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Forever Kingdom
Score: 75%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Agetec
Developer: From Software
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1
Genre: Adventure

Graphics & Sound:
One look at Forever Kingdom and it is easy to notice the drastic graphical improvement over its predecessor - Evergrace. It is interesting to see that with all the improvements, the game still manages to keep the same style as Evergrace. All of the 'environmental' effects, such as the leaves falling off the trees and fields of grass are still around, only now with a little more polish. Forever Kingdom also brings a few new toys to the playground as well - including some great lighting effects and reflections (which are a tad overused).

Part of the fun of the game is seeing the thousands of different armor and weapon combinations available. You can go for the bad-ass looking knight, a goofy looking mix-match, or combine elemental protections - the possibilities are endless. It is fun to see some of the 'quirks' of some weapons, like the Flame Axe nearly engulfing your character in flames, or the Earth Lich sword pulling your character along, in search of enemies.

Unfortunately, with all the improvements, Forever Kingdom still feels a few steps behind the rest of the PS2 pack. What's here is nice, but after looking at what some of the games it shares shelf space have to offer, it is hard not to want more. There are also a few frame rate problems present, which detract from the overall picture. While not as bad as the 'shaking screen' from the original, there is a little slowdown when more than four people are on the screen and when running through some dungeons.

Trying to describe the music in words is a daunting task. For a good idea, take a guitar heavy James Taylor song, and an Enya song. Now play them at the same time. I kept getting the impression that the developers had two soundtracks recorded, and since they couldn't decide on one - they used both. Although it sounds like a train wreck in description, it has this surprisingly soothing appeal. As for the voices, well there are voices. Each of the characters has a flat, monotone delivery that, when combined with the badly translated dialogue, is not a fun experience.


Gameplay:
Forever Kingdom is not so much a story about three adventurers as it is a bad history lesson about the game's world. As the game opens, three travelers - Darius, Ruyan, and Faeana - come across a wizard and knight harassing a young, mysterious girl. As is usually the story, since the three were sticking their nose in someone else's business, they are cursed with a Soul Bind curse, forcing them to share lives. Meaning that if one gets hurt, they all do. While this sounds like an intrusting mechanic, it doesn't work too well in the game - especially when considering armor and technical glitches.

Each armor has its own element - fire, lightning, water, or earth. When facing the same element, it is a fun thing to have, but when facing an opposite element...well, you get the picture. This becomes frustrating when you consider the price of armor (even after the discounts) and getting a full set of three good armors can get pricey. After you buy the armor, that still does not protect you all the way because of the vast array of enemies in some areas. For example, one area contained both ice and fire elemental attacks - forcing you to really mix and match to get things right, but just when you think you have it right, another type of elemental magic is thrown in. Basically, you spend more time in the equipment area than you should. I also questioned some of the 'protections' the armors gave me. For example, the Purity Armor said it was supposed to give me protection from status effects, but even after upgrading it with Palmira crystals my character was still susceptible to status attacks - something that just about every enemy in the game seems to be able to cast upon you.

The technical glitches are few, but detract from the game enough that it becomes hard to play at times. The biggest is the AI of your allies. For whatever reason, they seemed to attack only when I did not want them to. This was usually some big monster I could not kill anyway (such as the giant worm in the tunnel level), which because of the Soul Bind led to a few cheap deaths...see the frustration? As in the last game, the main spellcasting element is Palmira. In order to equip new Palmira actions, you must buy accessories that correspond to each elemental base. In a fun twist, many of the spells in the game also help you solve some of the major puzzles in the game. Sometimes a switch can only be opened by a certain element of Palmira, or require a certain combination of attacks. It is a neat idea that I wish had been implemented a little more.


Difficulty:
Given some of the technical glitches, Forever Kingdom can be quite a pain at certain times throughout the game. If it is not the AI getting in the way, it is something else. It just felt that no matter where I was in the game, for every one problem fixed, another popped up. This is not to say the game is unplayable; it just becomes frustrating at certain points in the game. I really wish that the clues had been easier to understand at times as well. Many of the puzzles are given to you in riddles, many times given in multiple parts. This means that one part of the riddle may be in one area, while the other part in a totally different area - this becomes a problem because sometimes one of the riddles is in an area you can easily miss.

Game Mechanics:
Managing your party is a bit of a hassle. As I mentioned earlier, your allies' AI is not the smartest in the world, and getting them to attack can be a chore. Thankfully, you can switch between your characters at anytime with the press of a button. Forever Kingdom features a simple system for combining your characters Palmira actions, adding a little more kick to the damage levels. The problem is that pulling off these combos is a bit tricky. When you visit shops, you can enter a training area that is supposed to show you how to use the combos. Of course, everything works perfectly here; but once you enter combat situations, your characters are usually all facing different directions and trying to pull off the combos becomes difficult. There are a few rare moments where it works however.

As negative as this review sounds, Forever Kingdom is not a bad game. It manages to do many things right, and even has more than a hint of originality. The problem is that the game still has a lot of ground to make up in regards to the many technical problems it contains. Like Evergrace, Forever Kingdom is not for everyone. For those on the fence, this is a definite 'rent first'. But, if you're looking for something just a little different, Forever Kingdom is something worth looking at.


-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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