rom Software's King's Field is an early, tortuously slow first-person action RPG that became known for its bleak atmosphere, huge overworld and punishing difficulty. Nowadays it's considered the predecessor to the famous Demon's Souls and has been receiving sloppy seconds from curious Souls fans ever since their series took over the world. There was a pretty hefty period when stealing ideas from Demon's Souls wasn't just expected, it was a sign of quality. Wallets burst open in response to familiar concepts that might help gamers relive the magic of their favourite Souls game, and the likes of Nioh and Hollow Knight have been knocking it out of the park ever since. From Soft's previous dank 'n' dreary action RPG must be pretty bangin' to inspire such genius, right?
... Well, never mind that, but King's Field was big enough to receive a full-featured game making tool called Sword of Moonlight, developed for PC by From Soft themselves. Those of us with the darkest souls can create their own world of death and hopelessness and pack it into a standalone application.
It wasn't released outside of Japan, but fans got a working English patch going, as fans will do. I found out about it when looking at a doujin game based on King's Field called Maleficia "Nekomimi's Field". In the Youtube comments, somebody from the sword of Moonlight community was displaying interest in it. Little did they know I was displaying interest in them. If it is true that somebody out there likes King's Field enough to be passionate about it, what kind of exhausting, depressing nonsense would these people come up with? What do their brains look like on the inside?
The answer, of course, is Diadem of Maunstraut, finished in around 2009 by Tom Eversole. Judging from the style, I thought Maunstraut would bring the dank I crave, and I wasn't disappointed. It's so dark you can't see more than 10 metres in front of you at the best of times. The game opens by swarming you with poisonous bugs and egging you to find something to protect yourself before you've even gotten a hang of the controls. It wastes no time to introduce enemies that kill you in one hit. First of all, I feel the need to go over how the combat works, since it tends to look like absolute slop at first glance. In reality, after getting into it the feel is pretty similar to more sophisticated combat systems.
That isn't to say that Souls fans will necessarily enjoy it. KF is a maze on top of being hard. A well-designed maze (my orangutan-level sapience handled KFIV pretty well when I gave it a try) but they were obviously trying to squeeze all the potential they could out of a new medium. Don't expect Demon's Souls' glorified Mega Man levels.
The fist area shows some signs of experimentation. In a shrine (?) ahead of the starting point there's a dagger and a protective mask, but another, weaker dagger can be looted from a chest on the other side of the map. There's even a third weapon in the same area which can be found among a cluster of poison bugs. Their numbers are pretty overwhelming, and they tend to wander off on their own and clutter up the area while you're exploring. On the opposite end is one of Maunstraut's many locked chests. One bug in the middle of nowhere always drops a magic incense, and there's also a poison-spitting plant creature (a KF favourite) defending nothing in particular. From a distance these little goofballs just look like a poison cloud texture awkwardly and fruitlessly tracking you from across the room, and there's a lot of them in Maunstraut, creating a sort of shitty cloud texture fusillade from the deep.
If you're Dave enough to brave the caves, you'll be met with skeletons and zombies that kill you in one hit (Told you. Wastes NO time). It seems like some of the balance issues are engine-related, since in the Readme file they describe the difficulty of giving items more realistic weights without ruining the player's stats:
RPG Maker was infamous back in the day for being impossible to balance, and I think it's safe to assume Sword of Moonlight has similar problems. In Maunstraut enemies are so strong I opted to simply avoid getting hit at all rather than invest in armour and die in two hits instead of one.
Zombies are particularly scary. Their swing can't be escaped. If you get anywhere near one, your best option is to stun it. They don't move until a particular flag is set, and in this case I'm not sure what that flag is. Behind the first zombie is the a room with the first save point and the first NPC. NPCs in KF are great. They have no eyes and struggle desperately to exhibit any sort of personality. When you talk to them, they raise their heads just as quickly as you can, which makes me feel like I'm not alone in my inability to raise my head. Sword combat does a number on your cervical vertebrae, after all.
The tunnels lead to a garden with some loot and two of those plat creatures from before, but they're fifteen times the size. Seeing an enemy you've already fought upscaled past the point of sanity is honestly pretty spooky. I think Stephen King wrote a book about that once. If you wake up one day and your neighbour looks like he's had Waifu2x applied to him, just take what you need and run. I haven't been able to kill these things even after returning, but you can access one of the chests they're guarding by sneaking up along the wall. The corpses might have some stuff on them, but that's going to need to wait.
The furthest tunnel opens up to a cavern that introduces slightly bigger enemies. The stat differences aren't a big deal, but when an enemy is slightly bigger, its hitboxes are also slightly more deadly. The skeletons here only wield the wimpiest of slaps so that doesn't factor in too much. Anyway, it seems like Sword of Moonlight has a variety of options for resizing characters. This cavern has some sporadic loot, a save point, and a currently un-killable giant snake which a previous hint warned of. Sorry bud, you just can't deal with hitboxes like that. To the immediate right is the exit, densely packed with skeletons led by the fearsome slightly bigger skeleton matriarch. A shady bard here has some pretty meta information: You only learn defensive spells by leveling up.
He isn't lying (That would be a messed up thing to lie about, yet strangely genius) Maunstraut has no healing spells, which the author thinks are redundant (yeah) and offensive spells are found in the world in the form of pedestals surrounded by magic circles. The first of which, the equivalent of magic missile, is right here. Unfortunately I haven't found much use for the defensive spells; in any situation where I was so overwhelmed that I'd need to take two extra hits (or zero extra hits in some cases), I would die anyway. Since MP is more expensive than HP, if I can take a hit I'll take the hit.
The bard also warns of the pool of water on the other side of the room, that entering it unprepared is a death wish. Joke's on you, you spoony asshole, I didn't even know you could enter water.