Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Lost Kingdoms 2 Review

            Despite having a boatload of new games demanding my attention, I’m occasionally compelled to dive headfirst into my library to play some older offerings and pointedly ignore keeping up with the new. One such time has occurred recently, and two of the games that grabbed my attention were Lost Kingdoms 2 and Kingdom Hearts. Had I felt like playing Graffiti Kingdom I could make a whole Kingdom review trifecta, but sadly I did not.

Graffiti Kingdom was an interesting game offering a unique action RPG system potentially involving the capture of monsters. Instead of that, I’ll be reviewing Lost Kingdoms 2, an interesting game offering a unique action RPG system potentially involving the capture of monsters.

            In 2002, a company called From Software released a game named Lost Kingdoms on the Nintendo Gamecube. From Software has made a number of games, and the most well-known game they’ve put out in recent memory is probably Dark Souls, the ultra-unforgiving action RPG. I’m not sure exactly how popular Lost Kingdoms was, though I know it wasn’t enough for it to stay famous. Nonetheless I think it was reasonably well-received considering it merited a sequel. It was even mentioned positively by well-known gaming webcomic Penny Arcade:

If you somehow didn’t know what Penny Arcade was before now, I pity you. A lot. Go read some.

            A sequel to the original game, Lost Kingdoms 2, was released the very next year in 2003. Though I’m not completely certain, I’d guess the game didn’t do quite as well as the original. Either that or they just decided to end the series after that, which I suppose there’s no problem with. I beat both games as a child, but I only ever rented the original whereas I owned 2. Memory being a fickle thing, my recollection of the first game is vague at best. But since I own the second I can and have returned to the game if not as an adult then at least as a closer facsimile of a mature human being. I found it surprisingly fun, but before I get into the details of why I should probably explain to you what the game is about in the first place.

It’s about these

            The Lost Kingdoms games are all about cards. Both protagonists hold runestones, magical devices which can contain and control monsters via cards. Lost Kingdoms 2 added some mechanics to the original, but didn’t really lose any so I’ll just describe 2 to save time. In the game you have a deck of up to 30 cards, each represented by a monster (in fact I think almost every card in the game has an enemy representation somewhere). You have a hand of 4 of these cards that can be activated with the A, B, X and Y buttons. By holding the R trigger you can discard any corresponding card in your hand, which sends it to the bottom of your deck and brings the next card in your deck forward. Using cards removes them for the rest of the stage, with a few exceptions.

There are several types of cards in the game. Independent type cards are cards that spawn monsters when thrown. As indicated by the name, these cards move independently of the player, and freely move about attacking nearby enemies. Independent cards have a duration they can be active that ticks down at varying rates depending on the card, and is further reduced when they take damage. Lost Kingdoms 2 added a “new” card type called Helper cards, but these are actually just Independent cards that have effects beyond simply attacking.

Another type of card in the game is Attack cards. These cards trigger an instantaneous attack in front of the player, like a swipe of a blade or an ice beam. These cards can usually be used multiple times, sometimes as many as 5, before being depleted.

Yet another category of cards is Summon cards. These cards temporarily replace the player with some monster that warps in via a brief cutscene, whereupon the player is prompted to choose one of two attacks (failure to choose before the scene ends will result in the first attack). These cards usually deal heavy damage but cost a high number of magic stones, which I haven’t even gotten into yet. Sheesh this game has a lot of mechanics to explain.

To distract you from how long this mechanics outline is taking, here is a picture of a dragon. Everyone likes dragons, right?

            Lost Kingdoms 2 also introduced a second type of new card that is actually new, namely Transform cards. Transform cards do exactly that, changing the player into a monster that they control, lasting a duration that can be cut short by attacks in the same manner of Independent cards. These cards each have two attacks the player can use while moving about, and often had abilities that could help the player in a non-combat sense. For example, you eventually get a Transform card that can jump or a Transform card that can hover over gaps. The significance of these cards is that they, combined with some hidden items, offer up reasons to go back to previous stages, often unlocking entire hidden stages via backtracking.

            Every card in the game costs a certain amount of magic stones to use. When you hit or kill and enemy they drop more magic stones, granting ammunition for more attacks. Excess magic stones are automatically turned into gold for buying cards at a shop. If you attempt to use a card you don’t have enough magic stones for a proportionate amount to how much more you needed is subtracted from your health.

            You gain experience from killing monsters, and your maximum health and magic stones increase when you level up. Your cards also gain experience when used. Each card has a varying amount of experience that can be used to make a copy of it. Some cards can also be upgraded into better ones with enough experience.

Even compared to this desert stage, this explanation is a bit dry. Hey-o!

