The Cruel King and the Great Hero Review: A Tear-jerking Tale of Wholesome Heroics
“Dad, tell me a bedtime story!”
A sleepy-eyed Yuu was curled up cozily against her dad, the soft straw acting as both bed and blanket pulled up to her chin. The Dragon King chuckled to himself. “Of course! Which story should I-“
“The one about Papa!” Yuu managed to squeak out before a big yawn.
The Dragon King smiled; she always asked for the story of how her father, the Hero, saved all of humanity from the Demon King. “I should have known. Where should I begin?”
“The beginning!” Yuu exclaimed with a tired twinkle in her eye.
Another chuckle. “A very good place to start.” As he told the story, he looked to the heavens where the Hero — Yuu’s father — now resided. As Yuu nodded off to sleep, the Dragon King stopped telling the story he’d told so many nights before. “One day, I shall tell you the story of how you became a great hero, like your father — even if it means I fall by your own hand.”
“One day, I will tell you the story of how you defeat me.”
Those powerful words open up The Cruel King and the Great Hero, an extremely wholesome and beautifully hand drawn JRPG by NIS America. Available on PS4, PS5, and Switch, The Cruel King and the Great Hero will have fans of The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince immediately draw comparisons due to their aesthetic similarities yet will marvel at how vastly different the two are in gameplay. And with an extremely friendly pricetag of $29.99, The Cruel King and the Great Hero is an easy sell that delivers in spades.
The Cruel King and the Great Hero features the aforementioned Yuu and her adoptive father, the Dragon King, as she grows up from an orphaned infant into a rambunctious young girl with big dreams. You see, her dragon dad always regaled her with stories about her heroic papa, so she wanted to follow in his footsteps and become a great hero herself. Unable to let his little girl’s wishes go unfulfilled, the Dragon King helped Yuu train every day, watching her grow stronger, confident, and more sure of herself as the years flew by.
Of course, being a hero isn’t about how many enemies you kill, but how many in need you help — a virtue taken to heart by the Dragon King, who instills in Yuu the desire to help her father’s subjects, the monsters. And so, she spends her days exploring the area surrounding their cozy den, assisting monsters with their big problems, like finding a cure for a mysterious illness, down to their small problems, like locating a lost sheap monster who had been naughty. A big undertaking for a little girl, Yuu is not only accompanied by the occasional ally but — secretly — her Dragon King dad, who follows from a distance to ensure no terrible fates befall his precious daughter.
I’ll be honest — it was love at first sight for me when it comes to The Cruel King and the Great Hero. Everything about this game is conceptually wonderful with a brilliant execution. The hand drawn animations really lend to the storybook feel, with each new scene entering the frame by way of a page turn and text narrated in Japanese (with English or Japanese subtitles) by a soothing, dreamy voice. The pared down combat may have been a point of contention in other games, but when you consider the protagonist is a small girl combined with the storybook nature of the title, The Cruel King and the Great Hero’s streamlined battles make sense. And did I mention it’s a turn-based JRPG? So in love!
Not wanting to leave JRPG veterans without a challenge, The Cruel King and the Great Hero offers puzzles to players during combat. As Yuu comes to learn, not all enemies have to be defeated by her blade; instead, she can uncover their weakness and, while they’re dazed, set them free. This might mean blasting a loud sound at the monsters will good hearing or feeding a stag-like monster a piece of fruit (by a princess of course — their dream!). Some weaknesses are easy enough to figure out, while others are definite head scratchers. Can you find them all and update your Monsterdex accordingly?
Although plenty of monsters will ambush Yuu along the way, there’s an entire village of Monsters dedicated to living in peace with each other… and, to an extent, humans. They’ll need Yuu’s help all throughout the game; dubbed “Yuu’s Acts of Kindess,” these missions are essentially fetch quests — which, again, makes sense when you remember you’re playing as a girl who can’t possibly be older than 10. However, some of the topics are pretty heady stuff, like fulfilling the final wishes of a dying monster to navigating trauma and grief. Sprinkled throughout are quests aimed to help bridge the gap between individuals, tribes, and even between monster and man; just as Yuu grows throughout this journey, everyone around her — including the world itself — grows too.
The Cruel King and the Great Hero endeared itself to me for a multitude of reasons. Yuu is child me in practically every regard; it was heartwarming to be able to relate to a character so naturally, especially one as genuine and headstrong as her. It has whimsical yet impactful music that can sound powerfully triumphant one minute and sweetly melancholic the next. And, if I’m being honest, I love fetch quests, so to see a game dedicated to them in a way that made perfect sense — against the backdrop of an eager girl who lives to help others — felt made for me.
But the one thing that made me run out and buy 2 copies of The Cruel King and the Great Hero Storybook Edition and two Dragon King plushies (separately) was when I understood the meaning behind the imagery on the title screen. I won’t spoil it for you, but when I booted up the game for the second or third time, the screen lighting up with Yuu and the Dragon King snuggled up in bed and the seriously stunning soundtrack serenading me as everything clicked, I realized that this wasn’t just some cutesy title with simple gameplay. No, The Cruel King and the Great Hero is a poignant message about what it means to be a true hero — a message we could really use right now.
The Cruel King and the Great Hero is my current contender for GOTY 2022; although it’s only April, I just don’t see this changing. With its wonderfully whimsical aesthetics, glorious soundtrack, blossoming world-building and character development, and delightful turn-based combat combining action and slight brainteasers, it cannot be overstated how phenomenal The Cruel King and the Great Hero truly is. It’s probably the only game I’ve ever consciously desired to give a standing ovation, tears welling up in my eyes as the credits rolled. The sum of a thousand tiny details done correctly, The Cruel King and the Great Hero achieves greatness through the lens of a bold and brave young girl, following her heart and her dreams, with her supportive dragon dad by her side.
Final Verdict: 5/5
Available on: Switch, PS5, PS4 (Reviewed); Publisher: NIS America; Developer: NIS America; Players: 1; Released: March 15, 2022; MSRP: $29.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of The Cruel King and the Great Hero provided by the publisher.