I have recently recorded a 1 credit clear playthrough of the game, on my own arcade machine, running an original arcade board.
Check it out here.
The time has come for me to speak of the game I would take to a deserted island, if I could only take one game. I could say that this is my favourite game of all time. I initially wanted this Knights of the Round review to only cover some basic aspects of the game, such as graphics, setting, and bosses, but the article grew uncontrollably.
I have first seen this game in a newly-opened, and soon to become my favourite arcade, around 1993. Out of the about 10 machines, Knights of the Round was the most popular in that arcade.
Crossing the park next to my building, I would sometimes visit the arcade quite early in the morning, before it even opened. I'd wait for a bit outside, and I'd be the first customer, buying about four tokens. Depending on how well I played, I would sometimes keep one or two tokens, because time ran out and I had to rush home to grab my backpack and go to school.
At first sight, it's a run of the mill sword fighting beat-em-up, comparable to Capcom's other games such as Final Fight and King of Dragons. Here's why it's not only remarkable, but the best beat-em-up ever created:
It was released initially on a standard JAMMA board for use in arcade cabinets in 1991. Subsequent releases were made for Capcom CPS, and Super Nintendo (port). I have owned the Super Nintendo port for several years, but decided to get the original arcade board, as I remember it from the good old days.
An interesting fact about this arcade board is that, like other Capcom boards, it contains a "suicide battery" system. In essence, this is a small volatile memory chip which contains a decryption table. This chip is kept alive by an on-board battery. Its purpose is to decrypt the main game data, which means that it is required to work every time the CPU needs data from the game memory.
Once the factory-installed battery runs out, the volatile memory on this chip is immediately cleared. This causes the CPU to be unable to read proper data from the game memory, rendering the arcade board unplayable.
As such, a popular modification among arcade collectors is the "suicide mod", by which the volatile memory chip is replaced with a non-volatile EPROM containing the exact same decryption table.
It is unclear why Capcom decided to make use of this. My guess is that they wanted to prevent free trade of these boards between arcade operators or to prevent bootlegging.
There is also an arcade manual for this board; it is interesting because it contains sections on how to make your Knights of the Round cabinet more attractive, and tips on how to make the most money out of it. It advises the arcade operator to adjust the difficulty in such a way that the minimum play time a player will get is about two and a half minutes. The claim is that this is long enough to entertain, yet short enough to keep the cash flow going!
Since my arcade cabinet is JAMMA compatible, getting the board to run was easy.
There are three characters, following known stereotypes:
- the fast and agile (Lancelot)
- the balanced (Arthur)
- the strong and slow (Perceval)
Being based on the well-known Arthurian legends, the player "understands" the characters much more in-depth than just their performance. Lancelot is the pretty boy, who is probably quite refined and well-mannered. Perceval is probably brash, and a brawler. Arthur is the one prophesied to be king, and must have a balanced personality.
The graphics in this game are marvelous. The environments are modeled after various European-themed villages, countrysides, castles. I found the details to be great, with rich near and far background layers depicting expansive plains, battlefields, and villages.
Objects such as barrels and barricades fit in very well with the scenery, and contain treasure (which sometimes yields extra lives and level ups), and food such as salad, fruit, and giant drumsticks.
One unique aspect of treasure chests, food platters, etc., is that they can be broken down into smaller pieces by simply hitting them:
There were two advantages to this; first, the total point value of the treasure is higher if broken down. Second, all breakable treasure has a small chance of either yielding significantly more points, or even provide rare power ups such as level up sceptres, red or green bombs, or extra lives.
The only breakable object which has the risk of yielding less than its unbroken version is the fruit platter, which sometimes breaks down into a single apple (as opposed to the regular four fruits).
The soundtrack is magnificent, with engaging and upbeat melodies. Most tracks have a tinge of western medieval accents. The last boss theme is laden with organ sounds, giving it a very majestic feel. At the conclusion of the game, the music gives a powerful sense of finality and accomplishment.
I often listen to the soundtrack from beginning to end.
Combat is simple, yet very fulfilling. All three characters can perform a move called Megacrush, which is the standard fire+jump desperation move, which drains life and hits all nearby enemies. Also, pressing fire+forward, all characters will execute a power attack which knocks enemies down. Blocking (fire+back) is important because it will make the character invulnerable for about two seconds. However, block for too long, and your character will be unable to act for a short time. One thing to mention is that you can also block by only moving the joystick backwards at exactly the right time, while an enemy is striking at your (no need to press fire). However, this is very hard to time right.
Tapping fire continuously will cause your knight to perform a combo, as is standard in beat-em-up games. One thing to note is that if forward is pressed during one of these combos, the enemy is knocked down on the next hit, and the combo is potentially interrupted. This is a useful technique if another enemy is approaching from behind.
Another interesting attack all three characters can perform is a turn-around attack (back, then fire) which useful for knocking back enemies approaching from behind to give yourself some room.
Jumping and striking is different for each character and Perceval will knock enemies down too. Additionally, they can perform the following:
- Kick and flip backwards (fire+up)
- Retreating leap (jump+back, easiest to perform while blocking)
- Charge (forward, forward)
- Giant swing (fire while charging)
- Retreating roll (jump+back, easiest to perform while blocking)
- Upward slice (fire+up, can hit fire again to strike downward right after)
- Retreating leap (jump+back, easiest to perform while blocking)
In order to be proficient in combat, practice blocking (fire+back), followed by power attacks (fire+forward).
