After a slow start, it seems that the PSP has had several new titles come out for it, especially with the holiday season here. While many of those games were ports of games for the PS2, Climax Entertainment has brought an original action RPG to the PSP with Kingdom of Paradise.
In Kingdom of Paradise you play Shinbu, a former Eastern Seiryu Disciple that has secretly been continuing his sword training. Along the way he meets Sui Lin, the last member of the Seiryu clan, and they take their adventure together, joining with new characters along the way. They must defend their clan and restore it to its former glory.
The graphics in KoP are a bit enigmatic. The faces of the characters look smooth, which really shows in the cutscenes. However, the rest of the character model looks blocky, with models where you swear you could count the number of polygons for them on your fingers and toes. The textures on the upper bodies of the characters are very impressive, showing the designers paid a lot of attention to detail. The backgrounds look mostly like a grass background with trails and an occasional building, depending on the location. Areas are rather sparse, especially while running between towns.
During the battle a lot of particle effects show up, almost to the point where the fighting looks like something from Soul Calibur. While some slashes have particle effects that follow the weapon, others are more circular in nature. Using the Chi Arts can make an attack that looks like several miniature lighting strikes. Running in water causes the water to splash around your footsteps.
The animations look smooth, and it looks like some kind of ragdoll physics is used in the graphics engine. Enemies fall back and fly into the air, landing with a realistic thud. The animation really helps you look over some of the rough edges of the grahics.
The music of KoP has an eastern mysticism to it. Emphasizing minor chords and strings, it is different than what you’d expect from an action RPG. The music is done so well that you won’t mind it at all. The music arrangement is simply beautiful.
The slash of a sword clangs against enemies. The Chi Arts make noise before a large clang hits the enemies. The footsteps grow louder as you run, while they are softer during walking.
Voices sound good for the characters. While there is some general cheesiness to some of the lines, most of the voice acting is actually very serious. No deadpan deliveries given here.
The controls of the game are fairly simple. In fact, they might be a bit too simple. Using an item equipped from your inventory uses the L button, while changing your Bugei scroll to change your fighting combo uses the R button. Movement is controlled with the D-pad or nub. Pushing X uses the Hiken arts in combat or talks with NPCs in the area. The Hiken Arts let you throw your sword in battle. Using Circle breaks items in the environment or attacks and defends in combat. The Triangle button uses the currently selected item. Using the Square button charges your Chi Arts and then tapping it again activates the Chi Arts.
The biggest issue with the controls is the fact that the attack and defend commands are used with the same button. Trying to defend against an attack is pretty much useless. It almost feels as if combat devolves into a bit of button mashing with an occasional Chi Arts charge and attack
In KoP, Shinbu runs from town to town in an attempt to retrieve the Seiryu Sword and bring back the Seiryu Clan. During this time Shinbu interacts with characters, collects items, grows in experience, and gains members to his adventuring party. This isn’t much different than other action RPGs, but the setting is something more from Ancient China instead of a fantasy or sci-fi setting. This change is refreshing.
You customize your attacks using Bugei Scrolls. These scrolls contain Kenpu, which are attacks illustrated on the scrolls. Up to six of these scrolls can be equipped at one time and can be switched during combat. These scrolls have combo attacks on them. If a scroll has a six-stage combo on it, you can hit the Circle button up to six times. If you hit the button less times, you break the combo. There are five clans in the game, and each of these clans have a clan scroll based on their own fighting style.
Each of the Kenpu and Chi Arts are based on five complimentary elements: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water. Some of the elements are stronger or weaker than others, almost like a five-part Paper, Rock, Scissors game. For example, Wood is stronger than Earth, but Metal is stronger than Wood. When battling enemies, each clan is associated with one of these elements. Each Kenpu is associated with one of these elements. Changing to a scroll with Kenpu based on an element that is stronger than the enemies’ element could tip the balance in your favor. Also, you can create a cycle by stringing moves without using the same element twice. You can charge an attack by using several Kenpu of the same element and follow it with a complementary element. All of these options are set up in the Bugei Scrolls option in the Pause Menu.
The combat mechanics are interesting and have a lot of strategy. It’s unfortunate that the combat is so disappointing. The first issue is the camera. Often times Shinbu draws his sword before you see any enemies on screen. During combat, you sometimes end up trying to run around enemies, but it’s difficult to because of the controls. The camera doesn’t help either as there can be multiple enemies on screen that you can run into. As mentioned before, blocking is an exercise in futility. This causes Shinbu to get hit a lot. Sometimes you can run away from the attacks, but if an enemy attacks you and gets Shinbu caught in a combo, it’s very difficult to escape it. Also, the controls don’t make the direction of your attack any easier, causing you to completely miss your target.
The Chi Arts are powerful, but almost too powerful. While you need to charge your Chi Arts for a couple of seconds, hitting the Chi Arts at the right time can blow away your enemies fairly quickly, even at the early levels of Shinbu’s character.
KoP is a relatively short game, giving about 15 or so hours of gameplay, but it does have a few options to extend the gameplay. In Ad Hoc mode, you can play a “Bugei Exhibition” against another player. In this mode you can play a one-on-one battle against another person using one of your Bugei scrolls. I doubt that this mode is going to be used very much though because you’ll need to know another person with a copy of the game.
In the Infrastructure mode you can download exclusive Kenpu forms, swords, and Bugei scrolls. What you need to do is get the password from a web site and then log into the PSP Infrastructure mode and enter in that password. If the password is accepted, the new item is downloaded.
While these two options are nice, they don’t add that much to the value or replay of the game.