Once Upon a Knight

Review

posted 11/5/2003 by Randy Kalista
other articles by Randy Kalista
One Page Platforms: PC
Once Upon a Knight (OUAK) promises “100% fresh RTS/RPG gameplay,” but is only able to deliver an uninspired batch of either. Essentially, one segment of the story plays out in real-time strategy while a prelude is constructed as a role-playing venture. One story, two games. With its self-proclaimed tongue-in-cheek delivery of lackluster witticisms, the script veers from the serious but only achieves a blend of bland humor. In short, the designers are not terribly funny people—and it shows.

The opening story reeks of overbaked clichés: “Once upon a time in a distant land, long ago, there lived a prince. He was righteous and just, noble and honorable, courageous and wise. As you might expect, dark and treacherous powers were not fond of this prince and joined to not only spread evil throughout the land, but to banish the prince from the principality and the thoughts of the people. One day, one of the despicable lords cast a spell that sent the prince to another dimension. What it failed to do, however, was to purge his image from the hearts and minds of his subjects. Some years later, the good-hearted magician, Gallus, opened a portal between dimensions and returned the prince to his lands. Now, the prince must drive the evil lords from power and bring peace and order to the kingdom.” Sure, we’ve all heard this plotline before; but even Ben Stein could garner more storytelling panache while drugged on a handful of barbiturates.

Graphically, OUAK shines; there are some reasonably impressive details to feed your sweet tooth. Ground textures, flora and fauna, characters (albeit in painfully typical medieval faire), and structures are all beautifully detailed. Without a doubt, the clouds, shadows, billowing trees, water effects, and encircling birds all cast a winning vote toward this same end. Attention to detail is not what is lacking here: cleanly depicted and innovative drawing concepts are. The cowshed is a jumble of timber and thatch that is virtually indistinguishable from a hut which may be mistaken for barracks. The court, temple, and wizard’s tower sidestep this graphic blasé-blah, but they will account for only a small portion of your town-building schematic. You’ll be laying down some of the ugliest buildings you’ve seen since uncle Billy Bob finished that nifty hot tub addition to his outhouse. The characters are all dully dressed according to assigned stereotypes; even the blatantly underdressed Amazon Sorceress fails to titillate. Since the cows are such an integral element of comic relief (?), I guess it’s worth mentioning that they are lovely examples of their species. The cows all have names like Hilda and Gertrude and come with more visual variety than the military units.

If you absolutely love unadorned load screens then OUAK won’t disappoint. Beyond that, the baby-steps tutorial will give you a feel for the game without making you feel like you’re wasting time on a tutorial. Most of the game’s personality will be established within the first ten minutes. While the characters’ accents are all legitimately entertaining, even the most blue-blooded Brits would denounce the grammatically baffling ‘Ye Olde English’ dialogue. It’s not just Olde English: it’s bad Olde English. “Who art thou? And where art I?” should give you a suitable shudder during the first dialogue exchange with Gallus, an old consort you barely remember. By the time you stroll through the first village you’ll encounter a German-sounding woodsman, a Scottish beekeeper, three to four children with street English accents (Oy, gov’nuh!), and strangely muted cows. If the chewed-up-and-spit-out English is too difficult to grasp, then a dialogue window exists for you to peruse the script. Oddly, this option exists for the RTS side but is removed from the RPG side of the game. Another awkward feature for the RPG side is that it sounds suspiciously like the voice actors’ budget fell through. Prince John will speak out loud to other NPCs, but they will respond with written dialogue balloons. It’s like eavesdropping on a phone call when you can only hear one side of the conversation. Other than that, the (not so) clever quips that come from clicking on individual units gets old. Quick. How many times do you want to hear “My sword is jagged and notched, but I shall not yield,” before you regret ever having to click on Prince John again? “Also when I am wounded--I will not give up.” These are all very sweet sentiments, but whatever action you’re engaged in will probably be completed before he’s done talking. You might enjoy one inadvertent chuckle when Prince John yells out, “Chop them up and feed them to the wolves,” when you actually are fighting wolves in the first place. You might also catch an idle unit sniffing his armpits or scratching the back of his leg, but that’s it as far as comic relief goes.
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