Lost Kingdoms II Preview
Activision and From Software continue their unique GameCube RPG franchise.
When it was released last year, From Software's Lost Kingdoms was one of the stronger third-party offerings available for the GameCube. The title filled a sizable gap in the GameCube's software library, which was notoriously thin in the RPG department, and its action RPG gameplay and unique card-based combat system went down well with gamers eager for some adventuring. For the next installment in the fledgling franchise, From Software is enhancing the series' graphics and presentation and expanding on several aspects of its gameplay. We first got a look at the sequel at last year's Tokyo Game Show and were pleased with the approach From Software was taking. We've since gotten hold of a preview build of Lost Kingdoms II and have been putting it through its paces to see how it's shaping up.
Lost Kingdoms II's story is set 200 years after the events from the first game, and it puts you in the role of a new heroine named Tara. It seems that the realm of Argwyll benefited quite a bit from Princess Katia's triumph over the forces of evil in the first game. The ensuing 200 years have been blissfully peaceful for the locals, who attribute the mellow, evil-free times to the long line of queens who have used the ancient runestone, passed down through the years, that served Katia so well in the original game. Unfortunately, the war-loving Kendarie are anxious to stir up trouble and have started harassing Argwyll's inhabitants. As in times past, the reigning queen, Rashiannu, has issued a warning to the troublemakers to stop their behavior or face the power of the runestone. Unfortunately, there are some rather significant obstacles to maintaining peace. First, the Kendarie appear to have created their own runestones, granting them a respectable amount of power. Second, the Kendarie have grown bolder thanks to rumors that Rashiannu cannot actually control the runestone and back up her threat. Finally, Rashiannu does not, in fact, have Katia's runestone. As luck would have it, Rashiannu actually gave it away years ago to the game's unlikely heroine, Tara, when the young girl came to her aid. As keeper of the sole item capable of saving the day, your goal will be to explore the 26 worlds that make up Argwyll, find out exactly how the Kendarie got their runestones, and stop them before Rashiannu and her kingdom are overrun. This, of course, only underscores the message sent by most RPGs: helping people only leads to a big hassle later on. The upside to all of the above is that it makes for some compelling gameplay.
The core structure of Lost Kingdoms II is very similar to that of its predecessor. You'll still progress to different points on a world map and explore the areas contained therein. Most areas will have multiple objectives you'll have to complete before moving on, as well as secrets to discover. The narrative has a larger presence in the sequel, thanks to the inclusion of cinematic sequences that keep the proceedings moving along at a fair clip. Though, while the game's story provides a very clear direction for the action to unfold in, you'll be able to revisit locations you've previously cleared. You'll still collect different kinds of fairies, which provide various bonuses, and cards that you'll be able to use in combat. The series' exploration component features a new twist in that you'll be able to use certain cards to transform yourself into some of the creatures in Tara's card bestiary. Transforming into a creature can prove to be an invaluable tool during your travels, as it allows you to access previously unreachable areas. For example, we were able to reach certain chests that were on inaccessible islands off the coast of an area by transforming into a bird and flying over. The new feature adds a new layer of puzzle solving to the game that works well.
While Lost Kingdoms II's basic structure is similar to that of the original game, the combat system features some significant revisions. Whereas battles in the original Lost Kingdoms were random encounters against invisible enemies that popped up as you explored, in Lost Kingdoms II, you'll be able to see the enemies around you and choose to whether or not to engage them. The battles themselves feature some new elements as well, most notably the ability to shuffle through your cards during battle. In the original Lost Kingdoms, you were forced to actually throw away the cards you were holding if you needed to switch them out during a battle. Lost Kingdoms II lets you swap in new cards from your deck by returning the unwanted cards to the bottom of the deck. You'll also be able to use Tara's ability to transform into creatures to take a more direct part in combat. As far as your bestiary goes, Lost Kingdoms II adds 100 new cards to the mix seen in the original game. As before, each of the cards in your deck can be powered up and evolved as it gains experience during combat. These various tweaks have resulted in a welcome improvement in the pacing and overall feel of battles.
The graphics in Lost Kingdoms II improve on the original's graphics in a number of ways. Character detail is higher across the board, with NPCs and beasts featuring a level of detail that's comparable to the detail featured in the main character. You'll also see some solid texture work on clothing patterns and the skin of the various beasts in the game. The environments offer a pleasing amount of variety, much like in the first game. You'll roam through pastoral areas with their own environmental themes, as well as a fair assortment of castles and towns. The in-game engine is put to good use in the various cutscenes that are used to move the story along. The series' camera, which was somewhat problematic in the first game, seems to have roughly the same issues in the sequel. You'll find it gets stuck at odd angles during exploration and combat and generally requires quite a bit of fiddling with the C stick to keep in a satisfactory spot. Fortunately, our preview version of the game wasn't complete, so there's still time to fix this problem.
The series' audio has been bumped up quite a bit, thanks to the addition of voice. Lost Kingdoms II also features the same basic assortment of ambient sounds and creature noises as the first game. Tara is a bit chattier in combat than Katia was, which adds some urgency to the battles. The voice acting in the cinematic scenes is pretty solid overall, and as far as the game's score goes, Lost Kingdoms II features a collection of tunes that are comparable to the songs featured in its predecessor.
Lost Kingdoms II seems to be shaping up pretty well. In terms of its content, the game has quite a bit more to offer than the original. The improved graphics are solid, the audio is strong, and the gameplay features some good tweaks to ensure that the game stays engaging. Fans of the original game will want to keep an eye out for Lost Kingdoms II when it ships this May.
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