PS2 REVIEW: MAKAI KINGDOM: CHRONICLES OF THE SACRED TOME

I thought I'd never complete this game, and I was right. It's not difficult to win the battles and finish the game but there is so much to unlock and explore in Makai Kingdom that you may never fully complete it.

Makai Kingdom is a strategy RPG, which is a rare bird on the PS2. It's worth noting that this version is not much different from the Nippon Ichi series of strategy RPGs but it's definitely the most refined version. It's full of variety and has plenty of depth to satisfy even the most ardent of fans. Yet it still remains accessible for novices. The battle system has some new additions and the overall sense of freedom has been increased so that the gaming experience will be different for everyone. By experimenting with different strategies you could conceivable play this game for years. I don't have that kind of time, being a reviewer, but if I were stranded on a desert isle and I could only have one strategy RPG with me it would definitely be this one. I would also like to take along a two-year supply of pepperoni pizzas and Coke - and a treadmill. I'm not sure what I would do with the treadmill but I might be able to ride it to where I store the pepperoni.

Setting the foundation for the turn-based battle system, the storyline chronicles the plight of Lord Zetta, the most powerful overlord in the kingdom whom becomes trapped in the book of the Sacred Tomes when his doomed netherworld meets with disaster. The whole sordid mess begins when Lord Zetta consults with the Sacred book to see into the future and discovers that through his own moronic actions he will destroy his entire netherworld. In a fit of rage he attempts to set the book on fire only to accidentally destroy his own netherworld. What a maroon. To escape the hellfire he confines his soul to the Sacred Tome and becomes trapped within its pages. With no physical body or netherworld to rule over Zetta is helpless. His friends rally around his predicament and attempt to rebuild his empire and free him from the chronicles.

Creating a party of up to eight characters, each must be confined to a specific object. Lord Zetta is unplayable and must have the other characters do his bidding. Once you confine a character to an object that's it. There's no changing it, so you have to make a good choice. There are elements of strategy at every turn so you always have to pay attention.

Battles offer you a large degree of freedom. You can move your characters anywhere and you aren't restricted by rank, points or initiative. There is no grid but the layout of the environment heavily suggests grid-based patterns with various squares, angles and blocky plateaus. Characters can be placed on top of each other for convenience but with more than two stacked on top of each other they can be really hard to discern. You can throw items and characters but you must be empty handed to do so, and the character that you might want to throw across a chasm also has to be empty handed which requires constant disarming which gets a little frustrating over time.

Hidden areas on the randomly generated battlefield can be opened up by killing a key enemy or destroying an equally important object. When these areas open up they will provide you with special bonuses such as paralyzing the enemy or reducing the power of their hits. These new areas will reveal new enemies, vehicles, items and powers.

The levels are absolutely huge. They just keep going on and on. Add the secret areas and the ability to create a dungeon crawl and you've got a lot of game. A character can make a wish for a dungeon and he will be rewarded with a special battle in which he can pick up tons of experience points that will make the rest of the level a cakewalk. Vehicles are also available to make shorter work of the large maps. These vehicles must be summoned during a turn. They will take on damage before the pilot gets hit. The vehicles can be equipped with various weapons which you can use to defend yourself. You can also elect to get out of the vehicle to use powers that you can't access from the vehicle. When the vehicle is destroyed you can jump out of it and continue fighting normally.

The battle is over when you've amassed enough points to clear it, at which time you can exit the fight or continue on. If you choose to continue you will accumulate even more points and you can also explore more of the secret areas. If you move on you can always explore these areas later which greatly increases the replay value.

The 2D characters won't win any awards but they do have some personality. All of the cutscenes are voiced with really good voiceacting. There is humor and warmth to the game that makes the experience feel personal, something that a lot of games fail to capture. The battlefield effects are effective and varied. It's truly interesting to see what happens next. Thankfully there's not a lot of repetition with the effects, animation and music.

Chronicles of the Sacred Tome is highly recommended for all RPG strategists. I could only give it an overall grade of 4.0 because it borrows too heavily from past games even though it manages to push the genre into new territory.

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System: X, PS2
Dev: Nippon Ichi
Pub: NIS America
Release: July 2005
Players: 1 - 4
Review By Cole
RATING (OUT OF 5)
OVERALL
4.0
GRAPHICS
3.5
CONTROL
4.5
MUSIC/FX
4.0
VALUE
4.5