Knights of San Francisco review
App Reviewed on: iPhone XR
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Knights of San Francisco bills itself as "Skyrim in text," which I'm not sure is an accurate description. It is indeed a text-based role-playing adventure, but it doesn't have the same far-reaching ambition of creating a fully simulated open-world (or the bugs that come along with that). Instead, it's a much more humble dungeon-crawl that has a surprising amount of style and clever text generation that makes it feel much more satisfying than your typical choose-your-own adventure experience.
The city of the future
This game takes place in a far-flung future where San Francisco is an overgrown wasteland. Aside from a small human settlement, the area is overrun with goblins and orcs, who primarily operate out of the Transamerica Pyramid that is somehow still standing. You play as a relative newcomer to the area who is looking for their brother ever since he abandoned you and your family for the Knights of San Francisco, a military force that protects the remaining humans living in the area.
Upon arrival, two things are quickly revealed: 1) you have mysterious powers over necromancy, and 2) things in San Francisco have gotten so bad that the knights are packing up to leave. Without getting into spoiler territory, this sets you up for an adventure where you comb through the Transamerica Pyramid looking for answers as to what is happening and what your brother has to do with any of it.
A tower of text
Knights of San Francisco is almost entirely text-based, with only occasional illustrations shaping the world that you otherwise construct in your imagination. The story moves along a sentence or two at a time, and frequently prompts you with dialog choices, action/item lists, and a map for you to move between points of interest, but doing almost all of these things serves up more text to sift through. There are some moments where you can diverge from a critical path to solve a side-puzzle for find a special item, but for the most part Knights of San Francisco is a funnel-like experience pushing you up into the highest reaches of the pyramid.
Moving sentence-by-sentence might sound tedious, but Knights of San Francisco has a remarkable way with words and their presentation to the point that it's almost always delightful to tap for your next steps. There's a neat color-fading effect on words as they appear, and the writing itself in this game is both illustrative and direct, making it so you rarely feel like you're just sifting through filler. There are occasional moments where sentences connect in ways that don't mesh super well together, but never so much that you lose the plot. As a game that is clearly stitching together a narrative based on your choice-making, this is bound to happen from time to time.
Kill or be killed
I found the relatively brief adventure in Knights of San Francisco to be satisfying. My only gripe with it is that I there was a little more combat than I wanted. Conflicts in this game are also text-based, but use little spinning meters to simulate dice rolls on your probability to execute a maneuver. It's a fine system, but nothing special, and there were times where I was fully expecting to be able to talk my way out of situations that ultimately ended up as another forced fight.
Fights in Knights of San Francisco feel dangerous, since failing dodges or missing attacks can lead to instant death. Your powers of necromancy allow you to bring undead allies into combat who can help you out, but they don't fully protect you from harm. Luckily if you die, Knights of San Francisco lets you scroll back up through your story and tap to resume play from any decision point you made. You can also do this to explore alternatives to other choices you make, which is convenient for a game with multiple endings.
The bottom line
It may not be Skyrim, but I like Knights of San Francisco for what it is. It's surprisingly stylish and sleek for a text-based game, and it presents a propulsive story despite being something you button-through one sentence at a time. I wish it felt a little less like a combat-funnel at times, but otherwise Knights of San Francisco is a strangely satisfying adventure.