Review: Kingdoms Under Fire: The Crusaders (XB)

Kingdoms Under Fire: The Crusaders
Genre: Real Time Strategy RPG
Developer: Phantagram
Publisher: Microsoft
Release Date: 10/13/04

Have you ever played a game that elicits no emotional response from you whatsoever? A game you know you either enjoy or dislike, but you can’t tell which. You feel neither highs nor lows playing? A game where you know it has a lot to offer, is very innovative, and some real effort put into its design and implementation, but it just leaves you cold?

That’s Kingdoms Under Fire for me. It’s sad because I preordered this game the day it was announced. It sounded so awesome. Like a combination of Warhammer, Destiny Warriors, and Age of Wonder, Kingdoms Under Fire promised a multifaceted Real Time RPG experience with literal wars going on your screen at once. I loved the premise and was dismayed every time the game was delayed.

Yet, now that I have beaten it, I find myself numb to it. At the same time, I can’t think of anything about it I found truly bad about the game. It just didn’t inspire any passion in me or leave me yearning for more.

So is this a good game that just happens to not be my cup of tea, or is this a game that is merely mediocre? Read on…

Let’s Review

1. Story.

Kingdoms Under Fire is the story of a Fantasy world plagued by a series of wars between mankind and inhuman races united as the Dark Legion. This is the third war between both sides. The first war was the story of the Xok’s Knight defeating the lord of the Dark Legion, Khilliani. The second war’s records are lost to the mists of time. Which I find odd, considering it occurs a mere half century before when game takes place. It appears that all involved and every record of the war, simply vanished.

This third War of Heroes, which you play a main character on either the side of Humanity or the Dark Legion. The Dark Legion has suddenly reappeared without warning, slaughtering whole villages of humans and plunging the land of Bersia into war once more.

The are 4 different stories to choose from. Each one has their own difficulty rating. There is the Easy/Intro story to the game, which is the tale of the virtuous knight, Gerald. There is the normal difficulty tale, which allows you to play as a member of the Dark Legion, the elf Lucretia. Then there are the hard difficulty paths aka the true meat of the game. You can either play as Humanity’s Holy Knight, Kendal, or you can play as the Dark Lord of Hexter, Regnier.

Each path is completely unique from the other three. You have an entirely new cast of characters (although there is some overlap plot wise and occasionally you may even encounter one of the other three main heroes as an opponent!) and gives you a different point of view of the war going on. Each Hero’s tale is well designed and gives you a cursory glimpse of each of the characters, but there is never any real depth or meat given to the personalities of anyone in the game. True motivations and desires are never revealed. Merely only shallow peering into the digital souls of each Knight or Warrior.

Although each story arc can be finished in under ten hours(Amazingly short for an RPG), the game feels much longer than the dozen or so missions that comprise them. The four playable missions also give the game more depth, a feat accomplished all the more when you realize in order to play as Regnier or Kendal, you have to beat the game with both Gerald AND Lucretia first. This means at the very least you’ll be sitting through three of the four story lines if you want to play the game on hard. This is where the short playing time of KUF is a merit rather than a negative against the game, as you can play all four stories in the time it takes to play your average next-gen RPG, but giving you more characters and variety than the typical aforementioned RPG.

The stories are streamlined and the characters manage to be more than stereotypes, but not much more. With the four complete different playable scenarios, KUF gives even gamers with short attention spans an RPG which they can enjoy in regards to both plot and gameplay.

Story Rating: 8/10

2. Graphics

Kingdoms Under Fire isn’t the prettiest game on the Xbox. Certain characters in cut scenes, like Gerald, lack facial features, like eyes. It’s pretty jarring to notice he appears to have two sunken in sockets of darkness rather than any optical orbs with which to see. It comes off sloppy and hurried, and every so often you’ll see a glitch in the footage like that.

The environments on which your real time battles take place are also average in terms of what the Xbox can produce visually. Generally it’s just a plain and occasionally some trees. Nothing to write home about or be impressed with.

What does stand out in the fact you can have a few hundred troops engaged in a massive battle and slowdown isn’t even an issue. You can have a platoon of infantry, a platoon of cavalry, and a legion or archers all on the field with completely different actions, the soldiers comprising each unit all doing different things! And like I said, there’s no slowdown at all. And every character looks good. Yes, every member of your infantry save your hero and his two officers look alike, but they all look pretty good considering how many of them are on your TV at once. I was impressed by how much detail all the characters were able to possess. I remember back when Street Fighter on the SNES or Genesis could cause slow down? A war game, in real time no less, was not something fathomable on systems two generations ago and this really does make me stand up and take notice.