Mounted combat presents the player with greater offensive power at the expense of defence. Strikes while mounted will inflict more damage, but any blocking ability is removed. While mounted, a new attack is introduced (fire+forward, then fire), which is the most powerful in the game. Horses can also leap (forward, forward), landing heavily on enemies.
If the player so chooses, the horse can be sent dashing forward, knocking down any enemies it hits. The drawback is that the horse is lost, as it runs away. This is executed via fire + jump, while mounted.
While on horseback, characters can also perform some sort of a staggered hit, whereby they don't strike immediately. This is accomplished by pressing fire, and before the attack animation has actually started, press jump. This is the only attack for which I've been unable to find a purpose.
I will now discuss dismounting, as it's very interesting in Knights of the Round. It's very difficult to pull off, which leads me to believe it's actually a bug. Especially so since by dismounting, the player can hold multiple horses available on-screen, by simply leap-frogging them via successive mounting, advancing, then dismounting.
Here's how it's done:
Dismounting Method 1: Dismounting while turning horse
The idea here is to press jump + fire at the right time while the horse is turning around. It's a bit harder to explain when that right time is, but here's the way I used to learn it:
Dismounting Method 2: Dismounting while leaping (harder)
Find a horse and mount it
Press jump; the horse will now start turning (let's say to
the left for this example)
Press jump again, quickly enough to make the horse turn around again
(to the right) so that the last animation frame of the initial
turn (to the left) is skipped
Practice this "jump key double-tap" for a bit, trying to never let
the horse get to the last animation frame of the initial turn
Once you've had enough practice, replace the second jump key tap
with a jump + fire, and you will dismount
Find a horse and mount it
Tap forward twice, in order to make the horse jump to the right
As soon as the dust thrown up by the landing settles, quickly
press jump + fire, and you will dismount
RPG-style leveling systems have always been very hard to implement in arcade games. I think it's mostly because leveling systems usually require longer time commitments, which is something to avoid in arcade games, because of income considerations. This is not to say that leveling is completely off the table; linear leveling trades flexibility for predictability and simplicity.
In Knights of the Round, players gain levels based on score.
The aspect which makes things interesting is that the manner in which you finish off your enemies awards variable amounts of points, depending on difficulty and streaks of similar enemy type kills. This means that your level will depend on how well you play, but also on good luck (certain treasure can be broken down into pieces and will sometimes turn into a free level up in the shape of a sceptre).
Every few levels, characters improves in both skill and appearance. Skill improvements are tied to each archetype; the agile guy gets faster and the strong guy gets stronger. Appearance changes are awesome, with armours and weapons becoming increasingly more impressive.
As he levels, Lancelot's light armor and sword retain their "agile" look and feel.
level 3 - Sword gains a hilt guard
level 4 - New light plate armor covering feet, shins, chest, and arms
level 6 - Sword hilt becomes silver
level 8 - Armor becomes golden
level 10 - Wider, more intricate sword
level 13 - New armor with wider shoulders and full coverage; Lancelot's hair is now tied
level 15 - Sword becomes golden, with a dark-coloured hilt
level 16 - Armor becomes golden
He remains strong and imposing from level 1 to 16.
level 3 - New, sturdier bronze axe
level 4 - New plate armor, covering one leg, one shoulder, and a knee
level 7 - Axe becomes silver
level 8 - Armor becomes golden
level 11 - New wide silver axe with ruby gem
level 12 - Perceval becomes bald and gains a goatee; New spiked golden armor, covering same as before plus one shoulder
level 15 - Axe becomes golden, and gem becomes green
level 16 - Armor becomes dark green
Becomes increasingly more majestic, underlining his progress towards true kingship.
level 2 - Larger hilt guard
level 3 - New full-body less helmet plate armour
level 5 - Sword becomes golden
level 6 - Armour becomes golden
level 8 - New, broader sword
level 9 - Gains helmet and cape
level 15 - Sword becomes golden
level 16 - Armour becomes silver
Stage 1 - Village on fire
The game begins with an immediate danger in a village which has been attacked, and is burning. The scenery is realized well; it makes you imagine the desperation of the villagers.
In the second half of the level, after traveling past a water wheel and ending a few more soldiers, you confront the head of the group attacking the village, Scorn. He is rather tall, and carries a halberd. Due to the range of his attacks, this is the first time in the game when you must block. Learn this skill well, as it is crucial throughout the game. After receiving a mortal blow, Scorn stands up again, takes a few steps, then falls down one last time.
Stage 2 - Desperate fight
The second level begins with our hero leaving the village, heading towards the castle in the distance. The scenery changes from rolling plains, to a woods, where mounted combat is first introduced. More difficult enemies also start appearing here, such as the deceivingly slow Fat Men, and the armored Busters. The background shows large groups of men fighting, adding dynamism to the stage.
As the player approaches the end of the level, his way is blocked by Braford, who dual wields swords. The castle can be seen in the distance, so the fight must be taking place perhaps at a choke point. Braford is on horseback, but will stand on his own two feet for most of the fight. His attacks can be dodged, but the player must be very cautious when Braford leaps, as he can quickly reach from one side of the screen to the other.
Stage 3 - Battle at the castle fort
Having defeated the sword master, our champion finds himself on the castle's fixed bridge, moving in through the curtain wall. I am including a diagram of a medieval castle in order to approximately illustrate where this would be in a real castle.
