The Cruel King and the Great Hero has finally arrived following its localization announcement last year from NIS America as the newest game from creators of The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince. The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince was a nice surprise back in 2019 bringing its storybook aesthetic and amazing music to an adventure game on PS4 and Nintendo Switch. The Cruel King and the Great Hero follows that with a similar storybook aesthetic, but it is an RPG rather than an adventure game. I’ve been playing The Cruel King and the Great Hero on Nintendo Switch over the last few weeks and it has a few annoyances holding it back from being an easy recommendation even to fans of The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince.
The Cruel King and the Great Hero follows a young girl, Yuu, alongside the Dragon King who aims to protect her. Yuu is a really good character and her interactions with the dragon are pretty funny as well. Yuu is the daughter of a hero, and she aims to become one just like her father after hearing about him through bedtime stories. As the story progresses, there will be some surprises that change how you look at specific characters.
The problems with The Cruel King and the Great Hero are to do with its gameplay. Unlike the prior game, The Cruel King and the Great Hero is an RPG with turn-based combat, sidequests, and more. The combat is very basic, which is fine as this likely is meant to be an RPG for all ages, but the encounter rate for random battles is awful. There are also some big difficulty spikes later on. You eventually do get a way to prevent as many encounters, but it takes a bit too long overall to reach that point.
Visually, The Cruel King and the Great Hero is a very strong game. The storybook aesthetic and designs are excellent. Character animations and transitions in between scenes and locations are all handled well. This is definitely a game you will want an artbook for assuming you enjoy the story enough. On Nintendo Switch, The Cruel King and the Great Hero looks good both docked and handheld. I played it across my Nintendo Switch and Nintendo Switch Lite. I ran into a few annoying performance issues across both devices. These seem random at first, but they are pretty bad in some specific parts of the game. I would hope these aren’t present in the PS4 version, but I have only played The Cruel King and the Great Hero on Switch so far.
On the audio side, The Cruel King and the Great Hero has a lovely soundtrack and great narration in Japanese. Just like the visuals and designs, the audio in The Cruel King and the Great Hero is definitely a highlight and one of the best parts of the experience. I’ve grown to enjoy the music in NIS games quite a bit over the years even for games I don’t particularly care for overall.
While the performance issues could potentially be addressed in patches, my biggest complaint remains the combat and random counter rate. Both of these likely are not being changed given the game has been out in Japan for a while now. It is unfortunate that The Cruel King and the Great Hero is held back by its main gameplay loop, but those willing to tolerate the issues will find a lot to enjoy in its story, music, and visuals. Hopefully the team can take the learnings from both The Cruel King and the Great Hero and The Liar Princess and the Blind Princess to deliver a game that gets it all right rather than just a few things in the overall experience.