Makai Kingdom: Chronicles of the Sacred Tome Preview

We get crazy with Nippon Ichi's latest strategy RPG, which lets you throw your weight around in a whole new way.

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Japanese game developer Nippon Ichi Software has carved its own unique niche in the already-niche strategy role-playing-game realm, creating complex adventures with continually evolving gameplay mechanics and seemingly bottomless content. Each game the company produces contains its own special gameplay twist, and Nippon Ichi's most recent work, Makai Kingdom: Chronicles of the Sacred Tome, is no different. It's still a turn-based strategy game, but in addition to getting to tinker around with a large variety of units, you also get to create buildings of various types in your kingdom, which you can then summon into battle with you. This probably sounds as insane to you as it did to us, but fortunately, we were able to go hands-on with the game to give you the scoop on just what Nippon Ichi is up to with this one.

Destruction, conquest, whole-body transmutation... Being a demon lord is hard work.
Destruction, conquest, whole-body transmutation... Being a demon lord is hard work.

First, here's a little backstory. At the very beginning of the game, the netherworld is ruled by the might and the outrageous arrogance of one Lord Zetta, demon extraordinaire. When he hears from the upstart oracle, Pram, that his great rule will soon come to an end, Zetta seeks out the truth from a legendary sacred tome, a book that contains a record of all past and future events. He finds the tome and routs its guardian so that he can read it, only to discover that, indeed, his reign is doomed to end through his own selfishness. Angrily, he destroys the book with a burst of flame...and destroying the book happens to trigger the destruction of the universe. Whoops.

In a desperate bid to save himself, Lord Zetta merges with what remains of the tome, becoming a demon book with a sour attitude in a mostly empty world. In his time of weakness, Pram and some of his other demon acquaintances seek him out, and Zetta begins to put plans in motion to create his own kingdom, raise an army, and then reclaim the broken netherworld, as well as his lost body.

The game starts you out on an empty field devoid of any sort of interesting features, save a mysterious doghouse in the middle (we wish we knew what was up with that doghouse) and a few rocks and trees. As it happens, those scattered items are key to starting to build your army, because you can select an item--like a rock, tree, shrub, or flower--and bind a soul to it to create a new unit. Each item you can bind has its own attributes that will confer to your unit, like higher HP or lowered resistance to certain types of magic.

At the beginning, you can create warriors, magicians, medics, and more, so we quickly used the surrounding foliage to scrape up a meager fighting force. Doing so enabled Lord Zetta to drop us our first building: an item shop. The shop let us purchase weapons to arm our newly created peons, and one class type was able to equip a UFO. Yes, as in a flying saucer. Makai Kingdom won't be restricted to a typical swords-and-sorcery weapon set; you'll eventually be able to create tanks and use crazy heavy artillery on your foes, as well as the more usual stabbing-type weapons and magic.

Characters are able to move freely within a circular range of motion.
Characters are able to move freely within a circular range of motion.

We were then able to take our ragtag crew into a short skirmish with a trio of enemies, which gave us a peek at the battle system. Much like in other Nippon Ichi strategy RPGs, Makai Kindgom features an isometric view and a turn-based system that lets you either execute your actions right away or queue up several characters to hit a single enemy, thus earning damage bonuses. Like Phantom Brave, this game doesn't use a grid-based movement system. Instead, each character has a circular range of motion he or she can wander freely around in, and instead of overlapping other characters, you'll just end up standing right on top of them. Each type of weapon you use has a different range of effect (swords are small and localized, while spears thrust a long distance and can skewer multiple enemies in a line), as well as your magic. In addition, you're easily able to harm your own troops with friendly fire, so you need to both be careful in close quarters and watch where you're aiming.

But, of course, troop battle is only part of the fun. What else is crammed into this quirky strategy game? Read on to find out.

Unidentified Falling Objects

When we defeated our first set of foes (amusing ourselves by dropping a UFO on them multiple times), we gained the ability to build a new structure: a hospital that gave us a place to heal our army. After a few more battles, we gained the ability to actually bring structures into battle with us. You can place a number of troops inside a structure, which does a couple of things: It gives those units a mobile base, and the building itself confers stat bonuses to its assigned occupants. You can place your building on the battlefield when there's room, and while you can initially only set the building near the map's start point (where Zetta is), you're not restricted to that placement.

Why stab some axe-wielding warrior in the gut when you can just drop a UFO on his head? I mean, honestly.
Why stab some axe-wielding warrior in the gut when you can just drop a UFO on his head? I mean, honestly.

That's because you can have a character actually pick up the building, occupants and all, and throw it to another spot on the map. Since you'll have to protect your buildings from enemy incursion, and placement can be important, this is a handy way to keep them out of trouble. It's also a good way to rout your foes. You just pitch your building behind enemy lines and then have your units spill out of it to give the enemy what for. However, the enemy will have buildings of its own, and while you can enter them to try to steal items, you'll have to contend with any units that might be hiding inside. Buildings can be destroyed, as well, so you'll have to watch out for them. It's a pretty crazy mechanic, but it looks like it has the possibility to add some really interesting tactical considerations to battles.

The game has a classic Nippon Ichi look, visually, with a variety of mostly very cute sprites and a wealth of equally adorable (and sometimes bizarre) artwork that gives each character a distinct personality. The environments you'll fight in are pleasing to the eye, if not very complex, which is likely derived from the fact that all the battle maps are randomly generated when you start a given fight. As a result, you won't fight the same battle in the same way twice. The game's music is of a catchy "Welcome to Halloween Town" sort in your kingdom, and it mostly moves out of your way in battles. The Japanese dialogue is clearly full of plenty of teasing and humor, with a very lighthearted tone.

All battle maps in Makai Kingdom are randomly generated.
All battle maps in Makai Kingdom are randomly generated.

Nippon Ichi looks to be giving back to its devoted fans once more with this one, crafting a solid strategy RPG with a new craziness all its own. Our only regret was not being able to play with the tanks and such, but we'll definitely keep this gamespace updated with additional coverage as we have it. Strategy fans will get to experience the insanity firsthand when Makai Kingdom is released later this year.

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