June 22, 2024
Challenging and capable of absorbing hours of time, Krzyżacy - The Knights of the Cross is also a flawed experience. The Finger Guns review:

Welcome to pixel-art medieval Poland, where anime girls and deckbuilding RPG collide. Krzyżacy – The Knights of the Cross is nothing if not an eclectic combination of influences. Part story-driven narrative, part roguelite and part unnecessary titillation with barely-clad female characters, it’s both interesting and rather odd.

Does it do the Polish history it’s based upon proud or languish in shame, begging for repentance for its sins? Don your chainmail, draw your sword, its time to face the Teutonic Knights.

Show Your Hand, Knight

Krzyżacy – The Knights of the Cross is first and foremost a pretty standard RPG and deckbuilder title. Before embarking on main or side quests, you set up your deck cards, with the only requirement being a minimum of 20 (which can later be reduced to 10). In battles, cards are separated into attacks, magic and defence, with other special cards and one-off use varieties.

You set up your party of up to four characters and head into combat. Your hand will be randomly drawn from your deck, with strategy supposedly key to win the day – play your cards right and understand your deck, the better your odds of victory. It’s a good system and works pretty well, though by itself it doesn’t stand out tremendously from the crowd. The mix of cards is pretty standard for a fantasy universe and it can be satisfying when you pull off a perfect run of attacks and defences.

The most interesting element of the combat system is how your companions work. Unlike many other RPG titles, you don’t control them directly. Instead, each companion character has three skills that are activated depending on the number and type of card you play. Your archer for example, may only deal small damage if you play a magic and attack card. However, play two magics and three attacks in one turn, you may activate their special which deals massive damage to two targets.

These abilities are triggered automatically provided the requisite number of cards have been played. This creates a rather unique and compelling mechanic. You may need your healer to save the life of a squad-mate, only to not have the required type of card to get them from tier one to two. Conversely, I sometimes sacrificed an extra attack so as to not trigger the next tier, creating an engaging game of stick or twist.

While this mechanic doesn’t completely elevate the core gameplay beyond decent, it’s a very interesting concept and I’d be intrigued to see how sequels or other games could improve on it in future.

Krzyżacy - The Knights of the Cross review

Krakow-ing Under Pressure

In addition to the core card mechanics, there’s the usual smaller factors you’ll need to be constantly accounting for. From bleed, poison and flame damage, to buffs, heals and stats like strength and defence to contend with, there’s lots you’ll need to track if you’re to come out unscathed. Which, you’d be surprised how difficult that is pull off.

On normal difficulty, Krzyżacy – The Knights of the Cross is a tough knight to best. I felt like I turned up to a joust with a plastic lance and armour made of cardboard. Particularly on higher star rating encounters and bosses, it can be flat out brutal, bordering on unfair.

One fight especially took me over 90 turns simply because of how the foe could increase his armour exponentially every turn, meaning my only option was to whittle them down via bleed damage. Given that took me over an hour, you can only imagine the amount of fun I had. Your amount of purchasable heals are limited on normal too, so having overcome that fight I had exhausted all of my party’s available healing, effectively ending my campaign.

After and between quests, you’ll earn XP to level up your party and gain currency to spend. At your camp, you can recruit new companions, heal your team, shop for new cards and equip relics, which provide passive boosts to your combat prowess. The camp is simple and straightforward, with the shop being grossly overpriced and the options feeling rather limited. You’ll also be subject to one of Krzyżacy – The Knights of the Cross’ most conflicting elements: the visuals.

Krzyżacy - The Knights of the Cross review

Flailing Damsels

To contextualise this next part, I’m going to say that the actual pixel-art style of the game is relatively lovely. Every character has a unique design and combat animations are fairly exciting, delivered with flare. You’ll travel across various lands in Poland, doing battle with all manner of knights, rodents, bulls and bandits. For someone who typically doesn’t appreciate retro art styles, I was pleasantly surprised by Knights of the Cross.

