When Video Game AI Goes Horribly, Horribly Wrong

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Recently I received copies of Naruto Shippuden: Kizuna Drive (PSP) and Knights Contract (PS3, Xbox 360) from Namco Bandai, and I’ve been playing them with the intention of providing full reviews. But unfortunately, I’ve found myself becoming so frustrated with both titles, that I just can’t motivate myself to finish either one.

Neither game is very good from what I’ve played, and the fact that a very forgiving gamer such as myself can’t tough them out should speak volumes about their quality. Hell, I’ve endured many turds in my time and have very rarely thrown in the towel early (do I get a cookie for finishing Damnation?). But I don’t fully review games I don’t complete, so in fairness I won’t do so here. Instead I would like to talk about the reason behind why I haven’t been able to finish them, because the obstacle impeding my progress is the same in both games.

Put bluntly, the artificial intelligence (AI) in both games is complete garbage. Garbage enough to, in my opinion, render both games unplayably aggravating.

AI is important in all games, but typically is only a make-or-break component in strategy games where things like poor path-finding and unit behavior can ruin the experience, and in competitive games like sports and fighting games where it’s important that CPU teammates and opponents act believably and intelligently without becoming too cheap or too easy to take advantage of.

As more and more games introduce non-multiplayer cooperative elements, though, I’m noticing that genres that usually don’t require the most elaborate AI design — like brawlers and action/adventure — are failing miserably due to poor AI coding. Knights Contract and Kizuna Drive are two such games.

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Knights Contract is by far the worst offender, a hack-and-slash action/adventure title from Game Republic, the talented but inconsistent developer behind games like Genji, Folklore, Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom, and Clash of the Titans.

Close your eyes and imagine the most painful, the most frustrating escort mission you’ve ever had the displeasure of playing through. Now imagine that one mission stretched out over the entirety of a full-length game littered with constant load times to bog you down even further. That’s what playing Knights Contract is like.

The idea behind the game actually sounds intriguing on paper, and I was excited to start playing it when my copy came in. But all hope was dashed as soon as I popped the disc into my Xbox 360.

In the game, you play as an immortal knight named Heinrich who becomes tasked with protecting a witch named Gretchen. The concept seems as if it’s trying to piggyback off of the success of the similar mechanic from last year’s spectacular Enslaved (also from Namco Bandai), but, except for a nifty tag-team magic system, it fails miserably in comparison.

Being immortal, Heinrich can become incapacitated after absorbing too much damage (at which point you mash buttons to revive him as quickly as possible), but he can’t technically die. So instead, Gretchen serves as your health bar — if she dies, it’s game over time. The problem then becomes having to baby sit your brainless bitc…ermmm, I mean witch of a companion at all times, because if you don’t carry her every step of the way, she’ll fall behind, run into danger, fall off of ledges, and well…do pretty much everything she can to make life difficult for you. When you get separated, demons spawn in to attack her, so her inability to keep up is a constant annoyance.

She becomes particularly encumbering during the game’s many challenging boss battles — in fact, a cheap-as-hell boss somewhere around 12-15 chapters in is where I called it quits. I just couldn’t take dying because of her stupid ass and constantly having to retry the fight.

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Kizuna Drive‘s AI problem isn’t nearly as severe, but it’s still a major drawback. The game plays like a standard arcade beat-’em-up starring all your favorite Naruto characters, but the twist is a 4-character party system that forces you to play alongside three CPU-controlled allies through every mission. You can call upon each character for periodic assist attacks, and when an enemy is stunned you can pound them to pieces with a powerful quick time event team attack. But in general, your anime teammates do very little to help you out.

Like Knights Contract, the AI is at its worst during bosses, where your companions just seem to run around like chickens with their heads cut off and charge blindly into taking damage, save for when you manually summon them for an assist. Because of this, many bosses drag on and on and on for way too long, since you alone are often the only character actually dishing out damage while your friends putz around twiddling their thumbs.

Multiplayer could have helped in this instance, but unfortunately the game’s ad hoc co-op only works in free mission play, not the main story mode. Infrastructure play is not supported in free play mode either.

The sad thing is, had the AI not been so inept I can see myself enjoying both games enough to at least play them through to completion (both probably would have wound up as skippers regardless). Knights Contract‘s combat system is decent fun when Gretchen decides to cooperate and you can dig your heels in and hack away, and although extremely shallow in gameplay, Kizuna Drive packs plenty of interesting story content and fan service to possibly make it worthwhile for Naruto faithful.

If you don’t mind babysitting and have the patience of a saint, you may be able to appreciate these games where I could not. Otherwise, I suggest finding something – anything! – else to occupy your time. Watching paint dry sure doesn’t sound like a bad alternative to me right about now!

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!