Left Feeling Skunked!
River King: Mystic Valley (RK: MV) for the Nintendo DS marks the return of the franchise to handheld gaming. For those of you unfamiliar with past Legend of the River King titles, they have had a storied career covering a total of ten different gaming platforms. Consequently, the series has created a devoted cult following!
The Legend of the River King RPG fishing titles take players through a world of lakes, rivers, ponds, and swamps in search of the great fish, River King. This time around, RK: MV utilizes the power of the DS by employing both the touch screen controls and the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection. Like previous editions, the game is quite lengthy and provides players with a lot of character-building opportunities, an interesting story, and various side quests. Unfortunately, the challenging fishing mechanic of its predecessors is now overly simplistic due to the touch controls. That being said, the game will still appeal to hardcore fans.
River King: Mystic Valley is published by Natsume. As such, it has a lot of similarities to the Harvest Moon series; the cute characters and pastoral setting idealize the simple life and extol the virtues of a hard day’s work. As the game’s hero, you’ll have to find a cure for your ailing sister, Yunna. The poor thing has been enchanted by the fey power of the surrounding forest, fallen fast asleep, and simply cannot wake up. It’s your job to scour the fresh water depths and secure the blessing of the giant fish known as the River King in order to cure her mysterious affliction.
At its core, River King is a fishing title. Consequently, you’re going to spend the majority of your time casting and waiting. This can be tedious, but thankfully you’ll also catch a lot of fish. Each fish that you reel in will give you a certain amount of points (SP) depending upon the fish’s scarcity and size. Accumulating SP will allow you to purchase new equipment, rods, bait, lures, flies, creels, and other useful items including Drops, Guidances, and Flutes. All of these products will prove to be invaluable. In addition to gaining SP, the more fish you catch, the more experience you will earn. This is where the RPG element comes into play. Becoming a better fisherman will allow you to face greater challenges and attract the rarest and largest fish species.
As you quest through the eight locations, you’ll encounter several different side quests. These include rearing pets, completing requests from the people you meet, competing in fishing contests, participating in mini-games, collecting plants, bugs, and fish in the forest, and accumulating trading cards. Other than the pet collecting quest, none of these missions are necessary to complete. However, they do provide for longer gameplay and are quite challenging. This is especially true of the trading card collection side quest. There are 146 cards in all that are acquired by collecting multiple individuals of every fish (106), bug (20), and plant (20) species.
The most important of these side missions is the rearing of your pets. On your quest you will encounter three forest spirits you will befriend and raise while cultivating their unique powers. Using these powers to your advantage will prove to be essential in completing the story. Unfortunately, these three pets cannot be used simultaneously. That means you’ll be frequently switching between them back at your house. This seemed pretty unnecessary and should have been done away with. Nevertheless, raising these spirits is an interesting side quest which will have you working hard, stuffing them full of tasty fish, and watching them as they grow. After all, as they become more powerful, they become more useful. This aspect gives the game an almost Pokémon-like feel, but since there are only three pets to find, it’s not nearly as complex.
As you can see, there is a lot to do in River King: Mystic Valley. In fact, I expect fans of the series as well as newcomers who are interested in Harvest Moon, Animal Crossing, Pokémon, and the like to find the game quite engaging. I, on the other hand, was not so impressed. The biggest reason is because the fishing mechanic is so simplistic that the core component of gameplay feels monotonous and boring. Honestly, the fishing in River King is only slightly deeper than it is in Animal Crossing: Wild World. You’ll simply chuck your lure out, wait for a bite, and then tap the screen to set the hook. Once you have a fish on the line, there’s nothing to reeling them in. Players just have to spin the stylus around in circles and wait for the fish to swim to the surface.
Later on in the game, playing fish becomes a bit trickier, but not enough to make it any more compelling. For instance, fish never go on a run. They may go to the left or right or increase the line tension, but these scenarios simply have you touch the opposite side of the screen or lift up the stylus entirely. This makes fighting fish rather humdrum and seriously hampers any sense of fun or accomplishment.
What complicates things a bit is the acquisition of items to help you attract certain kinds of fish. Some of these items are reusable and others are immediately expended. Even still, the items don’t make gameplay any more fun. They just make it more likely for large and rare fish to check out your hook. Thus, you’ll have to slog your way through hour upon monotonous hour of “nerfed” fishing just to advance the story. Along those lines, the three mini-games you’ll eventually unlock are called Bean Washing, Weed Cutting, and Wall Tickling. I don’t know about you, but I like to spend my leisure time much more judiciously!
One outstanding feature of River King is the ability to connect to friends and unknown players across the globe with the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection. Connecting wirelessly allows players to participate in tournaments against humans rather than the standard A.I. competitions held by your rival Manato. Random online tournaments aren’t the only connectivity option you have. You and your friends can get together and play local multiplayer tournaments as well, as long as everyone has their own cart (River King doesn’t support single-cartridge download play). Technically, the online services work very well. Unfortunately, you’re still going to be saddled with the same boring fishing experience. Additionally, a few minor issues hinder your ability to quickly enjoy an online tournament.
For example, you can’t take any fish you have in your basket while going online. This means you’ll have to get rid of them by feeding them to your pet. If you have a few rare fish you’ve been collecting to get the card, you’ll either have to abandon them or collect the rest before you go online. Being slowed down like this is a really annoying problem. Furthermore, you will not be able to bring any pets with you, and you’ll have to go stocked up with your own bait and tackle. If you forget to load up on goodies before heading into a tournament, you’ll have to make do with the judge’s Plain Bait.
River King: Mystic Valley seems to be somewhat of a fall from grace for the series. Many of the franchise standbys are still here, and the addition of pet training is a nice extra layer. However, this is a fishing game at its heart, and it is plagued by an overly simplistic control scheme. Thankfully, the graphics are cute, and the sounds of nature are soothing. If you are a fan of other Natsume games, then you will likely enjoy River King: Mystic Valley on the DS. However, the majority of players should leave this title on the store shelf.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.0 Graphics
Standard DS visuals feel uninspired, especially considering the relatively small size of the eight levels. Fans of Natsume games will enjoy the cute characters though. 3.0 Control
Controls are user-friendly, but also very boring! Actions such as setting the hook and playing fish simply consist of tapping the touch screen and drawing little circles with the stylus. 4.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The sounds of nature including birds and bugs do a good job of bringing the fishing experience to the DS. 2.0
The core fishing mechanic is utterly dull! I had more fun finding bugs and feeding my pets than I did reeling in fish.
2.9 Overall Rating – Average
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.