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Forever Kingdom
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From Soft
DVD Media Title
ESRB Rating Everyone
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"Evergrace" was one of two From Software-coded, Agetec-published PlayStation 2 RPG's released when the system launched in the States on October of 2000. It wasn't, shall we put it politely, an RPG experience memorable-enough to warrant the game's asking price at the time. The sequel to "Evergrace" has also been released by Agetec, but the publisher has chosen the moniker "Forever Kingdom" to try to bait potential new customers not yet tainted by the lackluster reputation of its prequel. Regardless of its name or lineage, "Forever Kingdom" is just one more middle-of-the-road PS2 RPG that isn't so horrible it can be pointed at and laughed at with ridicule (like "Orphen"), yet it's nowhere near the bread crumbs tossed on the ground by Square's "Final Fantasy X". Can you spell R-E-N-T-A-L material?

Sharline, the selectable female character from the original "Evergrace", is no longer part of the series but her male counterpart Darius is. Darius, his best friend Ruyan and a magician named Faeana are thrown into an unexpected adventure when an evil magician named Darsul places a curse on a mysterious child that has in its hands the destiny of the world... yadda, yadda, yadda! As far as storylines and dialogue go, "Forever Kingdom" is just as dry, conventional and uninvolving as "Evergrace" and other RPG's (Crave's "Shadow Madness" easily comes to mind). The trio of leads speak perfect English, yet I found myself bored stiff and uninvolved with their quest by the second hour of gameplay (which isn't good on an RPG that lasts 10-15 hours). What's left as a hook for gamers are just series of interesting puzzles, somewhat-decent battles and the same crazy dress-up system from "Evergrace".

This remains the franchise's calling card, which allows a player to equip his/her party members with outfits as odd as pumpkin and iron helmets, or defensive/offensive items as stupid as a giant powered-up maraca or one mean-looking spoon (which The Tick would be proud of). There's even an NPC in the game that acts like a fashion critic to the player's dress-up choices, like a virtual Mr. Blackwell (the fashion critic famous for his annual 'Best/Worst Dressed Celebrities' lists). Some outfits/items can just be found laying around, others can be purchased with the money earned from the vanquished enemies Darius & friends defeat during regular battles; each can be filled to a maximum percentile of 100, depending on the player's preference toward jack-o'-lanterns or sunglasses (cute).

Despite improvements in most of the flaws of the prequel (like the single lifebar that serves the entire three-character party), "Forever Kingdom" starts the race with the impediment of the roots of "Evergrace" as a 32-bit project many moons ago. Add to that the lethargic pace of the action, inconsequential storyline and ridiculous outfits/items (which are an acquired taste at best), and this RPG sinks rather quickly into the ever-growing pool of dead-average RPG's trying to cash on the genre's ever-growing popularity. Your mileage may vary though, and you might think "Forever Kingdom" is the second coming of gaming heaven IF (big 'IF') "Evergrace" rocked your world.

score 5
(out of ten)
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A From Software game with analog control? Yep (James Bond in "Goldfinger": 'SHOCKING'). And not just plain-vanilla analog control, but precise, tight and responsive analog control coded into the Dual Shock 2's left stick? You bet (Bond again in "Goldfinger": 'POSITIVELY SHOCKING!'). It's nice to know that From Software has jumped in the bandwagon most developers have been on since 1997 (sarcasm meter blowing sky high!), but "Forever Kingdom" also improves the control scheme of "Evergrace" and allows the three-member party to be switched on the fly with the L1 button. The player can only control either Darius, Ruyan and Faeana while the computer takes control of the other two; the X button unleashes a normal attack, and up to three consecutive one's can be strung together if the timing and powered-up items are right (particularly Darius').

Think of it as a watered-down "Phantasy Star Online" or a souped-up "Gauntlet Legends" control scheme, right down to the button that centers a third-person camera. Palmira Actions are activated by using the face buttons assigned to each party member; their effectiveness translates into flashier attacks that, unfortunately, are just turn-based timed button prushes without creativity (sorry kids, but "Grandia II" has truly spoiled me into wanting to be more in control of my enemy fights). Except for its cumbersome healing menu/option screen navigation system though (a quick save feature would have done wonders to speed-up gameplay and save aggravation), "Forever Kingdom" is a halfway-decent RPG that handles about average.

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"Forever Kingdom's" worlds are some odd-looking locations I wouldn't like to accidentally be warped to by a time worm hole or your run-of-the-mill sci-fi plot gimmick. A pleasant (hypnotic?) color palette that seems lifted from an acquarella painting greets the player at every turn, yet it's applied to an engine that seems to have trouble displaying high-polygon structures or detailed textures without compromising somewhat the resolution or graphical beauty. From Software's designers have plenty of imagination when designing complex interiors, far-out buildings, crazy-cool monsters and open fields that have more than a passing resemblence to Shigeru Miyamoto's "Zelda" games for Nintendo 64. The special effects and wacky outfits offer decent-looking first-generation caliber visuals, and the speed of the proceedings hold steady throughout the adventure at 30 frames-per-second.

The pixelation, jagged-edges and foggy backgrounds of "Evergrace", thankfully, have also been severely curtailed and corrected. "Forever Kingdom", unfortunately, is using a revamped version of the same "Evergrace" engine that was originally intended to be a PSOne game many years ago, and it shows. It's a few floors above the "Tsugunai" and "Shadow Hearts" apartments, but the graphics of From Software's latest RPG are miles below the "FFX" and "PSO" Penthouse suites. Aside from the slightly-cumbersome camera system and lack of detail, "Forever Kingdom" just happens to be guilty of being an ambitious-looking RPG whose programmers just can't match their imagination with their technical expertise. For PS2-owning "PSO" fanatics waiting 'till Sega ports its masterpiece to GameCube and XBox, "Forever Kingdom" might make for a visually-lackluster rental alternative to the real deal.

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The best part of "Evergrace" makes a welcomed return to "Forever Kingdom" in the form of an exotic and low-key ambient soundtrack that truly sounds like foreign music from another time, another place, another era, etc. It's unlike music from either Japan, a European medieval period or your run-of-the-mill futuristic RPG, and it truly enhances the feel that the player has been transported to a magical kingdom (extraterrestrial? subconscious?) that only exists in the minds of its creators. One moment my sound system's speakers would be blaring jazz, the next it might taking me to a Tibet-like state of mind with monk-like chanting. Even better, most of the NPC's and party characters in "Forever Kingdom" speak fluent and understandable English that tends to fall on the well-acted and believable side of acting (with an odd or goofy exception here and there).

Darius certainly sounds like 'the man', and the two games in which he has starred also host a collection of crystal-clear and well-sampled sound effects for magic spells, ambient background noises (water flowing, birds singing, etc.) and weapon-to-weapon clashes. The best complement I can give the sound of "Forever Kingdom" is that I truly wish it was part of another much, much better RPG than the one the audio code seems to be saddled with. I certainly hope that the soundtrack of the game will be released in CD along with the already-released soundtracks to "Onimusha" and other popular videogames (yes, it's that good!).

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score 5
(out of ten)
At a time when PS2 owners can taste sweet RPG candy like "FFX", "Grandia II" and many other similar flavors, "Forever Kingdom" comes across as a sour and bitter pill to swallow (great ambient soundtrack notwithstanding). A rental at best and an underwhelming waste of PS2 technology at its worst, the sequel to "Evergrace" fails to live up to its complete lack of hype and lowered expectations. From Software should stick to what it seems to do best: first-person dungeon crawlers and kick-ass action mech games that don't have analog support.

(03012002)- by - J.M. Vargas


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