Review - Kingdom: The Far Reaches
Posted: Sat Dec 05, 2009 4:43 pm
I like the idea behind ‘Kingdom’, at least in theory. Take an animated fantasy world like Dragon’s Lair, but eliminate it’s fast pace. With more time to sit and enjoy the animation, and gameplay relying less on quick reflexes and more on thought, it would seem to translate into a better game. Perhaps that is true, but I don’t know if Kingdom is the game to demonstrate this. Not that it doesn’t have enjoyable elements mind you, but its drawbacks are hard to overlook. Let’s explore, as we enter the fantasy world of Kingdom: The Far Reaches.
The sense of fantasy is certainly well realized by Kingdom. At the same time however, this is one of its weaknesses. Little attempt at originality seems evident. Instead, you get to witness minor variants of stuff you’ve likely seen, read, or played many times prior. Critics knocked this game for its clichéd approach, and the complaints seem justified. Still ... it gives the game a familiar and, dare I say, comfortable feel. Reminds me (and surely many others too) of the Saturday morning cartoons I used to watch as a kid.
Long story short, you take on the role of a young adventurer named Lathan. During your journey you’ll traverse all manner of storybook locations and meet a who’s who of both friends and foes. The quest (given by your mighty, but aging mentor named Daelon) is to find relics needed to take down the Torlok’s evil empire. Again, probably nothing you haven’t seen before. It boils down to whether or not you or sick of said story.
The animation in Kingdom seemed promising at first. This isn’t to say that it later totally disappoints, but there are a few things to note … things which do bump the visuals down. While the opening title is displayed in full screen, the introduction and all actual game play to follow is done in a reduced size setting. I’m not sure if this is a result of Kingdom being a port of an old laser disc game or not (seems unlikely, especially as the Cd-i version is full screen) but it did give me pause. Would have been fine for a Sega cd game but I, rightfully, expected more from my 3DO.
Another thing worth noting is breakup of the animation … While never overly distracting, I again have to pause and wonder why it is present at all? Slow scenes shouldn’t have it, at the very least. 3DO can certainly produce much cleaner visuals than this … just look at the Don Bluth games.
Repeating animation … hmmm? Not so much a visual disappointment in the traditional sense, but still a letdown in my opinion. Necessary perhaps, but it does tend to yank you out of the moment. Example – An initial scene may play out, say with 10 seconds of dialogue. Return to that location later at it will play identical footage, but new dialogue will be in place. The problem is that it’s often longer than the initial conversation! This makes sense insofar as the story will have progressed, but it forces 1 of 2 things. Either a quick reading of the dialogue to squeeze it in the allotted footage time, or dialogue that is skimping on details. Either result distracts, and makes the repeating animation stand out that much more (oh, and concealed lips are the norm in an attempt to mask this ) Budget cuts I guess.
Despite the aforementioned gripes, I’ll again emphasize that the animation has an old school air that I did enjoy. Strictly from an artistic point of view it is really quite good, and the technical hiccups shouldn’t take away from that. Sleepy villages, towering castles, forest nooks, everything you’d expect is there, and drawn rather well. A fun game to watch.
Audio wise, Kingdom offers some fairly rich music and sound effects in tandem with some sporadic voice acting. I suspect that some of the voice talent in Kingdom might have taken on more than one role. Nevertheless, the characters that are done well stand out more than the weaker ones and it’s worth noting that the main leads (Lathan & Daelon) are both pretty good.
Control is a piece of cake in Kingdom, and made much more enjoyable in my opinion thanks to having eliminated the need for quickness and timing. (if you are worried this makes the game easier though, hold that thought til the next paragraph) There are a few occasions where fast button taps are required (signaled by a shrinking hourglass on the screen) but these are the exception, and as such, are more enjoyable than if they were the status quo. Maybe one of the most notable things about Kingdoms control scheme is the fact that it extends to not just controlling the actions in a location, but actually picking which location you’ll go to next. A novel idea, especially for an animated game like this, but …
Again, in theory this sounds good. Goodbye linear adventure, or so it would seem. The truth of the matter is though; this freedom often results in just more ways to die. Kingdom does have a very set course you should follow and any deviations from this, though allowed, will usually result in failure (albeit with amusing clips) This helps to compensate for the lack of challenge stemming from the slower paced control, and may in fact surpass it. With only three tries to complete the game successfully, you can’t afford too many missteps. Yet, it’s hard to avoid missteps when so many choices are available that result in them. I was surprised to discover the Kingdom was a much bigger game than I had anticipated, one that will take a fair amount of time to play through. Heck, when you compare it to other animated games, Kingdom is epic!
The puzzles don’t share the aforementioned challenge however, and though this may disappoint some it does lend a sense of balance to the game. I’ve encountered nothing that was even moderately difficult. One example … I’m standing in front of a stone that has ancient writing in an unknown dialect. How can I read it? Oh yes, I have a scroll that can translate it. It’s easy sailing with Kingdom’s puzzles.
Overall, Kingdom seems to be a mixed bag. I did enjoy playing it, and any who enjoy an old fashioned adventure or animated type games surely will too. Yet, I can’t recommend it to all, as the aforementioned flaws really do knock it down several pegs. I applaud the game for its novel approach, I really do, especially given the limits of the genre, but I don’t think it reached its ambitions as intended. Weigh the pros and cons carefully before you decide to proceed with this game ... a game that might be more fun to watch than play.