Like Tecmo's Tokobot, a PSP game I recently reviewed, Kingdom of Paradise is one more brand-new project (as in, not a port, offshoot, or sequel of a PS2 game) with a criminal amount of missed potential. I don't know exactly what's going on, but there seems to be an epidemic plaguing Sony's shiny black handheld. Is there a technology-based virus infecting development houses that prevents perfectly good ideas from coming together? An Eastern-themed third-person Action-RPG, Kingdom of Paradise should have been a much-needed killer app for the PSP, but instead amounts to about three days of boredom and repetition.
It's a shame, really, since many aspects of Kingdom of Paradise hit the mark. The character model graphics are a little on the simple side, but very clean and attractive. The environments are satisfyingly detailed, even scenic at times. As a matter of fact, the voice acting is actually competent too—for that fact alone, the game deserves some praise. However, the end product is just too misguided to ever be a serious contender.
The basic building blocks of any RPG are the characters and plot. I'm a firm believer that no game of this nature can ever succeed without scoring direct hits in at least one of these categories. Kingdom of Paradise misses both.
The main character is an ex-apprentice swordsman named Shinbu. After receiving word that his former master has been killed and his clan's ceremonial sword taken, he starts on a quest to put right various wrongs being committed by evildoers. It's not exactly the most inspired story, but would be serviceable enough if I actually gave a damn about Shinbu or anything that happened in the game. Besides a vague sense of duty, there is no clear personality or motivation for him, or even for anyone else he meets along the way. The dialogue is weak, there is no significant drama or even humor, and at no time did I ever feel any interest or connection with any of the "personalities" that are supposed to keep the story driving forward.
With the intellectual side a total wash, I had hoped that the Action part of the game would redeem it. Kingdom of Paradise stumbles inexcusably here too.
In a nutshell, the developers have created a combo system that uses pieces of scrolls as components. For example, a six-hit combo string would require me to find and collect six separate pieces in order to assemble one whole scroll. Once completed, I could assign this scroll as my primary attack method and watch Shinbu perform impressive martial arts like rapid sword slashes and aerial maneuvers simply by tapping the attack button. It's a very interesting idea, but dead on arrival for a number of reasons.
My first issue with this system is that it's too slow and too random to collect all the necessary pieces of scroll. For one attack string I had the last five hits and was missing the first. Scrolls missing pieces like this one usually go unused, and were of no help to me whatsoever. The second issue is that once I collected a special "freestyle" scroll, all the other scrolls in the game were made obsolete. With this new type of scroll, I could pick and choose any attacks I wanted in any order, totally avoiding the restrictions placed on the basic scrolls.
Additionally, the combat engine is too simplistic and loose. Kingdom of Paradise's M.O. was to swarm me with a horde of enemies, and because blocking is activated (after a long delay) by holding down the attack button, it was child's play for the game to juggle me between attackers until I was dead. The solution to this is to use Shinbu's leveled-up magic ability, strong enough to completely wipe out all enemies on screen. If I have a magic spell that does this, why do I need to bother trying to engage juggle-happy attackers six-on-one? The "freestyle" scrolls eliminate any need for regular scrolls (which are a large part of the game's design), and the magic spells eliminate any need for "freestyle" scrolls. What sane game developer would incorporate core elements that cancel each other out?
In between the unsatisfying battles and the go-nowhere story, there's a lot of searching for the right area or person that will trigger the next cut-scene, and a lot of wandering back and forth for the sake of extending the game's playtime. An adventure like Kingdom of Paradise might have made a fairly good splash back in the original PlayStation days, but with its wrong-headed combat and lifeless drama, it seems like a lot of lessons that have been learned since then are ignored. It's too bad, because with some better writing and engine restructuring, I could imagine the game's atmosphere and Eastern subject matter to help craft a solid Jade Empire-style success. Sadly, it looks like we'll all have to wait a bit longer.