Nippon Ichi Software has made a name for itself in the short amount of time its games have been in the United States. Many elevated Disgaea: Hour of Darkness to the same level as Final Fantasy Tactics, while some panned it for being too silly. Phantom Brave took the opposite route with a more serious story and unique confine system. However, many fans just weren’t able to get into the complexities of either game, both of which are quite a bit deeper than, say, Fire Emblem or Shining Force. Today, Makai Kingdom hits the shores of North America. Makai Kingdom is built for the fans, taking elements from both Disgaea and Phantom Brave and fusing them into a game that’s great for NIS lovers, but does nothing to sway new people into the NIS net.
Makai Kingdom introduces Lord Zetta, the most powerful overlord in the universe. Ruler of his own underworld, Zetta is able to control mana with an ease that other beings would never even come close to approaching. Sound like an excellent villain to you? Too bad; Lord Zetta is the main protagonist of Makai Kingdom, and much like Laharl of Disgaea, is mean, insensitive, and haughty. Unfortunately for Zetta, a prophecy has been cast saying that he would lose his underworld. Zetta, like the badass he is, decides to go and find the book that records the history of his underworld. Anything scribed into this Sacred Tome becomes reality. Problem is, the book calls Zetta some names and he decides to let loose his wrath upon it. Zetta, his own stupidity and arrogance getting the best of him, destroys his own underworld, but merges with the tome to save himself. Makai Kingdom’s story is certainly a ways apart from those of the mainstream and is rather entertaining. Dialogue is generally good, although Zetta has the tendency to swear and call himself a badass quite a bit, something that grated on me for some strange reason. I also can’t help but feel that Makai Kingdom’s story is a throwback to the goofy style seen in Disgaea because of NIS fans’ general distaste for Phantom Brave’s more serious story.
Makai Kingdom looks much like previous Nippon Ichi titles. The in-game sprites are all two-dimensional and rather undetailed, but NIS games have never been about sprites. Character art is displayed during most story sequences and overall looks very good. The art style is similar to previous titles in the series and the sprites during the story sequences are taller and more detailed, similar to Phantom Brave. Weapons and skills are as graphically outlandish as ever, and your warrior can still use his sword to summon meteors out of the sky and do insane amounts of damage later in the game.
Zetta, seeing as he’s now part book, is unable to fight on his own. In fact, no story characters are initially playable and do not become so until a second playthrough. Characters are created similarly to Phantom Brave, using the confine system. However, instead of characters being confined every battle to change their statistics, they are bound only once, at creation, and their statistics are modified permanently by the item they are bound to. This means that introducing characters into combat is quite a bit different than in Phantom Brave. More akin to Disgaea, players use Lord Zetta to invite characters to the field, where they fall from the sky and are then available until death. Makai Kingdom uses the same boundless field as Phantom Brave; there are no squares, only circles and semicircles for movement and abilities. However, unlike Phantom Brave there are no modifiers for floors, and players will never have to judge whether or not they should move 8 pixels or 9 pixels to the left so that they don’t fall off of the map. Some characters will still have odd issues with pathfinding, although the incidence rate is much lower than in Phantom Brave.
Falling off of the map, or going out of bounds (O.B), is more important in Makai Kingdom than it was in Phantom Brave. Phantom Brave used O.B. mainly to get rid of characters or items, or to bolster the level of remaining enemies. Makai Kingdom’s maps start out initially small. However, characters may hold keys, which, when these keys (or the characters holding them), are tossed off the map into certain spots, the map expands and includes new enemies. This concept is new and is based on Makai Kingdom’s new victory requirements. Instead of simply wiping all opposing characters off of the map, Makai Kingdom requires players to achieve a certain amount of points by expanding the map, slaying enemies, and achieving other objectives. The maps can get extremely large, and luckily, characters can use vehicles. Aside from the ground that these cover, and the attacks they do, vehicles do nothing to expand Makai Kingdom’s world.
The other major addition to Makai Kingdom is the structure system. Players are able to create structures and summon them to the battlefield for bonuses. Hospitals will heal a certain percentage of hit points a turn, and other structures will provide equivalent bonuses. Structures can be summoned onto enemies on the battlefield to do additional damage, as well. The downside with the structure system is that it takes the sacrifice of a character – sometimes a very high level one – to create certain buildings. Characters can be restarted at level one, but their statistics are permanently gone when they are wished into a building. Characters are able to take over enemy facilities, and this applies to your enemies, as well. Bonuses accrued will disappear and reappear on the opponent’s side.
The overall flow of the gameplay has shifted from Phantom Brave, as well. Instead of having characters act based on their speed and other statistics, players are able to move characters around and attack in segments a la Disgaea. This means that you can attempt to kill an enemy with one character before resorting to kill another and feel no pressure that another enemy is breathing down your neck. The enemies attack on their own turn. The difficulty level in Makai Kingdom has a strong tendency to spike. When there’s a particularly tough boss battle, however, players can take their characters into free dungeons – a series of randomly created levels made to gain experience. The title system from Phantom Brave, however, is not tied to these dungeons and is missing from Makai Kingdom.
Makai Kingdom is aurally very similar to previous games in the series. Prinnies still shout ‘d00d’ in their odd voices, and the same weapon smack sound effect from previous games is used with vigor in Makai Kingdom. Voices are done well in English, although NIS America has included the Japanese vocal track on the disc for those who want to play the game in its Japanese splendor. The music in the game is passable, there are no superb tracks, but there are also no poor tracks.
All-in-all, Makai Kingdom changes much like the Mario Party series – two steps forward, one step back. While there are many worthwhile features added to Makai Kingdom, it simplifies many of the aspects of Disgaea and Phantom Brave. The system, with its amalgam of features from both Disgaea and Phantom Brave works, but it’s not going to attract any new fans to the series. The gameplay has been innovated in certain areas but falls short in others, but fans of Disgaea’s goofy story and Phantom Brave’s more complex experience system will both find something to enjoy in Makai Kingdom. Chances are, though, if you didn’t like previous NIS games, this is not one that’s going to make you start loving them. Makai Kingdom’s not the cream of the crop, but it doesn’t belong with the rest of the crap, d00d.