I'm just going to dive right in and say that I wholeheartedly agree with everything Brad's said about Lost Kingdoms. This is a gem of a game that's not gotten nearly the attention it deserves from GameCube owners. It's a shame, but it's par for the course as far as From Software is concerned. If there's another developer out there making consistently excellent games in complete anonymity, I haven't found them. From Software is one of the better developers around, and if you're not playing their games, you're missing out.
Lost Kingdoms is a really interesting hybrid of a game. Part Pokémon-inspired card collecting, part strategy game, and part action-RPG, it's diverse enough to please a wide range of gaming tastes. However, unlike a lot of hybridized games that try to mix disparate genres into a satisfying game experience (only to have the end result turn out like a recipe with the wrong proportion of ingredients), Lost Kingdoms nails the balance of elements. The card collecting can be done with complete fanaticism, or hardly at all. The player isn't penalized for not getting the rares, or for going after them all. Because of this, Lost Kingdoms is a game that can be customized to the player's own unique style of play.
As Brad points out, the interface is excellent. The GameCube controller is used perfectly, with each button having a function, and with a layout that's so intuitive that the player will be tossing out cards like a Vegas dealer on crack in just a few short minutes. The interface makes playing the game simple, which is nice because there's a fair bit of strategy involved in the deck building and card battles.
Once again demonstrating how adaptable the game is to the player, deck building can be as big or as little a part of the game as the player chooses. It's not necessary to build a perfect deck for each stage of the game, but if you do, the reward is the satisfaction of completely decimating your enemies. If the deck building is too time consuming, though, one can simply take their best cards and work their way through each of the game's situations. While this does occasionally make the game seem a little too easy, it's generally not; you've got to put at least a rudimentary amount of thought into your deck in order to keep advancing.
Of course, the game's not without a few flaws that Brad has pointed out, and I'll definitely second.
First off, the graphics aren't quite as nice as they could be. Again, though, From Software has never been a company concerned with creating eye candy. Content seems to matter to the developers, and the games certainly shine in that category. Still, a little graphical tweaking would have been nice—in some ways, Lost Kingdoms looks like a Nintendo 64 game. It's noble to say that graphics don't matter, but in the marketplace where the more casual gamer holds dominion over all, graphics do matter, and nicer graphics here would certainly sell more units.
The other thing that sticks out isn't so much a flaw as it is a question of aesthetic sensibilities. Lost Kingdoms is a short game—one could complete it in less than 10 hours and find a lot of the hidden stuff. In this day and age where longer is almost automatically synonymous with better, the fact that the game is so short will ultimately hurt Lost Kingdoms in the eyes of a lot of gamers.
Personally, like Brad, I'm a firm believer in the 'leave them wanting more' school of thought, and Lost Kingdoms certainly succeeds in that regard. This game has been one of the more pleasant surprises of this year—a game that successfully blends some eclectic influences into an excellent gaming experience. At the halfway point of 2002, either this title or From Software's other great game, King's Field: The Ancient City, would get my vote for most underrated game of the year.