Have you looked under the couch cushions?
The original Lost Kingdoms was something of a
lost cause, an average Action/RPG about Queen Katia and her quest to save the
lands from a villainous fog. The game just couldn’t find its way out of its own
foggy gameplay problems and bland story. I managed to find the Gamecube power
button just fine.
But in the sequel Lost Kingdoms II, the series has almost found its
way into the clear. For starters, there’s a better story here featuring a marginally
more interesting lead, Tara Grimface. She still doesn’t say or emote much (she’s
named Grimface after all), but at least she has a past to contend with.
Tara was abandoned as a young girl. Her only inheritance was a mystical runestone
that enabled her to control some equally mystical creatures encased in cards.
Instead of taking her magic cards into a life of political gain, she joined
the Band of Scorpions, a roving band of thieves and scallywags. The plot remains
simple, but more effort is made towards fleshing out the narrative with cutscenes
and decent voiceovers.
gameplay is still given priority over the story, and thankfully there have been
many improvements on that end. The card playing core of the game centers on
moving Tara through dungeon or overworld stages while battling enemies with
her personal deck of 30 cards.
Lost Kingdoms II is appropriately twice as long with a completely overhauled
battle system. When you would encounter a random enemy in the original Lost
Kingdoms, the game would wall you into an enclosed battleground. You were
allowed to shuffle through your deck, but after a card had been swapped away,
you weren’t allowed to use it until the next battle. The randomized battles
disrupted the more action-driven personality of the game.
That’s all changed for the better. Enemy opponents are now constantly on the map so you can fight and run at will. No more random battles here, and card usage is not inhibited from battle to battle. Shuffle through your deck to your heart’s content, but you still have to keep an eye out for enemy attacks. If you die during a stage, you are freely given the change to try and try again.
The original Lost Kingdoms had three principal card types: attacks,
independents and summons. An attack card works like one action move, such as
a sword slice. The independent cards let loose one creature that runs amuck,
fighting enemies in its way. The summon cards bring forth a super-sized creature
to rain down some wanton destruction.
Two new card types have been added: traps and transforms. A trap stays in
place until an enemy foolishly walks over it, while the transform card allows
you to change into a creature for a prolonged period of time and utilize some
special monster abilities. For example, by turning into the stone golem, you
can Hulk Smash your way through
some barriers that must be crossed to complete the stage. One issue is that
if you jump onto a ledge while in a monster form, you can only jump off while
in that same form. That’s a problem if you run out of the monster power while
still on the ledge.
Card usage is kept in check by a usage meter. The bigger summons will cost
more than little attacks. There’s a tendency to only pay attention when the
meter is used up, not how quickly it’s spent. This meter is replenished by collecting
the various gems that fly out of defeated creatures. Gems will also shoot out
of your own creatures after they’ve fought the good fight and failed, thus negating
the problem of losing all your fighting powers. The cards have individual usage
meters as well; an attack card may have three sword swipes, whereas summoning
is a one-time deal.
For the most part you can get by without adhering to the elemental structure of each card, but you will play more sloppily. There are 6 elements, the original classic four of earth, fire, wood, and water, and the brand new ones, neutral and mech. There are also card boosts and combos to add power to your attacks, and elemental bonuses to encourage you to use all your elements.
When taken altogether, Lost Kingdoms II has a nice amount of fairly
deep strategy, much of which stems from experience. For instance, you might
try out one card type and find it works especially well on one enemy species.
Thus, you would stock up on those cards for an area littered with that species.
At the end of each stage you are ranked by your play performance and rewarded
with some bonus cards. There’s as much strategy to it as you are willing to
put in, which is a necessary part of a good card battle game.
also a two-player game mode that allows you to take your deck against a willing
friend. The fair-use rules of the original still apply, but the back and forth
grunt matches are made more varied by the increased number of cards.
With all the different cards to see, deal, and shuffle, all while running
around exploring a big RPG world, Lost Kingdoms II win the award for
the Gamecube’s Most Cluttered Visual Interface. You’ve got your health bar at
the top left and these huge cards mapped to the buttons on the bottom right.
There really ought to have been a way to toggle between a larger or condensed
view of the cards to eke out some more visual real estate.
Lost Kingdoms II‘s camera tends to prefer a third-person behind the
back perspective over the high isometric view. Sometimes the game won’t even
allow you to pull back and up properly for a better view, such as while navigating
some narrow halls. Interestingly, I complained in my review of the original
that it only allowed the top view. Why can’t they just offer both consistently?
Running away from enemies and fighting the camera can be a problematic affair,
and having big honking cards in the way doesn’t help.
But despite the bad interface, the game is much more polished this time around, with finely crafted textures and better attention to detail. The effects, such as with the summons, don’t shine with the best lighting effects, but the creature animation is consistent. The music isn’t half-bad either, with a generous range of sound effects for the multitude of creatures.
Lost Kingdoms II is a great example of a sequel learning from its predecessor’s
mistakes. It’s clear that From Software knew what they were doing this time
around and earnestly tried to fix the problems in the original. The game is
longer, the gameplay is more fun and flowing and the main character is a bit
more interesting. The only parts requiring more work are the story, the visual
interface and the camera. Fans of the original will be pleased by the improvements,
and fans of collectible card games should find some decent fun in Lost Kingdoms