The action now moves to the castle lower bailey, where throngs of Bird Men await. I find the backgrounds extremely well made, with other doors and path ways scattered around, although inaccessible. This is not a residential castle, but rather a militarily-purposed one.
Passing through a few inner gates, the hero reaches the inner keep, where he progresses upward a few floors by fighting groups of enemies, and then taking flights of stairs. The last battle of the stage takes place in king Arlon's throne room. He is a worthy foe, who jumps up in the air, then coming down and stomping the player. With the hopefully acquired mastery of blocking, the hero defeats the evil king Arlon, who was behind the burning village and all the strife thereon. Other knights arrive once the king is dead, and cheer for the victor.
Stage 4 - Knights festival
After a well-deserved rest, the hero takes part in a knights tournament. I really like how the story slows down a bit, and also goes off on a tangent slightly. The knights tournament is really a bonus stage, with a guaranteed level up sceptre, and a large point bonus from reaching the end flag. As the victory is being celebrated, an unknown foe rains arrows on the new champion.
The mood changes dramatically to a dark, stormy sea shore, where the one who ordered the strike is discovered to be Phantom, a master swordsman. Not only is he adept at throwing knives and cleavers, he also wields fire magic, and can call upon clones of himself. Phantom escapes closely after receiving his final blow.
Stage 5 - Expedition
Intent on investigating further, our hero undertakes an expedition, continuing along the shore of what seems to be the same lake we saw during the battle with Phantom. The storm has passed, and the atmosphere is somewhat lighter now. The scenery doesn't change much until near the end battle, where an eerie village can be seen in a valley.
The end battle is with Balbars, who is a giant wielding an equally giant meat tenderizer. Balbars also uses the leap-and-stomp technique, and is surprisingly quick. His greatest weakness (unique to this boss) is the fact that he can be hit while he is knocked down on the ground.
Stage 6 - Knights in the strange land
The hero now arrives in a strange land. The houses seem deserted, windows barred, and an eerie glow radiates from within.
The second part of the level is a cave where the hero is ambushed by deadly Mad Tigers.
At the conclusion of the stage waits Muramasa, who is modelled after a samurai warrior. While a bit out of place conceptually in an Arthurian legend, the character design fits in well. In the spirit of the samurai, Muramasa is very quick, striking precisely and decisively. He can even invoke heavenly fire down on the hero, who must rely on his blocking prowess to survive. Muramasa's fireballs hit and knock enemies down as well, but do no damage to them.
Stage 7 - Decisive battle at the king's castle
The final victory is now in sight; we find the hero inside the castle bailey of the evil warlord king Garibaldi. This castle is definitely of higher quality than Arlon's. This can be seen from the more imposing interior doors, arches, stairs.
Moving into the keep and a few floors up, the hero is faced with the Iron Golem, Phantom's infernal creation. He is not a difficult foe, with the only catch being that when it drops the spiked balls, the hero must block.
Immediately following the destruction of Iron Golem, Phantom attacks. The battle is very similar to the first one, with the only difference that he actually stays dead now.
The next, and final enemy is Garibaldi himself. The top floor of the keep, where he is found is adorned with a majestic royal red carpet. The ceiling is high, and the walls are decorated with exquisite weapons and shields. Also, the entire scene is lit by beautiful lanterns. Garibaldi is on horseback, and initially uses a variety of magic attacks against the player. After receiving a certain amount of damage, he dismounts, dropping his crown. The hero can replenish a large amount of health by picking it up. From here on, Garibaldi can simply be described as Arlon plus magic; not an easy foe by any means.
After Garibaldi's defeat
Garibaldi is now dead, and the Grail is found. The other knights finally catch up to the hero, cheering and creating a sense of accomplishment.
The enemies are diverse, well designed and interesting. Palette-swapped enemies are present (and arguably unavoidable in beat-em-ups), but they often have slight differences. For example, Buster-type enemies are of two kinds: bronze, who fall down after an unsuccessful leap, and dark red, who do not. The red versions of Sky Walkers and Mask Men can throw knives.
Soldier - these guys are the basic grunts of this game. They are awful fighters who cannot block. Once in a while, they can stun lock the player; but most of the time they're confused, trying to figure out what to do next
Sword Man - not much better than soldiers; slow and powerful. When they hit you, you'll know it
Mask Man - agile sword fighting harlequins. They can block player attacks and have an effective jump strike. Red version can throw knives
Fat Man - most of the time they are easy to defeat because they are slow. Sometimes they'll do heavy damage when charging
Bird Man - probably earned this name from the shape of their helm visors. They are able to block, and seem to have a longer attack range than you're led to believe
Bad Falcon - flying nuisances who sometimes carry daggers in their talons to attack the player
Magician - interesting enemies who fling fire balls at the player, and teleport around the screen; likely students of Merlin gone rogue
A magician's fireballs hit and knock enemies down as well, but do no damage to them
Mad Tiger - feline foes. They have a long distance leap attack, but can't take much damage before they die
Buster S. - heavily armored, can block, and leap at the player. After a missed leap attack, they will fall down and be vulnerable
Buster F. - like Buster S., but don't fall down after a missed leap attack
Buster D. - rare enemy who appears only in the last stage, right before Iron Golem. They die in one strike, and are consumed by flames as they do so.
