Welcome to this week’s, “Sequel, Spin Off, Start Over or Stay Dead?”Â Each week we’re going to look at a dormant franchise that was once pretty popular, but for some reason has disappeared into the sands of time. Diehard GameFAN staffers will have four options for what they want to have happen to the series and you can see them in the title of this piece. For a little more detailed description see below:
Sequel – A direct sequel to the franchise. This means if it used sprites and was in 2-D, that’s how you want the next game to be as well. This might involve putting the game on a handheld system instead of a console, but it keeps the nostalgia and classic feel alive.
Spin Off – This is where you take the characters or a specific character is a totally different direction from the established franchise. Examples include Luigi’s Mansion, Hey You, Pikachu!, Shadow Hearts (From Koudelka), and so on.
Start Over – This is a reimagining of the series from the ground up. Perhaps it’s time to bring the series into 3-D. Perhaps you want a totally different control scheme or to throw away the old continuity. In a nutshell, this is taking the brand name from the old series and that’s about it. Everything else is new and re-envisioned.
Stay Dead – This is pretty obvious. This is a toxic franchise that you don’t want to see return in any way shape or form. Let the dead rest.
This week is a bit of a weird one as usually we have a few to a dozen staffers commenting on the game. This time though, it’s only me. Only two other staffers had even touched the first game in the series, albeit it for less than an hour, NO ONE besides myself has touched the second game and our head of public relations owns both games but hasn’t even put them in his Gamecube. In a way, this really doesn’t surprise me as I’m definitely the From Software fan on the site. I’ve been playing their titles since their very first release in King’s Field, and I assumed that because we have several unabashed Nintendo zealots working for me, that said staffers would have played the very first RPG series for the Nintendo GameCube, especially as this series was exclusive to the system. Alas, it was not to be and this week you’ve got only your intrepid Editor-in-Chief to discuss the history of as well as what should be done with Lost Kingdoms
Alex Lucard – Sequel
Here’s the thing. I really enjoy From Software’s titles. They’re by no means user friendly, often quite weird and generally pretty hard. They also tend to bounce all over the place genre-wise. I can remember being in college, stalking the Agetec message boards for info on Shadow Tower or Echo Night. Although their games have never been all that critically or financially successful a funny thing happened in 2009 – they made a little game called Demon’s Souls and critics across the World Wide Web shat themselves with praise for this game. People were calling it crazy hard, truly unique and innovative even though to longtime From Software fans, this was actually one of their lesser titles. It was basically a bit of several other From Software titles mashed together with less quality than they usually provide and an amazing amount of bugs in the Asian versions (that were thankfully cleaned up for North American release).
That’s not to say that Demon’s Souls is a bad game by any means. It’s definitely better than say Shadow Tower or Enchanted Arms, but compared to the level of innovation, characterization and storytelling one can find in their other titles like Otogi, Echo Night Beyond, and several of the Armoured Core or King’s Field titles, Demon’s Souls comes off a bit lackluster. So it’s amusing and sad to me as a person that has played all of their games (including have to import several) that the titles that truly deserved praise were largely ignored by American gamers and the gaming media, while Demon’s Souls gets praise for basically doing what their other games had done, but not as well. This is what happens when you let work in gaming journalism without a taste for gaming history I suppose. Hopefully the upshot is that all these Demon’s Souls fans will now go back and look at the truly awesome titles From Software has put out over the years to see what they are truly capable of.
Then there is Lost Kingdoms. This two game franchise was exclusive to the Nintendo GameCube and was known as Rune in Japan. Both games in the series received mixed reviews in the US, but the majority were quite positive. The complaints were the usual for a From Software title: not the prettiest game, not the best sounding game or that it was forgettable simply because it wasn’t a first party Nintendo title. However the truth is that the Lost Kingdoms series is not only one of, if not the, most innovative series From Software has ever put out, it was also the most balanced and easily accessible by the average gamer. There were secret levels, a player Vs. player mode (which was not really, if ever, done for an RPG back then) and a ton of customization options. Truly, if there was ever a From Software title for gamers both casual and enthusiast, this was it.
The story is pretty interesting. You play as Katia, who is the princess of the kingdom of Alanjeh. Slowly but surely a black fog begins to envelop all of the five kingdoms that seemed to kill all enter it. When the black fog envelops Alanjeh, Katia manages to escape, along with the kingdom’s Runestone. The Runestone is a powerful magical artifact that allows her to capture Monsters and trap them in cards that she can then use as summon spells against enemies. From there you’ll travel across all five kingdoms making allies and encountering enemies. The basic plot was fairly standard but there were some nice twists and turns such as being able to get enemies bosses on your side as well as encountering Helena, the anti-hero and semi-antagonist of Katia.
