Since it’s release Disgaea: Hour of Darkness has been a huge hit for the PlayStation 2, promoting Nippon Ichi Software to a much loved status within the gaming community and introducing an awful lot of gamers to the world of the Strategy Role Playing Game. A genre that’s a healthy blend of your Final Fanatsy-esque traditional RPG’s and strategy table-top/ boards games such as Chess.
Due to Disgaea’s success, Nippon Ichi saw fit to release its predecessor La Pucelle Tactics, and another SRPG title from their ranks, Phantom Brave, on these shores, and while both of these titles have a strong following; they’re not quite up to Disgaea’s standards. So with its latest release can Nippon Ichi step out of the shadow that Laharl, Etna and co have cast over its studios? Makai Kingdom is certainly going to try!
Nippon Ichi have stuck to their usual 2D sprites approach to the graphics giving the title a cartoonish approach, but allowing them much more freedom in showing emotion from the characters when telling the story. This brings about a quirkiness that will gain the developer many more fans, something that Capcom will know all about due to the success of its Street Fighter titles. Really it’s all about producing game mechanics that makes the title stand out, rather than just focusing on the graphics, something that many developers seem to forget, and Nippon Ichi appear to have this down to a fine art.
And it’s these game play mechanics that have taken the most radical change, albeit not a huge step from what the developer as already established in previous titles. In terms of its playing style, Makai Kingdom has more in common with Disgaea’s successor, Phantom Brave in that you have “free movement”. Basically instead of being forced to play on a grid-based landscape, you now get a ring appear around your character that shows the area that your character can move in, then once you select attack and how you want to attack, another ring appears to show you the range for it. This range of movement and attack can vary depending on your location on the map, which can make battles seem random and difficult to plan. This isn’t to say that the systems don’t work, as it does, very well in fact, and if anything it makes the title more accessible to newcomers than Disgaea ever did. Which can be no bad thing to Nippon Ichi although it might upset a few fans of that title.
And now not only can you bring your characters into the battlefield, but you can also “invite” the buildings that appear in your Netherworld carrying extra times and featuring ability aids to help you become all the more successful in battle. The ability aids are similar to the ability/status effects seen ion titles such as the Final Fantasy series, things like your health points being cured by a percentage every few moves and such. Using the buildings can also help you introduce vehicles such as buggies and mech-suits giving you extra movement options or more power in attack or defence in order to help you put together a successful battle strategy.
But with this amount of depth in mind, Makai Kingdom is incredibly easy to get into, especially compared to slower titles such as Final Fantasy Tactics Advance on Nintendo’s Gameboy Advance. It’s this accessibility that has gained Nippon Ichi so many fans worldwide since its PlayStation days. Even though previous titles have introduced numerous ways of altering the outcome of battles such as Disgaea’s Geo’s and the Item World. Makai Kingdom also brings something new to the table here, but it’s not a case of altering the battles, but more a case of extending them. For every hit you deal out to the enemy, you earn points, and these points go towards a total, once you reach a set amount, which is different depending on the map, you are asked if you want to finish the battle and be successful or carry on to earn more experience points or find rare weapons (you’ll probably need a thief for that) at the risk of possibly failing the mission.
On the subject of leveling up, those of you who are veterans of Nippon Ichi’s previous titles will be used to being able to level your characters up to ridiculous heights such as 9,999. But again, Makai Kingdom makes a change here, again making it more accessible to newcomers by reducing this number to a still very high 2,000. Even though it is possible to complete the game with your character levels in double figures. This isn’t to say the game tires quicker than anything else the studio has developed, with the opportunity to play any story battle as many times as you like and also the ability to use any Mana you earn to purchase new dungeons to fight in.
Makai Kingdom is an incredible achievement from Nippon Ichi, not only will fans of their previous work enjoy it, but it’s the perfect starting place for anyone who has the slightest interest in the genre but doesn’t know where to start. Although the game doesn’t quite shift Laharl et al out of the spotlight, it does give the audience of the show yet more content to rave about.