Buster D. enemies also appear when the player has not advanced for a long time. It's basically the game's way of nudging you forward, so that you don't lengthen your play unnecessarily
Barbarian - battle-thirsty nomads. They're quick, can block, and sometimes even shoot arrows
Sky Walker - the stronger version of Mask Man. The red version can throw knives
Tall Man - Scorn-turned-common-enemy. They are identical to Scorn, the first stage boss, except with somewhat lower hit points
This game is one of the few I have finished in arcades with one token. I would put a token in, and play for as long as I could. When the game was over, I would rinse and repeat. To be able to finish it, I believe it took more than a year. Sometimes the joystick ball would be missing and we'd screw in peeled chestnuts from around the nearby park. If no chestnuts were available we'd hold on to the joystick rod which caused blisters.
Also, I remember how people wanted to play this game for as long as possible on one token. Thus, nobody wanted another player joining in, since the enemies would get harder, but the second player may not be good enough to overcome the increased difficulty.
If possible, give this game a try, and see why I chose it as my number one favourite, out of the myriad of games I have seen and played.
Knights of the Round on the Super Nintendo
The only port of the arcade game was developed for the Super Nintendo (SNES). While it is a solid game, it can sometimes feel lacking to the expert player who is more accustomed to the original, arcade version.
Here are a few differences between the arcade version and the SNES version, off the top of my head:
Red-coloured Buster F. are called Buster S., and the "default" bronze coloured Buster S. are called Buster F.
Players' and enemies' attacks are missing frames, making the attacks more "snappy", but also "choppy"
Probably as a result of the above fact, enemies can break out of the simple "tap fire" combo more easily
The range of all attacks is much longer
Some attacks do different amounts of damage; for example, Perceval's jump attack is much weaker
There are no +2 lives powerups (from fruit platters)
There are no helmeted soldiers
Magicians' grab-and-toss attack registers the hit at the end of its animation
Enemy waves are often different
Perceval's Giant Swing running attack sometimes hits twice, and only sometimes knocks enemies down
In the "many maces from the ceiling" room in the last stage, there are only four maces
There are far fewer horses to be found
Garibaldi is not riding a horse, and is not wearing a crown (which is a huge hit point bonus for the player in the arcade version)
Neither Garibaldi nor Arlon have riches and treasure near them
The animated player character portraits are absent
You can get away and not be hit at all during Muramasa's heavenly fire
Mounted busters are missing their frontal charge attack
Perceval is called Percival. However, at least on the SNES, he is consistently named Percival, whereas in the arcade version, he is sometimes Perceval, and other times Parceval
The final armor and weapon upgrade (from level 15 to 16) of the player characters is missing
The box has beautiful graphics and is overall very nice. The manual and the writing, however, are a different story. It feels as if a teenager designed the manual and wrote the texts. There are countless mistakes and omissions.
Throughout the manual, the sword is called "Excalibur"...
... but the box calls it "Excaliber"
The manual page which describes powerups claims that the horse powerup calls "Arthur's horse to his side". What about Perceval and Lancelot's horses? They obediently show up as well!
About Merlin's Staff (I like to call it sceptre)... man did they mess this one up good! Its icon is upside down and they got the red/green effects backwards.
The crystal orb (I like to call it bomb) doesn't actually "transfer points", but rather blows up the enemies, leaving behind either treasure for the red bombs, or food for the green bombs.
The controls section is seriously lacking; there is no mention of Lancelot's kick move, or Arthur's upward slice move (both executed via UP + FIRE). There is also no mention of the defensive "retreat" moves (BLOCK, then press JUMP) that all three characters have.
Many players consider the Powerful Attack move (FORWARD + FIRE) along with blocking the bread-and-butter of this game. Powerful Attack is not mentioned in the controls.
They do mention that the horse can jump, but not that an attack can be performed while the horse is airborne, or that an extra-powerful Powerful Attack can be executed while mounted via (FORWARD + FIRE, followed by FIRE).
All three characters can perform a quick reverse attack, where they turn around and strike swiftly. Of course, this cannot be found in the manual. The "retreat" move, which can be executed by pressing jump while blocking is likewise, missing from the manual.
In terms of music, the SNES does a good job. The tunes are very faithful to the originals, though not as dramatic-feeling at times.
As for the graphics, the SNES version has watered-down graphics, as expected. The environment doesn't have as much detail, and there are various objects missing. Here are a few images to compare between the arcade and SNES versions:
Arcade stage 1
SNES stage 1
Missing details: splashing water, tree branches, broken barrels, damaged cobblestone
Arcade stage 7
SNES stage 7
Missing details: pavement pattern, bridge edge
Three enemies instead of five
Missing details: horse, crown, treasure
In general, I am dissatisfied with how this game was reviewed in the magazines of its time. I think the issue was that the reviewers had either endless quarters (arcade), or continued indefinitely (SNES). This type of arcade game is satisfying when you REALLY try to beat it, that is, a 1cc (one-credit clear).
Nintendo Power review
The famous Nintendo Power magazine featured a review of Knights of the Round on the SNES. I found it to be absurdly low quality. Here's why.
"This game is pretty standard fare" begins to present the ignorance spread throughout this article. Knights of the Round's block feature made it anything but "standard fare".
The article introduces the three knights, immediately misspelling poor Perceval's name. Each character's Power Move is described. But instead of showing moves unique to each character, the article simply describes the three different appearances of the FIRE+JUMP moves.
The remainder is a dreadfully poor chain of advice, either devoid of any value, or plain wrong. Here are some of the laughable attempts at helping the player defeat the more remarkable enemies:
Scorn - The advice is a generic "attack as fast as possible". There is no mention of blocking.
