Atlus is getting better at this. After finally bringing over the most recent PlayStation installment of its unique Megami Tensei series, Persona, it has become encouraged by the wide-open RPG market and begun porting over its best titles: Ogre Battle, Tactics Ogre, and now Kartia.
Originally titled Rebus (in Japan), the newly renamed Kartia refers to the card-based magic the game centers on. Similar in style to Tactics Ogre, Kartia is mainly a strategy game with a unique twist. Instead of concentrating so heavily on the tactical aspects of the game, Kartia focuses on creating phantoms, which are creatures that enter into battle with you. You can also use all sorts of elemental magic based on Kartia as well. During the game you will have the chance to create weapons and new kinds of phantoms. The variety found in Kartia is refreshing and the innovations abound.
You begin by choosing one of two characters, Toxe or Lacryma, and follow the story, which is different for each character. Like any decent RPG, the plot is lengthy and involved, and the game time invested in either quest will require significant commitment. Considering you can choose between two different characters adds considerable value.
With character designs by Yoshitaka Amano (of Final Fantasy fame) and game design by the producer of the Megami Tensei series, RPG fans will find much to enjoy here. Graphically, the game resembles a simpler Final Fantasy Tactics. However, the game is sharper, clearer, and more colorful than FF Tactics and much easier to navigate with an easy-to-see overhead perspective. Backgrounds are 3D and can be rotated 360 degrees, 90 degrees at a time. Characters are sprite-based and animated well for this sort of game, while spell effects give a good bang for the buck.
The sound effects are particularly sharp and add a tangible authenticity to the battle scenes. Gamers who enjoy well-done soundtracks will enjoy the orchestral compositions that lace the Kartia experience. An interesting feature that many gamers will enjoy is the versus mode, where you can take on a friend's army. You can also swap items with other players using your memory cards.
Perhaps the only downside (which is not unique to most RPGs, strategy or otherwise) is that the game is quite linear. Aside from that, battles tend to get a bit monotonous; however, the sheer number of options at your disposal goes some way to lightening that burden - small details to be sure and nothing that detracts from the game. Once past the first couple of battles, the subtleties sink in, and it's then that the game becomes a blast.
Considering the drought of good RPGs recently, Kartia's presence on the market is perfect timing. The fact that it's a good RPG makes it even better. Kartia's a game with substance and style, one that wins you over without resorting to flashy pyrotechnics or cheap gimmicks. Hopefully gamers won't overlook this game as they salivate in anticipation of games like Final Fantasy VIII. Kartia is a first-rate RPG that we're lucky to have on these shores. Atlus' daring move has resulted in one of the finest RPGs this year.