Makai Kingdom

Makai Kingdom

Written by Matt Mirkovich on 10/18/2005 for PS2  

Nippon Ichi Software seems to have some bizarre fixation on the underworld, demons, and all the things that usually come after a not so righteous life. All of their titles have something to do with this strangely interesting yet disturbing place. Makai Kingdom is no different a title, with its entertaining cast of well acted characters, and delightfully twisted yet charming story about the place at lot of people dread to go when it’s their time, it does everything that a Nippon Ichi title is supposed to do, and that is entertain to the best of its ability. It does this even with the dated graphic style that a lot of people use as ammunition as to why these titles are not viable for the current generation.

At the heart of Makai Kingdom is an excellent story about the most freakin’ bad-ass overlord to ever rule a netherworld, the powerful, almighty, and downright cocky Zetta. His whole netherworld that he was perfectly happy gaining power in has suddenly been prophesized to be destroyed, of course when you’re a ‘bad-ass’ you don’t stand for this kind of nonsense so what does he do? Goes to find the source of this insurgency and put an end to it. Unfortunately his oracle, Pram, and her prediction could not be thwarted as Zetta’s netherworld is returned to its base form, the Sacred Tome, and Zetta himself being the sole survivor of this whole calamity is now reduced to the very thing he tried to protect, literally. With Zetta reduced to the Sacred Tome the only thing that can be done is slowly rebuild and start anew, with hilarious results as his former apprentice/lover makes an appearance along with his long time rival and a few other overlords who are happy to see Zetta get what he deserves.

This game follows the same principles of previous NIS titles; give the player as much freedom as possible on what is routinely a constrained battlefield. If you have played through some of NIS’ catalog then you’ve gotten the hang of what’s to come here already, but for the uninitiated I will give you a quick rundown. With Makai Kingdom you are given a lead character, this character will act as your liaison since Zetta is kind of going nowhere thanks to being the Sacred Tome. With this character you will navigate the non-battle segments of the game, this means going through your netherworld to go shopping, place buildings, recruit troops, and then some. Battle and storyline bits are a hop, skip, and a jump through the Makai Portal. This will take you to your menu selection screen where you can choose the battles you will be fighting.

Fighting and all its wonderful little nuances is what makes this game so much fun, like past NIS strategy titles, it has been a formula that is always being refined and always improving. Makai Kingdom is a perfect example of this. Those out there put off by the confinement system of Phantom Brave will find a sweet bliss in knowing that your characters aren’t on the battlefield with borrowed time. Makai Kingdom does things a little differently. When you are creating your characters and building your army, you are confining them into things found in the midst of battle. A lot of the times you will see weapons and or plants or other objects lying around and these are the building blocks of your army. Each item you find has a different confining ability, some items may raise intelligence making for an excellent mage, others may raise hit points and defense making for a massive tank. Another very interesting twist is the way the battlefield itself is shaped, no longer confined to just one section the battlefield will continue to grow until you have accumulated enough “points” to clear a stage, this is done by destroying the ‘key’ that keeps each area hidden, or you can just throw an enemy into the new zone and it will be built. The more points you accumulate the better your prizes will be at the end, so sometimes you will have to gauge the severity of the situation, do you keep pushing your luck trying to find a more powerful item or do you suck it up and take the W? It’s a very deep system that if I took the time out to explain it all you would want to find me and kill me for posting it all for you to read, but as they say trial and error are the best experience so give it a shot and you’ll be pleasantly surprised, especially when you find, a box.

Once you’ve put together your rag-tag group of fighters it’s time to put them to work, because Zetta isn’t going to be doing a lick of anything. Instead he will simply be “Inviting” everything to the battle, and he’ll be bringing the guns to the knife fight so to speak. Makai Kingdom delivers the delicious twist in battle, this time you’re not just summoning minions to do your bidding, you also can summon buildings which offer stat augmentations and vehicles that your army or even your enemies can pilot and dole out massive amounts of damage. This all takes place on a free roaming battle system, there are no grids here. This can at times makes for a little bit of crowding when trying to do large chain combination attacks but it works out very well and is very easy to navigate.

If you find yourself at a loss during the main game, you are more than welcome to spend time power leveling in the random dungeons that you create. As you do battle and defeat enemies your characters will acquire mana, which is the building block of each character and wish that they would like to see come true. When you make a wish on Zetta you can make a new character, create a building at the cost of their life, or make a new dungeon to explore. The dungeons that are created are based upon the level of the character that makes the wish, the higher their level the stronger the monsters you will face and the rarest items will be up for grabs. Which is something you will want to keep an eye out for, rare items mean bonus points when you are trying to create characters, and there is a little bit of balancing to do, keep a weapon that gives your mage godly intelligence? Or do you sacrifice the item to make the little witch’s successor? There are no easy answers here but sometimes that’s just part of the fun.

If you’re into NIS games then without a doubt you know their graphical stylings. Games like Makai Kingdom look like they would be perfect for a GBA or DS port and quite honestly I wouldn’t be surprised if they try to do it sans voice acting tracks. Makai Kingdom is not going to make anyone with an HDTV setup proud to show it off that’s for certain, but the game has its charm in its looks. Once you get over the very dated looking graphics you’ll find that you did indeed purchase a quality title. On the sound front you’ve got solid voice acting with a Japanese language track to boot and a pretty good soundtrack that at times has epic sweeping moments and melancholy tones at the other, and then there is that funky dance techno thing that they like to do from time to time which works but feels seriously out of place.

If you’ve played Phantom Brave and felt very pressed for both time and energy with each map then you’re going to love the more leisurely pace that Makai Kingdom takes. It’s a fabulous strategy RPG that does everything that NIS is known for and that is to provide and entertaining experience with a well written story that doesn’t mind being off the wall and downright bizarre. If you can look past the dated graphics you’ll find a game that ranks up there with Final Fantasy Tactics in terms of playability and sheer quality. If the graphics are holding you back then by all means, skip this one, but don’t go whining to your friends about wanting to play this game only to have them give you the whole “I told you so,” line as they lend you their copy, if they are willing.

Another solid RPG from Nippon Ichi that will satisfy fans of their previous works.

Rating: 8.5 Very Good

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.

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I recently cleared the 10 year club with Gaming Nexus. Kind of surprised I've been a mainstay here for a little over a decade now.

In a past life I worked with Interplay, EA, Harmonix, Konami, and a number of other developers and have recently returned from a job in Texas doing production work for a company that did cell phone games. Now I'm working for a record label, along with Gaming Nexus, and anywhere else that sees fit to employ me.

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