Braford - The guide tells player to take his horse. That's about it...
The Magicians - Truthfully, the guide teaches the player to always attack them first, as they're very dangerous. This is actually very good advice.
Arlon - Again with the "attack as fast as you can" valueless teachings.
"Try to get behind him" is simply incorrect; bosses always face the player, so getting behind them is impossible.
Balbars - "Just get in there and swing for all that you're worth!" - of course.
Muramasa - "You may have to waste a few lives using power moves". The guide plainly tells the player to waste lives. No strategy, no mention of blocking when he's airborne. Who proofread this?
Not once is blocking mentioned throughout the article. Blocking is the outstanding feature of Knights of the Round, setting it apart from other contemporaneous beat'em ups. The controlled nature of player blocking creates engaging gameplay, laden with risk and reward at every step.
The artists over at Nintendo Power also thought it would be a good idea to add their own drawings of the characters. It wasn't.
Poor Lancelot looks like a washed up 80s glam rocker who can only afford very low quality hallucinogenic drugs.
Thought Lancelot was bad? Take a look at Perceval and decide whether he can be entrusted with saving Britain from chaos.
Gamepro magazine coverage
Gamepro reviewed the SNES port of Knights of the Round in issue 60. Much like Nintendo Power, the article's author didn't think very highly of the game, awarding it an "average". It feels as if the review was written on a Friday afternoon, with an eye on the clock.
"Slow and repetitive gameplay [...]" is one of their comments. Let's be honest here: how many arcade beat'em ups aren't repetitive? That's the whole point: repeatedly beating up enemies!
I do have to recognize that they mentioned blocking, among other bits of useful information.
Sinclair User magazine coverage
Sinclair User (a magazine dedicated to Sinclair computers from Britain) occasionally covered arcade gaming news as well, including an article on the arcade version of Knights of the Round in the March 1992 issue. I read this magazine mostly for its ZX Spectrum articles.
The first quarter of the article complains about the title, specifically the missing "Table". It then presents the three heroes, ending with the cliche "if you liked Golden Axe, you'll like this game". Of course, I have nothing against Golden Axe, but Knights of the Round is clearly superior.
One complaint I have with this article is that it does not feature any gameplay screenshots.
The only translation of the arcade ROM at the moment is my own. I have translated most of the text in the game to Romanian.
The game text is stored in plain ASCII, although it's scrambled. I found this by opening ROM files inside the .zip one by one, scanning for anything resembling English text.
I found it in the kr_23e ROM. To help with de-scrambling of original text and scrambling of my own, translated text, I wrote and used a small C# tool.
Here are a few sample images of the translations:
Also, I made some interesting findings while doing this.
First, there is pre-release text which has been left in the release ROMs. It contains a message from the development team to beta testers, or internal stakeholders.
Then, I found the text M.C. HAMMER among the boss names, very near Balbars's name. Clearly, the development team was either having some fun, or they actually intended to call Balbars M.C. Hammer before legal advice convinced them otherwise. In either case, the text remains.
As far as I could find, there is only one SNES ROM translation for Knights of the Round. It is available as an IPS patch, and it translates the game to Brazilian Portuguese. There isn't much to review here, as the game does not have much text to begin with.
Excalibur (1981) movie inspiration
Knights of the Round definitely draws some inspiration from the 1981 film, Excalibur. Both game and film share the theme of the restoration of the Holy Grail as the only way to restore order in the realm. The game borrows from the movie's environments, scenes, and characters.
The game begins with Excalibur being inserted in the stone
In the movie, Uther Pendragon inserts Excalibur in the stone
Here is our protagonist, Arthur!
Arthur the squire, at level 1
A level 3 Arthur
Merlin guides our heroes in both game and film
Stage 4 is the Knights Festival, where the knights display their martial prowess
The movie contains a knights' tournament scene, where Guinevere's honour is defended
The knights' tournament from a different angle
Is this a Bird Man?
Real life historical considerations
I've tried to analyze a few game aspects from a historical perspective.
Stage 1 must take place in a wealthy village. The homes are sturdy; some are built of stone (uncommon in medieval northern Europe), and some have tiled roofs (thatch was popular)
Rugs became used to cover the floors of castles only towards the end of the medieval feudal period (which lasted between 9th and 15th centuries). Castles of the 7th century, which is when Arthur is believed to have lived, had bare floors
Medieval castle illumination was achieved either with oil lamps or with candles, and not with torches, as is often portrayed in film
Arthur's father was called Uther Pendragon; the crest etched above this large door seems to make a reference to that
Stage 6 shows a paved village street, and solid, stone buildings; my guess is that this is either Southern Europe, or very late (post-Arthurian) Northern Europe
Removal of Excalibur in literature
Sir Thomas Malory is responsible for compiling and bringing the tales of Arthur to the English-speaking lands sometime during the 15th century. The removal of the sacred sword Excalibur from the stone is perhaps the single best-known momentous event, which catalyzes Arthur's legacy as great king.
Below are the two pages which describe de event, from my volume of Malory's works. The 15th century's late Middle English should be easy enough to understand, especially if the reader has some knowledge of French:
Before a knights' tournament, Arthur's step brother Sir Kay has forgotten his sword and he asks Arthur to retrieve it.
