It's been seven to eight months since I first purchased my Gamecube. Hell, I got it when it came out and played through the slew of good but not great launch titles, knowing in my heart there were some decent titles in development. All I would have to do is wait. One genre I've been eagerly waiting to see a title in is the RPG. Lost Kingdoms, from Activision, is a unique combination of card-battle and RPG, making it the first for the GC.
The game opens with the news of a horrible, dark fog having overtaken the five kingdoms, which have long sworn to not ally themselves together. These kingdoms serve as guardian to the five Runestones. You play the role of the young princess Katia, whose father, the king, has gone off to meet with the other kings. You are tasked with obviously saving your father and kingdom, while protecting one of the Runestones. For some reason, the whole "dark fog/mist" seems redundant; it reminds me of the premise to Legend of Legaia on the PSOne. At the start of the game you hook up with a master of the card arts, Gurd, who instructs you during your first mission on the use of your cards and how each one varies from the other in terms of their attributes, their strengths, and their weaknesses.
Lost Kingdoms isn't just built around a mission driven quest. On occasion, if you speak to Gurd at the Apothecary, your neighborhood card-shop, she'll tell you about the people suffering in your kingdom and how you can help them. While it's possible to collect a sufficient amount of cards to beat the game if you skip these quests, they do serve to build your coffer so that you'll hopefully never run out. Additionally, you'll only be able to get certain cards by doing these tasks, so it's a good thing to help the people. For me it served as good practice. You get to learn the power of your own cards, how to play them against various enemies, and how to conserve what you have. It's also nice to build up a stockpile of at least a few of each card.
Lost Kingdoms also has a feature that allows you to create and name multiple decks for various scenarios in the game. This is quite nice, as you'll be constantly reshuffling your deck, adding in certain cards, removing others, all depending upon what you're about to embark upon. I started out by creating decks stacked in favor of various elements, i.e. I had a water deck, an earth deck, etc., but as you progress you realize that particular levels call for a variety of cards, so you create more dynamic decks that stack in favor of stronger cards, with just a few weak ones you can toss away on your way toward the boss battle at the end of each mission. It's much like how you would organize, say, your Magic: The Gathering deck. Once you go through the game, you'll be able to build decks customized for each mission, at least the tougher ones. You'll also face a good chance of replaying some of the missions, so you'll get to learn the hard way which cards work and which don't.
As each of your cards gain in experience, usually accomplished by using them over and over in battle, you're able to transform them at the Apothecary into more powerful cards. This is on a one-off basis, which can be kind of tedious if you haven't done it in awhile; however, you don't necessarily have to upgrade your cards when they can move from level A to level B. Since there are multiple levels for each card, you have the option of waiting till they can skip a few levels. But one recommendation is that you won't be able to make it through some of the more advanced missions if you don't have powerful cards. Also, you might pull out that card you could have leveled-up, but instead held onto, and watch as it is summarily slaughtered by an overly tough opponent. Needless to say, Lost Kingdoms requires you to be careful with your card supplies. At the end of each mission you are given the option, depending on how you do, to select cards from a deck as bonus cards earned in the game.
I found the battle system, at times, rather clunky. The key you must remember is fire beats wood, wood beats earth (don't ask me how), earth beats water, and water beats fire. One of my chief, and I mean chief, complaints with the battle system is the color to attribute associations. By that, I mean this: fire is reddish-orange, wood is green, earth is brown, and water is blue. Now, I don't know about you, but my mnemonic association for earth is green not brown, while my association with wood is brown not green. What does this mean when you're in a battle? Simple. You always have to stop and think about which cards you're using; I never got used to the associations, except for the easy ones: fire and water.
Another complaint I have is that when you are engaged in a battle it is sometimes difficult to move around the field and I found myself having to shift the camera and kind of jostle my way around some of the enemies when they had me cornered or after I tossed down a card. Character movement isn't too fluid.
If you're unfortunate enough to use up all of your cards prior to completing the mission, guess what, you get to redo the whole damn thing. For some, this type of trial and error may seem fun and all. For me, it becomes torturous--especially when I found myself toward the end of the game. Nothing like spending hours on some Mission where you lose at the end--time after time after time. I guess I'm one of those souls who quickly run low on patience when I need to repeat things too many times.
While Lost Kingdoms possesses some unique elements to it, there isn't enough to hold your attention for more than ten hours or so, and there definitely isn't too much replay value . . . that is unless you're into collecting all hundred plus cards scattered and hidden throughout the game. Granted, some of the card summons are pretty cool, but that still doesn't absolve the horrid redundancy of this game. Graphically, the game is on par with launch title quality-decent, but nothing to write home about. Its storyline is hacked together, drawing you along from one card-battle to the next; rather than being structured around narrative and the RPG elements, Lost Kingdoms is built around the card-battles, and unless you're into card-battling, the game transgresses into sheer boredom.
For some RPGers, Lost Kingdoms runs the potential of a serious disappointment. I would recommend renting before purchasing, even if you're a person who goes in for the card-battle, RPG experience. You might even be able to beat it over a Blockbuster weekend.