King’s Bounty: My Zombie Wife & The Belt O’Doom

Every Sunday, we reach deep into Rock, Paper, Shotgun’s 141-year history to pull out one of the best moments from the archive. This week, Alec marries a zombie and gets into a fight in a zombie universe, from this piece first published October 2nd, 2008.

So I gazed up at the mountain of games about guns due this Autumn, and I sighed a little. Did I burn myself out on all those FPSes last year? Are, heaven forfend, my baser instincts now somehow in check? I will play Far Cry 2 and Dead Space and Fallout 3, but right now they’re not what appeal. I made it about 15 minutes into Crysis Warhead before the oh-this-again tedium hit, and I blame myself more than I do the game for that. I wanted something a little different, something I could sink into on more than a purely visceral level, but I didn’t know what.

Turns out it was King’s Bounty: The Legend, the RPG-strategy remake/sequel from some of the good (mad) folks behind Space Rangers 2. I’m not going to review it or even describe it here. Instead, I’m going to tell two stories that aptly demonstrate the insanity-ingenuity of the thing.

Briefly though, it’s basically Heroes of Might & Magic (the original King’s Bounty having been the source of those games), but, well, better: faster and sillier and bigger. It’s mad and weird and unfair and the Russian-English translation is a disaster. It’s also gloriously ridiculous and constantly inventive. It’s exactly what I wanted to play right now, and I’m quietly confident it’s going to be one of the games I most enjoy this year.

First, the belt story. I found a belt! This was excellent news, as armour for my main character is rare and expensive. Better yet, the belt, apparently, could be upgraded. Right-click to upgrade, it said. So I did. I expected the game to tell me I was lacking Rare Crystal X or something, but I was surprised. “Are you sure you want to fight the keepers?”, it asked. “Er,” I said. “Yes? But I thought I was upgrading my be…”

Suddenly, I find myself here:

I’m fighting inside my belt, at war with mystic guardians for the right to build a better belt. Unfortunately, it turned out said mystic guardians outnumbered my own meagre, low-level army by 10 to 1, so I was roundly thrashed within seconds. Now, in any other fight in the game, if all your troops get knobbled, you continue – respawning at the main town and receiving some sympathy cash to go hire some new guys with. This time, I got a game over screen. I was perma-killed by my own belt. Man! That’s never happened to me before. The lesson here: never upgrade your belt.

(Inevitably, I tried again later, when I was several levels higher. And I won! Hundreds of my troops were killed, but my belt is now 1 better at defence. And really, that’s all that matters.)

Then there’s my wife. Various characters in the game kept recommending I get married, but beyond the king’s child daughter rather unnervingly flirting with me and some polite chit-chat with an old lady who sold plant-beasts, I couldn’t find any women in the game, let alone one to make my bride. Then I met Hake, the robber-baron. He was in a bit of bind because his wife had turned into a zombie. As is so often the way in anything RPGy, he tasked me with solving his problem. So I duly did some trekking about for him, and eventually discovered the magic phrase that would de-zombify the poor lass. A hero is me.

At which point he revealed that, actually, having an undead wife was quite handy – she could test his food for poisons and… well, his reasons weren’t entirely convincing, if I’m honest. And that’s when a surprising dialogue option appeared. There was always at least one vaguely psychotic response I could choose in any given conversation, but requesting if I could buy a man’s wife off him was a whole new layer of madness. I couldn’t not go for it, but fully expected violent reprisal for my cheek.

Except he agreed. For just 5000g (not a lot in KB’s money-rich landscape), I had myself a wife. Not just any old wife – a zombie wife. I was married to a zombie. Ew. A zombie who I could talk to about having kids. Ewww.

I didn’t really want to go there, but fortunately it turned out I could use that magic de-zombie phrase whenever I wanted, so I did the gentlemanly thing: restored her humanity, pledged undying love, and fathered a child. Then, with my heir sorted, I turned her back into a zombie again. Then I divorced her for someone else. The combat bonuses were better, you understand.

Later, I performed amateur dentistry on a dragon, fought a turtle as big as a castle and fed 89 giant snakes to a fish-god. I love King’s Bounty.

18 Comments

  1. BooleanBob says:

    I feel like the entirety of the reputation this game has enjoyed over the years – i.e. as it being in any way decent and not a tiresome grindfest that a) stole most of its ideas from an apparently obscure console-dwelling genre-cousin and b) never deserved one sequel, much less five million (at estimate) – was founded on Alec’s enjoyment of this one gag and the myriad opportunities it furnished him with for its retelling (see: five million sequels).

    But then I am a grumpy sod who should be ignored at all times.

    • Anthile says:

      I’d like to clarify that the Heroes of Might & Magic series is extremely popular in Russia. It’s one of those Germans-love-Hasselhoff deals. Plenty of mods are made by Russian fans even to this day. It’s no surprise King’s Bounty, HoMM 5 and 6 were all produced in Russia, and I imagine many devs were former HoMM modders.
      Many of the units in King’s Bounty behave almost exactly like they did way back in the original Heroes of Might & Magic : gryphons with infinite retaliation, ghosts that replenish their numbers when they kill creatures, etc. The black dragon that is immune to magic is so pervasive that it even made it into completely different games.
      Before Katauri made King’s Bounty, they made Space Rangers. Space Rangers is one of the greatest games ever made and it has the same offbeat atmosphere as King’s Bounty. The text in these games feels like whoever wrote it had a ton of fun doing it, and that is true for the games as a whole. You rarely get to marry in a game but when you do, it’s usually serious business. In King’s Bounty it’s something that just happens to you, most likely by accident.