Much like my beloved 2-D shooter genre, KUF focuses far more on quantity to impress the gamer than on some huge elaborate CGI cut scenes and then average gameplay and graphics for the rest of the game. Kingdoms Under Fire could be even more beautiful but then they’d have had to either accept slowdown or we’d have a lot less action on the screen. Personally, I think Phantagram made the right choice.

Graphics Rating: 7/10

3. Sound

I really enjoy the voice acting on all four scenarios. Every character is well done, and each actor’s voice synchs up with the appearance of the respective character they play.

The music fits the game as well, even if there is an error with the packaging that erroneously claims you can have custom soundtracks. Although no track stands out in my mind, none of the music distracted me or seemed out of place with what was taking place on my screen.

The sound effects were excellent. Ever wonder what it sounds like when an entire phalanx or archers lets loose a swarm of arrows at the same time? Well, probably not. But hey, on the very select chance that you did have that particular curiosity, you’ll get your answer in KUF.

There’s a lot of metal on metal and sharp things going through soft things that scream and bleed in this game. And you’ll hear ever bit of it.

Sound Rating: 7/10

4.Control & Gameplay

I should actually talk about the two different types of controls in this game. There’s the platoon controls, and there’s the Hero controls.

Until close combat begins, you will be using the Platoon Controls. You select which group you wish to move with the L/R triggers, or you press Y to move them all. Then using the picture within a picture map on your screen, you move the cursor to where you want your troops to eventually end up, you press A and you watch them take off. It’s pretty simple on paper, but often times, there is more to worry about, such as changes in terrain, traps that have been set and so on.
You can use the black button to tighten formation, which gives your troops move attacking and defending power, but reduces their speed. The other option is a wide formation (white button) which causes the exact opposite and is good for catching retreating enemies.

Again, it sounds easy, but when you have 3-4 legions of troops on screen and you have to Micromanage them all, it can get a bit unwieldy, ESPECIALLY when you go into battle as you have to actually fight as your character and some times you may need to move some of your troops (archers and spearmen and sappers mainly) to some place else or give them a new command, and while you do this, your hero character will sit there dumbfounded instead of gaining temporary AI. A royal pain.

Hero mode is where the game gets rather boring. You run around the field. A and X are the hero’s attacks, B is the counter attack, and Y is your special attack. You can have your officers come save you by pressing either A X or B Y to have them do a special move.

You defeat an enemy regiment when one of two things happen, either you exterminate the entire legion, or you slay the leader of the enemy faction. Now remember, each segment of troops has their own leader, so if you kill the leader of one infantry or cavalry, you still may have others to go. In killing the leader, you will get battles over quicker, but the downside is you get far less experience doing it that way. Experience in based on per kill, which I strongly disagree with, as you think you’d be rewarded for a quick battle with minimal troop loss, but this is in fact not the case.

Battles are very long and often times boring as your character doesn’t die, your troops are replenished, and it’s just you hitting the same two or three buttons over and over again. Even on hard, there is no real strategy, it’s just hack N slash until you win. The worst that can happen to your side, is your hero takes too much damage and you sit out for a spell. That’s seriously it.

The first 2-3 battles are fun as you’re learning the controls, but by the end of the game when you have 5 types of troops on the field, you find yourself under whelmed and apathetic from the lack of both challenge and the fact every battle feels exactly the same.

Control and Gameplay Rating: 5/10

5. Replayability

With four different storylines (although two must be unlocked) and a ton of ways to customize your army from class changes to over half a dozen skills/magic specializations for your heroes and officers to master, Kingdoms Under Fire offers a lot of replay value. You’ve got approximately a dozen missions for each character, which can be done in less than a dozen hours. It’s an RPG you can beat in a weekend. How often does that happen?

Replayability Rating: 7/10

6. Balance

Heh. When you have a game where you can’t lose, I think you know this section of the review is going to end in a low score. But even if you could die, there’s no problem. Why? Because even on the highest difficulty rating, this game is unbearably easy. The only time any of my 4 heroes was hurt enough to warrant a time out, was when I let it happen. Otherwise even with Kendal, I took maybe half a dozen hits per battle. In other words, mere scratches. The computer AI for both troops and leaders is laughable and shouldn’t give anyone a challenge unless this is their first action time RPG.

