Reviewed: July 4, 2003
Released: May 13, 2003
Lost Kingdoms II is naturally the sequel to Lost Kingdoms, a peculiar hybrid of card game, action game, and RPG. The sequel does not change the basic formula laid down by the first game. The idea is that there are these magical stones called Runestones that allow a practiced magician in combination with magical cards to summon forth spirits and magical creatures who can fight for her. There are only a very few Runestones in existence, and rare are the Runestone Masters who can wield this great magical power.
The story for Lost Kingdoms II takes place two centuries after the events that occurred in the first game. The land of Argwyll is in a state of uneasy peace. The threat of the powerful Queen's Runestone and what the descendents of Queen Katia are capable of doing with it has kept the various regions in check. However, one region, known as Kendarie, has managed to produce artificial Runestones. While these Runestones are nowhere near as powerful as true Runestones, if Kendarie can mass-produce them they can build a formidable army. Their willingness to do this and use that army to expand threatens the long period of peace in Argwyll.
The player takes on the role of an orphaned, street savvy young woman named Tara who uses her skills with the runestone to help a band of thieves called the Band of the Scorpion. The leader of the band Victor took Tara in when she was very young and so she feels a sense of duty to him, even though she really despises thieving and more or less unwillingly performs her duties in the band. Her powers have made the band very successful and Victor has taken advantage of Tara's skill a few too many times. And so the story begins on one of the band's missions at a lonely mansion.
The interface for Lost Kingdoms II is a bit difficult to get accustomed to at first, but once you do it is fairly easy to get around in it. The only problem I had with it is that during missions it is easy to accidentally play a card when you intended to activate a chest or talk to a person because the "activate" feature is context sensitive when you are standing in just the right spot you get a little icon that changes the behavior of the big green button, normally used to throw down a card.
The main game window uses a series of nested menus to navigate through most of the strategic level gameplay. This is where you decide what you want to do, where you want to go, and what cards you want to take with you. You can design different "decks" using your cards. This is essentially a way to have multiple configurations for your set of cards. You have a limit of only 30 cards per deck and sometimes you will find that you run out of cards before you are finished with the deck.
Generally you are also pretty open to where you can go. Depending on what you've done, you can go back to places where you've already completed a mission to look for things you may have missed, or to open up new branches in the story. You'll find that there's only a few or maybe even only one way to actually proceed in the story, but you may still want to go back and replay areas to try and find hidden areas. Once you complete a mission, you are awarded with a certain number of card "picks" depending on the level of your success.
The key to getting the maximum success rating is to take very little damage while completing the mission. Therefore, it is sometimes advantageous in the long-term strategy to intentionally abort a mission instead of completing it! Then using your knowledge of how the level works, build a deck and use certain strategies to complete it in a more optimal manner to get more card "picks". These missions are sometimes the only way you can get certain rare cards, so it actually makes sense to abort missions you know you'll get a low success rating on. It isn't as bad as it seems, though, because even though you abort a mission you get to keep all the experience points, money and cards you earned during the mission. Money can be used at card shops to buy new cards to improve your deck.
The actual mission gameplay puts you in the role of Tara, and it heavily involves defeating opponents and overcoming obstacles by using your deck of cards. You can only have 4 cards in your "hand" at a time, and you can shuffle through your deck to see different ones. Using the right card against the right opponent or obstacle is important for maximum effectiveness, but on the early missions it's pretty easy to get through a mission by just playing cards almost at random. Later on it becomes much more important.
There are five basic types of cards you can play, with each type of card having specific uses during the missions.
Weapon cards are denoted by a little symbol of a sword. These are like instant effect attacks, and you have to be lined up facing your opponent and at the right distance for these to work properly (some are ranged and some are melee distance only). If you do them right, weapons are pretty powerful but require some action-gamer skills to use effectively without taking damage yourself. Weapon cards can also be used to smash things or remove obstructions. Usually you can use a Weapon card a few times before it is used up completely. Summons cards are also similar to Weapons but are more powerful and also have more than one type of attack.
Independent cards are interesting, as they actually manifest a creature that will fight for you for a period of time until they run out of energy. Independents can be very useful as both offensive cards to slay other creatures for you, or as a distraction for your opponents while you move in with some Weapon cards to help dish out the damage. Helper cards are like Independents but they don't fight, instead they do other special functions, such as heal your character or increase your stats. Lastly, there are my favorite, the Transform cards, which will turn your character into a creature temporarily. While transformed you will be able to go places you could not otherwise reach as Tara.
Aside for the card type each card also has an Attribute. The Attribute of a card reflects which "element" it is based on. Different elements are more or less effective against other elements. For example, Fire attribute creatures and cards are strongest against Wood creatures and cards, and weakest against Water creatures and cards. There are six Attributes, Fire, Water, Earth, and Wood, plus two "non-element" attributes, Neutral, which is strong on attack and not weak against anything, and Mech, which is not weak against anything and has strong defense. Once you know something about the types of opponents you are going to be facing in an area, you can abort the mission and then restart it with a deck custom designed to lay waste to everything in your path.
