Kingdom of Paradise

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Kingdom of Paradise was an action RPG for the Playstation Portable that came out in 2005. Inspired by martial arts cinema, it chronicles the misadventures of the young mercenary Shinbu after he rescues the last disciple of his former clan and becomes embroiled in political intrigue that threatens to tear his fantasy continent apart. With vivid 3D graphics and intuitive swordplay-based gameplay, Sword of Heaven is a pretty nifty game.

The fantasy-thriller storyline I alluded to above sounds great in theory but failed to grab me in practice. One factor could be the slightly unfamiliar names, drawing from Japanese and Chinese cultures. So we have names like Shinbu, Li Yun and Gikyo. This requires me to connect an unfamiliar name with a character I may have only encountered once five hours earlier in the game, which can be a bit much for me. And Chinese names often confuse because I can’t get my head around which one is the surname.

That said, the characters are likeable. For example, Shinbu is a sympathetically gormless exile who finally grows a heroic spine. But my favourite was the villain Genra, whose commitment to being extremely unpleasant gives him a Draco Malfoy-style sort of charisma. The expressive character models helped the characterisation in the game immensely.

The plot did have a few magical moments. Like when Shinbu managed to summon the floating temples of the moon above a silent lake, or reunited with a father he thought dead. And both of them can play their swords like musical instruments. I don’t think that there was anything intrinsically wrong with the game’s storyline, just that maybe that translators should’ve injected more personality into the script.

As an action RPG, Kingdom of Paradise’s combat can simply be described as Shinbu running up to a bandits and whacking him with his big sword. No fancy transitions to antiquated menu-based violence here, Shinbu attacks people on the same screen where he walks about and talks to people. Really it’s much more simple than I’m badly describing it. Think about it as like Diablo, except that Shinbu can only attack when there’s a direct threat present.

But there’s more to combat than just pressing the right button to attack. Shinbu learns all his attacks from Bugei Scrolls, and he can attach more moves to his Bugei Scrolls by collecting Kenpu… things… from his slain enemies. Each Kenpu move is different, one makes you spin, another makes you jump and slash down, and so on. Shinbu even gets his hands on freestyle Kenbu scrolls, allowing the player to string together whatever sequence of Kenpu they like. The closes thing I’ve seen to this Bugei Scroll system is the card-based combat in Kingdom Heart Chain of Memories.

Kingdom of Paradise’s local magic equivalent is Chi Arts, similar to those energy attacks they were always using in Dragonball Z. You hold down the button to charge your bar, and tap it again to release your attack. There’s an elemental system based on Chinese elements, and as you’d expect one sort of element is weak to an element and strong to another, and that Wood and Steel both somehow count as elements. This whole system was very badly explained in the game, and since I had no manual I resorted to learning about the it from Gamefaqs. Still, once I got my head around Chi Arts I decided they were a good way to include magic in an action RPG.

The rest of the gameplay is standard RPG stuff. Wander the countryside killing things, loiter about in town and accost random strangers for gossip, occasionally trigger a plot-relevant cutscene here and there… Although I should complain that most of the NPCs’ dialogue didn’t update to refer to most recent events.

It’s kind of pointless describing how this game looks when I can just embed a youtube video, but the graphics in Kingdom of Heaven impressed me. Maybe it’s because the previous game I played was the PSX port Soul Reaver, because the difference between the two is like my blurry naked vision and  the visual clarity I get after I’ve put my contact lenses in. That’s just a vague way to say we’ve got crisp and colourful graphics.

The music in Kingdom of Heaven didn’t make much of an impression on me, beyond me noticing that it had a slightly stereotypically Asian flavour. That means flute and strings.

There was also voice acting during the cutscenes. To be honest I didn’t think was strictly necessary, although thankfully there were subtitles for those playing with the volume turned down. But the fantastic sounds made by the enemies attacking Shinby, hammy Martial Arts sounds like ‘hwaaaah!’, more than justified the time spent by the creators recording voices in some studio.

Kingdom of Paradise is no RPG classic, but its graphics and gameplay are both very impressive for an original PSP title. Fans of games like Diablo or The Legacy of Goku would get a real kick out of it, but those looking for an immersive story shouldn’t bother.

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