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Legend Of The River King Preview

Publisher - Natsume
Developer - Pack-In-Soft
Platform - N64
Release Date - December 1998
Type - Action/RPG

Victor Interactive Software's Pack-in-Soft division is hard at work on a 64-bit role-playing game based on the immensely popular Game Boy title, Legend of River King. Published in the US by Natsume, Legend of the River King 64 is a hybrid between an action fishing game and a more traditional-style RPG.

Gameplay is divided into two distinct parts:

*Action -- doing battle with a hooked fish in full polygonal 3D in an attempt to land it
*Role-playing -- the game weaves a story around this premise in the form of a quest to locate, and catch, a legendary fish -- the River King

Although development on Legend of the River King 64 is still in the very early stages, was shown several game engines, each running a single facet of the game (one showing the fish movement, the next showing the buildings' interiors, and so on).

Pack-In Soft uses about 500 polygons per fish, resulting in very smooth, extremely realistic looking models, with no discernible sharp edges. The engine currently has a frame rate of around 30 frames per second and the aim is to have around four or five fish on screen at any one time, the size of which scales, from pretty small up to a single fish filling around half the screen

Naturally, with this kind of detail on the sea-life, it's difficult to show more than two fish on-screen at the same time, but the game’s programmers cut back on environmental detail by using the notorious N64 fogging to their advantage -- when you're underwater, things get gloomy. So when the fish move into the background, they smoothly fade in and out of the murky depths, heightening the impression of being beneath the surface of a lake. The game itself will feature approximately 300 types of fish, among them 100 freshwater fish, and about 200 others, including saltwater ones.

The artists in Pack-In Soft's office are surrounded by books and photographs on sea-life and make frequent trips to Tokyo's SeaWorld to study the real McCoy for the modeling. As a result, they've achieved wonderfully-realistic fish movement, rapid flicking changes of direction, gaping mouths and gills, flicking fins and tails. The fluid darting, swaying movements these animals make are far more subtle and graceful, let's face it, than the ordinary fare in computer games and so more or a challenge to reproduce faithfully.

The PRG elements in The Legend of River King 64 take place on an overland map -- initially looking like any other 2D RPG. This time, however, it's actually in 3D with a go-anywhere camera and textured, elevated landscape. As your character moves uphill, for example, there is a noticeable change in pace, as the going gets harder, and likewise when you go for a swim. The game period is set around 30 years ago and you have a choice from six controllable characters, including a little girl, boy, Mum, Dad, and other family members. The purpose of the game is, inevitably, to catch the River King himself. As you progress in the overworld map, you explore, enter buildings, and are given tasks and mini-quests to complete on your way towards the final confrontation with the River King.

Your character enters buildings very much like in Nintendo’s Pocket Monsters, but the scenes are obviously far more detailed and dynamic. You must interact with the other people in these buildings to make headway in your quest. You can sell the fish you catch during the action-oriented 'fish-bout' parts of the game at a fishmonger's or swap a fish for information, better fishing tackle and so on. And since you get tired from the perils of travel, you also have to sleep in an inn, or get something to eat at a sushi-ya (sushi restaurant). Other RPG characters, like bears, snakes, or flying squirrels often challenge your character, steal your hooks, and otherwise make life harder for you to succeed.

The game will also feature dynamic seasonal change. The terrain becomes covered in snow at one stage, making it harder to get around, but, unlike in the PlayStation version, the weather doesn't change at all. That said, the Nintendo version boasts some major improvements over its PSX cousin, most significantly the fish bout scenes are now all in lovely 3D, and you can now fight the animals you encounter, if necessary.

In addition to these two main games are several sub-games, activated as you enter certain designated 'hot spot' areas on the map during your quest. These mini-games are 2D and sprite-based and give you a first-person perspective along with controllable icons like scissors to cut the flowers, a net to catch butterflies, a hand to chuck food at animals to befriend them (or rocks to throw at them). By playing these sections, you build up a kind of home collection of flowers, insects and fish. Intended to be informative as well as fun, Pack-In Soft is keen to emphasize that they want to bring nature to the gamers, as, sadly, it's eroded in real-life in Japan.

Yet another feature of the game is that you also have an aquarium to tend to -- you must add specimens to the tank, feed them and generally care for the fish. You can even use a magnifying glass to see the guppies. This is not in the game itself, but a kind of screen-saver display.

Legend of the River King is slated for a November release in Japan and Natsume is bringing the game to the US early in '99. A European release should follow that, and VIS are currently negotiating with developers to fix a date.