Game Review: Knights of the Round

Given my repeated (and likely obnoxious) posts regarding the ways that oriental culture is badly translated by occidental culture for entertainment purposes, I figure that the same scrutiny aimed in the opposite direction is in order.

There's plenty of material for this, especially with the recent release of Takashi Miike's Sukiyaki Western Django and Kim Ji-Won's The Good, the Bad and the Weird, two films in which the hoary trappings of the Western are now populated with Asian actors. Furthermore, there are probably a bazillion Anime that either adapt western literature or use European period settings, such as the influential Shojo anime series "The Rose of Versailles." Plumbing the dusty archives of my memory for all of the video games I've wasted my time playing over the years, however, I recall a Capcom developed, Final Fight-esque brawler developed for CPS2 hardware and originally released in Arcades (but that I first played as an SNES port) titled Knights of the Round.

It is as it sounds: a brainless side scrolling beat-em-up coin muncher based on Arthurian legends in the most inappropriate and superficial ways. And as it probably sounds: I love it.

So I fired up Capcom Classics Collection Vol. 2 with the intent of coming up with funny things to say about a game in which Franco-English-Germanic myth is reductively pasted onto a generic model of a brainless early nineties side-scrolling arcade game. The funny moments are unfortunately few, to be honest. There is a certain amount of humor to be derived from the haphazard way that about five centuries worth of arms and armory has been assembled for use by the enemy armies. Rapier wielding acrobats fight alongside Zweihander swinging warriors dressed in full plate armor, while bosses range from a mechanically operated suit of armor to a Japanese swordsman in red named Muramasa. At no point in the work of Malory nor in the romances attributed to Chretien de Troyes have the knights quested to the far eastern lands of Japan. Same goes for the ending, in which it turns out that in the course of quelling rebellions throughout the British lands, Arthur, Perceval and Lancelot were also looking for the Holy Grail, which was sitting in a castle of a local Italian warlord named Garibaldi. Who knew?

The game itself is Final Fight. An attack button and a jump button are utilized, and the three characters are differentiated between power (Perceval) and speed (Lancelot) with Arthur being the most balanced of the group. The controls work fine, the graphics are bright and attractive, and the difficulty is absurd. Arcade games are not known to be fair to the player - their goal is to eat as many quarters as they possibly can, and that means that the player has to lose, and lose often. The SNES cartridge gives you nine credits, the PS2 Capcom Classics Collection gives you unlimited credits. Items can be attacked, splitting them and allowing a second player to take half. The horse riding mechanic is unimportant. The characters also level up, but truthfully, the only differences are cosmetic.

Honestly, there's a lot to like if arcadey action games appeal to you. In spite of the fact that it's connections to Arthurian myth are minuscule and the characters betray a certain non-chalant lack of concern for historicity or believability or aesthetic principles of the medieval age, I love this game. It's simple gameplay done well enough that occasionally I'll play through it with unlimited continues and laugh at the insanity of a saber wielding, excessively feminine Lancelot fighting off a prancing fop named Phantom of Nightshade or King Arthur beating fat guys and vaguely semetic wizards with an oversized sword in the middle of the night surrounded by Japanese lanterns. It's that non-malicious though still inconsiderate treatment that makes the game less grating than it is delightful in spite of itself.

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