Once Upon a Knight


posted 11/5/2003 by Randy Kalista
other articles by Randy Kalista
One Page Platforms: PC
The greatest tragedy of the RPG side is how empty and unmotivating the storyline leaves you. Sure, an RTS can survive with hack-n-slash dungeons, infrastructure destruction, and just good ol’ skirmishing. RPGs must have an engaging story element to propel events onward. Strangely, you’ll wander the landscape and find yourself not really caring what happens next. Not because the action is so riveting, but because the script gives you so little to go on. If the designers weren’t so intentionally vague with people, places, and events, then a player would be given a greater sense of inspiration. Merely moving across a nameless landscape to rid “the land” of “evil forces” just doesn’t give you much to fight for.

If misery loves company, then you may invite a friend for some multiplayer action on the RTS or RPG side. An editor also exists to give you artistic license in creating your own maps, RPG adventures, and RTS campaigns. This may be an attractive option if you grow tired of this game as quickly as I did. The in-game maps all lack any pizzazz and traveling through environments (hills to woodlands to riversides) seem to lack any coherency. You move along linear paths in a Randomly Generated Land, slaying randomly placed creatures, and running past unmanned and seemingly pointless monuments.

OUAK does have a decent AI in operation. A heavily wounded enemy will often retreat to (supposedly) lick their wounds—although this is hit or miss at times. Just as often as an enemy retreats, they’ll charge right back into the fray with no health regained--but will have a sudden resurgence in morale. On a strong note, if you’re attacked by several enemies and your chosen target retreats, you won’t run after the wounded unit while the other enemies are shoving swords in your back. You’ll stand your ground and face the more immediate threat—a significant improvement over several other RTSs.

OUAK’s surprising high point comes in the form of its soundtrack. Well-composed, hauntingly beautiful melodies and vocals are a welcome addition; but again, they don’t interplay with the failed comedic stabs the writer’s were aiming for. No, commissioning Weird Al Yankovic would probably not be my first solution to that contradiction. The battle ‘mood music’ that matches pace with the onscreen action may come off a bit jaunty at times, but I like it. It sets the mood somewhere between Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and Robin Hood: Men in Tights. Then (just as you thought I might end this tirade on a positive note) you’ll find yourself leaning in to your speakers or jumping back as the vocals, soundtrack, and sound effects all fight a losing battle against each other. Not one conversation will pass without annoying variations on the volume, and that hauntingly beautiful soundtrack I mentioned will undoubtedly muffle key points of dialogue.

I am naturally going to be suspicious of a game with split modes of play. One that seamlessly incorporates multiple gameplay options is one thing, but with Once Upon a Knight you’re given two painfully undistinguished RTS and RPG approaches. Plots are thin, characters are generic, and overall I’m just unconvinced of any need to play the game through from beginning to end.

Atari takes a dangerous gamble by promoting a comedy-based RTS and RPG. In doing so, they created a product with appeal to a very narrow market—and then fail to deliver to that same selected audience.

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