Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom
Platform: PlayStation 3
Publisher: Sony Online Entertainment
Developer: Sony Online Entertainment
Genre: Action RPG
Format: BD-ROM
Released: US 11/15/06
Official Site: English Site

Graphics: 75%
Sound: 60%
Gameplay: 50%
Control: 75%
Story: 70%
Overall: 66%
Reviews Grading Scale
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Yes, that guy's hammer-head is as big as his torso.
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Hulk Smash!
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Wait - is he converting mass to energy? It's Einstein in disguise!
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When it's bright enough to see, the game actually looks pretty good.
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John Tucker
Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom
John Tucker

Ah, the launch title - so full of wonder and anticipation. You know what I mean: you wonder if the launch titles will be any good, and you anticipate better games coming out for the console later in its lifespan. The Untold Legends series was exclusive to the PSP before Dark Kingdom, where it had received average reviews at best, and Sony really hoped to improve on those results with the move to HD. I don't think it will surprise anyone to know that prettier graphics did not make for a better game.

Dark Kingdom tells the story of a small, elite group of fighters who discover that their king has succumbed to the forces of evil. After... well, really no debate whatsoever, they decide that their loyalties lie with their country, not its ruler, and they decide to overthrow him ("overthrow" being defined here as "kill"). Perhaps good fantasy books have spoiled me, but the story seems pretty thin to me - there's no thought of who will take over, for example. Still, the story is not generally what a hack & slash game is all about - the action's what's important.

For the most part, the game's action is the same stuff we've all come to expect from action-RPGs. You can play as a male mage, a male barbarian, or a sort of middle ground, more balanced, female character who most folks will pick when playing alone. The mage's normal attack throws a fireball, which makes him the closest thing to a ranged character there is in Dark Kingdom. Frustratingly, this fireball's strength is governed by his regular attack stat - always the weakest aspect of a mage. Also, this might be a silly nitpick, but I felt that the lone female character was very oversexed. Most of her outfits wouldn't offer enough protection to safely cook pasta, let alone conquer the demon hordes, and from the way she bounced as she walked, they didn't offer very much support, either. I'm not trying to be a prude - it was just so over the top that it seemed worthy of comment. Maybe they were hoping for a Dead or Alive/Untold Kingdom crossover?

There are two attack buttons that correspond to regular and wide attacks (rather than the normal "strong" and "weak") - a nice touch, as wide attacks allow you to damage a number of enemies at once, and you can string them together in different patterns to complete combos for extra damage. Mostly, though, you'll probably find yourself mashing buttons and taking whatever combo you get. Kill enough enemies, and you'll level up, earning a couple of stat points and a skill point. Pretty straightforward stuff. Unfortunately, all the skills you can put those points into seem to be variations on a theme, and by the time I was a little more than halfway through the game, I was throwing points away on lower-level skills I didn't ever plan to use.

Killing enemies also nets you orbs of mana, health, or cash, and getting these is the only way you can heal up or regain your mana to cast more spells. This leads to some frustratingly difficult boss fights, as you have no way to heal up once you have dispatched their minions, who you are forced to kill first in order to get to the main event. The orbs automatically fly to you if you need them, which is nice, but doesn't work so well if you're playing with a friend (co-op play is supported, but not much fun), because they fly to the closest person in need. That's fine for health and mana, but the logical way to co-op is to have a barbarian and a mage. The mage stands back and chucks fire, the barbarian lets enemies play scar tic-tac-toe on his chest. People die... and all of the money goes to the barbarian. Oh, well - at least both of you gain experience, and that has to count for something.

The only aspect of the gameplay that I felt was offensively problematic was the platforming. There was one section with moving platforms over lava containing enemies who throw fireballs that just about had me ready to shut the game off for good. To the best of my knowledge, jumping puzzles have never made an RPG better - it's just the wrong genre for them. I made it across that stupid lava on the umpty-fifth time, but I had definitely had enough of the game at that point. You can always tell that you're not going to give a game a very good review if you're halfway through and you are already telling yourself, "just keep going - you have to play more for the review." The levels seemed to stretch on forever, with group after group of the same few enemies per level - not a fun gaming experience.

Graphically, there were both good and bad things about Dark Kingdom. There were shiny effects attached to just about every skill, and some levels displayed extra touches that had clearly been added to an area just to make it look better. If you got up close to things like chains, you could see that they were nicely detailed, but that kind of view didn't come up often. Things like water and cloth moved pretty well, which should be expected with as much hardware as they had to work with. I didn't run into slowdown very frequently, but I did see it when I used a flashy skill in front of 15 or 20 enemies. The game will sometimes put you into slow motion when you finish a combo if it feels that you've done something that would look cool, but I really couldn't tell the difference between the "cool" stuff and everything else.

You can choose between an over-the-shoulder camera and an overhead camera, but both of them can get stuck on walls, which is part of why the platforming sections are so irksome. When playing co-op, you're stuck with the overhead camera, and it quickly becomes pretty frustrating to deal with. Whichever camera you choose, you'll also run into problems with some areas being too dark, which can lead to accidental suicide by cliff or (*shudder*) exploding barrel.

Switching to the aural experience, I must say that there's only one phrase I can use to describe the music: over the top. To its credit, it does stay with one theme - overly-"heroic," but not schizophrenic. I turned it way down after about 10 minutes. There is voice acting in the cutscenes, most of which is adequately done, if not inspiring. One character, though, grated on my nerves every time he showed up. The actor was probably doing his best with what he was given, but he was written to be completely different from the rest of the characters, and it feels silly and stupid.

Anyone who has read my previous reviews will know that I'm inclined to be generous to hack & slash games - I love them. There are a number of hack & slash franchises that should be very proud of what they've done over the years. Sadly, although I enjoyed both of the Untold Legends games on the PSP, even I would agree that Untold Legends is not one of those franchises. As with its handheld predecessors, Dark Kingdom is a game that can be enjoyable to hardcore fans of the genre who are willing to overlook its flaws, but probably not to anyone else.


© 2006 Sony Online Entertainment. All Rights Reserved.

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