Arthur rode home but found nobody there. Angry, he rode to the church yard and - since the sword seemed without an owner - grabbed the sword by its handles and pulled it out of the stone. He then delivered it to Sir Kay.
Sir Kay recognized it and tried to claim kingship. The three ride to the church. When questioned by his father, Sir Kay admits that Arthur had brought him the sword. Arthur tells Sir Ector how he obtained it.
Wanting to see it with his own eyes, Sir Ector asks his adopted son to insert the sword back into the stone. Neither Sir Ector nor Sir Kay are able to remove it.
Arthur pulls the sword out again and the knights immediately kneel before him. Sir Ector then reveals how he had adopted Arthur, at Merlin's behest.
Arthur expresses his gratitude to Sir Ector and pledges to uphold his duties as king.
Knights of the Round hack and bootleg versions
There exist several unofficial hack and bootleg versions of the arcade boards which can be found as ROMs. Here are some quick descriptions of the differences between them and the original game.
Warlock's Tower (created by myself)
I created the Warlock's Tower edition of Knights of the Round (1991 arcade game, by Capcom) by first reverse engineering the original game (from binary), and then designing a series of modifications to craft a new experience. This was also a chance to learn Motorola 68000 assembly language.
Here are some differences:
It is a single player game - only player one can start
Stages have no time limit, and don't push you forward with annoying sounds
It is a one-life game; additional lives cannot be gained and continuing is disabled
Player is allowed one magic attack (fire+jump) per stage
Original game's intro sequences have been removed to begin playing faster
Read more about my Warlock's Tower edition here
Squire's Aid (created by myself)
Squire's Aid is a modification of the game Knights of the Round (1991 arcade game, by Capcom) whose purpose is to allow the player to train on stages of the game of his choosing.
Read more about my Squire's Aid edition here
Death's Thread (created by myself)
With it, I wanted to provide a different, more difficult experience of the original game. While being a single-life, no-continue affair, the advanced player will be able to manage a 100% larger life bar through leveling up, eating food.
Finally, a minor amount of life is gained by the player every time he kills an enemy and redees his soul.
Read more about my Death's Thread edition here
Knights of the Round (hack set 1) [Hack] (knightsh.zip)
On one of my arcade cartridges, I found a hacked version of Knights of the Round. After a bit of research, I found that I could emulate the hacked ROM, and dig in to find differences between it and the original game.
You can immediately tell you're playing a hack when the palette is all crazy on the "Push Start" screen
Here are some differences:
The horse arrives at the beginning of each level
The attract mode shows level 16 characters
The legal notice at beginning is skipped and never shown
All characters are fixed at level 16 and cannot level further
Pushing P1 Start will change your character, cycling through each of the three playable characters
Stage order is shuffled, and the original stages are played in the following order: 4, 6, 5, 2, 1, 3, 4, 6, 5, 7 (some are repeated to increase the total to 10 stages)
"It's not fair! You should be weaker! ..."
Perceval is absent
If you'd like to try playing this hacked version, look for the Winkawaks ROM. You'll need both the hacked ROM (knightsh.zip), as well as the original World ROM (knights.zip).
Knights of the Round (hack set 2, 911127 etc) [Hack] (knightsh2.zip)
This one is like knightsh.zip, but with these differences:
Intro is not corrupted (shows sword in stone animation, and legal notice)
Stages are in the right order
Castle doors (in stage 3) are invisible
When killed, some enemies leave behind a glitchy, flashing stool like the one on which Muramasa is sitting before being engaged. These stools cannot be picked up by the player
Stands are empty at the Knights Festival
Bronze Buster S. have significantly more life (multicoloured life bars like Tall Men)
Iron Golem is broken and missing many parts
Knights of the Round (bootleg set 1 (with YM2151 + 2xMSM5205), 911127 etc) [Bootleg] (knightsb.zip)
The sounds in this version are different, but are low quality and choppy. This arcade board may use a different sound chip than the original.
Additionally, the sprites of enemies flicker.
Knights of the Round (bootleg set 2, 911127 etc) [Bootleg] (knightsb2.zip)
This one features a corrupted character select screen, and buggy sprites which are shown during the intermission.
Knights of the Round (bootleg set 3, 911127 Japan) [Bootleg] (knightsb3.zip)
Some sounds are missing in this version, such as the grunting sounds when you get hit and the "ho!" exclamation after defeating a boss.
Knights of the Round (bootleg set 4 (with YM2151 + 2xMSM5205), 911127 etc) [Bootleg] (knightsb4.zip)
The sounds in this version are different, but are low quality and choppy. This arcade board may use a different sound chip than the original.
Angry Hack (Mame hacked rom collection)
This one was included in a Mame rom collection. It features faster leveling and improved barrel rewards.
Super Plus Enhanced Version
This hack hastens leveling, adds harder enemies early, and even displays the "current random number value" at the bottom of the screen. See the section below for more information on that value.
Aside from the very inventive name, this hack changes the intro palettes and graphics, as well as adds harder enemies earlier in the game.
Knights of the Round random number generator predictability
At a point in time, I heard of a forums where expert players exchanged advanced ideas and tactics. Specifically, it seemed as if these players were able to "game the system" so that they got guaranteed +1 life, +2 lives, or sceptre powerups (which are normally very rare) from treasure chests and food platters.
