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Knights Contract Review

Kevin_Dermody By:
GENRE Action 
PUBLISHER Namco Bandai 
DEVELOPER Game Republic 
M Contains Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Language, Nudity

What do these ratings mean?

The Black Plague was hot?

Many moons ago, when I was but a wee little nerd, I watched and thoroughly enjoyed Sailor Moon. I realize this makes me something of a weirdo, but the concept behind the show was incredibly fascinating to me as a young child; otherwise "normal" schoolgirls magically transformed into heroes to save the world or something super important like that. It was like Power Rangers, in a great many ways-- the chief difference being that, while the Power Rangers involved giant mechanized fighting animals, Sailor Moon had stripteases and sexy animated nudity that was hidden only by strategically placed glowing beams of light.

click to enlargeI recently revisited Sailor Moon (strictly for nostalgia sake, you understand) and was amazed by how thoroughly fucked up the show is. I also began to understand why my prepubescent self may have enjoyed it. For the same reason, I'm fairly certain that the 9-year-old-me would love Knights Contract: It has cheesy violence, lots of boobs, and a story with more ham than a bacon-eating pig.

The easiest thing to discuss from the get-go is Game Republic's apparent love of how adolescents view sexuality. This isn't necessarily unique to Knights Contract, mind, but is the most noticeable aspect of the game - from strange naked snake-women to a zombie with an impressive bust, the game's "appeal" (if it can be called that) looks to hinge on the mildly frightening combination of boobs and blood. In a great many instances, I was sure that someone had replaced the game disc with something filled with porn, and smut, and other things that no self-respecting gamer would ever let near their hard drive.

I cannot imagine what sort of demographic could enjoy the way Gretchen - the player's "companion" - sensually strokes her breasts when preparing to unleash a powerful spell; or how one of her "supermoves" involves the woman stripping naked and sitting on a massive snake (no innuendo there!); or even - hey, keep both hands on the keyboard there, buster!

What is most confusing about Knights Contract is how the game seems unable to decide what sort of message it wants to send. There are incredibly vast amounts of violence, campy dialogue ("Minelkus is my name, and alchemy is my game!" -- cue shades of David Caruso), and silly sexuality and double entendres; yet it often transitions jarringly into a serious discourse on feminism, religious persecution, and themes of justified revenge. When the plot can be understood, no matter how rare these moments of coherency may be, it seems to have all the trappings of an epic story... but that epicness is diluted and muddied by the incredibly bad writing and straight-up trippy visuals. Why in God's name should I care about the plot when, with a press of a button, a giant naked woman will kill demons with her ridiculously proportioned badonkadonk?

click to enlargeThat said, when the plot elements aren't being smeared across the screen through hackneyed clichés, the game is almost... satisfying, in a strange sense. The play style itself seems to be some queer combination of God of War and Ico. The player's character is invincible, a trait which provided a great number of lulz, when I found myself cut in half and kept on fighting. But the companion can be killed if she is left unprotected.

Despite her apparent vulnerability, players will quickly come to realize that Gretchen is the true powerhouse between the pair, and some strange pleasure comes in the form of the oblique control over the battlefield she provides. At any given time, players have the ability to make Gretchen cast a variety of spells, which can either enhance or change the methods of fighting - "ghost" swords that follow the player and do extra damage to enemies; time slow-down; limb regeneration - or simply damage and hinder the enemy. Furthermore, pressing the correct button during one of these spells will often result in a gory finishing move which splatters blood (or frost or magma, depending on your enemies' biology) across the field.

Killing enemies in increasingly complicated ways rewards the player with red orbs "souls", a generic form of experience used to upgrade the aforementioned spells. Utilizing combos and finishing moves yields more souls and, despite these mechanics being somewhat difficult to initially grasp, results in combat which is visceral, bloody, and surprisingly smooth and satisfying. The camera can be a somewhat "sticky" at times - occasionally orienting itself such that the player is presented with a stunning view of their avatars forehead (and little else) - but combat, for the most part, is an enjoyable experience.

Where the gameplay first falls apart is in a similar pitfall others have encountered before Knights Contract: quick-time events. Why anyone utilizes these is beyond me; the "pretty pretty cut-scene" is always ignored in favor of not dying a painful and gory death. What makes the quick-time events in Contract so grievous a sin is their lack of intuitive design; the distinction between "rapidly mash A" and "press A a single time" is so finite that virtually every QTE will result in a "you suck at this, try one more time" screen. And while I'm always a fan of over-the-top action cutscenes, being forced to repeat them as a result of aesthetic failures is indescribably annoying.

click to enlargeThe lack of intuitive design persists even outside of combat, further exacerbating a frustrating experience which overpowers the simple joy of killing faceless zombie-thingies; there is little in the way of on-screen advice pointing the player towards their next objective. Even navigation makes little sense, with the level design frequently finding itself at odds with the map overlay, leading to several corridors which could not be accessed, and long stretches of any given level that could not be accessed for incredibly arbitrary reasons. Combat may be fun, but taking fifteen minutes to try and find where the bloody hell you are is most certainly not.

And finally, although it seems to be a silly thing to gripe about in the grand scheme of things, there is a annoying amount of clipping. Like when a witch's "epic and angsty" hair constantly passes through her own breasts. Seriously now, when your boobs are so gargantuan that they suck in locks and bangs with their own gravitational field, something is terribly wrong.

In the grand scheme of things, the core gameplay of Knights Contract is a satisfying and enjoyable experience. There is a certain amount of depth to the combat that actively encourages players to understand and learn the various game mechanics, if only for the resulting "OMGcool" that can be fashioned from the correct sequence of button-presses. But whatever "fun" might be experienced is abbreviated by a terrifyingly bad plot, and frustrating gameplay choices. While it's true that comparisons may be drawn to God of War, or Devil May Cry, they will always inevitably end with the statement: "Go play those instead."
C Revolution report card
  • Combat is brutal and entertaining
  • Gameplay mechanics satisfying once grasped
  • Quick-time events poorly designed and executed
  • Camera controls can be quirky
  • "Stupid" deaths caused by poor aesthetics
  • Navigation is difficult and confusing
  • Zombie-women should not be sexualized (eww!!)

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