Makai Kingdom - Staff Review  

What You Might Expect, and Nothing More
by Matt Demers

20-60 hours


Rating definitions 

   Makai Kingdom: Chronicles of the Sacred Tome is a Playstation 2 game that follows the haughty Lord Zetta in a conquest to reclaim his body after he is unfortunately sealed into a mysterious, bright pink book. This great task, however, can only be done by conquering other Netherworlds, full of frightful monsters, demons, and living cobs of corn. Bound and limbless, Zetta is helpless on his own, so it is up to the player to command legions of soldiers, ninjas, wizards, and dishwashers to do the job for him. For any fans of Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, this game is another strategy RPG from Nippon Ichi Software, and it offers a large number of features that are very familiar.

   One of these familiarities is the general construct of the game. Nothing will change as the player progresses; at home base (the "kingdom") the game may be saved, supplies can be gathered, and characters are able to be micro-managed. The plot is progressed by traveling to the Makai Gate, a portal through which Netherworld battlefields may be selected from an ever-expanding list that grows with each victory. The system is a very simplistic one, but works well, especially for players who are only interested in playing for a little while at a time.

   Also familiar is the battle system. Makai Kingdom has a battle system that is reminiscent of its predecessors, but it is considerably awkward and feels unpolished. To successfully win a battle, a certain number of points must be obtained, which can be obtained from acquiring items, destroying objects, and defeating enemies. The stationary grid of Disgaea is nowhere to be seen, and, while characters are able to move freely on every map to attack their adversaries, positioning them to carry out actions effectively can be challenging and frustrating. In some battles constricted to close quarters, the lack of a grid becomes very detrimental to gameplay, because it can be extremely difficult to see which characters in particular are being targeted by attacks, whether enemy or ally. Another problem is that battles are somewhat imbalanced. It is often the case that, even with strong equipment, the player's most elite characters are defeated by a single enemy spell, and vice versa. The artificial intelligence of the computer-controlled enemies, however, is very low, so the balance is usually tipped in the player's favour. Combat isn't all bad, though: The many vehicles and facilities that are encountered throughout the game add an interesting layer of strategy to fighting foes, and once the initial awkwardness fades, slaying opponents can grow to become quite addictive.

   As mentioned above, it is often frustrating to make characters carry out actions effectively in battle. This is not aided in the least by a clunky, difficult-to-maneuver menu. Outside of battle, things aren't much better; buying items and equipping characters can be a grueling affair. Managing facilities, vehicles, and members of Zetta's army is unintuitive; it will take the player several hours to become familiar with how to perform simple actions comfortably.

   From a technical standpoint, Makai Kingdom offers just enough to be adequate, and not much more. Graphically, the sprites are tiny and sometimes difficult to distinguish from one another; any maps that are traversed are blocky and unattractive. Spell and technique animations are often nice-looking, in contrast, though they are still nothing extraordinary. Indeed, this game has the look of what would have been expected of a PSX title.

A typical battle screen This doesn't look good...

   Soundwise, things are a little bit better. While the sound quality itself is somewhat less than average, several of the actual background themes are quite good, which is fortunate, since many of the tracks are heard repeatedly. Otherwise, the sound effects are good, and the in-battle voices can often be downright funny.

   Makai Kingdom is a game that can be both very easy and very difficult at the same time. Battles are balanced poorly; the player may find at many times that he or she is able to slay some enemies in only one hit, while at the very same time, the same could be said about enemy characters to player allies. Generally, because enemy AI is terrible at best, the game is not a very hard one from beginning to end. The process of getting from beginning to end will not take very long; a dedicated player might be able to make it through in just twenty to twenty-five hours. Those that like to spend time character-building and item-collecting, however, could spend much longer playing Makai Kingdom.

   This, of course, is where this game more than makes up for some of its flaws. Just as it was in Disgaea, character-building and micromanaging is one of the most involving aspects of Makai Kingdom, making for a truly fun interactive experience. A large number of classes are available to the player from the start, and there are no limits to the army that can be built. As characters increase in power, new classes open up, featuring unique skills and talents. Any character can also be selected to be reincarnated under a different class, by wishing to Zetta, in order to become more versatile and powerful. Repeating the process facilitates the acquisition of a vast number of strengths. Furthermore, collecting different types of vehicles and facilities can be a very mesmerizing affair, especially to those players who love to discover everything in RPGs; actually utilizing these facilities and vehicles that have been obtained and outfitted is often very rewarding and enjoyable in battle.

...and here's an out-of-battle one It's more spacious than you might think.

   Makai Kingdom has the potential to be a spectacularly funny game, and it is at times; several characters that the player will encounter are certainly one of a kind, from the scheming Pram, to the hilarious Dark Lord Valvoga, whose effeminate top-third is constantly warring with its overbearing bottom two-thirds. Despite this potential, however, the story falls flat for a few reasons. Firstly, the player can go for several battles in a row before any plot is touched upon at all. While the cut-scenes that do occur are generally very well done, there are far too few of them. Secondly, the idea of the story is quite bland and repetitive; by the time a few interesting twists occur in the plot, the player will find himself or herself quite near the game's conclusion. Lastly, the localization is less than perfect. While the text isn't bad at all, the voice acting seems rushed; indeed, the quality is mediocre at best. The end result of the sum of these factors is that the player might be likely to arrive at the end of the game feeling perhaps a bit dissatisfied.

   All in all, Makai Kingdom is a game that does most things only adequately. The graphics are dated, the plot is disappointing, and the battle system has many faults. The things that have made other games by Nippon Ichi so addictive, though, are all here, and are here in earnest. Thus, those looking for a brand new tactical RPG to play may want to look elsewhere, while those who already know what to expect from playing Disgaea, Phantom Brave, or La Pucelle Tactics should give this game at least a rental.

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