The episodic gaming format is no doubt an appealing option for development companies. Periodically releasing relatively small chunks of a game allows developers to bring in revenue and recover some of the costs before the entire project is completed. Player feedback on each installment is also crucial, allowing the team to make targeted improvements on future releases.
At the same time, episodic games present a unique challenge. In order to keep players interested, each chapter needs to provide a satisfying experience. Individual episodes need to feel relevant, adding something substantial to the overall story. Similarly, each chapter needs to provide sufficient playtime and entertainment value to justify the money players are expected to spend on the game.
Designing the first episode of the series presents an even bigger challenge. The first chapter has the difficult task of introducing the main characters, setting the game's tone, and laying the groundwork for the story that will be completed in future episodes. With its opening chapter, Knights in Shining Armor (KISA) faces all of these challenges. Sadly, the first episode of the series fails to rise to the occasion. With its dull conversations, lack of puzzles, and unacceptably short length, KISA delivers a disappointing and shallow experience.
The story behind KISA is very simple. Players take control of Prince Rupert, who is on his way to the capital of some kingdom. Once he reaches the city, Rupert is supposed to marry a princess. Evidently, the wedding is going to put an end to the war that has been raging between the two nations, presumably allowing everyone involved to live happily ever after.
The idea of a young prince making a difficult journey through a war-torn country is certainly an acceptable setup for a game series. Unfortunately, KISA fails to introduce this relatively straightforward story in an effective manner. The game's awkward conversations do not clearly convey the overall theme and do a poor job of making players care about Rupert's travels.
Problems with plot development and conversations emerge during the very first scene of KISA. The game opens at an inn, where Prince Rupert is chatting with an unnamed character. It seems that the goal of this scene was to introduce players to the game using some witty banter between the pompous prince and a commoner. However, what we actually get is a conversation that is incoherent and difficult to follow. Even though the dialog lasts several minutes, very little valuable information is revealed. The attempts at humor do not really hit the mark either. For instance, it's not exactly hilarious to hear Rupert argue about how he doesn't need to know his future wife's name. The dull introduction fails to get you excited about the rest of the episode.
After the initial chat, you take control of Rupert. KISA is played from a third-person perspective, using a simple mouse-driven interface. The default mouse icon is a silver ring. When you hover the mouse over a hotspot, the icon turns into a gold ring. A single click on the left mouse button is used to interact with the hotspot. The inventory is accessible from the top portion of the screen, though you will only need to use it a couple of times during the game.
The entire episode takes place inside the inn. You only get to explore the dining area where the game begins and a single guest room. Along the way, you meet the innkeeper and a girl who is staying at the inn. Keeping in line with the opening sequence, Rupert has needlessly long conversations with each of these characters. Once again, it seems like the game is trying to be witty and humorous, but at least for me, the attempts at levity missed the mark. Instead, the dialogs seemed dull, taking far too long to communicate a small amount of useful information. There was also very little development with regards to the game's background story.
Unfortunately, boring dialog is not the only issue with the first episode of KISA. The game is also severely lacking in content. It is bad enough that you only have two rooms to investigate. On top of that, the episode offers only three puzzles, two of which are very simple inventory-based challenges. There is also a single logic puzzle, which is a generic slider puzzle. Rupert can pick up several additional inventory items, but they are not used during the game. Presumably, these items will be useful in future episodes.
It is a real shame that more challenges were not included in the episode. There just isn't enough for players to do besides enduring tedious conversations. From start to finish, the first episode of KISA takes less than an hour to complete. If you discount the dialogs, the actual playtime is probably around ten to fifteen minutes. The episode abruptly ends once you spend a night at the inn and get ready to leave. There is no buildup for the next chapter or foreshadowing of future events either. As such, you may well finish the game with very little interest to see what happens in the next installment.
To be fair, there are some nice aspects of KISA. For instance, the background music is pleasant and fitting for the medieval setting. Similarly, the graphics are decent and the few locations you visit are nicely detailed. However, these features are not enough to make up a good game. Boring chats with poorly-developed characters and a couple of random inventory puzzles simply do not add up to a satisfying gaming experience. There is just not enough plot development to get excited about Rupert's journey or start caring about the characters.
As it stands, the first episode of KISA is very difficult to recommend to anybody. The episode plays more like a demo for a bigger game than a fully-developed and complete product. There are numerous commercial and freeware adventures that provide a substantially better experience.
Here's hoping the developers will learn from their mistakes and deliver a more complete game with future installments of Knights in Shining Armor. The first episode is a bust, but Rupert's journey is far from over. With significantly more content, better executed conversations, and a richer storyline, future episodes can still turn this saga into a fun medieval adventure.