Even though it feels like worn territory, Makai Kingdom is still a charming and intelligent game with enough depth to sustain the gameplay long after the story is finished.
- Complex, unique strategy gameplay
- Colorful characters and humorous dialogue
- Countless hours of gameplay for dedicated stat mongers
- Great music and decent voice-overs in Japanese and English.
- Gridless movement system results in cluttered and confusing battles
- Short story isn't very compelling
- Uneven difficulty makes battles either way too easy or way too hard
- Looks, feels, and sounds exactly the same as previous NIS titles.
You can almost count the number of strategy role-playing games for the PlayStation 2 on one hand--the US releases at least. In doing so, you'll notice that the majority of those games come from Nippon Ichi Software. When NIS released Disgaea: Hour of Darkness in 2003, it put a new spin on the genre with its quirky characters and its deep, complex game mechanics. However, it's been two years since Disgaea, and we've seen two other NIS strategy role-playing games released stateside. With each release, NIS isn't so much evolving the genre, as they are simply catering to a niche audience of metagamers who can look past or even appreciate the oddball mechanics and style of the games, while obsessively buffing its characters to hit the trademark 9999 level cap. The latest NIS release, Makai Kingdom: Chronicles of the Sacred Tome, is pretty much the same game as its predecessors, albeit with a few slight tweaks and a new (but not really new) story. But, even though it feels like worn territory, Makai Kingdom is still a charming and intelligent game with enough depth to sustain the gameplay long after the story is finished.
Makai Kingdom isn't a direct sequel, but it's the latest in a series of strategy role-playing games that began with La Pucelle: Tactics. In Makai Kingdom there are many parallel universes, and there are parallel netherworlds as well. Each netherworld has an overlord, and these overlords often fight among themselves in a never-ending power struggle. The main character is Lord Zetta, a self-proclaimed, "bad-ass freakin' overlord." Pram, another overlord and oracle that can see the future, prophesies the fall of Zetta's netherworld. Lord Zetta is the most powerful overlord in the cosmos, and he wants to keep it that way, so he sets out to find out how to prevent the fall of his netherworld by consulting the Sacred Tome, which is a magic book that holds all the secrets of the universe. When Lord Zetta opens up the book, he reads a message about how he doomed the netherworld with his own foolishness. When he reads that, Lord Zetta gets pissed and tries to burn the book. In the process, his entire netherworld goes up in a blaze and in a last-ditch effort to save himself, Zetta confines his soul in the Sacred Tome. Now in book form, Zetta is defenseless and alone without a netherworld to call his own, so several of his overlord friends show up to help him rebuild his netherworld and get his body back.
The story in Makai Kingdom is brief and not especially compelling. The characters aren't even playable in the game until you unlock them, which actually takes much more time and effort than it does to complete the story using a custom party of generic characters. Since Lord Zetta is a book and can't fight, you have to create a party of characters to do battle for him. This is accomplished by permanently confining souls to various objects. The character will get certain stat bonuses or penalties, depending on what the item is in which you have confined the character. This system is familiar to anyone who played Phantom Brave, except in this situation, when you confine a character it's permanent, unlike Phantom Brave where confined characters can only remain in play for so many turns. It's a good thing too, since the stages in Makai Kingdom can get quite large and often take a long time to clear.
The gameplay in Makai Kingdom revolves around turn-based battles that take place on a variety of randomly generated battlefields. When each battle begins you'll start with only Lord Zetta, and you'll need to invite members of your party to join you, at which point you can place them anywhere within a set range of Zetta. You can invite up to eight characters to each battle. The game is turn-based, and order isn't based on initiative, so you can move and act with any of your characters in any order. This plays a big part in the strategy of the game, as you can move in, attack an enemy, then move out of the way. Makai Kingdom features the same free movement as Phantom Brave, but thankfully here the artificial intelligence seems to be smart enough not to stumble off the map when trying to navigate tricky areas. However, since there's no grid to keep characters aligned, they'll often end up bunched together or stacked two or three high on top of one another. This can get confusing, since your characters tend to look the same, and when they're bunched together it's difficult to tell them apart. The free movement system is especially frustrating, since the levels still seem like they're designed for grid-based movement, with hard angles and raised squares of land rather than smooth slopes. The terrain does add to the challenge and the strategy of the game, but more so it gets in the way and results in unnecessarily awkward character placement. As in previous games, you can pick up and throw any objects or characters on the battlefield. It isn't as useful here though, since you can only pick up a character if neither of you are holding a weapon, which can be a pain if you have to unequip your character, toss him across a gap, and then reequip him.