Aside from the cards there are also gems and blue fairies that you can collect during the missions, which will give you certain bonuses, increase you magic pool, or give you money. Collecting the red fairies are good because they give you information about your mission and game hints, plus you can trade them into a character you meet during the game who will give you rare cards for them. Tara gains levels and experience as she defeats opponents in the missions. The cards also gain experience, which can allow them to be upgraded at the card shops for more powerful cards. This collection type activity and level advancement is what gives the game its RPG flavor. One aspect to the game is that you need to avoid using your most powerful cards until you really need it, because they use up a lot of your precious little magic points pool. If your magic pool becomes depleted look for blue fairies who will sometimes refresh you, or pick up gems. You can also use the Z-button in combination with your cards to do enhanced attacks or special card combo moves.
Unfortunately the gameplay is not without its flaws. Magic points are a precious commodity that you will learn to hoard like a dragon. You end up using your weaker cards just to get through the mission which don't have the cooler spell effects. Aside from that you can waste your cards too easily by accidentally pressing them at the wrong time. It takes a lot of coordination to aim them just right and also good timing, which can be bad if your accustomed to a more leisurely turn-based card game or RPG. Hit detection was somewhat flaky as well.
Graphically Lost Kingdoms II is above average, but nothing truely spectacular. The game has improved graphics over the original Lost Kingdoms games so fans of the series should be pleased. There are lots of nice little touches, such as the pigeons sitting around a town fountain that fly away when you draw near. The game's dynamic shadows all looked as they should and gave the well-done animations even more depth. The monsters and card spell effects are very well done and imaginative, and fit well with the theme of the game world. Spell effects looked incredible when you were not running around trying to avoid getting clobbered. There are also well done cutscenes during the game, albeit a bit few and far between.
The problem is that a lot of your screen is taken up by the interface and the displaying of your card "hand", thus detracting from the beauty of the scenery. One minor drawback to the graphics is that the images on the cards themselves are a bit too small to be able to distinguish them from other similar looking cards, and so in the heat of battle you may accidentally play a card you think does one thing but actually is something else. Plus while you can thankfully control the game's camera, you are so busy running and dodging around that you do not get a chance to really appreciate the graphics of your spells when you use them.
Overall there were no major flaws to the graphics, but also nothing major that really stood out as something to awe. Competent, attractive, but not extraordinary.
Sound effects in Lost Kingdoms II are appropriate and interesting for the most part. Many of the spell effects have good sounds to go along with them. There wasn't a very good use of the supported Dolby Surround sound, though, and I never got the feeling of being surrounded by the monsters and such. The voice acting what little there was of it is good.
The opening theme music is very well done but the rest of the music tends to kind of just blend into the background. Lots of string instruments to be heard here, some annoying and some just soothing. The sound seemed to try and fit the mood of the story, but the problem is that since you go back to a lot of areas and do them again and again, the music and sound effects don't really follow the mood of the player who isn't really that immersed in the game the second and third times they visit an area.
Clocking in at less than 15 hours, Lost Kingdoms II is just too dang short for an RPG. Sure, you can spend another 25 hours or so trying to collect every single type of card if you want to, but there's no reason to do that in the story. Lost Kingdoms II feels like a game that just didn't put enough emphasis on the story and making it involving. The game does have two different endings depending on what happens to one of the characters in the game, so playing through again to see the other one might be something to give the game a little replay boost.
The biggest reason to keep the game as opposed to using it as a weekend renter is to play the multiplayer card game battles against friends with similar decks. This Versus mode can add a lot of depth to the gameplay due to the strategies of pitting your deck ideas against the other guy's. You can even wager cards like real card games. Once you finish the game the game opens up a "Proving Grounds" which will give you 20 floors of opponents to wade through with your best deck. The biggest problem with the versus mode is that you can't find opponents for it easily and you need two memory cards saved games to do the card game wagering bit. It could be a lot of fun for some one on one action against a significant other who has also finished the short story, though.
The characters in the game are pretty stereotypical, and the plot and story is certainly not up to the standards of story-oriented RPGs like Final Fantasy X. The characters seem flat and uninteresting to me, and the story didn't really get me emotionally attached to them. The game had potential at first with the political undertones but those proved to stay way back in the backstory and not up front where you could actually make some sort of political moves or decisions. There really was no choice in the story, either; it pretty much went along its merry way in linear fashion, with precious few places to branch into meaningful side quests.
However, the GameCube is pretty light on RPGs right now. If you're stuck with the Cube as your only system, and you've already beaten Zelda Wind Walker and Skies of Arcadia, you might be desperate enough for the lighthearted story effort found in Lost Kingdoms II. Of course, unless you like the idea of collecting different cards and using them in an action-game mission based gameplay mixed with a card game, you may not be able to get into Lost Kingdoms II. If however, the idea of a collectible card game ala Magic The Gathering or Pokemon mixed with some action elements entices you, you'll probably enjoy Lost Kingdoms II for its unique (other than the first one) gameplay style. Fans of the first game will probably like LK2 since it really is just more of the same but with even more cards and better production values.