King’s Bounty

Grade: A-
Ranking in Sega Genesis Top 50: 11th
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Year: 1991
Genre: Oppression

In King’s Bounty, you play the role of a hero charged with retrieving the Staff of Order on behalf of the noble King So-Unimportant-His-Name-Hardly-Appears-Anywhere. This is of the utmost importance, because without the staff, the land has descended into its natural state. By which I mean chaos – all the other lords are in open rebellion, roving groups of monsters wander the land, and packs of wolves are crossing the plains in covered wagons. Or else they’re attacking covered wagons… it’s kind of hard to tell. Either way, the landscape has turned into some kind of messed up version of the Oregon Trail and it’s up to you to fix it.

We’ve been over this before, but this is exactly why imbuing magical powers into small objects is generally a bad idea. As soon as it gets lost or stolen, everything just goes straight to hell, and this is especially true since the power in question is almost always something like creating order from chaos or preventing the end of the world. That’s not the kind of magic you should just carelessly shove into a staff or whatever else you happen to have lying around. Plan it out a little. Go and find something big and kind of immobile, like a mountain or a Soviet tank, and enchant that with your magic powers. Then you won’t lose it. I grew up right next to a big freaking lake, and we never – not once – ever misplaced Lake Erie. What we’re saying is, if you misplace something more frequently than, say, your sunglasses, you probably shouldn’t infuse it with the power to save the world.

In fact, here’s a picture I took the last time I was at Lake Erie. As everyone in the Rust Belt area knows, the Great Lakes are totally overrun with giant Vikings.

Then again, it’s hard to say how much these rebellious lords were really helping you run the kingdom anyway. For the most part, they’re all kind of shitty. One of them is an active pirate who makes no effort at all to hide that fact. That’s a counterproductive occupation for someone in a position of leadership within your kingdom, and even if it wasn’t, that’s still not the kind of experience that trains you to become a less than awful ruler. Another, Murray the Miser, is so useless that the fact that he’s openly committing treason is considered secondary to his more serious offense of committing petty crimes. Another of them is just a rotting skeleton, and I can’t imagine there’s much of a practical difference between having him on your side or opposing you.

Truthfully, it sounds like this rebellion was a long time coming. What kind of king grants titles and castles to pirates and skeletons in the first place? That’s probably not a sign of good mental health, let alone effective leadership. I’m guessing living conditions for the average citizen in this kingdom likely weren’t that great, and were probably especially bad if you happened to live a fiefdom ruled by some random cyclops that the King gave a fortress to and elevated to the title of Count Rhhaaargh!!!

You can tell when Murray’s in town based on the sharp increase in petty crime.

Sometimes a crisis can focus a person, allowing them see the mistakes that lead to this situation in the first place, and making the solution to the problems crystal clear. Losing the Staff of Order hasn’t exactly granted your king this sense of clarity. He sends you off with a vague notion that you should go reclaim his kingdom and puts you at the head of a massive army of 20 guys armed with pitchforks who will die the very first time you get into a fight. This is a guarantee. In fact, they’ll probably die at the very thought of a monster.

This can make King’s Bounty seem frustratingly hard to an inexperienced player, but there’s an easy, logical way to avoid being immediately killed. Your first stop on this quest should be to do what any rational person would in this circumstance – turn right around, go back to the castle, and ask the king “Are you fucking kidding me?”. You won’t get any kind of a satisfactory answer, but at the very least, you’ll have the ability to get some actual troops from him. For a price. Yes, you actually have to buy your soldiers from the king that, for some inexplicable reason, you’re still trying to save.

Once you get an actual army and head out on your way, things get more interesting. The game is kind of a combination of exploration and turn-based strategy. The goal is to recover pieces of a map that will reveal the location of the missing staff. A few pieces can be found out in the open, most of them, however, are earned by defeating the rebellious lords. A lot of the game focuses on traveling the map, finding the castles of the enemies you need to defeat, as well as places to recruit more powerful troops than the ones you can get at the castle, and various treasures to help pay for it all.

 Apparently the mayor of Xoctan is a vampire with laser eyes. Also, he’s run unopposed in the last several elections.

One of the fun things about this game is that you’re pretty much free to assemble any kind of army you want, as long as you can find a place to recruit that kind of creature. Some types of units won’t get along with others, and will make each other weaker, but as long as you find compatible units, there’s nothing in the game telling you you’re not allowed to conquer the world with an army of demons and vampires. In fact, the “evil” units in the game are generally so overpowered that it’s actually advisable to do so.