I've taken a look at this expert player forum, and the amount of heuristic data they pulled out on the game's random number generator was impressive. From what I could tell, the Knights of the Round random number generator (RNG) is a poor one, where the sequence is advanced by a certain number of "steps" based on various player actions, thus explaining its predictability. I was a bit surprised by this, as it's quite easy to make a much fairer RNG, by simply baking in a function of current time. Essentially, even when the player is standing still, the RNG sequence should be advancing quickly to make it hard to "catch" a certain value.
The expert players could basically advance the RNG sequence to a value which was guaranteed to yield a rare powerup from treasure chests and fruit platters. They accomplished this by using an emulator, and then watching a few byte values as they changed with player actions such as jumping.
For example, they would break a barrel to reveal a treasure chest. They would then simply jump in place enough times to advance the RNG sequence to a value that guarantees a rare powerup:
.. and then break the treasure chest and get the rare powerup!
To exemplify this, imagine that jumping advances the RNG sequence by 3 (a so-called "step value"). Other actions, such as blocking might advance it by 7, etc.
If the current "random" number is 20 (as can be read from the game memory space within the emulator), and it is known that a "random" number of 26 will yield a level up sceptre, then the player has to simply jump twice to "align" to the known value of 26.
The funnier instances of this sort of exploit are when the player splits a large chicken. Normally, the chicken splits into smaller drumsticks. However, once in a while (rarely, that is), the chicken splits into two chickens! By manipulating the current "random" number, players could get tens of these chicken powerup. Infinite chickens! (well, not really, since there's a time limit...)
The next section contains more in-depth technical details of how to exploit this random number generator.
Exploiting the Knights of the Round random number generator (advanced)
For an introduction to the contents of this section, read the previous section, which gives an overview of the random number generator and its purpose.
Since this section relies heavily on hexadecimal numbers, here is a quick primer. Unlike decimal (base 10) numbers, hexadecimal (base 16) numbers have six extra digits: A, B, C, D, E, F.
A quick counting example in both bases from eight to seventeen:
decimal: 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17
hexadecimal: 8, 9, A, B, C, D, E, F, 10, 11
By convention, hexadecimal numbers are prefixed with 0x to indicate the base.
Now, a byte is a memory unit of eight bits. As such, it can hold values from 0 to 255 (that is, 0x00 to 0xFF).
The Knights of the Round random number generator (RNG) includes (there may be others) one byte at address 0xFF89D6 which is used to determine the outcome of breaking down large treasure chests and food platters. I will refer to this memory location as RNGV from here on.
If RNGV is one of 0x00, 0x30, 0x50, 0x60, 0x90, 0xA0, 0xC0, 0xF0
breaking a silver chest yields a red bomb
breaking a treasure chest yields a level up sceptre
breaking a salad platter yields a green bomb
breaking a tea set yields a +1 life powerup
breaking a fruit platter yields a +2 lives powerup
only if player has 0 lives remaining
The RNGV is incremented and/or set when a variety of events happen. These events include enemies arriving on-screen, player breaking objects, player horse jumping, enemies running or charging, scrolling the screen, etc.
These events are split into setters and incrementers. Setters will assign a value to the RNGV, while the incrementers will add a value to the RNGV.
Known RNGV setters are Bird Men and Soldiers. Killing these while they're charging has the following effect on the RNGV:
If a Bird Man is killed while charging the player
Set RNGV to 0x_F
(Note: during my own attempts, RNGV is always set to 0x5F, which allows me
to easily get to 0x60)
This means that once this has happened, if we can increment RNGV by 0x01, then the RNGV will be 0x_0. For example, 0x5F + 0x01 = 0x60. So then,
(Assuming that killing a charging Bird Man sets the RNGV to 0x5F)
Killing a charging Bird Man, then breaking a barrel or barricade,
and then breaking the chest or platter inside will yield a powerup
Soldiers are a bit more complicated because they can also run (in addition to charging). Running complicates the RNGV a bit:
If a Soldier has just run
Block a Soldier attack
If a Soldier is killed while charging the player
Set RNGV to 0x_A
Basically, if a Soldier runs, a "reset" must be performed by blocking one of his attacks before the RNGV can be set via killing the Soldier while he's charging.
Similarly, once the RNGV is 0x_A, we need to increment it by 6 to get a round 0x_0.
Here are the known RNGV incrementers and their respective increment values:
0x01 - breaking a barrel or barricade
0x03 - breaking a chest, salad platter, or fruit platter
0x01 - jumping while on horseback
0x1D - Perceval jumping in place
0x01 - an enemy enters the screen
0x01 - breaking a torch (stage 6)
So, essentially, exploiting the RNG consists mainly of:
1. Set RNGV to a known value via in-game events
2. Increment RNGV as many times as needed to reach 0x_F
3. Break the barrel or barricade containing the chest or food platter
(thus incrementing the RNGV to 0x_0)
4. Break the chest or food platter
Now, Perceval's standing jump (jumping but not moving left or right) is special because it increments the RNGV by 0x1D.
Why this is interesting is that incrementing the RNGV by 0x1D will sequentially iterate over the following sequence, always cycling back to the first value:
0x_0 0x_D 0x_A 0x_7 0x_4 0x_1 0x_E 0x_B 0x_8 0x_5 0x_2 0x_F 0x_C 0x_9 0x_6 0x_3
Of course, this is remarkable because
No matter what the RNGV is, if Perceval is the player character, we can obtain
any last digit we want in the RNGV via repeated standing jumps.
Using Perceval, it is trivial to cycle through the sequence to end up with 0x_F, then break the barrel or barricade to get to 0x_0, and then break the chest or platter.
