Gamestyle Archive intro: I’ve never played this title nor the original in the series but I do have the game in the attic. I was never a huge fan of these card-based games however they did have their fans. Alex enjoyed the sequel experience with this one.
Published: June 2003
Whilst the PAL release of the original Lost Kingdoms was a pleasant diversion, the fact that a sequel was in the works for its native Eastern audience came as a complete surprise – let alone promise of a European outing – given the rather subdued reception the first game received over here. Whether it’s leftover cash from Hawk and Co, or just genuine PAL generosity we’ll never know for sure, but you can’t fault the publisher for trying; had neither game seen these shores local Gamecube owners would have been up in arms at being left out. Again. But both have been released – and here’s the crux: the original is the superior game of the two, and crucially, this holds true whether you’ve played it or not.
Essentially, those familiar (and appreciative) of how Lost Kingdoms ‘worked’ may find the changes made to the mechanics in this sequel rather confusing and distracting, and yet the more complex card management and progression present here is likely to be an unassailable metaphorical brick wall of creature names and spells to gamers new to the series. Despite a new set of lead characters, there’s enough hidden familiarity within the game to make you feel like you’ve just started watching a made-for-television drama – only to find you’ve already missed the first hour. So, here’s an – assuringly adaptable to the prequel – recap: Lost Kingdoms 2 is a card-based action/role playing game, in which the principal female (the player) must battle the forces of evil using only these cards. There are no (direct) weapons with which to fight monsters, only skilful use of the four currently available themed-card types, selected at random from an ever-increasing customisable deck.
If you’re still reading, chances are the slightly quirky way of combat holds some level of interest – think Pokemon crossed with PSO and you’ll be somewhere near. Each card falls into one of five categories – when chosen, some summon a creature that walks around your immediate area fighting off monsters; some revive your health levels or allow you to enter previously unreachable areas of the level, and some transform your character into the figure on the card temporarily. The depth here (random selection aside) stems from the card attributes – based on the common elements, eg Fire, Water, Wood and so forth. It’s fairly obvious that some attributes are stronger against others, and vice versa; for example Earth cards are more useful against water-based creatures, whereas Fire cards are quite weak. Collecting these cards happens continuously throughout the course of the game, and as your deck is finite in size, selecting the appropriate cards’ types and attributes for the mission ahead forms most of the strategy in Lost Kingdoms 2 (despite some trial and error and the frustratingly chaotic chance of getting the card you want at the time you require it). The fact that your controllable character relies on card effects that aren’t wholly controllable when played, means that most of the combat will result in your running away from the monsters while desperately trying to pull the card most suited to the job from the pack.
Thankfully – or not – the monster AI is basic at best. In an unintentional nod to Phantasy Star Online, simply keeping a short distance away is enough to make most enemies forget you existed, and they’ll happily wander off and leave you in peace; of course purists will be right after the trickier enemies in order to complete their card collections, but for the most part fighting can be avoided if you can draw enemy creatures away. If this sounds unfamiliar to owners of the first game, it’s because From have radically changed the way monsters appear – no longer are there random battles (although there are still occasional set-pieces) which whisk you away to a confined battleground; here creatures walk around at will, and battles thus are much looser and slightly more vague in their effectiveness. Initially appealing (especially against the random battles of Final Fantasy, which still grate) but ultimately becoming rather dull, these ‘real time’ fights just don’t hold the same level of tension and difficulty as they did in the first game – and the decision to switch the main focus of the game in this manner is somewhat questionable.
The camera has suffered too: there’s now a lock-on function (of sorts) but it’s problematic and unreliable, and the number of zoom levels is now reduced to a digital two – there are no Wind Waker-like definable angles here, even the left-right motion is awkwardly reversed (as in Eidos’ Herdy Gerdy). The framerate has halved too, and whilst this has given the Gamecube’s innards more room to handle prettier textures and more polygons, the pace of the game feels somewhat slower overall, as if a mild dose of bullet-time has drifted into the proceedings. This is not a title dependent on speed though, and Lost Kingdoms 2 does looks good overall; those all-important cards are nicely detailed and the whole display is rendered in crisp resolution.
Gamestyle Score: 7/10