Makai Kingdom: Chronicles of the Sacred Tome PlayStation 2
Published by Koei
Developed by Nippon Ichi Software
Release Date: 28th November 2005
Makai Kingdom: Chronicles of the Sacred Tome, an introduction.
Makai Kingdom: Chronicles of the Sacred Tome is the latest strategy RPG from Nippon Ichi. Previous strategy RPG titles from Nippon Ichi that we've reviewed have been the fabulous Disgaea (our game of the year for 2004), La Pucelle Tactics and Phantom Brave. All three of these games have been superb and each comes with 100+ hours of play time. As you might expect, Makai Kingdom stays pretty close to the winning formula of these previous titles but it's not without a few innovations to help make the experience unique.
What's the game about?
The central character in the game is Lord Zetta. Zetta was horrified at a prophecy from Pram the Oracle (which foretold of the destruction of his Netherworld) and he attempted to prevent such an event occurring. Zetta consults the Sacred Tome to see what will cause his downfall. Unfortunately the Sacred Tome has it that Zetta's foolishness is responsible for his downfall and in temper Zetta attempts to burn the book. It's an action that backfires though and he suffers as well as the Sacred Tome. His mistake almost kills him but at the last moment he manages to confine himself to the Sacred Tome. He's still the most powerful overlord in the Netherworld but in his current state (a talking book) he can't do anything without help. With the help of his friends (and I use the term loosely because after all these are demons) Zetta is given a new Netherworld. However the twist is that the Netherworld is full of enemies and Zetta will have to create his own army and battle through the various regions in an attempt to defeat the enemies. This is where you come in of course and you'll create a variety of characters to defeat the enemies that face the book bound Zetta.
What's good about the game?
Essentially Makai Kingdom is a combination of Disgaea and Phantom Brave in that it takes elements from both and adds some new features in order to make a unique experience. If you have played Phantom Brave you'll remember how you had to confine characters to objects (such as trees, rocks and flowers etc.) when bringing them into battle. In Makai Kingdom you confine a character to an object when you create them and this has a permanent affect on their attributes. Unlike Phantom Brave though, when your characters are invited into battle they won't disappear after a set number of turns. It's not just your characters that can be invited to battle though. In Makai Kingdom you can invite facilities, such as a hospital or a shop, and vehicles on to the map. Having a facility on a map can give you special bonuses. The hospital for instance will give your characters 10% of their health back at the end of your turn where as the shop will give you extra HL (the currency in the game) at the end of a battle. It's even possible to attack enemies whilst they are in a facility but they can also attack your characters whilst they are inside a facility too. Vehicles can be driven around the map and you can attack with them which adds another twist to the game.
In Phantom Brave the speed of each character determined how quickly their turn came around. Makai Kingdom throws this method out in favour of the method used in Disgaea where you'll move and attack with all of your characters and then the AI will take its turn and so on. This is a much better way of doing things and helps the battles to flow much more uniformly. The maps in Makai Kingdom are random and this increases the replay value of them no end. Of course it also makes levelling up on a favourite map a more difficult proposition but you can't have the best of both worlds. Where as the goal in previous games was to defeat all of the enemies on a map, it's not always the sensible thing to do in Makai Kingdom. You have a certain total of points that have to be attained before the map can be said to have been completed. Defeating various enemies will earn you points (not all enemies will earn you points though) and once the required number of points have been attained you have the option of quitting the level or carrying on until you've finished off all of the enemies. When your characters have low levels it can be fatal to attempt to clear certain maps so you'll have to choose wisely. Certain enemies will hold a key and once these are defeated the map will extend to reveal more enemies. Some maps have many extensions and you'll need a tough party of characters to defeat enemies on these maps. You'll also get random events in battles that can limit the amount of characters you can invite onto the battlefield and they can also cause status effects to your characters which can make the battles much more difficult. The importance of mana cannot be underestimated in Makai Kingdom as with it you'll create higher level characters, new random dungeons and facilities amongst other things.
What's not so good about the game?
My main disappointment with the game is the amount of profanity in the game's cutscenes. Sure Disgaea and Phantom Brave had the odd undesirable word here and there but there's a lot more in Makai Kingdom and it's surprising to see the game only rated as a 12+ (the same as the other Nippon Ichi titles). Once again the gridless system, which debuted in Phantom Brave, has been used and having spent quite a lot of my spare time this year playing Disgaea, La Pucelle and Phantom Brave I have to say I prefer the traditional grids for a game of this nature as you don't get the character overlaps and target zone hassles that you have in Phantom Brave and Makai Kingdom. Don't get me wrong it's by no means a major complaint but having spent many hours with both the grid and gridless systems I much prefer the grid system and it's great that it looks like Disgaea 2 will be returning to it.
How does it look?
If you've played any of the previous Nippon Ichi strategy RPG games you'll know exactly what to expect with regards to how the game looks. The game uses the same 2D sprites and the same isometric, simplistic maps. It's fair to say that the visuals are low on detail but high on character and whilst many would argue that Nippon Ichi should be making games that look a lot more detailed on the PlayStation 2 it's hard not to be charmed by these anime style characters. Of course as your characters develop they'll gain access to some great looking attacks and they look just as spectacular as they did in previous games (I can still remember laughing for several minutes when seeing the winged slayer attack in Disgaea for the first time because it was so over the top). There are a few clipping issues in the game but they are only minor issues and don’t take anything away from the game's visual charm.
How deaf gamer friendly is the game?
Deaf gamers will have no problems at all with Makai Kingdom. By default the game is subtitled and you'll be able to enjoy the story in its entirety which is excellent news. Most of the cutscenes require you to press the X button to move the conversation forward (some continue of their own accord though) so you'll be able to read these at your own pace. The cutscene dialogue usually positions a picture of the character who is talking next to the text so it's usually easy to make out who is saying what which again is a welcome feature. Makai Kingdom has a built in tutorial feature called the Lord Zetta Q&A which you can access by talking to Lord Zetta when you're not in a battle. This is a very helpful feature indeed and is great if you're unsure of anything. There is a more general help feature that can be called on in battle too and again this is exclusively in text. The only omission as far as subtitling goes is the comments that are made by the units during a battle. These comments are not really important though so not having them subtitled isn't a cause for concern.
Makai Kingdom: Chronicles of the Sacred Tome is definitely one of the best PlayStation 2 games we've seen this year and it's another jewel in Nippon Ichi's strategy RPG crown. Whilst I haven't quite enjoyed the game as much as Disgaea, as I prefer using grids instead of a gridless system, it's still an excellent game that throws in enough new features to keep strategy RPG enthusiasts on their toes. If you're a fan of the strategy RPG genre and have enjoyed previous Nippon Ichi titles you'll love Makai Kingdom. If you haven't played any of these games before I'd recommend starting with Disgaea but to be honest with you Disgaea, La Pucelle Tactics, Phantom Brave and Makai Kingdom are all strategy RPG classics that deserve a place in anyone's software collection.
Overall Game Rating: 9.1/10
Deaf Gamers Classification:
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If you're a strategy RPG fan then quite simply this is a must buy. The new additions do more than enough to make Makai Kingdom quite different from the previous Nippon Ichi titles.