Cute Knight Kingdom
You, there. Yes, you! You want to be a pretty princess, don't you? No, don't look so uncomfortable, we understand. Sometimes we, too, like to wear fancy dresses (pretty ones) and dream of princes (pretty ones as well). And, of course, we enjoy simulation role-playing games where we pretend to be magical pretty princesses in pretty dresses who grow up to marry pretty princes. Cute Knight Kingdom, the sequel to the original Cute Knight from Hanako Games, is a fantasy RPG sim that fits the above criteria, and then some. People who do not enjoy dress up or tea parties need not apply.
As it happens, your Cute Knight du jour happens to be a Mysterious Girl. In standard fantasy RPG parlance, this means she's got a mysterious origin nobody (including herself) knows about. She finds out on her eighteenth birthday that her parents aren't really her parents at all; they discovered her outside one night as a baby, and a magical being asked them to watch over her. So she's got three years (or less, depending on your actions) to figure out what she wants to do with her life. Because, apparently, if you don't figure out your destiny before you turn twenty-one, you're basically stuck. But this is where you come in. You'll guide her throughout the world, help her find adventure, and battle dangerous beasts. Or not. Don't like fighting? Then forget about it. You can just as easily make your mark on the world through any of the classes or job opportunities you'll find everywhere.
The Kingdom part of Cute Knight Kingdom is actually fairly small, consisting of several dungeons and towns. You can move around with the [arrow] keys, or simply click on where you wish to go or who you wish to speak to. You'll find people all over who'll offer to teach you things or give you jobs based on your skills... which may open up new opportunities. When you begin a class or job, both of which take seven days to complete, you'll be given the opportunity to exert yourself, mentally or physically, to improve your performance. Perform well in the areas that interest your heroine, and you'll not only see her skills improve, but she'll remain hopeful in her dreams for the future.
Analysis: Fantasy life sims have enjoyed a small but dedicated audience for some time now. Cute Knight Kingdom doesn't really do anything terribly new to stand out from other titles, but it gets most of what it sets out to do right. The pacing of the game means it's easy to fall into the "just one more day" trap and find yourself looking blearily at the clock past three in the morning. You'll probably spend more time pursuing people and events than you will monsters, since the dungeons are, to put it gently, pretty darned boring. Fortunately, busying yourself with learning new skills and opening up new quest chains will easily take up most of your time, and with so many endings to discover, the replay value is very good.
The problem is that getting all these endings takes a lot of footwork and a little luck. Most plot triggers depend on you being in the right place at the right time, or seem to just randomly occur depending on what job or class you're taking at any given time. You wouldn't think this would be much of an issue, taking into consideration how small the areas are, but it's frustrating to waste time going back and forth between areas, trying to figure out what you should be doing to advance a particular bit of dialogue or relationship, when there's frequently very little indication of how to do so.
Cute Knight Kingdom is, in many ways, a spiritual successor to Princess Maker, but without the tedious micro-managing. You don't have to worry about whether your green-haired heroine is getting enough to eat, or if she's going to run away to spite you. All you need to do is explore at your leisure, keeping an eye on her hit points and magic points, and let her sleep somewhere whenever they get too low. The rest of the time can be spent doing whatever you please. Once you start earning money, you'll find more and more possibilities open up, and more characters will have things for you to do. While not a fantasy epic, the writing for the dialogue is at least clean and well defined.
Is it worth the price tag? That all depends on you. If you like Cute Knight Kingdom's casual approach to time management and role playing, you might very well find it eating up large chunks of your time. Collecting all the endings takes some dedication, and some gamers may find the gameplay too repetitive after several plays through. And it is, after all, exceptionally girly.
Cute Knight Kingdom lives up to its name with adorable visuals and a sweetly optimistic outlook. Despite some repetitive grinding, it's still a fun and enjoyable fantasy life sim that can potentially keep you busy for days. Give the demo a try, and remember; real pretty princesses game with their pinky fingers extended, ladies.