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‘Kingturn Underworld RPG’ Review – Another Heaping Helping Of Strategy

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At last, with the release of Kingturn Underworld RPG (Free), the Andaria Trilogy of strategy RPGs from developer Mangobile is complete. For the second time this year, no less! So, let’s explain what happened here. A few years back, Mangobile released Swords & Earrings – Tales of Andaria, a great turn-based strategy game that suffered from some bizarre controls and fairly hideous graphics. Then, about a half year after that, they released Knighturn, a prequel that offered tons of new maps, some new units, bizarre controls, and fairly hideous graphics. Finally, earlier this year, they closed out the trilogy with Kingturn RPG (Free), a story that bridged the prequel and the original, which offered tons of new maps, some new units, significantly better controls, and slightly less hideous graphics.

Aside from overhauling the interface into something that didn’t feel like a reject from a feature phone, Kingturn RPG made numerous tweaks to address player feedback. Elite units were added, difficulty was adjusted to make the game less punishing, character classes were rebalanced, and zooming and smoother scrolling were implemented. This installment was truly the cherry on top. It made the previous titles look positively obsolete. The developer clearly thought so as well, so they got to work on remakes of the previous games using the new engine. Swords & Earrings was remade as the poorly-titled Kingturn RPG Plus (Free), and Knighturn was remade as the game we’re looking at today. As with the previous Kingturn games, this one is free to try out for the first eight missions, with the rest of the game unlocked via a $4.99 IAP.

kingturnKingturn Underworld RPG is a pretty straight-forward turn-based strategy RPG. Usually, you have your team of guys, the opponent has their team, you battle with the power of math, and try to conquer each other’s bases and wipe out the opposing army. If you have a lot of experience with the genre, I’d call Kingturn kind of a hybrid between Fire Emblem and Advance Wars. Like Fire Emblem, you have a recurring group of characters of different job classes who level up and can be equipped with new weapons, skills, and items. Like Advance Wars, your army can replenish itself if it’s wiped out, and capturing the enemy base to deny your enemy this replenishment is the key to victory. If you’re really looking to enjoy a bit of Fire Emblem flavor, Kingturn even offers a perma-death option which, while not as severe as the aforementioned’s version, will crank the difficulty up to insane levels.

Kingturn Underworld is the beefiest Kingturn yet, with a whopping 74 missions to play through. Even if you’ve played the original Knighturn, you’ll find a lot of new content here, albeit telling mostly the same story. Chronologically, this is the first story in the series, and follows the adventure of Juliet, a necromancer who gets booted out of her home by a group of usurpers. The story is interesting enough, especially if you’re into political intrigue, but the dialogue suffers a bit thanks to some very awkward writing. I’ve suffered worse, but the rare flashes when the dialogue is clever and natural make the game’s usual tone stand out for its clunky phrasing.

Most missions have you out to defeat the enemy army by capturing their base and destroying all of their units, with occasional exceptions such as the odd escort mission. Generally, you’ll start off at a disadvantage, with the enemy able to field more units than you can, but if you capture palisades and barracks by parking a unit on them for one turn, you’ll be able to send out one more unit while your opponent will be able to deploy one fewer. Therefore, your battle plan should revolve around capturing and securing these squares. Each unit has their own stats and level up independently, based on how often they take part in combat. They’ll also belong to one of 42 character classes, each with their own set of skills. Should a unit be reduced to zero hit points, they’ll be sent back to the barracks for five turns to recover, at which point they can be redeployed.

Of course, the enemy follows this rule as well, so you have to really carefully consider which ones to eliminate and which ones to merely wound. If you just methodically take them out turn by turn, you’ll find you’ll have a lot of trouble getting near their bases thanks to the staggered reinforcements. The enemy AI in this game is quite sharp, by the way. Unlike some strategy games where the opponent basically just throws its force at you as soon as you’re in range, regardless of the mission objective, Kingturn‘s AI always seems to have the long goal in mind. It’s a very robust challenge, but thanks to the various difficulty levels, there’s always room for adjustment if you’re finding it too hard, or heaven help you, not hard enough.

kingturn1The overhauled controls thankfully eschew the virtual cell phone directional pad the original used in favor of direct touch controls. Simply touch the unit you want to move, where you want them to move, and who you want them to attack. The UI has a few buttons for certain tasks like finishing your turn or moving to your next available unit automatically. This new method of control is very logical and intuitive, and probably justifies this remake alone.

Between missions, you can use the gold you’ve gathered to buy new equipment, top up your units to their next level, or hire mercenaries who will join your army. You can also check out your various units and set up their equipment. In certain missions, new hero characters will join your party, which usually results in a related class showing up in the mercenary list. Thanks to the large cast and the wide variety of job classes, you’ll always have new types of units showing up, which allows you, or sometimes forces you, to change up your strategy.

Like its predecessors, Kingturn Underworld RPG is not a very attractive game. The sprites look really rough and the animations are rudimentary. The overall art style just isn’t very good. The backgrounds are probably the best-looking element, with enough detail to avoid the amateur appearance the rest of the game suffers from. The music, on the other hand, is excellent. I had started playing the game on silent so as not to disturb the people around me, and quickly developed a notion of what the game must sound like, only to be shocked when I finally flicked the switch and heard the high quality tunes playing over my little game of digital chess.

Perhaps you played Kingturn RPG already, though, and are wondering what is new here. The answer is, everything and nothing. It’s a whole new story, all new stages, and tons of new character classes, though many mirror classes from the other games. The UI and engine, the gameplay, and quite a bit of the visuals are identical to the other two releases from this year. It’s perhaps best to avoid thinking of this as a sequel/prequel in the traditional sense. Each of the Kingturn games is essentially presenting one third of a humongous whole game. If that somehow feels like a poor value proposition, it’s worth pointing out that each game easily weighs in at more than 30 hours, so whatever they lack in distinctive traits, they make up for in pure bang for the buck.

I do hope that the already-planned successor to this series is able to pick things up a bit on the production value end of things. I also hope there are some substantial new gameplay elements, because while I probably wouldn’t complain about getting another Kingturn, I think with this one, I’m well and truly satisfied with this particular framework. As with the previous games, Kingturn Underworld RPG is one of the best turn-based strategy experiences you’ll find on iOS, and although the ground it treads is familiar, I’d still strongly recommend it to any fan of the genre.

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