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Platform

PlayStation 2

 

Genre

Strategy Role-Playing

 

Publisher

NIS America

 

Developer

Nippon Ichi

 

ESRB

T (Teen)

 

Released

July 26, 2005

 

 

-Insanely addictive strategic gameplay
-Tons of customization options
-Hilarious writing and voice acting

 

 

-New additions don't really add very much
-Subpar graphics
-Unbalanced difficulty necessitates heavy character leveling

 

 

Review: Disgaea: Hour of Darkness (PlayStation 2)

Review: La Pucelle Tactics (PlayStation 2)

 

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Makai Kingdom: Chronicles of the Sacred Stone

Score: 8.4/10

 

Disgaea, a quirky strategy RPG created by a small Japanese company named Nippon Ichi, was essentially the The Little Game That Could. A niche game released in the waning days of summer 2003, Disgaea came out on the same day as surefire hits like F-Zero GX and Soul Calibur 2. And yet it became one of the biggest cult hits of the year, and opened the floodgates for other Nippon Ichi titles like La Pucelle and Phantom Brave. Two years have passed, and we have the fourth strategy RPG from this delightful design team, Makai Kingdom.  Despite seeing so many releases in such a short time, Makai Kingdom loses none of the magic that makes Nippon Ichi strategy games so compelling, even if it does have a few quirks.

 

makai-kingdom-50.jpg (23513 bytes)         makai-kingdom-60.jpg (27920 bytes)

 

Part of the charm of Nippon Ichi games lies in the absurdly demented (and therefore memorable) cast of characters. The anti-hero this time around is Lord Zetta, a brazen, arrogant jerk of an overlord who inadvertently destroys his own netherworld and ends up
getting trapped inside a book. Being that he's lost his appendages, Zetta is completely helpless, only able to bark out orders and make threats. He calls upon Pram the Oracle, a cute but devious demon lass who predicted that Zetta's hubris would result in his downfall. She is eager to help, but her motives appear to be a bit questionable. Throughout the course of the game, various other wacky demon gods join along to either taunt Lord Zetta or aid him in his quest to return him to his body, and find another netherworld for him to rule.

 

It's not an overwhelmingly complicated plot, but all of the characters are brought to life through excellent writing and some of the best voiceovers in recent memory. Zetta growls and overacts each and every disparaging line, Pram sounds like a valley girl, and Lord Volga, a hulking monster with a fire breathing skull imbedded in its stomach, sounds like an interior decorator. It doesn't take itself too seriously, because it's all in the name of comedy. Like all other Nippon Ichi titles, the original Japanese voice acting is included, but the English acting is so good that only the staunchest of otaku will ever need switch.

 

So then it's strange that, after crafting such an intriguing cast of characters, you don't get to see them very much. Cutscenes are relatively sparse compared to earlier games, and almost all of them are visually sparse, taking place over a dull black starry background. It's also a little bit strange that, during the course of the regular game, you never get to play as any of these personalities. Sure, Lord Zetta is the "main character", but he just exists on the battlefield as book, the command point to unleash other units into play. As such, it puts an unnecessary boundary between the player and the starring cast. Only the dedicated, who can exert the effort to beat the game repeatedly, will be able to play as any of the story characters, as they're only available in New Game+.

 

Other than this slight disappointment, the real focus on any Nippon Ichi game should be the absurdly in-depth customization and gameplay. Fans loved Disgaea, but many didn't warm up to some of the changes introduced in its successor, Phantom Brave. Makai Kingdom is a reconciliation between the two games, piecing together the best elements of each and creating a middle ground that should please more gamers.

 

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The free range movement system from Phantom Brave is back, and while it's certainly less suffocating than the tile-based movement used by so many other SRPGs, it still has its quirks. You now directly control your character's movement, as opposed to a point n' click cursor, but targeting foes with certain weapons tends to be a chore. And just like Phantom Brave, the enemy AI doesn't seem too comfortable with the environments either. They'll often get 

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lost, stumble around, fall off the playing field, and or remain stoic when it would be in their advantage to attack. It's not common, but it's completely possible to win battles just because your opponents are too stupid to do anything.

 

Thankfully, the most disparaged element of Phantom Brave - the turn limit - has been tossed out the window. The Confine system has returned, although in a less complicated form. You create characters by sticking their soul to most any object, which in turn modifies their stats. However, this is only done when you first create a character, and doesn't need to be done in every battle.

 

makai-kingdom-70.jpg (34474 bytes)         makai-kingdom-80.jpg (25928 bytes)

 

Previous Nippon Ichi games had convoluted ways you could use various elements on the battlefield to gain stat bonuses. Disgaea had the Geo Panels. Phantom Brave had the Confine System.  Makai Kingdom simplifies things a bit by adding structures. In addition to characters, you can summon various buildings onto the playing field - stick a character inside one of them and they'll receive a stat boost for the rest of the battle (or until the structure is destroyed.) Hospitals allow you to gain 10% HP after each turn, or Fortresses give a 30% boost in attack power. It's a cool idea - especially since you can summon buildings on top of bad guys to inflict damage on them - but it seems a bit of a step back from the other titles. Part of the strategy involved devious planning to best take advantage of the landscape - in Makai Kingdom, it's as easy as plopping a character in and out of a building. The only real challenge comes in obtaining these structures, which can only be earned by sacrificing characters that you've lovingly built up. They can be reincarnated, sure, but that means they're back at level 1. Much like other Nippon Ichi games, there's still a lot of power leveling involved, which is either regrettable or engrossing, depending on how much free time you have to play video games.

 

<< Continue to Page 2 of Makai Kingdom Review >>

 

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