Makai Kingdom: Chronicles of the Sacred Tome (PAL) box

The strategy RPG has been one which was dominated for so long by one or two games. The reason being is that it is a specialised market with a smaller audience than more established genres. Usually though the “SRPG” has generated some sleeper hits. The most bizarre of which is the rise of the once small time developer: Nippon Ichi. Their rise to success and indeed increasing the sales of SRPGs their unique take on the genre. Disgaea: Hour of Darkness was celebrated for its sheer size. The most that was capable in terms of hours for games before it was enough for one play-through. With the introduction of the Dark Assembly and Item Worlds, as well as being able to level up into the thousands, this charming little title encouraged bending the rules of the system to your aid. Since that time, Nippon Ichi released the broken Phantom Brave. Not one to give up after a setback, Makai Kingdom: Chronicles of the Sacred Tome sets out to regain some lost dignity, in more ways than one.
Overlord Zetta was a very successful Overlord, and was much feared throughout the entire cosmos. He is one day confronted by Pram – an Oracle, who informs him that his netherworld faces destruction. Alarmed by this revelation, he storms towards a sacred temple. After eliminating the defence and in his mind ensuring his sovereignty, he opens a book on the altar. Inside the book states that he’s an idiot and will ultimately bring the end of his realm. Furious by this, he burns the book and reality begins to cease to exist. In order to save his own skin, he binds his soul with the book and promptly realises that he’s lost everything. A laughing stock of the entire overlord community, Zetta needs to get his pad back into existence.

While the story is semi-original in that you aren’t saving the world, the dialogue does have its hits and misses. Nearly every character will mock Zetta since he is now a work of literature, which is rewarding since he is pretty unlikeable at the beginning. Sure he may be the strongest overlord, but bragging about it isn’t doing him favours. Still, some of the dialogue is just terrible. At one point in the introduction, Zetta comes out with a random line that makes his ordeal seem like a business transaction. Voice work is also a little on the over-acting side, though the melodrama seems to suit the lightweight side of the script. The other overlords are given unique traits which is refreshing to see. You have the Dark Lord Valvolga, who is by far the most troubled one of the lot. The top part seems to have internal conflicts with the parts below him in that while he feels he should be nice, the other two conspire to sabotage his efforts. There is also the Dragon Overlord Babylon, who is so ancient he constantly forgets things and falls asleep.

Nippon Ichi’s previous effort, Phantom Brave introduced a lot of novel ideas that unfortunately fell on deaf ears. Since it pretty much died post-release, Makai Kingdom: Chronicles of the Sacred Tome inherits its key features. It also introduced a concept known as Confining. Instead of just having characters appearing out of the ether, Zetta can create minions out of anything. With the wide variety of classes in the game, you could make a Fighter out of a rock or a Healer out of a tree. But here’s where things get interesting. As you progress, you unlock new classes to fool around with and the theme of this title is a little more military than usual. Instead of the tried and tested medieval jobs of yore, Makai Kingdom seems to have taken a world war two persona. So expect Soldiers, Engineers and Medics alongside Magicians. Some classes take on jobs in the overlord’s domain too. For example, while a Junk Trader may be an ace with nunchaku, they also act as a rudimentary shop. One significant addition is the inclusion of Wishes. These can be used to summon new buildings, transmigrate, and make new characters. All cost Mana, gained like in Disgaea. Usually there is a price for bigger wishes, which usually involves erasure of a demon you raised.

The amount of classes is insane this time around; but there are also vehicles and buildings!

Battles have changed as well. The winning condition is to meet a certain amount of points. This can be done by killing enemies, who have different values upon defeat; or picking up items off the ground. Usually holding on to these items means you get to keep them after the battle. Zetta summons his allies and buildings into battle. You did read right. This isn’t some kind of mind game to make sure you’re still awake. The purpose of buildings is to garrison allies within it. Essentially it means you can summon more allies and gadgetry into battle. They also provide useful bonuses for garrisoned units once they leave to wreck havoc. Much like Phantom Brave, units use a radius to act as movement instead of the medieval grid system. This has its advantages in that characters feel free in terms of moving them. But it also comes with disadvantages however as it is possible to get your characters caught in scenery as you move. As in Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, you can pick up units and throw them. Here, throwing them can have benefits/complications. It is possible to erase them completely by throwing them out of bounds or even use them as a weapon. What better way to use their troops than as a battering ram? Certain units may have “Key” written over their heads like a price label from Tesco. Defeating these means extra portions of the maps are unlocked. Sometimes you may get a special picture. Usually this indicates something is up with the enemy, like a theme. Other times however you may become subject to a status effect as well. Thankfully though, this is usually remedied with an Espoir from a healer.

It is also possible for the enemy to have buildings, and in some cases you’re required to invade. While you could waltz in there with your fighters, you can also use some of the overpowered vehicles to assist you. From tanks to armoured suits, you can wreck havoc on the outside plains or in buildings. Any unit can hop onto a vehicle, and make bullets/bombs fly into their opponents with potentially devastating effects. Of course some are more accustomed to fighting with machines than others. Vehicles are built just like the characters, but require certain classes to effectively use them. Mechanics and Professors deal with vehicle issues you might have such as healing and upgrading. All these new classes, features and systems give the game an added life in gameplay…

This was a bad day to walk into the salad bar...

However, does having all these features give the player an overwhelming experience that struggles to maintain interest? One problem comes from meeting certain conditions to be able to do certain things. You can only recruit gun tooting soldiers and medics after a certain point. While most games have chapter three as an early part, it could take an eternity to get to chapter three here. Even having the ability to transmute allies into new buildings doesn’t really manifest until around halfway through the entire experience. So it comes as no surprise that this game takes more of an eternity to complete. Sometimes, the drive to know what happens in the game’s story spurs you on like a cheerleader spurring on a predominantly male fan base at a baseball game. Here the cheerleader might as well be a morbidly obese man in a thong that leaves little to the imagination. Not that it is sloppy or terrible, just not engaging enough to warrant persistence in playing. While Disgaea had a genuinely funny story like Hot Fuzz and Phantom Brave had a thought provoking tale to rival Schindler’s List, Makai Kingdom is like any film by Uwe Boll; a boring, baffling experience with nothing to keep you interested.

It is an unfortunate thing I have to say at this point. While gameplay is improved over the sad travesty that plagued their previous attempt, Makai Kingdom: Chronicles of the Sacred Tome is just too complex for its own good. While I would maintain that freedom of movement is brilliant, and tanks are initially cool, it just takes too long for any results to come into fruition. Most games with complex gameplay designs with an intriguing story to back it up and make it worth the effort. Here that isn’t the case. In fact, the only case here is that the developers have missed the mark again and generated another strike. Is this any worse than their first one? My answer would be yes and no. No, because at least it isn’t broken and unplayable. Yes, because it is the gaming equivalent to a one man band. Sure it takes balls, but really there’s no sense of rhythm because they’re trying to do too much at once. As a result, it is a boring title. One might say truly average but that’s being a little generous, since the bad definitely outweighs the good.