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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

Makai Kingdom (PS2)

By Michael Palisano

Japanese developers Nippon Ichi have cultivated a loyal following over the past few years by releasing some of the most innovative RPGs around such as Disagea: Hour of Darkness, Phantom Brave, and LaPucelle Tactics, all of which received glowing praise from fans and critics alike. Now, the developers have released another excellent title, Makai Kingdom for the PS2. MK mixes a traditional RPG approach with strategic play, building elements, tons of characters and weapons plus the developers' a weird sense of humor to create a unique title with an unforgettable cast of characters. The graphics seem a little plain, but the innovative gameplay more than makes up for it. Read our review and find out why this interesting title deserves a look from hardcore and casual RPG fans alike.

Makai Kingdom takes the parameters of Nippon Ichi's previous titles and opens up the gameplay a bit more this time around with a more open, less rigid structure. Players take the role of the displaced Lord Zetta from an alternate universe called the Netherworld, who's been deposed from his throne and is fighting to regain control of his land. The game's unusual play mechanics and unique visual designs make it immediately apparent that this isn't going to be another cookie-cutter RPG. However, the strangeness is somewhat mitigated by the odd sense of humor such as Lord Zetta's petulant outbursts and the bickering between the other Overlords. Makai Kingdom mixes elements to create an interesting hybrid of both strategic and role-playing elements. What makes the game unique is that players can create their characters out of bindings, which gives the game's strategy a cool layer most other RPG's lack. You can construct many different object types or facilities and then use them against rival factions, making for some interesting battles.

A large part of Makai Kingdom's appeal lies in its odd sense of humor. Instead of a traditional hero, the protagonist is kind of a jerk. Lord Zetta, cares only for his own survival and will use the other characters in the game as his pawns. As the game begins, the deposed Zetta has only a single small shack to use as his headquarters, and must summon or invite other characters to join him in his mission. At first, the types of objects and characters you can create are limited, but additional types of facilities and characters will become available later on. This is elaborated on throughout the game, adding some layer of weirdness to the proceedings.

Makai Kingdom's building aspects are also interesting. You can construct various items such as libraries, hospitals, storage buildings and even dog houses to build your kingdom. When you have built these facilities, you can then store characters, weapons and other items in them. However there's a catch: in order to build certain buildings, you'll have to sacrifice some of your onscreen characters. When the characters are confined to an object, they can't return to their original spirit state, but they will retain some of their other skill points. Creating characters and sending them into battle requires you to complete several steps. The first thing you need to do is to select an object such as a tree or stone, and carry it to Zetta's tome. Once you've done this, you need to talk to the tome and create the character. At this point, you need to decide what type of character you want to create. After you have done this, the object will transform into a unit that you can "Invite" onto the battlefield.

After you've created a character, you'll need to confine or store it in a facility, where you can use the Dispatch command to send them into battle against the assembled enemy forces. However, players will need to be careful where they place these facilities, since this will make a huge impact as to the success or failure of your campaigns. This somewhat complicated character system allows players to create many types of objects and characters throughout the game. This flexibility adds to the unpredictability of the gameplay and enhances Makai Kingdom's replay value significantly and adding to the challenge. A clever character creation and facilities systems definitely give Makai Kingdom a unique feel. While the character designs are quite fun, there's also a variety of cool weaponry ranging from modern weaponry such as rocket launchers, to ancient tools like a traditional broadsword.

Players can use a variety of vehicles, such as tanks, motorcycles and, mech suits to traverse the kingdom faster. The additional firepower of these vehicles will also make for a more enjoyable title. The gameplay in Makai Kingdom will offer a mixture of traditional turn-based role-playing with a more action packed approach where the battles take place on a grid-free map. This extends the far less linear approach first seen in Phantom Brave, allowing for more interesting and unpredictable battles. However, there's still plenty of strategy and statistics involved, so it isn't entirely action. Makai Kindgom also implements what are called 'random extension' battle maps. Instead of unfolding the same way each time, the game's levels are randomly generated each time you play with different maps, terrain, objects, enemy types and levels that change every time you play. This can extend to stages you just played.. While the individual battles sound impressive, you shouldn't leave sight of the main main goal which is to defeat the enemy kingdoms and reclaim Lord Zetta's rightful place on the throne. However, the other Lords don't hesitate to attack you with their own facilities and weapons. They can also summon or place their facilities right in the middle of your kingdom and even your own facilities. When enemies invade your facilities, the battle will move inside its walls, and if the invaders are successful, they can steal any items you've placed inside the building. This added complexity definitely adds to the challenge, creating all-out intense inter-kingdom battles that gives the game a frenetic pace in a hurry.

Along the way, Lord Zetta will meet several other characters including the oracle Pram, who predicted the fall of the Lord, and the subsequent destruction of the Netherworld. He'll also run across the Dark Lord Valvoga, who appears at several points during the game as an end boss. This monster is actually made up of three different rival overlords, making him a powerful foe. Finally, players will encounter Lord Zetta's archrival, Alexander, who has sent assassins to kill Lord Zetta many times and has failed. Obviously, he's not the smartest god in the universe. This weird sense of humor is one of the key to the appeal of Nippon Ichi's earlier titles were. Makai Kingdoms continues this approach with its offbeat design and humorous plotlines. Makai Kingdom's interface and control scheme should be familiar to RPG elements and the game's overall approach should make it easy to play. The action takes place in a traditional angled, top-down perspective that allows players to see the majority of the relevant game screen unhindered by objects. Makai Kingdom then switches perspectives when the action sequences unfold, giving the game a dynamic, exciting presentation. From a visual standpoint, the game looks slightly dated, with a 2D sprite based approach. However, this insistence on an old-school feel is precisely what makes the game so appealing. This isn't a typically overblown RPG with 20 minutes of cinemas between each round, and is instead, a title which concentrates on the gameplay above the usual bells and whistles, making you forgive some of the glitches along the way.

Makai Kingdom is an enjoyable and surprisingly deep RPG that should make it a hit with role playing fans. It's unique gameplay blends several elements from other genres including building, role-playing and strategic combat to create a cool title that doesn't fit into predefined molds. Its randomized levels should keep the gameplay unpredictable and challenging, while extending the title's longevity. The developers' trademark sense of off-beat humor makes the game all the more enjoyable, while not getting too distracting. The interesting play mechanics and easy to understand controls make the game easy to play, though you'll probably need to get the hang of the somewhat clunky menu system before you can really start to enjoy the game. While it's solidly produced from a technical standpoint, Makai Kingdom quirky design and gameplay mechanics mean it isn't going to appeal to everyone. The game definitely shows how Nippon Ichi has evolved from the last few titles, and builds on some successful ideas seen in Phantom Brave effectively. Makai Kingdom has a number of innovative ideas that are implemented effectively. This challenging and deep entertaining game will please RPG fans who have embraced Nippon Ichi's unique style.


Grade: B

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