What the PSP has been in desperate need of since its release was a deep RPG that could consume gamers-on-the-go for hours on end. While the Untold Legends series did manage to satisfy an action-RPG niche, there was still are large gap to be filled. When the first screens of Kingdom of Paradise (KoP) were released, it seemed to be the RPG that PSP owners had been waiting for. Something that could rival the best RPGs that the GBA was offering and take a run at the Final Fantasy crown. With all the expectations and the hype, how close is it to the mark?
At the core of every great epic RPG is an epic story or quest and this is KoP's first major failing. While we are introduced to a grand story involving a Great War fought many centuries ago and the fallout of said war, the story, for all intents and purposes never seems to take on any epic proportions. Our hero, Shinbu, begins his adventure by rescuing a young girl from his former Eastern Seiryu clan who has come looking for him after the Seiryu have been destroyed. Does he tell her who he is from the onset? Nope. And thus begins this annoying Three's Company-like gag of misidentifying oneself. It may seem trivial, but this made me really dislike Shinbu from the onset. And while the young girl (Sui Lin) may be pleasing to the eyes, she borders so much on being ignorant in certain instances that it's easy to outright dismiss her. Couple this with the unfortunate fact that Shinbu remains the only controllable character and things weren't starting out on the right foot.
While I'd hoped for a more traditional RPG, KoP plays more like a beat-em-up or Dynasty Warriors type game. While there are numerous sword techniques to learn and master, the action always remains a little button-masher-y. The 3D playing field during fights doesn't help things either by forcing you to compensate for odd angles sometimes with the analog stick. Still, if you know what to expect from KoP, the fighting system remains deep with enough to discover and upgrade to keep fans busy for a long time. Blocking seems like a chore however and the lack of a jump button seems like a major oversight. If this is an action-RPG at heart (with a true RPG backbone) at least give us the ability to jump.
One annoying habit the game incurs early on is the fact that is forces you to trudge back and forth between locations for no apparent reason. You are in a tent having a conversation one minute, a cutscene takes place and now you are somewhere else entirely and must make your way back to the tent. On the positive side, and this game is truly a mish-mash of positives and negatives in equal parts, the ability to save whenever you like is a plus. Forgetting to save the game from time to time however can lead to frustrating moments.
The graphics, while encountering some load times and slowdowns when facing too many enemies at once, remain a strong point. The characters all feature numerous polygons and the environments are a sight to behold. Everything animates well and the fights look good. The music is fitting as are the sound effects and while the voice acting is well done, it's impossible not to cringe at the pointlessly long speeches that every character seems determined to make. Can we just get to the point already? Filler for the sake of filler is always evident in RPGs (especially when NPCs are concerned) and while some characters truly have insightful things to say, most of the main cast seem full of themselves and want to simply carry on and on and on and on.
KoP also features item and Kenpu downloads as well as one-on-one battles against friends. These are generally fun little battles, but the feature itself seems a little tacked on. The simple ability to trade Kenpu is a welcomed addition.
In the end, my opinion of Kingdom of Paradise may seem overly harsh, but that is simply because my expectations for it were so high and in the end the game really didn't deliver, what I had expected it to. For hardcore on-the-go gamers, KoP remains a satisfying and long game with a solid battle system, full RPG leveling system and tons of items and abilities to collect. The story does take on a more grandiose proportion later on and comes together well in the end but the early slow-going may throw a few impatient gamers off. My main issue was my utter dislike for the main character and the fact that pointless running around seems inherent to the game from the very beginning. But it's still nice to see an RPG on the PSP and fans of the genre should definitely look into this title.