Knights & Dragons: Rise of the Dark Prince (iOS) review

Knights & Dragons: Rise of the Dark Prince (hereafter simply Knights & Dragons) is a new iOS title from GREE. It’s available now as a free download from the App Store.

Knights & Dragons blends together several different game styles in an attempt to produce something with a little more depth than some other mobile titles. It incorporates citybuilding, crafting, role-playing game combat and the collection/fusion aspect of card-battle games, then wraps the whole thing up with a rather cliched fantasy story about a kingdom attempting to fight back against the titular Dark Prince.

The game begins with a non-skippable tutorial that introduces players to combat, building, fusion and using hard currency to hurry actions that take long periods of real time. As is so often the case, this tutorial feels rather rushed, simply telling players to do things without really explaining why they might want to do them. The game does at least attempt to infuse the experience with a bit of personality, however, by making use of various colorful characters to narrate the various quests rather than simply using dry explanatory text.

Gameplay in Knights & Dragons unfolds across several different components. When viewing their kingdom, players must gradually expand their territory, construct new buildings and then make use of them to craft new equippable items for their forces or fuse items together to strengthen them. As the player progresses through the game’s story and quests, various areas surrounding the player’s kingdom gradually become uncovered, and once these have appeared the player is able to send their own custom character, subsequently-recruited characters and hired friends’ characters out on adventures.

The “adventures” are, in fact, simply strings of battles that typically start with some straightforward encounters and culminate in a more difficult bout against a “boss” opponent. Combat is mostly automatic, but the player is able to trigger special attacks when a special bar in the corner of the screen is filled up. Defeating boss opponents with a special attack rather than the usual auto-attack provides additional rewards over and above the standard experience points awarded for victory. Adventure areas can be replayed several times, with five different levels of difficulty available and corresponding increases in the rewards on offer as the challenge level increases. The monsters the player battles in each subsequent difficulty level don’t really get significantly tougher — the player simply faces more of them at once and must endure more waves before the boss shows itself. Several App Store reviewers have commented that they would prefer for there to be a little more strategy in the mostly-automatic battle sequences — this is a common criticism of games of this type, and it’s certainly still true here.

Tapping on a structure called a “summoning stone” in the player’s kingdom for the first time begins an extremely lengthy update download process that can thankfully be cancelled out of if the player is short on time. Once this is completed, the player gains access to the ability to re-summon boss monsters from the hardest difficulty level of an area once it has been completed. Exactly why this functionality requires a lengthy update to be downloaded before it can be used is not particularly clear — why not include it in the basic game download?

Social features for the game include the ability to attack other players in the asynchronous PvP “Arena” mode and the ability to add friends via either a nine-letter “friend code” or Facebook. Friends’ characters may then be “hired” to provide support in the adventure battles. For some reason, despite being published by GREE, the game does not appear to make use of GREE’s own platform at all, which seems like something of a strange decision — the GREE platform is, after all, built for exactly this sort of game, so its omission here seems bizarre.