Platform: PlayStation 2
Developer: Nippon Ichi
Publisher: NIS America
Date of Release: July 2005 (USA)

Summary: It's good, but didn't I just play this?

A min/maxer is a person who enjoys exploring the mechanics and numbers behind a game in order to derive the maximum benefit and minimum harm to his in-game avatar(s). The enjoyment of playing the actual game is derived only from being able create this perfect character (or squad, or combo, or team).

Makai Kingdom (and Disgaea, and Phantom Brave), NIS' recent turn-based strategy RPG was made exactly for this type of person. With tons of combat classes that your characters can aspire to, ability to reincarnate your characters to boost growth (how fast a character gains power) over and over again, and repeatable (at any time) combat stages, a powergamer can repeat battles endlessly (or make his own dungeons!) and never actually advance the game's story (Such as it is: you lost power, you must regain it through combat. Hijinks ensue.) at all.

Whether this is a good or a bad thing is irrelevant - the fact is that Makai Kingdom encourages such behavior, with overpowered enemies, ability to toss people (yes, pick up and toss) in and out of combat to optimize damage, ability to undo moves AFTER having taken part in an attack - all of these were already in Disgaea. Makai Kingdom tweaks the formula a bit by making victories occur by achieving a certain point total per stage - you can leave and go on to the next, or stick around and boost your points in order to net bonuses or open up side-stages (to further boost your points). Tweaking and maxing is king.

What else is new?

The biggest change to a former Disgaea player (but not a Phantom Brave player) is the ability to freely move around the battleground. Instead of using squares for range, placement, and spell effects, you can now move anywhere on the field, in any direction, within a certain movement radius. Likewise, spell and attack effects are defined by a radius of effect. While seemingly more elegant and natural, this proves slightly more difficult to use in practice.

There's a couple of reasons for that. First is the limited rotation and zoom ability - with the detailed, tiny sprites that NIS has been creating combatants are very hard to discern in the small clusters that they end up forming to optimize attacks. Second, those attacks need specific ranges and placements to have the best effect. The end result is that you'll be staring at a cluster of 6 characters in an area meant for two - kind of like trying to make out your friend's backpack in a full-to-capacity Tokyo subway. Trying to align a single-target attack on a particular enemy in this case is frustrating at best. Makai Kingdom places small attack icons over the heads of affected characters but it's still tough. Give me archaic squares any day.

I won't even mention how easy it is to jump on an ally's head and not even realize where you are - the 2D characters on a 3D board don't lend themselves to perspective very well.

The one thing Makai Kingdom improves is turn-speed. Instead of watching the enemy go one-by-one through their actions, everyone moves pretty much simultaneously when you're done setting up your attacks - this looks like about 2 minutes of setup + 10 seconds of OMFGWTHBBQ!!11ONEOEN with explosions and special effects, so it's pretty neat.

There are some more additions like buildings, vehicles, and ways to customize extra dungeons - but it all boils down to going in, kicking ass in any inventive way you can think of, and getting out with the max loot and XP. Then tweak your party with the loot you've gotten and levels you've obtained, drool over the assorted stat vomit on the screen resulting from the tweaks, and do it again. This time around you have mechs, gatling guns, hugetastic laser swords, UFOs and throwing people into dimension X to unlock hidden parts of the gameboard. What's not to love(hate)?

I hate to end like this, but if you like More Of The Same in this genre (i.e. you've played Disgaea a bajillion times and need more new stuff), pick this up immediately. It has a new amusing story and enough tweaks to keep you occupied for another 30+ hours minimum. If you got burned out on Disgaea about halfway through, you might want to look at something less gamey and more sane like Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, or just take a completely different route and head over to Growlanser territory.

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