    • Kaeoschassis says:

      “stole most of its ideas from an apparently obscure console-dwelling genre-cousin”?

      Yeah you’ve totally lost me here, mind clarifying that one?

    • Malibu Stacey says:

      I couldn’t agree more with you. I bought it on the strength of this very article in a sale a while back (and also the expandalone Armoured Princess on strength of it’s RPS article), tried playing it & got sick of the boring repetitive gameplay very quickly (I think I gave up at the point where you have to fight the Giant Turtle to progress). It’s about as much fun as Final Fantasy VII on the PlayStation was.

      Looks nice, has the gameplay of Ludo.

  2. Kala says:

    First time I booted it up (I played the original on the master system? maybe? my memories of it are extremely vague, but I remember very much enjoying the finding treasure exploration element) I played it for a bit and then went “Nah, this is silly.”

    I’ve given it a better shot this time; played it for a while with a pally, then switched to mage “just to see”. Mage was infinitely better as a playstyle (and I never play mage!) because it made things so much *quicker*. Relying entirely on your troops is *slow* (even with all the buffs and heals I was deploying). Hurling a fireball every now and then makes things go much faster.

    A couple of things irritate me, though. While I’m not a fan of levelled areas or gated play, it LOOKS like the game is establishing various areas at a time. And yet – there’ll be about 7 missions on a map you can do just fine, and 3 that are WAY TOO IMPOSSIBLY HARD TO TOUCH WITH A 10FT POLE. So you go on to the next map, same thing. Then when you’ve done those, you can maybe hop back and try the other ones again. So you’re all over the whole map all the time.

    For the same reason, I’m…not very adaptable in my troop loadout. I have a certain idea for something, then I want to stick to it. So if I have a lot of buffs for pirates and thieves, I want pirates and thieves. If I have a lot of buffs for undead, I want undead. Etc. And the game is sort of geared up for that, as the morale system ensures certain types of troops are going to be unhappy in a party with other types. But again, this means every time I need to restock depleted troops, I need to treck through the world map looking for where I’ve marked where to get these troops. Which is kinda repetitive.

    Sometimes I just want to get on with it, y’know? But I can’t because my troops are in another castle, or what’s in front of me is too difficult to progress, so I need to backtrack to other quests -.-;;;

    (Oh, I should note, despite those irritations I did enjoy the game on the second try. It is fun).

  3. jasta85 says:

    It’s been years since I played kings bounty but one thing I remember that really frustrated me is that I eventually ran out of ways to get new troops and somehow couldn’t progress because the enemies were too tough for the army I had and I couldn’t find any weaker enemies to fight or any stronger troops to get. Probably just me being bad at the game but I’ve played all the heroes of might and magic games as well as similar ones like disciples and kings bounty just ended up frustrating me at a certain point.

    • Baines says:

      That’s what I remember from the first King’s Bounty, running out of available troops. (That, and the constant trekking back and forth to replenish your army between battles.)

      I ended up in a situation where I was bleeding troops faster than I could get access to new sources. It was a death spiral, fielding incomplete or inferior armies because I didn’t have better, which meant I bleed troops faster, which meant I drained by supply sources even heavier… I saw no choice but to just quit the game at that point.

      • frenchy2k1 says:

        The way I play King’s Bounty is as a puzzle game.
        The goal is not just to destroy the opponent, you want to find the right fight at the right time to beat it while minimizing losses (no loss being the goal).
        This usually means many trekking throughout the map to find troupes and fights.

        King’s Bounty is different from HoMM in that troupes are more limited (they do not replenish) and difficulty of enemy troupes is not linear, forcing you to many back and forth for optimum fights (or just winning) and troupes.

        The problem is that the other games did not bring anything new. Each game tends to run too long for it’s own story and end up feeling grindy and repetitive.
        I like the formula, I’m now playing warriors of the north after finishing both The Legend and Armored Princess , but 70h+/game takes forever and needs to be done little by little to not burn out.
        Moreover, the later games have poor translations and some bugs.

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          Neurotic says:

          Yes – and in this way, it’s a lot like Desktop Dungeons, where discerning which fights to pick when determines how far you’ll get and whether you’ll ultimately succeed or fail. It definitely helps to strategize as if it were a puzzler, you hit the nail on the head there.

        • sicemma says:

          Ah yes, that moment where halfway in, you read a guide for AP and realise :

          * You have been playing it so wrong.

          * There are bonuses for not losing a single trooper for 10-20-30 something fights. Big important bonuses! And you’d burned all the fights you could possibly have done that with ages ago.

          * You thought the robots were lame and hadn’t taken enough healers/spells or gotten things to res troops to anywhere near necessary amount.

          Ha, ha, ha.

      • v21v21v21 says:

        Should have upgraded your belts.

  4. vorador says:

    I finished King’s Bounty the Legend a few months ago. The game still holds up even now and it’s quite fun, if somewhat frustrating because at times you can’t replenish your troops.

    One recommendation: don’t have children. They give a paltry randomized bonus and occupy an inventory slot that could be used for something else.

    • Kaeoschassis says:

      I’ve been following that advice my whole life and it’s not steered me wrong yet.

      • Kala says:

        Ha!

      • Scrape Wander says:

        My single favorite internet comment exchange in a month, easily.

      • Soldancer says:

        I literally had that conversation with a waiter last Friday. My wife and I explained the reason we had been married for 11 years was that we never had kids. As good as advice goes both in King’s Bounty and real life.