            There are only two more things to know about the game before I’m finally done explaining things, the first being elements. Every card has an element. Water deals double damage to fire monsters, fire deals double to wood, wood deals double to Earth, and Earth deals double to Water. In the opposite order these cards deal half damage. Neutral and Machine cards do regular damage to everything. Every time you use a card, you get closer to leveling up your skill with that element. Each card has a skill level, represented by a number of stars. If you try to use a card that has a higher skill level than your level in that element, it will cost double magic stones.

            Please don’t run away yet, only one more mechanic to explain. Lost Kingdoms 2 added a system where if you pressed the Z button with a card it would be super-charged. If you subsequently use the card its effects will be doubled but it will cost double magic stones. In addition, if you charge certain combinations of cards (like all 4 types of lizardmen) then using one will activate a powerful combo move that uses all of the cards involved.

            Whew, I think that covers everything. Oh, except for red fairies which wait come back! They’re just a collectible that net you rare cards if you find enough, that’s it!

Look, more dragons! You liked the dragons, right!? Come baaaaaaack!

            So though I’m sure it wasn’t a thrilling experience seeing me serve as a manual narrator, hopefully after hearing about all these systems you can see how the game can suck you in. There are over 200 cards in Lost Kingdoms 2 and the various ways you can attain new ones and discover new attacks and combinations is pokemon-levels of engaging RPG depth. That’s a lot, in case you couldn’t tell. It never ceases to be fun to find new cards, and the wide variety of effects they cause keeps the combat fresh in what otherwise might be a bit of a grind.

            So the unique combat system is the star of the show here, but how do the remaining aspects of the game fare? The visuals are certainly a bit dated at this point, as you can probably tell by the previous screenshots. However, the 200ish monsters in the game show a pleasing level of variety. The stages, too, show off a diverse range of locales of just about every color imaginable, even if none are super vibrant or high resolution.

Given that the previous screenshots were mostly brown and grey, here’s another one to prove I’m not a dirty liar in regards to the area diversity.

            The story feels very much like a stereotypical fantasy game plot, and not necessarily in a good way. There’s betrayal, warring Kingdoms, angry gods and average voice acting. The game tries its best and the story is if nothing else serviceable. Sometimes the universe can even be a bit interesting, but the flaws of the writing can more or less be summed up by the fact that the protagonist’s last name is Grimface. The main villain, King Leod VIII, is actually so cheesy that I find his Shakespearean posturing and fake British accent amusing. Sadly, however, I couldn’t find a picture of his ridiculous outfit and tiny purple moustache.  Just imagine the exact type of person that would have this theme music:

You can almost hear the flamboyance.

            Speaking of flawless transitions, the music in the game isn’t too bad. It’s nothing brilliant and most of it isn't stuff I’d actively listen to much. But most of the songs are at least decent in that they fit the mood and aren’t a detriment. The music has something of a unique feel to it and some of the songs are even rather good. Of course, a better approach than secondhand ranting might just be to show you some of the better parts of the soundtrack first hand:

Kendarie Fortress is one of the game’s best songs in my opinion, and portrays the somewhat unique style of the soundtrack.

Kadishu is one of the only non-combat areas in the game, and has an appropriately relaxing sound.

Finally, there’s the battle theme, which plays for a number of the games bosses. Nothing special, but not bad.

            There’s also a multiplayer mode where you can face another player in one-on-one combat. Though clearly a side dish to the juicy single player campaign, these can actually be kind of fun and it’s cool to try out clever combinations of cards on an actual human being. It’s nothing groundbreaking but it’s amusing enough that it’s a nice little bonus.

            To a certain type of person, this review may have intrigued you in the game. Others may wonder how a review that was half explanation of mechanics could possibly be indicative of an appealing game. Ultimately it’s rather difficult to describe why these systems are so appealing beyond describing the systems themselves. The cards gave great strategic depth to the game, even for regular fights. And building your deck is a deep system, in the best way possible.

If you included time spent in the menu, my total play time would probably raise by at least 50%. But I loved every second of it.

            I’m not sure where you could physically find Lost Kingdoms 2 these days, but if you like action RPGs in the slightest and find a copy I recommend picking it up. It’s as of this writing $22 used on Amazon, unfortunately a bit pricier than the original, which is going for $6 used. I’d still call it a fair price, however, as it’s a great game. I’d love to see the series make a comeback someday, though sadly that’s probably unlikely at this point. Either way, while it lasted Lost Kingdoms were wonderfully unique RPGs that got less attention than they rightfully deserved. Hopefully, for at least few people out there, I’ve helped remedy that.

No comments:

Post a Comment