Kartia: The Word of Fate - Staff Retroview  

No More Pencils, No More Books
by Mike "JuMeSyn" Moehnke

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20-40 Hours
+ Flexible and useful battle inventory
+ Intriguing game world
+ Interesting gameplay elements
- Concepts aren't fully realized
- Low level maximum
- Story isn't all it could be
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   Kartia: The Word of Fate is one of the less-remembered titles in the PlayStation 1's vast RPG library. It has aged better than many of its contemporaries due to some interesting tactical design choices and visuals that eschew the jagged polygons popular in the era, but is done no favors by an Atlus localization that makes clear how much the company has changed since 1998. Many of the things Kartia does are interesting enough to warrant further exploration in the tactical realm, but the game appears to have been left for dead by its developer long ago.

   The narrative of Kartia is told from the perspective of either Toxa, an eager and carefree young knight, or Lacryma, a sternly religious woman devoted to upholding the law. Both belong to a group called Vigilance that acts similarly to the riot squad of a police force. Events transpire that place both of them in opposition to powerful people seeking the restoration of a lost land called Eden. Resolving this conflict requires violence.

   The eponymous Kartia are pieces of paper that, when read by qualified people, produce things out of thin air. Aside from those important to the plot, items summoned through use of Kartia don't receive nearly the time that would be warranted for such a concept. Atlus's localization does the material no favors either, although it does illustrate the chasm between how the company once operated and its current incarnation. Upon saving the game, the player is informed "Do not pull it out," which serves as a fine example of how closely the text was proofread before release. Not all the blame can be laid at the translators' feet, as character developments frequently transpire without adequate grounding to make them come alive.

   Unlike many games with two potential protagonists, Kartia does not go through the same general series of events with different reactions from the one chosen. Instead its narrative was split into two, with Toxa and Lacryma's stories intertwining at points. It is necessary to play with both of them in order to gain a reasonable understanding of the entire plot, and the picture formed by doing so is interesting enough to be worth the investment.

Atlus has changed since the late 90s just a little bit.... Atlus has changed since the late 90s just a little bit....

   Combat in Kartia initially appears to use the same concepts of turn-based tactical gaming that were already familiar in 1998, but incorporates a few wrinkles to change that picture. Axes, lances, and swords are once again part of a triangle that many games have utilized. What distinguishes Kartia's application of the mechanic is that the weapons become more effective based on the elevation of their target, not against each other. The game allows equipment to be changed at any time during battle, letting players take advantage of this mechanic copiously.

   The unique aspects mostly stem from the Kartia of the game's plot, which are used to fuel magic and create Phantom soldiers to supplement the human ranks. Unless the player is remarkably prolific with magical use, running out of the required ingredients is extremely unlikely, but this method of spell creation is at least a divergence from the norm. Spells can also alter the landscape, though this mechanic is seldom necessary in order to progress. Phantoms are entirely expendable and often too thin-skinned to survive for long, but the mere ability to create them at will and send them into the fray is a handy method of expanding the small lineup of human characters present.

   The Kartia used in battle are also required to manufacture fresh equipment. Instead of buying new weapons and armor from a shop, players find fresh formulas for them during the battles. The system is interesting and enjoyable as a method of streamlining equipment acquisition, with its only hiccup stemming from the time-consuming nature of the process. Upon making one piece of equipment the game boots players back to the start of the crafting menu instead of letting multiple pieces be manufactured in one go, but the result is useful enough to be engaging.

   Taking advantage of the ability to manufacture Phantoms on demand is advisable, because if any human is killed in combat the game is over. Avoiding this is fairly easy due to overly-cautious AI and the ability to save at any time, but providing extra cannon fodder is always a useful ability when the computer likes to go for easier targets. Kartia is certainly not a challenging title in the tactical library, and often its battles are more annoying than difficult due to enemy placement, but stumbling along clumsily can still be punished — at least in the first half.

Duran demonstrates the reflex to a girl named Rio. Duran demonstrates the reflex to a girl named Rio.

   Reaching the maximum level in a tactical game usually requires quite a bit of work, but Kartia couples a scant number of human characters with a large number of targets they must hit. All the humans will reach the maximum level of twenty long before the game is over, making them powerhouses at no real risk of being killed until the incredibly powerful adversaries in the final battle of both characters appear. This makes a large stretch of the game much easier than necessary, sapping interest considerably.

   At first glance Kartia has aged far better visually than many of its contemporaries that relied on polygons. Its sprites are fairly large and have a decent variety of animations, while Yoshitaka Amano's character artwork remains distinctive and interesting. The battlefields get boring to behold, however, and most of the combat animations are minimal enough to become dull. The graphical package is still more appealing than certain higher-profile titles from the same period when viewed today. As for the music, it does the job of supporting the action while being unmemorable for the most part — one annoying piano sound at moments of surprise notwithstanding.

   Kartia could really use a modern remake to smooth out its issues and magnify the things it did right. The chance of such a thing happening is remote in the current gaming environment, but the game is hardly an unplayable mess even so. Kartia is not a hidden masterwork that needs to be experienced by everyone with the ability to play the disc, but the unique world it depicts is worthwhile enough to make exploring it a pleasant use of time.

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