Game Reviews

Keys & Kingdoms review - "A great tutoring tool under the guise of an RPG"

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| Keys & Kingdoms
Keys & Kingdoms review - "A great tutoring tool under the guise of an RPG"
| Keys & Kingdoms

Over the years we've seen RPGs dip into various wild and wonderful settings, drum up intriguing mechanics, and surprise us with interesting stories. However, Keys & Kingdoms is the first RPG which also happens to teach you how to play the piano.

Yeah, that's quite a strange concept really: tying music tutoring into a traditionally numbers-based genre. You might be surprised to hear that it actually works very well, especially in its combat which, in the early game has you learning notes through relativity and repetition before you move onto more difficult scenarios.

It all revolves around the story of Harmonia, a storybook world suddenly filled with evil beings. You play as a child who has just been dropped into the world, and you are then guided on your quest to defeat baddies and save the good folk of the kingdom. Keys & Kingdoms certainly won't win any awards for being the prettiest RPG out there, or indeed for having the most novel story, but both of these are really there as a delivery method for the core of the game - piano tutoring.

As a tutoring product, it's actually exceptional. Every element of the game revolves around the use of the keyboard input, from movement through to combat - and this serves to very quickly familiarize players with the layout of the instrument. While the absence of an in-situ tutor means that you might deliver some lazy habits early on, by the time you are past the first hour or so it is almost impossible to not fall into line with traditional two-handed play.

On PC/Mac you can use your normal keyboard, while on iOS you can use an onscreen UI, but it really all comes together when you use an actual instrument. For this, the developers recommend the XKey Keyboard, which is a small but durable electronic keyboard which you can use a USB cable to interface with your preferred platform. It's tactile, immediately responsive, and the spacing is (naturally) relative to that of a standard keyboard.

When it comes to RPGs we frequently talk about learning curves - the skill acquisition and feature awareness rate that players come to terms with the best way to play the game. In Keys & Kingdoms this is literally a learning curve, with the earliest battles being as simple as alternating two notes as the markers slide - rhythm game style - toward the side of the screen. By the end of the first play session, though, you can be playing simple songs on the keyboard - which is instantly transferable to an actual piano.

It's definitely an interesting concept, and the idea of dressing up piano tutoring as an RPG certainly seems novel to me. It's responsive too, meaning that those who are already semi-competent or picking up where they left off will quickly find the challenge matching their level. This, somewhat, negates the feedback that you would normally be getting from a tutor, however, due to the immersion of it being paired to a game, it might feel less critical for some.

If you stick with it then there's plenty more in there too, puzzle rooms and the ability to build your own music within the game. 

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Due to the nature of Keys & Kingdoms, this review is definitely two separate stories. As a tutoring tool, it is absolutely phenomenal and probably one of the best on the market, especially for the 6-15 audience. It uses gaming tropes and proven mechanics to create a fantastic, immersive experience. There's an extensive free trial available, and after that, it's subscription-based.

After 30 days of persistent use, you'll definitely know if it's a good fit for you, but in order to get the most of that trial you need to have drive or determination (or a persistent parent) which might not fit with most of you reading. It is, however, far better value than any traditional tutoring.

As a modern RPG it struggles because the genre is a container; a vector; for the tutoring. The character and world don't feel as realised as many other games on the market and the puzzles and combat are only made clever through the tools you are using to do them. However, it is hard to separate the tutoring from the RPG, and the RPG from the tutoring, by design - and nobody ever marked Guitar Hero down for having a bad story because it never said it had a great one.

Keys & Kingdoms review - "A great tutoring tool under the guise of an RPG"

A phenomenal, unmatched piano tutoring tool gamified under the guise of an unremarkable RPG. A great substitute for professional tutoring that I highly recommend, but not a great substitute for premium storytelling.