Playing cards are one of the oldest forms of entertainment known to man. According to my sources (my 11 year old little brother), they were first used by cavemen to pass the time between hunts for various wild animals with big, pointy teeth. However, time has passed and these flimsy pieces of mastodon epidermis have evolved into the more common version we've seen today, as well as the many card game horrors that ravage our fair cities (Magic: The Gathering anyone? Or how about Pokemon?) In any case, Kartia is a game about cards. Really cool cards. Cards that create everything from shoes to booze, both of which can be found in the game. Here's my review.
Rebus had it made. On this far off planet, cards known as Kartia provided for every need imaginable. From Kartia dirt to Kartia fine Italian loafers, these people merely needed to use the powers of the cards and they would have whatever they desired. In this world of pure contentment, war was nonexistent. People lived with each other in peace, heart disease and cancer were not an issue, and brilliant Kartia scholars were coming ever closer to unlocking the secrets of the universe. Obviously, someone had to go and muck it up.
As always, some bonehead went and found a way to make a pointy stick out of Kartia. And from there came the board with a nail in it. Then came the baseball bat, which already existed, but gained new popularity as a weapon of self-defense against the hordes of nail/board wielding maniacs. Soon, swords, spears, axes, cannons, and other nasty trademarks of human society were created, and war and chaos filled the land. Furthering the carnage and brutality, another bonehead went and figured out how to create tiny demonic war beasts known as Phantoms. Religious and secular mayhem raged forth, and Rebus was on the verge of destruction…
Amidst the turmoil, two heroes emerged. Toxa, son of a merchant and Free Knight, and Lacryma, daughter of a hero and respected Shrine Warrior, each entangled by fate, must face the corruption and evil of a society twisted by a group of megalomaniacs playing God. With the help of their various overly emotional allies, they shall each battle through countless foes along their own paths, only to emerge in the end triumphant together. Sit back, get a snack, and enjoy the tale of Kartia: The Word of Fate.
Kartia is a game that any strategy fan can easily jump into, although there is a tutorial for beginners. After watching the nice little opening FMV and choosing which character to play as, the game begins. Gameplay is divided into two sections: battle and intermission. I can honestly say that these are the most pitiful battles I've ever seen. Allow me to explain.
Each storyline contains 18 battles, each pre-set and with all characters pre-chosen. Before the battle begins, you get to use your Kartia and Text to create weapons, armor, and Phantoms to aid you. This is the most important aspect of game strategy. You see, each thing you create out of Kartia depends on what text you use. For instance, mixing a Helmet text with a Silver text will result in a Silver Helmet. Also, by adding extra texts such as Gigantic or Ultra, you can improve the item by adding to its stats. There are huge heaps of Texts to acquire, and each one can be mixed with other ones to make better stuff. The biggest problem with this is that each new item makes the last one obsolete. In the end you wind up simply chugging out the latest and greatest technologies before each battle for all your people.
However, this also makes the game far too easy. It's not uncommon to have an enemy charge towards you, slash you with its mighty sword, and have absolutely no damage occur. In the end, the game winds up being nothing more than a walk through various levels, slaughtering one puny mortal after another beneath your merciless feet.
Strangely enough though, the game also features a four element magic system and Phantom summoning system. Magic is handled almost exactly like weapon creation. By mixing, say, a Fire text with an Intense text, you'll cast an Intense Fire spell. Different enemies are weak against different elements, so experimenting can make large differences. It's really quite simple, but rarely needed for battle.
The Phantom creation also follows the same path, but includes a few extra twists. First off, only certain characters can create Phantoms, and each one can control up to six at any given time. They are created just like magic and weapons, but you also get to choose a class for each one. Say you want to create the lowliest of Phantoms, the Miles. You can either make a Common one, a Doll one, or a Shadow one. Each type is weak against another type. Common beats Doll, Doll beats Shadow, and Shadow beats Common. Think of it like Rock, Scissors, Paper. Aside from that, class also decides the Phantom's magic defenses. Usually, I've found Doll to be the best here. However, chances are that you won't be experimenting with Phantoms much at all.
Like weaponry, new Phantom types are gained with new texts. And like weaponry, old models quickly become obsolete. Each Phantom is nearly a clone of the last one, although more powerful. Because of this, creating Phantoms is only mildly useful in certain battles, and training them is nearly useless. Although leveling up will increase a character's magic defenses and ability to fight Phantoms (but not Humans), it's rarely worth the effort as the critters get slain in the next battle. It's a battle concept that could have worked if done properly, but didn't.
Along with the monotony of running up to your insect-like enemies and slashing them to bits, the game also suffers from being too slowly paced. The box proudly boasts huge battlefields and armies of foes, and I will admit they deliver on that. However, "large battlefields" simply means that it takes five or so turns before you can reach the opponent.