This raises the interesting possibility that you’re actually playing as (or at least for), the bad guy. Let’s look at this from a different perspective. A tyrannical king keeps everyone in line with the magical Staff of Order, then hands out castles and lordships to a bunch of criminals and monsters who further terrorize the peasantry. When the staff is lost and the people are able to rise up against him, he sends you out to put down the rebellion, and encourages – no, practically forces – you to do so at the head of a massive army of monsters. I mean, if the king didn’t want you terrorizing the countryside with a horde of orcs and a couple of dragons, he probably would have given you a discount on cavalry units, wouldn’t he? I get the feeling calling it “The Staff of Order” is a bit of clever propaganda. The Staff of Oppression is probably a bit more accurate. And I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s some kind of super-weapon, like a fantasy equivalent of a nuclear bomb.

Anyway, the gameplay. Combat, whether against an enemy lord in a fortress or just a wandering group of monsters out in the field, is relatively straightforward turn-based strategy with each group of units maneuvering around a battlefield. The isn’t a ton of depth here – most units don’t have special attacks, and there aren’t any advanced tactics (such as splitting a group of 50 guys into two groups of 25 in order to fight two different enemies at once), so it’s really just a matter of getting close and attacking. Once you get a feel for the relative strength of each type of soldier it’s pretty easy, and you can usually predict the winner of a battle before it starts. It’s a bit of a stretch to even refer to this as strategy.
That kind of sounds awful, but it works mainly because those battles are really just a sideshow. The true focus of the game is strategy in a broader sense – there is a time limit working against you, so the game really is about figuring out the most efficient way to recover the map pieces and find the staff. You have to manage the size of your army, put together an effective mix of troops, and navigate the landscape effectively. It’s important to know when to avoid a fight, where to find the best troops, and how to keep the gold flowing in order to pay for it all. Balance is critical; too small of an army will get you slaughtered, but too large of one will take too much time to recruit (and replenish), and will cost more. Sure, most battles are over before they begin. But whether they’re a cakewalk or a nightmare comes down to how well you’ve prepared your army beforehand.

Though you might still be a little surprised at just how many knights 2 dragons can slaughter.

The fact that most battles can be fairly easy works in another beneficial way, too. There’s something deeply satisfying abound running around, kicking 25 different types of ass, and clearing the landscape of monsters and enemy castles. It just works on a psychological level – people crave the tangible benefit that comes from actually seeing the game world get cleaner and cleaner as the game goes on. This is also a big part of the appeal of games like Diablo, where you go into a dungeon and exterminate all the monsters. There are times where you’ll be exploring and you’ll see a small group of roving monsters, and even though it’s a little out of the way, and the reward isn’t going to be anything great, you still wipe them out anyway, just to get them off your map.

Hmm, it sounds so bloodthirsty when I say it that way. And this combination orc/zombie/demon army behind me probably isn’t helping my image, either.

Did I mention the zombies are vengeful, too? Because they are.

Availability: Ok, the availability is a little, um, complicated for this one. We’ll start from the easiest and let it go from there.

Sega Genesis: The game came out pretty early in the Genesis’ life, and falls into that grouping of “games that are sort of rare, but not expensive because nobody really cares about them.” So if you want to get a Genesis copy, it might be a little tricky to track down, and you’ll probably have to resort to buying it online, but it should be obtainable for about $10 or less.

PC: The PC version of the game is pretty similar to the Genesis version, but not identical. It wasn’t a huge hit, except oddly enough, in Russia, where an unofficial sequel was made and later on, a Russian developer made a remake called King’s Bounty: The Legend. Come to think of it, it’s entirely possible that King’s Bounty wasn’t a big hit in Russia either, except for one really obsessive fan. Anyway, KB: tL is available in the US, and if you look for it online, you can probably get a copy for less than what it will cost to have it shipped to you. Hell, find a copy with free shipping, and it’s almost as if they’re paying you to take it off their hands. That usually isn’t a good sign though, so buyer beware.

Here’s an interesting side note – King’s Bounty was also the forerunner to the Heroes of Might and Magic series, and is even included with some of the HoM&M compilations. So you could also try to get it that way.

Modern consoles: King’s Bounty hasn’t been made available for download on any of the current consoles, hasn’t been included in any kind of Greatest Hits anthologies, and nobody ever did a remake of it. Except for the time when they totally did for the PS2 and called it Heroes of Might and Magic: Quest for the Dragon Bone Staff. The game was not well-received (we haven’t played it, so I can’t tell you how faithful of a remake it is), and can be found online for next to nothing.

And you thought Shark Week was a big deal.

Overall, there are some options, but as long as you have access to a Genesis, we’d recommend going with that version ahead of any of the alternatives.


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