Review / Test:
There's nothing more saddening than failed good concepts. Because they never live up to your expectations, they sometimes feel worse than plain bad games. Lost Kingdoms is one of them. Or maybe not, keep reading. When you glance through the booklet, it looks engaging and the main idea is interesting. So interesting actually that it could be used as the framework for a Pokemon RPG game, just replace cards with pokeballs. Anyway, the concept which makes this unique genre, the real-time card battle, possible is about the gameplay.
It plays like an action RPG except that your character can do only one type of attack: throwing cards. Of course, these are magic cards otherwise it would be one hell of a silly game... the cards summon creatures who attack for you. Some will deliver a blow through your arm, others will refill your energy or trap the enemy and some will actually come to fight in the battle zone for a short duration. Your opponents will attack your monsters and, unlike Pokemon, your character also. And it all happens in real-time, you don't take turns or have any break. Only the monster encounter is pure RPG style: enemies suddenly appear where there's nothing and you must fight them in a limited area.
So yeah, it is a good concept. The fact that it happens in real time makes all the difference. You can summon creatures any time and have to think of protecting your character from rival monsters as well. And this is a lot of strategy, your actions must be carefully measure; if your character is killed or if you use up all your cards, you failed the level. However, there are many problems preventing Lost Kingdoms from being satisfactory. The major one is in the controls, which are critical for an action RPG, especially as ambitious as this one. Moving your character away from attacking monters and handling your cards properly is difficult so that you often end up wasting cards, especially at the beginning.
Before starting a level, you have to make a deck with as many as 30 cards among all the ones you collected so far. There are 105 cards in total of various types of monsters. We get the overused elemental power system (game makers should really drop it and think of something else): water beats fire, fire beats wood, wood beats earth, earth beats water, plus the neutral type. Strangely, this system is a bit misused, some monsters are in a category which don't fit them, skeleton and dragon knight in water type, well.. why not. You can build your deck the way you want and put for instance as many cards of the same monsters as you own. You can build several decks but use only one by level.
Once your deck is ready, time to follow the storyline and enter the next level. Princess Katia is looking for her father, who went ahead to fight the danger of the black fog and its mysterious cohort of monsters and warn the other kings. She will have to find the 5 Runestones of each kingdom, sacred magic stones which protect the country. Levels are rather short and that's definitely welcome. 30 cards to defeat all the random and compulsory monsters, that's tough sometimes. You can't afford to spend too many cards in one battle, so you really have to play efficiently. There are tricks to increase these 30 cards limit though. Cards found in the level can be used directly if you activate them in a Deck Point, and some cards, like the Sea Monk, can restore several other cards.
Even with these tricks, you're always worried to run short of cards. Cards are selected randomly, four of them are attributed to the buttons on the right side of the pad. You just have to press one of these buttons to summon a monster. If it happens (for me it happens really often) that the selected cards are not appropriate to fight the monsters you're facing, you might have to waste some before getting an efficient type of card. That's a cruel law, but the more you go, the more you'll learn to put up with it. An interesting feature, so Pokemon-like, is that you can weaken your opponents and then capture them to get a new card. It's almost as exciting as in the Pokemon games although it requires a good targeting.
There's a condition to clear a level, generally to reach the end of it or to defeat a boss. Boss fights are quite stressful for the reason mentioned above: the fear of lacking cards. Fortunately, the general difficulty of the game is not so high, though it's as frustrating as it can be to lose when not having the right cards or because you got killed stupidly. As we said earlier, the controls tend to be irritating. The camera is quite clumsy and you often need to adjust it to see properly (in the booklet they make it sound like a good trick, sigh), cards can be difficult to handle when doing a capture or precise throw, but the biggest problem is in the motions. It's really easy to get your character as well as your monsters stuck in a corner or even near a monster and get heavily injured for this reason. Even more frustrating is to be knocked out by a blow, then, the time you get up, you got knocked out by a second blow because your temporary dizziness and the monster's attack frequency are synchronized. The intelligence of your monsters also gives deep concern at times...
All these problems become particularly obvious when you fight in an area a bit more cramped than a plain. Kind of common. Alas, the overall design of Lost Kingdoms is not quite alright either. Graphics are so-so. Definitely too square and not enough impressive, but they are a few nice things to see, some very nice arabesques and texture works in menus and some palaces, and some rather original and pleasant looking monsters. It does have a personal style, sadly, graphics are too poor, lack diversity and look dramatically incomplete (black instead of background). Non-playing characters like knights are really tasteless and overall animation is bad, much too slow to feel natural. In the sound department, musics are very discreet but nice. Sound effects are poor and there are just a very few voices here and there, so few that Activision didn't bother translate them. "Dou shita no !" says Alexander when you come to visit him.
It's not arguable anymore, Lost Kingdoms is a failed good concept. It lacks personality, visual strenght, RPGs' epic breath, the gameplay is very nerve-racking at times and some choices are debatable (you can't revisit a level for instance, no matter if you missed some chests and valuable secrets). However, it's really not a bad game, collecting cards and using them well can be very entertaining. Lost Kingdoms is good as long as things work well. When it goes smoothly, when you don't get stuck between things, when you don't die one second before clearing the level, when the cards are well dealt, when the monster encounter is fair enough, it's fine then; the game's drawbacks don't bother so much and you enjoy yourself gaining experience to your lovely deck of monsters and doing business with Gurd the witch. Unfortunately, it'll take some time and practise before it goes that way and yet, even then you never know how things will turn out. Beginners will suffer the most and will probably give up the game if they are not motivated enough to pay a careful attention to each card's description. That's where the secret of victory lies though, in a good knowledge of the cards. From Software didn't have what it takes to make a good idea such as Lost Kingdom the great game that it could have been. Still, even failed good concepts can be enjoyable too.
Samurai Nintendo thinks this game is not really suitable for children