Gameplay was truly where things got interesting and even reviewers that didn’t like Lost Kingdoms when it came out praised the highly innovative gameplay that was basically a blend of real time strategy, Pokemon and Magic: The Gathering. Although you can own as many cards as you collect, your deck can only be thirty cards deep. There are chances to replenish your deck or replace cards in levels, but thirty is still your max at a time. There are 105 different kinds of cards in the game, each with their own elemental type. Water beats Fire, but is weak against Earth which is in turn weak against Wood, which is weak against Fire and that brings us full circle as that is vulnerable to Water. There is also a fifth element simply called Neutral which is neither strong nor weak against any element. Cards are further divided into three types: Weapon, Summon and Independent. A weapon card allows Katia to deal direct damage to an opponent, a summon card is a brief summoning of a creature to do damage or some type of status effect and Independent lets you draw a creature fully from a card which will then wander around the battlefield on its own accord, attacking enemies until it dies.
It gets more interesting when you learn that each card gains experience separate from Katia. You can use experience to duplicate the card in question or evolve it into something else. Let’s take a Lizardman for example. At 1,000 XP you can transform it into a Scythe Beast or you can wait until you hit 3,000 XP and turn it into a Venom lizard. If you’re really patient though, you can wait until you have up to 6,000 XP and transform it into a Red Dragon. Nice. There is so much strategy to deck building, battling, and what to do with your card’s XP that you have nearly limitless options with what you can make.
At the end of each level you have a chance to draw between one and three cards from a set of six. The amount you get to draw is based on your ranking in the level and there are always three common cards, two uncommon and one rare. This was a nice way to reward skilled players while also admonishing weaker players and forcing them to get bed. Negative reinforcement is a common From Software trait, as Demon’s Souls fans can certainly attest to.
Multiplayer was a lot of fun too, although I have to admit I’ve only known two other people that owned this game so I haven’t been able to experience it as much as I want to. I love that in PvP, several of the wildly unbalanced cards, which exist only to help you against bosses, are banned from PvP. When the game came out reviewers were critical of this but really, considering you could make a deck of one hit KO cards if you had the time and energy to do so, would that be fun to play with or against? Only if you’re a dick.
I absolutely adored the first game for its large levels, highly original and addictive gameplay and it let me play a CCG without investing hundreds of dollars and shelf space like one would have to with Magic: The Gathering, Pokemon:TCG and the like. It definitely remains in my top ten Gamecube exclusive games of all time. You can pick it up for amazingly little (along with the strategy guide) these days and I definitely implore you to give it a try.
The second game was fairly similar although the plot was significantly different. Here you played as a disliked member of the Thieves’ Guild generations after the first game. The second game introduced more cards as well as a new element in Mechanical and two new types. Helpers is the first new type although it was basically the Independent card but these were the “trap” or “decoy” sub-class of Independents broken out into their own category. They also added transform, which is a combination of Weapon and Summon. When using one of these, Tara (the new protagonist) would transform into a creature allowing her to do direct damage as long as the spell lasted. Summons cards now had two effects and you could choose between them. You could also pay double the card cost for enhanced effects and damage and you could also combine cards into heavy hitting combos.
Although I wasn’t as big a fan of the sequel as I was the first, it was still a lot of fun and it was disappointing to see both Lost Kingdoms games ignored by North American audiences due to being unaware of From Software or not wanting to take chance on a lesser known title.
I would love to see the Lost Kingdoms series make a comeback. The gameplay elements and strategy would be a great fit for any system, but especially the Wii as motion controls seem a natural for card flinging and capturing. Still, it’s been a bit of a drought for quality RPG’s for the current generation of consoles (although not for portable systems) and with From Software experiencing its highest level of popularity, it would be a smart move to capitalize on it by release a third game in the series since it is so user friendly. A gateway to their more diehard releases if you will. Whether Activision or Atlus would get the publishing rights would be a matter for legal departments, but it would be great to see this highly unique style of RPG make a return. I suppose we’ll have to wait until 3-D Dot Game Heroes hits the US to see how much name value From Software currently holds in the US, although considering how many reviewers and/or gamers were praising Atlus as if THEY had made Demon’s Souls, my guess is not very much.
So yes, even though a third Lost Kingdoms title is highly unlikely, it would be great to see. Lost Kingdoms is definitely my second favourite franchise that From Software has put out, after Echo Night, and it would be great to let people see what they’ve missed out on over the past eight years.
Stay Dead: 0
Start Over: 0
Well, it was a one-man rambling show this week, but you got a five page discourse on a title to the point where this was basically a mini-review. Hopefully this peek into the obscure will whet your appetite enough to try and get one of the two Lost Kingdoms titles. Next week, we’ll be back with a title I KNOW several of my staff has played. It’s a well known fighting game that is as memorable as it was awful to play. Still the name and brand is highly recognizable. Is that enough in 2010 to drive up enough interest in a sequel? Come back next week to find out.
Tags: Sequel Spin Off Start Over or Stay Dead?