Kartia: The Word of Fate


Review by · May 31, 2023

I keep a copy of The Sky: The Art of Final Fantasy front and center on my bookshelf. This is because the revolutionary character designs of Yoshitaka Amano fill me with wonder and inspiration; I even like to use his drawings as templates when I occasionally get the urge to draw.

Imagine my pleasant surprise, then, when I came across a copy of Kartia: The Word of Fate earlier this year at a pawn shop, far below the going rate. Amano served as the character designer for Kartia after he left the same role in the Final Fantasy series, and the game includes un-pixelized renders of his work in-game.

Fortunately, my discovery led me on a quest to find yet-unfound illustrations to expand my Amano palette. Unfortunately, I also discovered that this strategy RPG wasn’t really worth the price of entry, even at a great price.

Anyone who has played a tactics game will know what Kartia is all about. It has the grid-based design we all know and love. It has the familiar long-winded, often cursory dialogue between battle sequences. It has an obtuse, vast backstory filled with words straight out of a fantasy word generator. It is exactly what one would expect it to be, yet it also tries to establish a unique identity.

Amano's artwork is pictured here alongside one of the game's lore crawls detailing Toxa's wait for Mona and humans and elves living in harmony.
Amano’s artwork shines in Kartia.

In this way, Kartia seems to have a crisis of identity. It at once embraces the idiosyncrasies of its ancestors yet seeks to carve out a space of its own, mostly unsuccessfully. For instance, Kartia has a gargantuan backstory, but it forgoes world exploration for only character dialogue between combat sequences. While I appreciate the (at the time innovative) luxury of being able to skip these long dialogue sequences, there is no way for most players to figure out who the characters are or why their dialogue is important between combat sequences — things like what Enquirers, the Vigilance, Encrypters, and other common lore terms mean, or what the culture of the world of Rebus is — or gain context for in-game events if you skip it.

Without the ability to wander around interacting with characters and objects, I quickly became bored and unengaged with the game, frequently asking myself questions like, “Who the hell is Rimazan?” or “What is the Cross Land?” Players like me are basically left with the manual for context; but wait, this game was a Blockbuster rental exclusive, so almost all original copies of this game have no manual. Even with the modern convenience of the Internet, guides and wikis for this game are sparse or nonexistent.

Additionally, the game attempts to streamline and spice up combat sequences with a rock-paper-scissors summoning system and a fully available magic system (even during the first battle). Characters can access different kinds of mana, all of which use up Kartia, cards made of multipurpose magical paper. Some can also summon Phantoms, faceless cannon fodder who come in three varieties, each weak or strong to one other type — hence the rock-paper-scissors system. Phantoms can die, but if any human character dies, the player must restart the chapter. This is an interesting and somewhat fair system, but there is a dissonance between the story — one which involves seeking to stop the prolific usage of Kartia for its destructive consequences — and the gameplay, which tasks players with using Kartia to destroy Kartia-made creations, something players will later realize causes ecological disaster.

Still, Kartia‘s mechanics are vast and complex, yet unfortunately unexplained to the player in-game. This ranges from the game’s complex and deep magic system to simple things like ending your turn in battle. It took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out that, in order to pass the turn to the other team, the player must press the select button, scroll past eight other menu options all the way to the end, then select “Phase Change.” Because there is no pre- or post-battle world traversal or menu options, players must also do all of their equipment creation and equipping in battle. The system is cumbersome and absolutely required, as the game is terribly difficult after the first two fights, both of which are equally trivial. There are other mandatory gameplay elements hidden deep within the game’s enormous menu, such as a magic dictionary and the option to make the screen view go from top-down to isometric view (the game calls it “quarter” view), a seemingly minor change which makes the game vastly more legible.

Admittedly, the game’s story is really interesting once you figure out what is happening. Kartia highlights one of two hero characters, Toxa Classico or Lacryma Christi, depending on which the player chooses at the beginning of the game. Toxa is a young knight who chooses the life of a knight rather than follow in his merchant father’s footsteps. He is incredibly talented and became a knight at a relatively young age; thus, he has a reckless streak. He is arrogant and a bit entitled, but his intentions are honorable. Lacryma is the daughter of one of the game’s great heroes, and she is also blessed with uncanny natural talents, though she often holds them back. She is duty-focused and hardheaded, though her duty-bound nature brings her into an internal crisis when she is forced to summon Phantoms in spite of her religious (and later ethical/ecological) beliefs dictating she must not.

