Pirates are cool. Ask most people, and if they were being honest with you, most would say they’d thought about how great it would be to be one. Drinking rum, singing songs, looking for treasure, taking down enemy pirates, and sailing the seas with a crew of like-minded skallywags. The reality is that most of those people would get sea sick on the Isle of Wight ferry, but let's ignore that and not burst their bubble.
King of Sea’s story is pretty basic, but at the same time it put a smile on my face. It’s the classic hero to zero, where you start out as a member of a royal family, then you get accused of treason when your dad is murdered. You get left for dead, and you end up becoming a pirate which will take you on a path to regain your royal status, and achieve a little bit of revenge at the same time. You know the deal, it works as a developing plot and I really liked the character designs and the dialogue throughout the story.
The game is set out into varying missions, where you start out at a port (which can also be used for trading at various stores - although this is all done through menus, you’re never not ship-based). Controlling the ship feels good; there’s plenty of weight behind the movement giving it the sensation that you’re attempting to turn this large chunk of wood and steel, controlling its speed by deploying up to 3 sails to catch the wind for faster travel. Additionally, you have independent left and right (port and starboard) combat controls too, which is important because during combat you have to constantly move, changing direction to evade oncoming attacks from other ships, so being able to fire left or right is a great feature.
Missions are made up of typical requirements such as 'fetch' quests, taking out certain numbers of enemies, going after larger ships and so on. Completing these nets you loot, which can be used to upgrade your ship, allowing you to take on more challenging missions. These do get quite repetitive, as similar missions crop up again and again, and later become incredibly grindy as you are required to work hard to achieve the level requirements to stand a chance in battle, or for entry into the 'next' mission at all.
I think the most enjoyable part of the game is simply wafting along the sea, looking for random items to loot (some of which unlocks rather nifty weapons and summons for your ship). You can hear some classic piratey music and the sound of the waves lapping against the ship's hull, it’s really quite relaxing!
So the story is simple but fun, movement of the ship is satisfying and the game loop, although standard affair, works well enough. So it's 'smooth sailing' then? (sorry). Well, unfortunately not, there’s some more serious niggles that really affected my enjoyment of the game.
Firstly, the map, and more specifically, how frequently you have to 'get it out.' Where other games have solved this, by either having a mini map on screen, or a waypoint directing you, or heck, maybe even BOTH, King of Seas has neither. Instead, you are are required to constantly flick between the two to figure out where you’ve got to go, and all of this whilst you could be under fire, or you’re doing your best to avoid being seen one of the many (many) overpowered enemies that happen to be on the path to the mission.
This brings me onto my next major issue with the game. If you die during a mission, one that could have taken a while to get to the starting point, you have to start the entire mission again from the port. There’s no checkpointing or mid-mission quick saving or anything like that, which is made all the more baffling since this is being played on Nintendo Switch. Later in the game, the option to fast travel between visited ports wouldn’t have hurt, either. These are all things that have been solved a hundred times over by open world games, and it really hurts the experience to not have them here. Sadly, the issues don’t end there, with the Switch port lacking in a few areas of polish, notably loading times, very small text on handheld mode, and some performance issues too.
As previously noted though, it isn’t all bad. The ship controls, movement and combat is fun enough, I really enjoyed simply sailing around looking for loot and exploring the sea, and some of the abilities later on do help alleviate some of the frustrations with battling overpowered enemies–like being able to attack from much greater distance, giving you a much better chance of avoiding their attacks!
So overall not a bad game, it's just sometimes a frustrating experience that would have certainly benefited from what are now pretty much standard and assumed quality of life features expected from a game of its type.