Here is a table of all values through which RNGV will cycle. Each Perceval jump will move to the next value to the right:
0x00 0x1D 0x3A 0x57 0x74 0x91 0xAE 0xCB 0xE8 0x05 0x22 0x3F 0x5C 0x79 0x96 0xB3
0xD0 0xED 0x0A 0x27 0x44 0x61 0x7E 0x9B 0xB8 0xD5 0xF2 0x0F 0x2C 0x49 0x66 0x83
0xA0 0xBD 0xDA 0xF7 0x14 0x31 0x4E 0x6B 0x88 0xA5 0xC2 0xDF 0xFC 0x19 0x36 0x53
0x70 0x8D 0xAA 0xC7 0xE4 0x01 0x1E 0x3B 0x58 0x75 0x92 0xAF 0xCC 0xE9 0x06 0x23
0x40 0x5D 0x7A 0x97 0xB4 0xD1 0xEE 0x0B 0x28 0x45 0x62 0x7F 0x9C 0xB9 0xD6 0xF3
0x10 0x2D 0x4A 0x67 0x84 0xA1 0xBE 0xDB 0xF8 0x15 0x32 0x4F 0x6C 0x89 0xA6 0xC3
0xE0 0xFD 0x1A 0x37 0x54 0x71 0x8E 0xAB 0xC8 0xE5 0x02 0x1F 0x3C 0x59 0x76 0x93
0xB0 0xCD 0xEA 0x07 0x24 0x41 0x5E 0x7B 0x98 0xB5 0xD2 0xEF 0x0C 0x29 0x46 0x63
0x80 0x9D 0xBA 0xD7 0xF4 0x11 0x2E 0x4B 0x68 0x85 0xA2 0xBF 0xDC 0xF9 0x16 0x33
0x50 0x6D 0x8A 0xA7 0xC4 0xE1 0xFE 0x1B 0x38 0x55 0x72 0x8F 0xAC 0xC9 0xE6 0x03
0x20 0x3D 0x5A 0x77 0x94 0xB1 0xCE 0xEB 0x08 0x25 0x42 0x5F 0x7C 0x99 0xB6 0xD3
0xF0 0x0D 0x2A 0x47 0x64 0x81 0x9E 0xBB 0xD8 0xF5 0x12 0x2F 0x4C 0x69 0x86 0xA3
0xC0 0xDD 0xFA 0x17 0x34 0x51 0x6E 0x8B 0xA8 0xC5 0xE2 0xFF 0x1C 0x39 0x56 0x73
0x90 0xAD 0xCA 0xE7 0x04 0x21 0x3E 0x5B 0x78 0x95 0xB2 0xCF 0xEC 0x09 0x26 0x43
0x60 0x7D 0x9A 0xB7 0xD4 0xF1 0x0E 0x2B 0x48 0x65 0x82 0x9F 0xBC 0xD9 0xF6 0x13
0x30 0x4D 0x6A 0x87 0xA4 0xC1 0xDE 0xFB 0x18 0x35 0x52 0x6F 0x8C 0xA9 0xC6 0xE3
One thing to consider is that to get most of these powerups via this method requires access to the game memory space. This is usually accomplished via a debugger, which emulators often include. I've used Winkawaks to experiment with this, and its debugger is accessed simply by pressing CTRL+D (or via the menu Tools - 68000 debugger). Here is an example of how I got a level up sceptre on stage 3:
At the beginning of stage 3, kill the Fat Man and Soldier
Without advancing the screen, engage and kill the Bird Man while he is charging towards you (I used a high-damage FORWARD+FIRE)
Verify the RNGV in the debugger
Break the barricade and the chest
While using the debugger to get just the right RNGV is efficient, I find it more fun to use these methods without the debugger. Maybe it is because they could be applied in an arcade, on actual hardware. Here are a few places to do this without a debugger:
Beginning of stage 3
Kill the Fat Man and the Soldier. Then kill the Bird Man and go for either the top barricade for the +2 lives powerup, or the lower barricade for the sceptre
Stage 3, second level
Kill the Bird Man, and then go for the bottom barricade for the +1 life powerup
Beginning of stage 5
Kill the second Soldier when he charges you (RNGV is now 0x_A). Break the top barricade (RNGV is now 0x_B and get the horse). Jump four times (RNGV is now 0x_F). Break the bottom barricade for the sceptre
Beginning of stage 6
Kill two Barbarians and a Soldier. Advance but don't break the barrels yet.
Kill the first Soldier and the Buster. Kill the second Soldier when he charges you (RNGV is now 0x_A). Take Buster's horse and jump five times (RNGV is now 0x_F). Break the top barrel for the sceptre.
Remember that this data is heuristic and may include errors. I have only experimented with a few of these methods. Here are my own findings:
A RNGV of 0x60 did not spawn a red bomb for me twice
I got a +1 life powerup with a RNGV of 0x60
I got a level up sceptre with a RNGV of 0x60
To conclude, figuring out some of the hidden inner workings of games is always interesting and fun. Thinking back to my arcade days, when there was no Internet, I remember that some of the more veteran players figured out (roughly) the stage 3 potential +2 lives powerup and the sceptre. I remember one of them telling me that it seemed to him that if he killed the Bird Man while he was charging, there was a better chance of a rare powerup. At the time, I disregarded his conviction as foolish. I can now see that I was wrong.
Good luck finding other methods and spots to try these!
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