Review – Lost Kingdoms

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Developer: From Software
Platform: GameCube
Genre: Action RPG
Release Date: May 27th, 2002

Premise

The kingdom of Argwyll is in peril. A black for had shrouded the land, and monsters have appeared that seem impossible to defeat. The only hope are the Runestones. These gems possess the power to capture and control monsters in cards. A young princess named Katia releases a Runestone and sets out to find her father, only to realize she has begun a journey to save her country.

My full review is below!

Story/Characters

I have to be honest here. This is probably one of the most cookie cutter stories I have encountered in an RPG in a long time. It’s the typical quest across the land to save it from annihilation. The only way the game progresses is with an old witch who tells you where to go next. No huge developments on the journey itself, and very few interesting characters to meet.

The characters were silent, and in some cases unnecessary. Everyone just seems placed there. Katia itself was just some princess following the orders of a total stranger. Her ultimate goal was to find her father, and when she does, she goes where he tells her to go. She practically goes through the game with no independent will of her own.

Important plot characters, such as her father, and the random rival that appears out of nowhere are so minimally used, they could have just not been there. Even the final boss is just some random person who happens to be able to command the Black Fog and has named himself “The Enchanter”. If things had been explained, or they had some more screen time, then maybe they would have made things more interesting, but probably not interesting enough.

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Visuals

Using the GameCube’s 3D graphics, Lost Kingdoms is played almost entirely in a bird’s eye view perspective. While this is useful for its combat system, some of its exploration could have used a touch of third person.

The environments were also very bland and felt repetitive. Each castle felt the same, the snow area felt like a recolored desert area, and so on. Every time I would go somewhere new, I just didn’t have the drive to go to the next area right away because I felt like I was doing the same place several times on more than one occasion.

Combat graphics did look kind of cool at times, but in the late game, I noticed several graphical bugs. After hitting a large boss enemy, it would just disappear for a few seconds, and then reappear. This was more of a blink than it using any kind of power. It didn’t affect the gameplay any, but it was an annoyance.

Audio

The soundtrack of Lost Kingdoms is your standard dark fantasy fare. None of it was very memorable, and just felt generic. There was also no voice acting apart from some grunts and shouts during battle sequences, and they were left from the game’s original Japanese version.

Gameplay – Exploration

New areas are selected on a map. Since each area has its own mission, you will spend a good amount of time exploring each area. During exploration, you will encounter monsters randomly, and treasure chests would be littered about containing new cards, along with fairies that you can collect for a side quest, or receive a power up from.

Most areas also have a puzzle gimmick that is needed to be solved in order to proceed. In several cases, this meant going from one end of an area, finding what needs to be done, and then running all the way back. Some of these areas were expansive, and just added to the frustration of running around. since you have the ability to rotate the birds eye camera while exploring, you can accidentally hit something and lose your sense of direction. This happened to me more times than I would have liked, and only added to my frustrations.

Gameplay – Combat

Combat is done with a lot of action. As Katia, you are dealt four cards at random from your deck. Each card has a different element and type of use. Cards will either summon a monster to fight with you (using a less than decent AI), act as a weapon for Katia, or summon a one-time powerful effect, such as damage or healing. If the cards you have aren’t what you need, they can be discarded, but cannot be used again until you complete the area.

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Using cards costs MP. This can run out fairly quickly, but can be replenished if you hit a monster. Monsters drop restoration gems that you can collect in each fight. When a battle is finished, you are also given a chance to collect any gems you missed before leaving the combat area, so it’s not too hard to stay full of MP.

In order to gain a good advantage in combat, it’s necessary to watch your opponent, dodge and run away from attacks, and attack at the right moment to get the best chance at damage. I am reminded of Dark Souls in this aspect, as From Software developed both games. This also means that boss fights typically take patience in order to succeed.

Around mid-game, you are also able to capture monsters into cards if weakened. What’s nice about this is that you can get some boss-class monster cards with powerful skills.

The overall combat was a good idea, but the bad AI for the summoned monsters compared to the challenging AI of the enemies made this harder than it should have been. I spent most of my time relying on weapon-type cards because I could only rely on myself, and then some healing and high end spell cards when appropriate.

Gameplay – Character Progression

Mostly, you will improve your skills by modifying your deck of cards. There are many ways to do this. The first is obviously acquiring new cards. These can be bought at the apothecary, picked up in treasure chests, and awarded as mission clear bonuses.

Another way is to transform cards. After a battle, the cards that participated in the fight gain experience, and will gain even more if they made the killing blow on an enemy. Once they reach enough experience, you can transform that card in the apothecary into a different card. This could make it a more powerful version of the card, change the elemental property of the card, and so on. Each card typically has multiple options for transforming, each requiring a different EXP total.

Katia will also gain more HP and MP at specific plot points in the game. There is no additional way to gain anything above what is set out in the main story.

Gameplay – Optional Content/Side Quests

Lost Kingdoms does offer some side areas that can be explored. These are nothing more than areas with missions, just like everything you do in the main story. I only did one or two of these side areas, because there was no variety in what I was doing.

Final Thoughts

The GameCube has a very small selection of RPGs available. This makes me want to play all of them. I thought that the lack of quantity would only produce quality games, and thanks to Lost Kingdoms, I can easily say that I was mistaken. The game was clearable in under ten hours, which was a huge plus for me. The game lacked a sense of story and motivation, and left me feeling really bored throughout. Apparently, there is a sequel available as well. Thanks to the first game, I can’t say I’m itching to play it. If and when I do, it will probably be quite a ways down the road.

And there we have it, my first less than positive review!

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Review – Lost Kingdoms

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