Having reviewed more than thirty KEMCO games now, it is getting harder and harder to think of new and exciting ways to write the introductions for each game that comes down the line.
The latest from the KEMCO stable is a game called Knights of Grayfang, and just for a change, it is a retro styled JRPG. I know, unheard of, right? Well, there is a bit of a difference with this one, in that our heroes are vampires, something which I don’t think has featured in a KEMCO title before. Ready to sink your teeth into it?
It’s in the story where each of the KEMCO games differs from the rest, and I am constantly in awe of the writers who keep coming up with new narratives, strapping them to what is now becoming a well established gameplay formula. This time around we are in a world where war is occurring. We have the monsters on one side, led by the Nightfall Deity, and humans on the other, led by the Twilight Deity. In order to enable the humans to fight on equal terms with the monsters, the Twilight Deity has created vampires to fight alongside the humans.
The story follows the story of Lise, a vampire knight as well as Mylene, a vampire sorcerer. There’s also Leticia, the princess of the vampire kingdom and finally Thoma, a mysterious young man who has no memory of who he is or where he’s come from. Can you say cliche? Anyway, what happens next is in your hands, but be ready for more twists and turns than a mountain pass as you work through the story. Thankfully the writing is very good here.
Presentation wise and there isn’t much difference between Knights of Grayfang and the majority of the games that KEMCO make. The style is most definitely retro, harking back to the 16-bit era of video games. The design of the characters is straight out of the anime playbook, all big eyes, small noses and appealing character design. Those characters are all very nicely drawn, whilst the cutscenes are presented in the traditional style, with the words dropped into text windows alongside the picture of whoever is speaking. So far, so normal, and the same trick is on display with the creatures and monsters that we come across – they all feel very familiar to other KEMCO games.
Reusing assets is just common sense, but it does bring a strong feeling of deja vu to the proceedings. This is especially prevalent as you get further into the game, when the same sprites with a different colour palette show up, purporting to be different creatures. Sound is pretty good though, with nice music to listen to alongside the usual kind of battle sounds.
It should come as no surprise to hear that the actual gameplay is again familiar to anyone who has played a KEMCO game before, but there are a couple of differences that are worth commenting on.
First of all, as we are vampires, it stands to reason that we will have bats as familiars, right? Well, as we go through Knights of Grayfang we find and tame new bats, which give us new abilities, largely elementally aligned. That means there are fire bats, earth bats, water bats and so on. The bats bring in another new mechanic, which is the Bloodthirst attacks. Thoma, you see, is not a vampire; he is what is known as a Blooder, coming with the opportunity to power up the vampires by using his blood. Each bat that you find has a number associated with it, such as 250BG, and the BG score is the amount of health that Thoma must give up to let a vampire become stronger.
Once empowered, the vampires have access to new, very damaging attacks, and so choosing when to sacrifice Thoma’s health is very important. Luckily, Thoma will recover some health every turn, and can also be healed by using items. And neatly, if Thoma falls in battle, because of his unique physiology, he will come back to life in a couple of turns. You don’t need me to tell you that is handy! Managing his health along with the amount of BG you use with your attacks, hitting the right enemies at the right time, makes this new mechanic very interesting.
The rest of Knights of Grayfang is pretty much the same as always. We have an overworld to wander about, leading us to new villages or towns to find, complete with people who need help. It is also home to various dungeons that we have to fight our way through. We are led all over the map in the course of the narrative, and luckily, if we have already visited a place, we can then teleport there, which cuts out a lot of legwork. Even more luckily, the amount of random battles has been toned down in Knights of Grayfang so you can get more than three steps without having a fight this time around. Good move, KEMCO, good move.
Speaking of combat, it is again the usual story, with side-on battles where we line up on the right, and the monsters on the left. From there come the usual choices of what to do, in a turn-based style. We can attack, defend, use an item, use a skill or go for the bloodthirst power up. Nothing new in the basic fighting, that’s for sure.
With an upgrade system in place that allows you to power up your weapons and armour by using items that are not in use, and many side quests to find and complete, there is a lot to keep you busy in Knights of Grayfang. The story ensures you’ll be kept guessing, the gameplay is interesting enough to keep you going, and it helps that the difficulty isn’t as steep as some other games. Even so, there are secret arenas to find that require you to be level 999, so there is a lot of grinding ahead of you.
In all though, Knights of Grayfang is one of the better KEMCO games of recent times.