>> Thursday, July 5, 2007
Our 3DO specialist at 3DO Zero described the local version of Kingdom: The Far Reaches so good I use the same introduction for the CD-i version: "This could have worked. Kingdom, in my opinion, was 90% of the way to being an all time great. The hard work had been done. The graphics are very pretty and all hand drawn and must have taken hours and hours. But as with most CD-i games, for every diamond, there is always a bit of dog pooh. And in almost sickening predictability it is in the game play department of Kingdom - the far reaches. It's another interactive 'cartoon' movie. And it is not a good interactive 'cartoon' movie. It did however try something that every other interactive movie - ever - had never even tried. Freedom of choice. Rather than the traditional Interactive Movie approach of wait for the right moment and then press a button, you were presented with a map and allowed to click freely. That's right: within Kingdom you could choose a location at random, and this is where Kingdoms developers got it wrong."
As an adventure game, Kingdom: The Far Reaches lacks interactivity, depth and fun. As an "interactive movie", it's in dire need of decent characters and an intersting story. It'll wow the kids at the CD-i kiosk in the store, but gets tiresome quickly.
Kingdom offers a new variety of game experience -- players see a brief bit of animation, then must choose between items in the inventory, click a ''hot spot'' on the animation screen (an item to pick up or a path to walk), or use button two to select a different location from the map.
Some reviews have compared Kingdom to Dragon's Lair, a comparison I find extremely misleading. DL and the other Bluth games have their roots in fast-action arcade games. Like Pac Man and pinball, they have point systems, and don't allow the player to increase his abilities as the game progresses. But with the stop-start nature of Kingdom, and its very limited universe of possibilities, a comparison to RPGs isn't entirely accurate either. More than anything else, it reminds me of those old "Choose Your Own Adventure" books, in which you'd read a page, pick one of two options, and be sent to a different page.
The game opens with a flashback scene showing the last battle of the "Argent Kings", as their line falls to the forces of evil. The full-screen cel animation is of middling quality, better than some TV but nowhere near feature film quality in terms of frame rate, color, angles, sophistication, and aesthetics.
But the animation is a far cry better than the writing, which is the worst kind of fourth-rate J.R.R. Tolkien borrowing. The hero, Lathan, is a bland little apprentice-twerp; his mentor is faux-Gandalf without anything interesting to say; and the secondary characters are the usual fantasy epic supporting cast of dwarves, medieval city-dwellers, desert nomads, and pseudo-Asian mystics. And for a would-be "interactive movie", there's no story as such -- you go from place to place, exchanging items you pick up, trading up to get items that will let you access more of the three kingdoms.
Maybe you never noticed other adventure games were lacking in that respect, probably because those games broke up the travel-meet-and-barter cycle with puzzles (or, in Zelda, Link, and Taito's Cadash, with arcade-style action). In Kingdom, you naturally focus on the story and characters -- because there simply aren't any other game elements -- and the denizens of the Far Reaches aren't up to the task.
Game-play gets tiresome because you see the same clips over and over every time you re-visit a scene, with no way to cut them off. And while the characters you meet give you helpful tips, you'll be quickly overwhelmed by the all the names of the indistinct places and objects (is the crystal in the Black Keep or the Temple? And what does it do? And now that I think of it, who told me?) To stretch out the animation, some scenes replay the same video with characters saying different things. But to prevent a lip-synch problem, virtually every speaking character is seen from behind. Never before has MPEG been used to show the backs of so many heads.
The goal of the game is allegedly to retrieve five powerful relics and free the kingdoms from the shadow of evil -- stop me if you've heard this before. But "The Far Reaches" only features the first three relics and three kingdoms. Invest 20 hours to beat this game and what you get is a big ''to be continued.''
CapDisc claimed in CDi magazine that there are 300 locations in the game, but this cannot possibly be right. Even accounting for places that don't appear on the main game map (for example, the rooms inside the various palaces and temples), there are only about 60 locations in the game. Perhaps CapDisc was referring to the number of video clips, or to the number of animation backgrounds produced. At any rate, with that many locations, and just 18 objects to be found, you can expect to finish the game fairly quickly.
Kingdom's game-engine could be the start of something big -- it offers a vivid audio-visual experience and a very easy and intuitive interface. But if a game... or an interactive movie... is to emphasize going places and talking to people, those places and people must be far more dramatically compelling than they are in these Far Reaches.
Credits: Chris Adamson, Will, Daan and "Le Monde du CD-i" (pictures)