As for the "armies of foes", the AI on them is so pitiful that the game often halts for a while so that the computer can decide what to do. More often than not, they just stand still or move a few spaces when this happens. The computer is incredibly easy to trap, but also tends to run away too often. Battles dragging on from difficulty is one thing, but when you spend five minutes trying to chase down your final foe because he keeps retreating, you have a problem.
Anyway, in battle you will find boxes and barrels and treasure chests to open. Doing so will provide you Kartia to collect and texts. You already know what texts do, but I'll explain Kartia now. Think of it as your MP. Each text uses up a Kartia when used. Because some texts are more advanced than others, you need to use more advanced Kartia to use them. The three kinds of Kartia are Silk, Mithril, and World Tree, and all of them are found along the way and after battles. However, using too much of it can deplete your stocks, so when that happens, your only choice is to go to the Arena.
Between battles, you can head here to fight a pitifully easy battle in order to earn Kartia and new items that turn you from invincible to ridiculously invincible. You can fight here as often as you want, so take advantage of it. Other neat options between battles include saving, loading, or looking through the archives of the cut scenes you've seen so far. Chances are that you'll be going through those archives at least once, because there's a whole lot of story to see between these fights.
Each character you choose from in the beginning has a completely different tale to tell. I admit there are a few scenes in each that cross over, but for the most part, everything is changed. Different characters, different story, different everything. Not only that, but the overall mood of each is different. Toxa's tale is a kiddy romance/fairy tale where pretty much everyone falls madly in love and the battle against evil is more fantastic than realistic, while Lacryma's is a gripping tale of religion gone mad and moralistic issues.
Both tales have a HUGE amount of character development. No side character is ignored and they all have at least a few scenes dedicated entirely to them. There are quite a few impressive emotional scenes as well some humorous ones, and in the end you wind up actually caring for the characters quite a bit. There are even occasional scenes showing diary entries for each character, and internal thoughts are written out for your enjoyment. It's all extremely linear, but that doesn't hurt this story in the least. However, the translation seems to have lost a bit and it was all quite rushed.
It's not that I didn't like the story. It's just that they threw everything at you at once. People fall in love at a rate far beyond the average human level, countries you had no idea existed show up without warning, and characters tend to turn traitor and back again too quickly for you to notice. Fortunately, everything falls together quite nicely once you play the second game, and depending on which order you play them in, it will be a whole different experience.
However, the charm of the storyline would have been nothing without the character design. Yoshitaka Amano, best known for his work in Final Fantasy I-VI, created a cast of truly original characters for us. Portraits of said characters show up with all dialogue and they are remarkable! They're incredibly detailed, impressively original, and change by emotion. Through this, we get to see every facial expression used, whether the lovely smile of Alana or the withering scowl of Troy.
I also have to praise the many unique hairstyles included. From Troy's phosphorescent fungi growing on his head to Kun's gravity-defying crop to Ele's revolting mini-afro, they're all classics. Outside of dialogue though, things get ugly.
In order to allow the large battlefields and many foes, quality was slashed heavily. The 2D sprites are terribly small, barely detailed, and are jerkier than a dehydrated beef emporium. The 3D areas were even worse. The low polygon counts only worsen the already small variety in areas, and that weakens the already pitiful gameplay. However, some other strong points for the game's visuals were the fantastically artistic-yet-short FMV sequences between battles and the interesting spell effects. There were a few magics that had the exact same animation, but some of the later ones had impressive summon shots.
Fortunately, the music also fared well for the most part. A few orchestrated songs stick out in particular, but the rest of the auditory fare did well too. There were quite a few songs that caught my attention enough to make me stop playing and just listen, and while there aren't many that'll stick with you beyond the moment, there's nothing bad about it either. It backs up the story well enough and helps to set the mood nicely.
The sound effects were terrible though. Don't expect anything more than generic MIDI thuds and clomps that would have been embarrassing on an SNES title.
Ending our little review, we have the controls. There isn't really much to say here. There are a few minor annoyances that'll get to you, such as not being able to cancel your actions or the computer's prehistoric AI, but nothing else comes to mind. Controls are average, through and through.
Kartia is a game that tried to be a movie, and came surprisingly close to it. The story hooks you in and carries you along, interrupted only by the meaningless battles, and the characters act out in ways that few games can ever equal. Sure, it was a little weak technically, but if you don't mind playing a game that wasn't ahead of its time, I think you might enjoy Kartia for its gripping story, if nothing else.
Also, if you happen to have a friend who owns it, you can play an interesting 2-player mode that allows your party to take on his party in a variety of interesting scenarios. It's much more fun that the actual game. Should you buy it? Only if someone else you know owns it. Otherwise, this game is a rental and nothing more.