In-game combat is carried out in a typical grid-based fashion for Kartia: The Word of Fate
Fans of strategy RPGs will feel at home with Kartia‘s grid-based combat.

I find both of these characters intriguing, though it took quite some time for me to understand their motivations. Their campaigns are long and trickle information to the player, as the game doesn’t focus on their stories over other characters’ at any time. I will note, as well, that the Toxa campaign is the more challenging and interesting one, though I found the Lacryma story to have more humor and fun side characters.

In true tactics fashion, this game has no shortage of side characters with rich backstories. I believe this is an area where Kartia shines, as it takes its time to parse out the stories of each of its side characters, even if doing so takes the spotlight away from Toxa and Lacryma sometimes. I do wish there was a way to lose these characters in combat without the punishment of restarting a chapter (save states admittedly alleviate this concern), but I can see why this design choice was necessary, as each character feels relatively essential to the greater narrative.

The first side character we meet is Mona, a druid who leads a tumultuous life, constantly in danger for her possession of the Nothingness Kartia, a powerful Kartia which could bring about an apocalypse. Despite her dangerous life on the run, she is loving and tender. There is also Ele Shinon, the daughter of Count Shinon (who houses Toxa). She was born into the aristocracy, but she seeks adventure, yearning for freedom from the confines of her upbringing. Misty Rouge is a hopeless romantic, but also a fierce warrior. Posha is the game’s Magikarp, burdening Lacryma’s party in the early game but becoming an extremely powerful summoner on Toxa’s team later. Alana Il Vanya has Robin Williams vibes, as she brings the group helpful energetic positivity, but she is also really introspective and has a vulnerable inner monologue. The conflicting binaries these characters inhabit serve to maintain player engagement across the game’s story, and the entire cast is a fun bunch when their banter kicks into gear a few hours in.

Another positive point for Kartia is that it is a nice-looking game on the PS1. Amano’s outstanding artwork notwithstanding, I think the sprites and environments look fantastic. I would welcome Kartia’s visual style in any modern tactics game, and I love the designers’ choice to retain the Japanese text on the game’s Kartia cards. It adds a unique flair to the cards themselves, and I was pleased to have learned a few words by the time I finished the game. While I believe the menu takes some adjusting to, I enjoyed the stylistic choices in Kartia once I understood what everything meant. I would also admit that the soundtrack is catchy, though it suffers from repetitiveness in some of the later stages.

An image of the game's magic menu system, featuring Japanese text on the Kartia cards.
Kartia cards feature Japanese text, which looks great and can be informative.

I really like the presentation of Kartia. Furthermore, I like what it is trying to do with the condensation of its mechanics and story moments. Kartia does respect players’ time, coming in at a far shorter runtime than your average strategy RPG (for me around 20 hours for each of the two stories, though doing both is not required) and offering options such as cutscene skipping. However, I feel that Kartia has something like a teenage identity crisis: it does what it knows works from SRPG predecessors, but it also tries to be unique, perhaps without understanding or acknowledging the experiences that informed its ancestors. While I grew to enjoy Kartia by the end of it, I — and it — had some growing pains along the way. Consequently, I would only recommend this game to the most ardent strategy RPG fans and devoted Amano completionists.


Looks great, has interesting ideas like its rock-paper-scissors summon mechanics, characters are genuinely interesting.


Unpolished execution of new gameplay ideas, little explanation of enormous backstory, lack of traversal between battles may have been a mistake, uneven difficulty, loquacious.

Bottom Line

Kartia makes welcome strides toward shaking up its genre, though some of those strides are unfortunately missteps.

Overall Score 65
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Noah Leiter

Noah Leiter

Noah is a PhD student at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) studying Critical Game Design. When he's not studying or writing features for RPGFan, he likes taking care of his house plants and playing SEGA Saturn games.