Climax, the Japan-based developers of Landstalker, not the UK-based developers of Sudeki, tossed out their first PSP attempt this year with Kingdom of Paradise, titled Tenchi no Mon in Japan. As the first Japanese-styled Action RPG on the platform to hit North America, Kingdom of Paradise didn’t have any shoes it needed to fill. Unfortunately, Kingdom of Paradise is an entirely forgettable experience.
That’s not to say that Kingdom of Paradise is without worth, though. Much like Legend of Heroes, it fills a hole in the PSP’s lineup. Even though there are two other Action RPGs on the platform, Untold Legends: Brotherhood of the Blade and X-Men Legends 2, both are pure dungeon crawlers, in the vein of Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance and Champions of Norrath. Kingdom of Paradise brings a lot to the table, though. The game’s fictitious Asian-styled world combined with the interesting dialogue and characters provide Kingdom of Paradise with its own little niche. With a system full of shovelware (quick and dirty ports, for those unfamiliar with the terminology), it’s nice to see a completely unique game on the PSP.
The world in Kingdom of Paradise is vaguely reminiscent of BioWare’s Jade Empire. The world of Ouka is a mishmash of different eastern mythologies with five clans in an uneasy peace. Shinbu, the main character, is exiled from the Eastern Seiryu clan after learning a forbidden chi art from their temple. The clan is nearly wiped clean from the face of Ouka by the Central Kirin clan. Sui Lin, a survivor of the Seiryu, searches out Shinbu to begin the rebuilding of the clan.
Shinbu himself is a pretty decent guy with his heart in the right place. He was tricked by a senpai (older student) into reading the forbidden arts, and was subsequently expelled. Unfortunately for Shinbu, but fortunately for just about everyone else in the game, Shinbu is a naive putz. He’s easygoing to a fault, and rarely seeks to give people their just desserts, even when it’s called for. The rest of the cast rounds out very well, as character designs are quite unique.
All the characters are fully voiced, and the voice acting is quite good, especially for a portable title. One minor flaw is that if you’ve got any knowledge of Japanese pronunciation, actors will often butcher the words. Actors will also pronounce different words completely differently. It’s a miniscule point, but something that could be fairly large for some people. The music in Kingdom of Paradise is entirely passable, but nothing about it stands out.
The combat in Kingdom of Paradise is also a bit of a parallel to Jade Empire. In Jade Empire, players could equip up to four styles and switch between them at will. In Kingdom of Paradise, Shinbu is able to gear up with different Bugei scrolls, which allow him to master different attack patterns. It’s not just as simple as having the bugei scrolls, though. Akin to Pokémon’s “Gotta Catch ‘Em All!” mentality, Shinbu must collect Kenpu tiles off of fallen enemies to fill out his bugei scrolls. While it can be annoying at times, when you just need that one last scroll, it adds a good deal of draw to continue to fight enemies instead of running right by. All of the Bugei belong to one of five different classes, which beat each other in a rock-paper-scissors sort of way. If this sounds a bit complicated, it is, and the game itself doesn’t do much to dispel notions of confusion. You’ll want to read the manual, which does a good job at describing what’s going on in Ouka.
Shinbu’s actual sword fighting technique is all controlled by the circle button. This is one of the places where Kingdom of Paradise takes a big fall. All of Shinbu’s attacks play out exactly as they appear on the Bugei scrolls and you can’t switch between scrolls mid-strike. Because the scrolls are changed with the R button, it can be tough to scroll through during combat to quickly get the Bugei scroll that you want. The other problem with the single-button sword fighting is the fact that the circle button also doubles for the block button. This means that Shinbu begins taking a couple of whacks before he starts parrying an attack. Shinbu has lots and lots of Bugei to choose from, so sword fighting is not nearly as repetitive as other Action RPGs.
Shinbu also has a smaller repertoire of Chi attacks at his disposal. Unlike in many titles, Kingdom of Paradise has no magic point system, but makes players charge up for a short amount of time to use a Chi attack. What this means is that these Chi attacks, which are much more powerful than most sword techniques, are used more commonly, as it’s easy to avoid an enemy, charge up your Chi, and hit your attack. Enemies will be blown across the screen while you are invincible during the attack. Most of the time, I chose to stick with the limited Chi attacks due to sheer power, making the amount of Bugei collected sort of a moot point.
The use of items and equipment is also a sore point with Kingdom of Paradise. Shinbu has eight slots available for usable items, which are cycled through with the left shoulder button and used with the triangle button. It’s easy to use items when you don’t want to, and often times, when you pick up an item, it won’t stack with the items that you’ve currently got in your inventory. Combat still ends up being fun in the end, as long as you’re using your sword. Enemies come at you in large groups, so it can be challenging at points. Tougher enemies will hit you hard and quick, making the game over screen a common sight on your PSP. Rivals will pop up randomly as you travel from place to place, but if you don’t feel like fighting, you’re able to continue running to escape them.
Travelling around the world can be a bit of an issue, as well, as your world map is only vaguely useful. The fact that the game’s camera often stays at an angle like a 2D platformer, it can be tough to tell what direction you’re travelling on the map through bends. Much like every game within the genre or sub genre of RPG, you’ll spend your time running from place to place talking to civillians and doing quests. It can be an issue to proceed, as it’s sometimes vague as to what you need to do. The world itself is pretty big and can be intimidating. Later on in the game, you’ll return to some of the locales you’ve seen already, but the world is still sufficiently large.
The environments themselves are gorgeous, built entirely in 3D. The characters themselves look good, even if they are a bit jagged during combat. The animation is great, though. Similar to Falcom-developed games, characters appear in the foreground during dialogue, but with their standard character models instead of art. Facial details are great and work well with the anime-stylized characters. There are touches of slowdown later on in the game, but it’s nothing that can’t be ignored.
Kingdom of Paradise takes advantage of some of the PSP’s Wi-Fi features, with a simple battle arena, and the ability to trade kenpu and items with a friend. Players are also able to use their wireless internet connection to connect to the official site in the game to download additional features and equipment. While the site was purely Japanese when the game first launched, an English version of the site has been put in.
Climax has delivered a fun game with Kingdom of Paradise. It’ll clock you somewhere between 15 and 25 hours, depending on your speed, and can be easily put away as a portable game. It’s a perfect tide-over until some more impressive games hit the PSP, but the experience is entirely forgettable. Still, you won’t regret picking up Kingdom of Paradise for your portable fix.