River City: Knights of Justice is a different sort of Kunio-kun game. It is absolutely a side-scrolling beat’em up that takes our hero, Alexander, through a rather substantial area as he attempts to find and defeat a boss and look for a remarkable woman. It just also happens to have plenty of RPG elements and shout-outs that make it feel more like an entirely new experience. This new skin adds quite a bit of flavor to the affair.
From the very start, River City: Knights of Justice piles on the ambiance. Alexander comes to a small town and doesn’t even get a chance to relax. The village elder is asking him to retrieve a tome from the zombies in the nearby cemetery. Once he proves himself by retrieving it, he is deemed worthy of notice. This means he gets to go to the castle town, meet the king, and receive the royal assignment in person.
The layout is completely familiar. River City: Knights of Justice has a world map that wouldn’t look out of place in a Final Fantasy game. Scores of NPC litter the streets of towns, many waiting to assign some menial side quest that will send you to acquire specific items or defeat a certain number of monsters. Dungeons exist, though they are more conventional in the Kunio-kun sense and require someone to defeat every “stage” of them and an occasional boss. Party members could appear after random field encounters or ones in towns, ready to join the party. Alexander and these friends could use physical attacks or magic.
While things will call to mind RPGs, the game is good about poking fun at the genre. Alexander can occasionally agree or disagree with things, with that initial quest proving to be a good example. He can keep the tome instead of handing it over, giving him an item that will restore MP once. The zombies you met? They’re happy to be freed from the control of an evil villain, but decide to stick around the cemetery after they do. Enemies you defeat will still let out, “Barf!” after being felled. The NPCs you meet might be self-aware about their issues, rather than acting like collecting pebbles is some earth-shattering experience.
There are times when this devotion to RPGs is to River City: Knights of Justice’s detriment. The game loves to give you side quests, but makes it difficult to keep up with and manage them. It lets you recruit additional allies, but doesn’t allow you to swap their equipment, do a good job of showing what people are capable of before swapping, make it easy to determine who you should or shouldn’t keep. Speaking of equipment, managing Alexander’s is another chore. He relies on gems (which can only be handled at one specific blacksmith) and equipment for stats.
Some of the biggest problems have to do with systems you’d expect to be good in any RPG. River City: Knights of Justice doesn’t allow Alexander to gain experience and grow in levels or easily manage the items he has access to in battle. The absence of a leveling system in a game paying homage to RPGs seems awry. Having an inventory system that relies on pressing the L-button repeatedly to get the item you want and awkwardly throw the items you hopefully don’t want in a fight to get rid of them and keep the things you do want is troublesome too.
Still, River City: Knights of Justice is an entertaining enough homage for a five hour game. There are some issues with the inventory and quest systems and I would have loved an actual leveling system, but it is a good way to spend an afternoon. There are plenty of enemies to assault, a wide array of side quests, and some rather clever dialogue. It’s a nice change of pace from standard Kunio-kun games.
River City: Knights of Justice is available for the Nintendo 3DS.