|Review by||:||Ken Gagne|
Role-playing games (RPGs) on the Nintendo 64 was a lost cause. It wasn't until the last year of the system's life that games such as Aidyn Chronicles and Paper Mario appeared.
I have higher hopes for the Nintendo GameCube, and though its first outing — Activision's Lost Kingdoms — is not a traditional RPG, it bears several positive elements which make it enjoyable in its own right.
Lost Kingdoms' focus is not on the story: a black fog has enshrouded the five kingdoms, requiring Princess Katia to dispel its mysterious source. No, the focus here is on the decks of cards Katia carries. Every monster she battles can be captured and used as a playing card in battle. Each card has a unique type and attribute, such as Weapon-type or Summon-type cards with Fire or Earth traits. Katia herself has no characteristics, such as strength or defense; all encounters are resolved through use of her cards. Gamers play Katia's cards in real-time, dodging enemy attacks and aiming tosses of cards. There are no menu-driven battles or grid-based tactics.
The game is divided into short missions consisting of landscapes Katia must explore, usually to reach an endpoint and defeat a boss. She can carry only a limited number of cards, and each can be used only once per mission. Proper deck composition is essential; walking into a nest of Water monsters with nothing but Fire cards is a formula for failure.
But gamers unfamiliar with the appeal of collectible card games may find Lost Kingdoms' gameplay not discouraging, but refreshing. It took me a while to understand the finer points of building decks and capturing cards, and I'm still not a slave to detail — but it's not much different from other RPG systems. Rather than defeating monsters to gain experience and "level up", players can capture a greater number of more powerful cards. Random battles can affect the landscape, revealing new paths or hidden items and furthering players' arsenals. Players with the patience to uncover all the game's secrets will not meet with meaningless rewards; a new card is a real reward that benefits the player and makes further progress possible. With the absence of armor, magic potions, and other inventory necessities, players are free to focus on their decks.
Unfortunately, other RPG staples which would've translated well to this title are absent. There is no voice acting for any of the characters, nor the opportunity to revisit previous levels to look under every rock for missed treasure. The game does not penalize failure, other than to return players to the level's entrance. The missions are fairly short; with the proper amount of deck building, the game can be finished (if not mastered) in less than the 20 hours the packaging advertises.
Lost Kingdoms does offer a competitive two-player mode, however, inviting players to pit their decks against each other, with the victor gaining spoils from her opponent's deck. But in either one- or two-player mode, the lack of clear indication as to a card's elemental nature makes quick decisions difficult to cut; I must often pause during a battle to reference my card statistics to see what card does what.
Lost Kingdoms is not what I expected. It's a non-traditional RPG; as someone who's never caught the Magic: The Gathering or Pokemon crazes, my first impression was that I'd dislike Lost Kingdoms. I was pleasantly proven wrong.
All is not lost; the future for GameCube RPGs is bright.
This article is copyright (c) 2002, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.
Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 17-Jun-02