It’s amazingly easy to level up, but even then your troops can be half the level of the opponents and you will slaughter them like caged chickens. And there are some troops, like the spearmen that just aren’t worth using; especially not in the way the tutorial instructs you to use them.

Kingdoms Under Fire’s only challenge resides in learning the controls when you have a large army to control. The game might as well hold your hand through playing it otherwise.

Balance Rating: 3/10

7. Originality

Kingdoms Under Fire has taken a lot of things from other games, but in the end it plays like an upgraded and streamlined version of the two PSX Warhammer video games. I liked both of those, but there was actually a degree of difficultly (Some say too much) in those games. Like Kingdoms Under Fire, those were real time Strategy RPG’s where you would have a ton of troops on the screen at once. The Warhammer games just happened to be uglier. I’m surprised not a single reviewer has pointed out how similar those games are to Kingdoms Under Fire. I will admit I do prefer KUG to WH: Horned Rat and/or Dark Omen hands down, but I could not get the feeling out of my head while playing and watching the game, that this was a sequel in some way to those games.

Other than that, KUF has no real game to compare it to. Although you do level up and gain new skills, it is very different to other RPGS, even other RTS games. Destiny Warriors is the closest game I can compare KUF to, but they both have their distinct differences in style and gameplay. They both just happen to have a crap load of cannon fodder on the screen at the same time.

Like I said, the other two War of Heroes KUF alludes to might as well be Curse of the Horned Rat and Dark Omen from the old PSX. Try those games after KUF and try to disagree with me. But at least KUF has multiple stor

Originality Rating: 6/10

8. Addictiveness
Kingdoms Under Fire left me cold. Like I said at the beginning of this review, it inspired no joy or disdain in me. It was a game I ended up playing and beating because it needed to be reviewed, not because I was gripped by any of it. That doesn’t make the game bad. But it does mean I’d have rather played say, Pokemon Leaf Green or SMT: Nocturne or SVC Chaos over this game.

The battles are draining and monotonous which made it hard for me to do more than two in a row without needing a break. Although I enjoyed the story scenes and segueways, the combat killed a lot of the enjoyment for me. I could have done it with my eyes closed and had damn near the same result occur.

Addictiveness Rating: 4/10

9. Appeal Factor

This wasn’t my cup of tea, but I can see a lot of gamers enjoying it. It’s a quick RPG. It’s both tactical and action based. It’s got a good story and is very customizable. Due to the lack of any real challenge in the game, it does make for a good intro RPG for people new or have only skimmed the genre.

There is a lot to have to pay attention to however, and that may tax the patient of some, or annoy others. I think Kingdoms Under Fire is going to prove to be a very niche game where a select audience will appreciate it for what it is, while other people will just be turned off by it.

KUF wasn’t a game that just wasn’t something I enjoyed, but I could see other gamers really taking to it and having fun with it for what it is.

Appeal Factor: 5/10

10. Miscellaneous

Aside from a real lack of difficulty, no matter the setting, KUF offers a lot to enjoy. There are two mini games to unlock, one for each hard scenario you defeat. It gives you four distinct and enjoyable stories. It takes some effort in terms of moving your troops, but little to no effort in battle mode. It lets you have a very customized army and you have an opportunity to play as either humans or the Dark Legion, whatever suits your fancy.

There’s a lot that’s quite good about Kingdoms Under Fire and you can tell that a lot of effort went into the game. Who knows? Maybe I’m just jaded because it reminds me of both of those terrible PSX Warhammer video games? Still, Kingdoms Under Fire launched with only a 40$ price tag, and would probably be a good weekend rental to see all that it has to offer.

Miscellaneous Rating: 7/10

Short Attention Span Summary
This is a game I hope gets a Tribunal here at Inside Pulse. I didn’t enjoy the game, but I couldn’t find anything really wrong with it either (aside from being too easy). There’s a lot that is great about Kingdoms Under Fire and Phantagram should be proud of what they made. But it IS lacking that X factor that makes a game inspire passion within a game that makes them have strong memories of a game even years later. I do recommend at least renting this, or buying it when it becomes one of those $19.99 games, but I can’t give it a hearty recommendation for someone to buy it for full price.



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