I honestly didn’t expect to enjoy Lost Kingdoms as much as I did. It’s a game that isn’t talked about very often, and even at the time it was released, seems to have been buried. Strangely, there was a sequel to it, released a year after the original. Lost Kingdom II comes from the very same team at FromSoftware as the original did, but history would show that it would flop even harder than its predecessor, even though its a fate that I don’t believe it deserved.
52 CARD PICKUP
The story of Lost Kingdoms II takes place countless years after the original game. You play as Tara Grimface, who was abandoned by her family as a girl and grew up to be an embittered member of a clan of thieves. A heist against a source of counterfeit runestones winds up sending Tara through a series of events that lead to her rediscovering her roots.
Lost Kingdoms was a pretty routine “find the MacGuffins and defeat the great evil” kind of story, but Lost Kingdoms II diverges from that mindset so hard, that it never really finds its focus. It’s a minimalistic plot that’s light on exposition, yet still maintains some small threads of emotional impact. It’s willing to be a bit melancholy, but it doesn’t dwell on it. A character may have only a few lines of dialogue, but their motivations are clear and they react to things in the same way a human being with actual feelings would. The bandit leader, for example, tries his best to make Tara feel welcome, and doesn’t understand when she rebuffs his praise. The queen has a hard exterior, but you can easily see the cracks in her facade. It’s little details in the sparse dialogue that allow the characters to come alive, and it’s actually slightly impressive.
Don’t go into it expecting some grand tale. Lost Kingdoms II is a pretty small narrative, and it seems to be aware of it, making effective use of its limited framework. It also has some pretty mediocre voice acting, but it doesn’t completely undermine the dialogue.
A NEW DECK
I may not have really mentioned it during my review of the first game, but I wasn’t really a fan of Lost Kingdoms’ camera, which remained locked at an isometric angle and could only be rotated at 90 degree intervals. It wasn’t the worst, but it wasn’t ideal. Lost Kingdoms II gives more focus on presenting grounded gameplay, and part of that is zooming the camera in, angling it horizontally, and giving you complete control over it. It feels more like you’re directly in control over the actions of your character, rather than acting as a distant hand of god, which is further augmented by the removal of random battles. Lost Kingdoms whisked you away to a small pocket dimension every time a battle kicked in, but the sequel has its enemies roam in plain sight, ready to engage whenever you walk near enough. Those two changes — the camera and random combat — are basically bullet points one and two on my list of ways to improve the first game, so I’m very pleased that they were also priorities to the developer.
The core combat, on the other hand, remains the same, and that means it’s just as chaotic and unbalanced as before. There are once again different card types, including summon, independent, attack, effect, and transformation. The attack cards allow you to directly strike at enemies; summon cards are basically showier versions of attacks, with the monster appearing to perform one of two abilities; independent cards summon a monster onto the field to help you; effect cards let you heal or buff other monsters; and transformation cards allow you to change into one of the monsters, which grants you special abilities like flying or smashing boulders.
Once again, I didn’t really use the independent cards. Usually when I did, they were ineffective; always missing the enemy or not attacking at all. I mostly stuck to attack cards, and would add summon cards when I needed a really damaging attack. New is the ability to combine the attacks of related cards into a more powerful attack, and also the option to spend double mana on a card to increase its effectiveness; both facets that I typically forgot all about.
THE SAME OLD GROUND
Another appreciable change is the ability to revisit levels that you’ve already cleared. This not only allows you to backtrack to try and pick up any treasure you might have missed, but a lot of areas have sections that you can’t reach until later. Not only that, but there’s also a number of sidequests hidden throughout that have you collecting items to unlock access to more powerful cards, as well as a few hidden areas. It lends itself well to exploration, though it’s all just an optional distraction.
The overall tone of the game is also a bit different than the original. While the first game had the world on the brink of cataclysm, the sequel has things in a less dire state. It’s not as dark, which is a bit disappointing. The design on the monsters is still pretty excellent, which isn’t surprising, since I believe it’s still the same person doing it.
ANOTHER LOST KINGDOM
Lost Kingdom II didn’t garner the same response as the first game, which could have been described as lukewarm to begin with. As such, the series rose on the GameCube and died on the GameCube, with no plans for a third game, from what research I’ve done. I find it unlikely that anyone is interested in reviving the franchise after so many years of absence. That’s a tremendous shame, since I’ve grown to be fond of From Software’s tiny experiment, and there are many directions the games could have taken.
As for Lost Kingdom II, it took me just shy of 15 hours to complete. I spent a lot of time doing side-quests, but didn’t have the endurance to plumb the depths of every nook in the game. Minor improvements, like a better camera and the removal of random encounters carry great appeal for me, but major issues like the lack of balance haven’t been addressed. As such, it’s still very much a mixed bag, but my preference is definitely for the sequel. Regardless, I could definitely see myself returning to revisit this lost corner of the GameCube library.
This review was conducted on a GameCube using an original disk copy of the game. It was paid for by the author.