The Knights of the Cross is a novel written in 1900 by Polish writer Henryk Sienkiewicz. I’d never heard of it, given that my knowledge of the Teutonic knights rather begins and ends with how to spell it. I bring it up because Krzyzacy – The Knights of the Cross is a video game adaptation of that book. It’s quite the rarity. I’m not sure I could name another recent game that’s directly adapted from a book. The best I can do is the godawful Fellowship Of The Ring game.
You may now be looking at the below screenshot and asking whether I’m being serious. I am. Classic novels and anime graphics, albeit from China, may not go together at first glance, but I did get a strange giggle out of seeing Queen Jadwiga represented as a grumpy looking anime girl. If it does bother you, then they did release a Western Art DLC pack. That might help you get a foot in the door, which will lead you to discover a game with a heap of potential that’s blunted by a few peculiar choices.
Saw War At Warsaw
I suppose the first question we should answer is whether The Knights Of The Cross follows the plot of the novel. Well, from what I can gather from Wikipedia, it seems so. I’m not quite invested enough to read an eighty-one chapter novel to double check. The broad strokes seem right. Our hero, Zbyszko, returns to his hometown with his uncle, Macko. They run into the beautiful Danusia, and Zbyszko becomes infatuated, to the point that he swears a knight’s oath. This comes in quite handy when Zbyszko attacks an envoy from the Teutonic knights, who are currently waging war across Poland, and ends up in the gallows, saved only by Danusia promising to marry him. From there, he sets out on a campaign of violence against the German Order.
It’s an interesting plot, giving us a glimpse into the history of Poland and Lithuania. It even has branching paths, which I assume is new. Unless Mr. Sienkiewicz was a precursor to Choose Your Own Adventure books. The choices are fairly routine, but they impact when story characters will join and leave you, which was a nice touch. Though The Knights Of The Cross is hampered by some truly awful translation. It’s often difficult to tell what a character is talking about and text boxes are frequently cut off. At one stage, a character’s name was simply replaced by ‘No Translation’. Poor man.
So the plot has some promise but the execution makes it hard to follow. Perhaps we should focus on the gameplay instead. Missions take place on a map of Poland and are split between story, side and character missions. Take my advice, complete as many as you can. They’ll give you gold, a valuable resource, and will help you unlock heroes. The end result of a lot of these missions is the combat. It’s a card-based affair, where you stack your deck to try and keep up the damage and shield yourself as best you can. Sounds routine, but it has a twist.
I Need A Hero
As you progress, you’ll start picking up heroes. This begins with a few story specific characters, such as good old Macko, but your roster quickly expands. You grab new ones at the camp and each has their own set of skills. In combat, these skills are fired off by you using the right combination of cards. You need to balance magical, physical and defence cards to get the best out of your allies. I must confess, it was a bit beyond my small brain. I have trouble shuffling a deck of standard playing cards, let alone building a deck to coincide with three other people. It’s a good idea, nevertheless. Heroes are gained by completing achievements or quests, so your roster builds as you play.
When things are going well, the combat is great. Popping off a combo and then seeing one of your friends come in with the coup de grâce is a great feeling. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really evolve beyond that. There are few exciting cards, for one. Most are just generic damage. Others apply one of a handful of statuses that all do the same thing. Want to know the difference between poison and bleed? So would I. They both do damage at the end of a turn then halve the stack. Then there’s burn. That does damage at the start of the turn. Amazing. There’s a general feeling of incoordination to it, including when it comes to the difficulty curve.
One boss fight encapsulates it nicely. It was against a wizard chap, which shoots a bit of a hole through the historic element but nevermind. He repeatedly infected my team with status effects, so I targeted him first and left his horde of minions until afterwards. This went well until I got to the last chap who had been quietly buffing his armor, increasing it each turn. By the time I got to him, I couldn’t get through it. In the end, I had to reduce his health solely with bleed damage. It took about seventy turns. Perhaps I should have done more grinding but a single low-level enemy shouldn’t cause more trouble than a giant, flaming wizard.
I’ve left talking about The Knights Of The Cross’ art until last. Look, it’s anime, okay? Your acceptance of it will depend on whether you can accept every female character having water balloons sellotaped to their chest. Including the nuns. If you can’t, you can at least change the art. That aside, it’s quite a pretty game in the cutscenes. The combat art is nice too, with pixel art that reminds me fondly of Gameboy Advance games. Though I could’ve done without the idle animation, which seems to have a grand total of two frames. I do imagine if the translation wasn’t so atrocious, the anime art might clash a wee bit with the tone.
Alas, it’s just another area in The Knights Of The Cross that has some promise, but is let down by the execution. The plot is intriguing but the wonky translation makes it, and its characters, borderline impenetrable. The combat has a nice twist on card combat with the hero system, but everything else in it is fairly humdrum. Then there’s the art, which looks quite nice but after looking at those nuns again, I’m not sure that’s an opinion I’d say out loud.
(Krzyżacy – The Knights Of The Cross Steam Page)