That is, until I trundled into camp and tried to recruit a new companion. Suddenly, all sense of place was lost as the game shoved completely unnecessary, sexualised character models in my face. All the grace of the pixel-art visuals curb-stomped under the mighty bosoms of female characters whose garments would barely cover a mouse’s nose.

It’s a weirdly conflicting choice, simply because it juxtaposes so poorly with the rest of the game’s visuals. Also, every female companion is naturally in love with the protagonist and make barely an idle effort to hide that fact, which undermines the actual storytelling going on. In a game like Senran x Kagura, it’s kind of the entire point of the title, but that just doesn’t feel the case here.

Despite that oddly specific gripe, Krzyżacy – The Knights of the Cross ran well on my system and I had no technical problems, which is always welcome. Some of the environments can start to repeat if you choose to do the side quests, though I’d be remiss not to let you know that most of the Requests are fairly pointless and only serve to leech your precious health pool.

Krzyżacy - The Knights of the Cross review

A Knight’s Cross to Bear

As I mentioned before, Krzyżacy – The Knights of the Cross also suffers from narrative contradiction in terms of the story and the use of companions. As a regular peasant turned knight, recruited to drive off the villainous Teutonic Knights, you’ll be travelling across 15th century Poland to protect a princess and do battle in the name of your homeland.

In most side quests and occasional main story beats, you’ll be provided with an A or B choice. One will usually be blatantly obvious as the “good” one to raise your reputation with a character, while the other will almost always be a response no one would choose in good faith. These choices have consequences for which story companions will stay with or leave your party, with the intention to add consequences to your decision-making.

The problem however, is that the decisions are far too binary and the implications rather obvious, reducing their impact. Moreover, I find it hard to take a “marriage” between my protagonist and a princess seriously when he’s being fawned over by every other character in the realm. It all feels a bit slapstick and while there are some okay-ish narrative moments, it just doesn’t mesh into anything compelling.

I noticed the rate at which story companions would come-and-go so frequently meant my attachment to them was rather fleeting, instead relying on the generic recruited ones. However, this did create a decent gameplay wrinkle as I had to constantly be chopping and changing my crew to stay in tip-top shape for my next encounter. Swings and roundabouts and all that.

Over the course of the game’s chapters, I wouldn’t say I disliked its story, it’s just lacking for an RPG and leaves a bit to be desired with its contrasting messages. The dialogue also suffers from typos and some lines even just replaced with [translation missing] which doesn’t help the immersion all that much.

Krzyżacy - The Knights of the Cross review

A Valiant(ish) Effort

There are parts of Krzyżacy – The Knights of the Cross that I did enjoy and appreciate, especially its attempt to bring a new dynamic to the deckbuilding genre. Everything else around it falls a bit flat, like an over-encumbered knight swinging a greatsword before toppling to the ground. It’ll certainly hit something, but at the cost of its own dignity.

I dug the art style a surprising amount and after plundering a good few hours into it, I can safely say its worth checking out if you’re into challenging RPGs or deckbuilders. It’s exceptionally clumsy and fumbles much of its execution, but then some people will probably appreciate the exorbitant breast to sword ratio, so who am I to judge.

The skill ceiling for the game is also pretty high – offering a challenging and punishing experience even on the regular difficulty (with a harder one unlocked on completion). The only thing that gave me as much trouble was attempting to pronounce the game’s name without absolutely butchering it. Come for the swords and skirmishes, stay for the bewbs, if that’s what you’re into.

Krzyżacy – The Knights of the Cross has a unique deckbuilding mechanic that I hope can be built on within the genre and an eye-popping art style that deserves appreciation. It stumbles in almost every other design decision and awkward approach to story and characters, but avid card players and anime girl appreciators will have found their niche title.

Krzyżacy – The Knights of the Cross is available now on PC via Steam.

Developer: Olive Panda Studio
Publisher: Neverland Entertainment

Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were gratefully provided with two promotional codes from the publisher. For our full review policy, please go here. If you enjoyed this article or any more of our content, please consider our Patreon.

Make sure to follow Finger Guns on our social channels. TwitterFacebook, TwitchSpotify or Apple Podcasts – to keep up to date on our news, reviews and features.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.