Every day, a rogue-like game is developed, submitted to lot check, released on the eShop, and fades into obscurity, or at least, a sizable chunk of someone’s backlog. Randomly generated games are all the rage, and they often benefit from the chaos of co-operative or multiplayer functionality. With that said, the rogue-like genre has found a home in a specific sort of perspective, namely, the top-down perspective. Games like The Binding of Isaac, Enter the Gungeon, Wizard of Legend, Nuclear Throne, Moonlighter, Tangledeep, Hammerwatch, Unexplored, Mana Spark, and still more feature addictive gameplay loops and gradual progression unlocks, but very few manage to capitalize on the feeling of camaraderie that a co-operative title can instill in a group of players.
That is where For the King tends to shake things up a bit. At its core, this title is equal parts board game and RPG, easy enough to restart and regroup after a failed campaign, yet also rewarding the completion of each main objective with resources for its own upgrade market. The key element of all this, however, is the game’s harsh difficulty and resource management, which in turn leads to its greatest strength: local and online co-operative multiplayer. Is this quest-heavy rogue-lite worth a spin on Nintendo Switch? Read on and find out.
For the King uses its title as a jumping point, allowing up to three players the chance to explore a randomly generated (though equally distributed), hex-based overworld. Every turn, players roll for movement across the map based on their speed, weather conditions, terrain, and other malignant status effects in order to see how far they can go. Though some hexes are occupied by towns, runes, and dungeons, others are simply open terrain, perhaps filled with a visible or hidden enemy encounter, an impassible terrain structure like water or mountain ranges, or other randomized events.
When first looking at the world map, my mind immediately thought of the iconic hexes of Settlers of Catan, but the resulting system possesses a bit more freedom of movement. Towns offer quest boards, shops, and healing services, while dungeons offer more focused combat gauntlets. Many of the other encounter hexes will require some level of skill check, but a player is only occasionally forced into performing these. Upon discovering an event that requires a skill check, a player may leave it be if they aren’t confident in their stats for another player.
Speaking of skills and stats, there are a variety present in For the King, each player possessing strength, vitality, intelligence, awareness, talent, and speed. Equipped weapons have success rates based upon their stat affinity- basically, if you’re a warrior, you want to use weapons with a high strength affinity, like clubs or swords. Meanwhile, rangers have stronger awareness and talent, which suits their use of spears and bows. Success rates matter a great deal in For the King’s combat system, especially since weapons have multiple attack options with their own specific success rates. Fortunately, even these chance dice rolls can be manipulated.
If pinball has tilt shifts, then For the King uses focus points, a multi-use resource that can be accessed both in and outside of combat. While on the world map, a player may spend focus points to boost their overall amount of movements in a turn. In combat, they can use their focus points to boost their success rate, as even a high stat can result in an occasional flub due to the randomized nature of skill checks. Essentially, it allows players to operate more efficiently when they’re in a bind, but focus points are not a free resource. Some classes can generate them a bit more consistently, while others will need to pray at patron statues, visit towns, or equip items in order to generate them consistently.
Additionally, For the King can be somewhat forgiving when it comes to failure, but it is a rogue-like, through and through. When a character falls in combat, another party member may revive them through the cumulative “stock” of lives shared by the group. If you run out of these revives and your whole party bites the dust, your campaign will end, wiping all progress, and your current map layout, away. While it sounds like a bummer, it means that players have to err towards the conservative route, which is easier said then done in the fantasy world of Fahrul.
Aesthetics and Narrative
For the King uses a very low-poly, simple texture artistic style to play to its board-game strengths. When enemies and players are killed, their character models crumple with ragdoll physics, giving the vibe that the entire world of Fahrul is more a toybox than a gritty fantasy realm. The aesthetics allow for clear transitions from one biome to the next, accompanied by a change in how players are able to progress during movement checks to create a very tangible sense of entering a new location. Its music is minstrel-like and simplistic, evoking that same playtime fantasy feel even further while also signaling the intensity of certain skirmishes.
The entire package is wrapped up with some charming dialogue, which treads the line between fantasy quest and silly board game very well. While there is no character development or major personalities to be found, the theme is used well to frame each objective and gameplay is never obscured by awkward phrasing or incomprehensible sentence structure. It’s serviceable writing, and this may come as a pleasant surprise to those who seek story in their role-playing games. However, it exists to flesh out the fantasy realm of Fahrul and get players into a role-playing mindset, nothing more. The intention of the game is not to wow with visuals or narrative, but to present challenges for its players, either cooperative or competitive.
Progression and Impressions
When players complete major tasks and objectives during any one of the cooperative or competitive sessions, they’ll gain Lore for their account. When on the main menu, players can use accumulated Lore points from across their campaigns in order to purchase items from the Lore Store. The stock varies from unlockable classes, to new cosmetics for character creation, and even rare items and events that can spawn on the world map.
This is the reason for tackling a variety of For the King’s alternate campaigns, as certain quest lines will unlock new stock options in the Lore Store, just as completing these tasks can result in the Lore to purchase them. This is largely where For the King’s replayability lies, though its campaigns are manageable even with the base game loadout. Manageable, though still highly implausible. You’ll need a strong set of party members, which is where three heads can often times be better than one.
Though a single player can control three playable characters in a campaign, For the King is at its most rewarding when played with friends. A Switch owner and two others can team up and make strategic choices together, assisting one another throughout the overarching quests in Fahrul. If success is to be achieved, players will need to carefully manage resources between one another, which the game allows in extremely delightful ways.
Not only can players exchange equipment, but gold as well, and they may share any variety of item combinations in order to create a well-rounded party. It’s not all sunshine and roses, however, as For the King has competitive modes available as well. Some character classes unlocked through the Lore Store are actually more beneficial for competitive play, and there are plenty of ways players can sabotage one another throughout campaigns, such as looting stores of supplies before others can arrive, squandering skill checks, and throwing various other wrenches into the mix.
Although For the King’s servers weren’t accessible during the time of this review, the ability to create a campaign for online co-op is a sweet deal. While the game is likely best played via couch co-op or with those who possess voice chat, the turn-based nature of the title and its simplistic presentation means that action has the potential to move extremely quickly. Even players unable to communicate verbally can drop pins on the world map in order to signal one another, though this is one of few options.
Still, as a method of joining together with friends for online fun, the ability to start and save these campaigns cannot be understated. The game’s depth is something of a hard wall to climb, but it is facilitate by an extremely extensive and always-accessible in-game glossary, an option that can be pulled up over any hex the player has highlighted. Its cool and extremely varied, a strong reminder and useful tool that is exactly what other ambitious board game titles like Armello unfortunately lacked.
As a huge fan of co-op experiences, I have long looked for a spiritual successor to the Dokapon Kingdom series- a game that captures the madcap nature of Mario Party and blends it with RPG mechanics and depth. While For the King doesn’t lean too hard into the friendship destroying zone (at least, in its extremely cooperative modes, good luck with the competitive gambits), it is more than a worthy successor. The game is not only an excellent board game experience (with online functionality, to boot!), but also an excellent rogue-like, turn-based RPG.
Though you may struggle at first with the amount of depth on display, the learning curve is brutal enough that you’ll quickly learn from your mistakes through forced restarts, yet still feel rewarded all the while. It constantly introduces new mechanics over the course of its impressive number of campaigns, surprising players with new enemies, tricks, and objectives as they seek to avenge their monarch. Once you get in the groove of this punishing tabletop-like title, you might just end up feeling like spoiled royalty, yourself.