Kingdom of Paradise, released in Japan under the name Tenchi no Mon, is finally making its way to North American PlayStation Portables and is bringing with it a combination of action and role-playing game elements, artful cinematics, and make-your-own-move gameplay. We got the chance to play some of the single-player game, fighting against a few peons, taking on a sinister-looking boss, and navigating through the many menu and customization options.
In Kingdom of Paradise, you control a young man named Shinbu, a Seiryu disciple from the Eastern Kingdom of feudal Japan 300 years ago, who seeks to restore peace within his nation and among the four others, the predictably named Northern, Southern, Western, and Central kingdoms. Shinbu was thought to be the last disciple from his region, but he discovers at the beginning of the game that there is another. She's a young girl by the name of Sui Lin, and she'll accompany Shinbu for many portions of his quest. Her role is to facilitate story progression and assist Shinbu in combat, but she is entirely computer-controlled, so there's little duo dynamic to this pair.
The game features all the pieces necessary to form a cohesive action RPG puzzle, with a couple of bonus elements to boot. The text and voice have been translated to English, and the cutscenes employ spoken voice from approximately 24 different actors. The graphics look good both in cutscenes and out, and you'll see many gameplay elements reflected in the presentation. When Shinbu is poisoned, green poison bubbles will emanate from his character, and whether he's splashing through water or scuffling in the dirt, appropriate visual effects will ensue.
Most of the game you'll spend traveling from one town to another and fighting the members of the opposing clans that you encounter along the way. Within the towns, you can speak to people to get clues about your next objective, although the gameplay is fairly linear, both in story and in the number of available routes. The towns' shops are where you can purchase items that will cure you from diseases, heal you, or boost specific attributes. But you'll also be able to pick up these items off fallen enemies or from inside the game's numerous breakable crates. You'll be acquiring other objects, like bugei scrolls and kenpu, in many of the same ways, and these two items in particular are the major forces behind your attack maneuvers.
The bugei scrolls are slotted move holders, and for every bugei scroll that you have, you'll be able to execute a single chained attack. The kenpu come in forms, and each form is equivalent to one move. Placing kenpu into the bugei scrolls is what creates your unique move set and allows you to combat varying enemies with almost the same precision as a fighting game, albeit with less interaction. To further complicate the gameplay, each form is associated with one chii art. The chii arts are five attributes, such as wood, fire, and metal, and each one is associated with a different clan. It's important when creating move sets to consider which of the chii arts you're using, as some will be more effective against certain enemies, in a rock-paper-scissors kind of scenario. Though early gameplay attacks are limited due to low kenpu and bugei counts, being able to make unique move sets when you have a lot of heavy-hitting attacks to choose from is really quite thrilling.
You can stack six items and six move sets to be available from gameplay, and you can access and scroll through them via the left and right triggers, respectively. Everything else, such as the arrangement of your six quick slots, will be done from the rich menu system. Unlike in other action RPGs, there's less importance placed on armor and weapon customization in Kingdom of Paradise. You will need to be wearing armor and carrying a weapon, for sure, but the game focuses on how you use the weapon more than which type it is. If at any point in the game you get lost, you'll be able to access game notes, called Shinbu's goals, which give you an idea of what to do next, although the onscreen minimap and fairly straightforward gameplay made it pretty easy for us to find our way through, at least the beginning levels.
The game also boasts of both infrastructure and ad hoc capabilities. You'll be able to download additional skills in the months following the game's release, as well as show off your character or trade with other people. Thankfully, the game knows well enough not to let you trade anything that is mandatory for game progression. Kingdom of Paradise promises more than 150 forms, numerous environments among the five kingdoms, and nearly 20 hours of gameplay, and we look forward to checking out all that the full version has to offer. We'll bring you more information as it is made available in mid-November, when the game is scheduled to launch.