic soldiers are teleporting to the same world immediately following him, to take by force that energy (and also to kill the protagonist). At least, I think thatís what the storyís premise is. Unfortunately, some of the main ideas and most of the subtleties are lost in some rather dense text. I was early in my second playthrough when I finally had a couple of ďAha!Ē moments regarding character and story development. Thatís not entirely the fault of localization; truthfully more efforts at providing early cutscenes or somesuch might have been judiciously applied for storytelling clarity. Once the evil scientist shows up in the world, toward the end-game, we only vaguely remember that he was the one who sent our hero to create an alliance with the locals (it turns out cynically) at the beginning of the game.

My major complaint, though, regards difficulty. The early game is WAY too easy. When you begin the game, youíre offered a choice of difficulties. I never choose hard mode, but sometimes wished I had with this game. There are lots of cool mechanics in the game whereby one gathers materials, amasses skill points, and gains tomes to bolster oneís crafting ability, but mostly those seem like wasted opportunities. As a gamer, I tend to ignore those things until the gameís difficulty forces me to explore them. When you can auto-battle your way through almost everything, including bosses, what motivation do you have to explore the elemental system of soul pebbles? The end-game, though, is suddenly QUITE difficult, and then itís time to attend to these mechanics if one hopes to survive even the next random encounter.

Having played this sort of game before, I started off doing a fair amount of grinding. Pretty quickly, though, this seemed unnecessary. I had convinced myself that the decision had been made, gameplay wise, to create quests that would be sufficient to the grinding enterprise: go kill five of this creature, five of that creature, and weíll call it good. (In other words, I wondered if the game was too easy because I was over-levelled). But, again, maybe 15 or 17 hours into my adventure, grinding suddenly became very necessary. Thatís cool...thatís what we sign up for when we play an SNES-style game...but itís not quite fair that the game filled you with complacency so regularly along the way. There was no challenge to early fights, which felt a little cheap, and there was high difficulty in later fights, which also felt a little cheap.

Toward the end of the game, I sort of became fatigued with the random encounter thing. Thatís expected, I suppose. Even Golden Sun wore me out with random encounters, and this is no Golden Sun. But the characters, the character interaction, the varieties of villages and towns, as well as this quest to SAVE THE WORLD pushed me forward. We often have a hero who comes from some insignificant background SAVE THE WORLD in these games; itís interesting, this time, to have that characterís motivation be guilt. The only reason this world needs saving is because he and his people arrived there. Arrived there with an open hand, but also with their military at the ready, eager to plunder their resources. Goodness. Maybe thereís a lesson in there somewhere.

Back in the day, video games were created by perhaps a single person. I remember playing text-based games that were definitely developed by one my case, Steve Meretzky over at Infocom. (My favorite was ďLeather Goddesses of Phobos.Ē If you come up with a better title for a video game than that, youíll have to let me know). And I played some platformers from the folks at Apogee. (My favorite there was ďCrystal Caves,Ē developed by Frank Maddin). Thereís something really cool about a game created by a single mind, with a single vision. That doesnít happen much in this world (maybe ďFezĒ is an example?). Skyrim must have had dozens and dozens of people working on it. And, while I love Skyrim, I also love this little RPG from Kemco, put together by a handful of folks who obviously cared about what they were doing. If youíre one of the niche gamers who likes these little RPGs, I think youíll like this one too.

If you look below, youíll see that Iíve rated the game with three stars. Thatís just a limitation of the system. If you look more intuitively, youíll see that there are actually 3 Ĺ stars..

*That Breath of Fire II comment will no doubt get me in trouble. And, I guess thatís fair. Weíre still playing that game more than 20 years after its release; weíre unlikely to be talking about Machine Knight in the 2030s.


dirtsheep's avatar
Community review by dirtsheep (June 02, 2018)

jeff white is an old guy who came to gaming late. He plays mostly RPGs. He'll play on any of a number of devices or consoles, but is particularly fond of the Nintendo 3DS.

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