TOKYO--Good news for fans of the Kingdom Under Fire series' unique mixture of strategy and action: We got it straight from franchise director Henry Lee at the Tokyo Game Show today that work is ongoing on a new KUF game in precisely the same vein. Bad news: That game wasn't at TGS. Good news: Blue Side is finishing up a new KUF action role-playing game subtitled Circle of Doom that will bridge the narrative gap between The Crusaders and that next, as-yet-untitled strategy game. Bad news: Actually, there is no more bad news. Circle of Doom seems pretty sweet so far.
Like its predecessors, the game has a bit in common with series like Dynasty Warriors, in that you'll play as one character hacking and slashing against tons of enemies--say, 20 or 30--at a time. But instead of also commanding a large army to do your bidding while you lay waste with your greatsword, you'll instead focus on building up your own character's level, as well as the impressive array of weapons and magical abilities available to you. There are six characters available here, all of which are taken from the past KUF games. In our demo, we had a choice between white knight Kendal, lithe Celine (taken from the very first KUF game on the PC), and monstrously armored Regnier, who was certainly the most badass of the three. Of course, we chose him.
The game will consist of six acts split up into between four and eight levels apiece, and the sample level we played with Regnier had us fighting through a foreboding forest against small lizardmen, some gigantic tree-like wood golems and monstrously large plants, and a few larger bipedal fighters. As you cut your way through enemies like this, you'll gain experience that will raise your level, and with each new level, you'll gain attribute points that you can cash in for extra hit points, skill points, and luck. Pretty standard action-RPG stuff so far.
But it's the extensive equipment and ability options that give Circle of Doom depth. You can assign two weapons to the X and A buttons, and two skills to the B button and the right trigger. The weapons and skills run an extremely diverse gamut, with all sizes and shapes of swords, axes, and other melee weapons; ranged weapons like bows and primitive shotguns; and magical abilities that let you dash, create an attacking familiar called a flesh spear, or spawn a demonic hand from the ground to swipe at enemies. You can carry a lot of weapons in your inventory at one time (and of course, you have access to all of your skills), and you can pause the game whenever you want to reassign new weapons and abilities based on the situation or your whim.
Lee said the move to an action RPG from the KUF series' traditional hybrid strategy/action gameplay was meant to simplify the series for new players. He further likened the mix-and-match nature of the weapon and skill systems to a pizza, saying that he wants players to add their own toppings and create the kind of pie they want to eat...er, play. (Too bad that meeting was right around lunchtime.) That analogy made perfect sense to us, given that you can not only swap all those elements in and out on the fly, but you can also upgrade your weapons to have all sorts of secondary properties. For instance, you can add a flame effect to a sword, or even an "excavation" property (which we assume will yield better items from downed enemies). Some melee weapons can also be thrown like a boomerang, and with even further upgrades, they'll stay in the air longer and hit more enemies. In another example, Lee showed us a bow and arrow that had been imbued with both the guidance and piercing powers. Guidance made the arrows seek to the nearest target automatically, and piercing made each arrow pierce through its first target and move on to subsequent nearby enemies. So Lee was able to simply fire a volley of arrows with this modified weapon at a group of foes and have the projectiles do all the heavy lifting for him.
To get these sorts of upgrades, you'll have to visit an idol, which can be found floating in ponds in most areas. The idols each follow a theme (idol of greed, idol of death, and so on) and each will have slightly different items for sale or upgrade. You can talk to each idol to acquire items or even sell some of your current gear to trade up for something else. While you're in the pond area, you can also put your character to sleep, at which point you'll walk around a dreamlike area and speak to some characters who will give you vague information about the storyline. They'll also grant you new abilities, though you have to go out and finish some massively multiplayer online game-style kill quests to actually access them. We tried to learn one new ability from an old man in Regnier's dream state, but he demanded that we go out and kill X number of one enemy and Y of another before he'd teach it to us.
The game will also support online cooperative play for up to four players, and you can bring your character from the single-player game into the multiplayer. You'll be able to double, triple, or even quadruple up on the same character in co-op, and Lee gave us a hilarious demonstration of how you'll be able to distinguish one Kendal from another in the online setting. There will be an extensive list of accessories you can slap onto each character. For example, Lee put a red baseball cap on Kendal, which really, uh, complemented his plate-mail ensemble. Other examples included amusingly oversized yellow feathers and face masks based on some of the developers. More accessories will apparently appear on Xbox Live Marketplace sometime after the game ships.
This may not be the most graphically complex game on the Xbox 360, but it looked fine to us, and Circle of Doom's engine was doing a good job of displaying a lot of enemies at one time while maintaining a smooth frame rate. We tend to become bored with pure button mashers fairly quickly, so we're glad to see that this game has all that potential combat variety going on under the hood to keep things interesting. Given that Blue Side does have that proper Kingdom Under Fire sequel coming up on the Xbox 360 in the future, fans will likely want to check this one out just to keep up with the ongoing storyline.