In his own words, Lord Zetta is the most badass freaking Overlord in the entire cosmos, and there’s no doubt he’d like to keep it that way. To that end, he’s prepared to do anything in his power to avoid the prophesied fall of his Netherworld, even going so far as to consult the Sacred Tome, an all-knowing book whose pages should contain the answer to everything. Unfortunately, when he reads a paragraph about his own stupidity, he burns the Tome in a fit of anger, causing the very destruction he was trying to avoid and forcing him to confine his own soul to the book in a bid to survive. Now, book-Zetta’s only hope of regaining his power is for his fellow Overlords to wish him up new worlds to conquer by writing in the Tome, but it seems more than likely that his power-hungry peers will try to slip in a few schemes of their own to trip him up.
Getting started with the game
“I’m one bad-ass freakin’ Overlord.”
A tweaked hybrid of fellow Nippon Ichi games Phantom Brave and Disgaea, Makai Kingdom offers a mere nine episodes of Netherworld conquering, bulked out by extensive random dungeons and overpowered secret battles that, as per usual, will require you to grind your way all up to Level 1000. As with its fellow games, Makai Kingdom proceeds through battle maps interspersed with avoidable cut scenes (oddly referred to as ‘Demos’), but where the general form of the game is the same, some new features have been added to the actual specifics of play.
Organising your battle monkeys
“Disperse, loyal battle monkeys! Do my bidding and bust a cap!”
This time around, your home base is the starting point for rebuilding your Netherworld- a small area floating in space in which fellow Overlord Pram kindly wishes up for you. Unsurprisingly, it is here that you can create characters, heal, buy weapons and equipment and generally get yourself prepared for the all-important task of conquering various maps.
- Creating characters: Since Overlord Zetta is stuck in the form of a book, fighting is a little beyond him- instead, he must rely on a party of generic ‘battle monkeys’. Sadly, for those who like story characters, there are none in the main game- it will take much more levelling up and unlocking of secret maps to even have a shot at recruiting named characters from both this and other NIS games.
In order to create characters in this game, you must permanently confine them to inanimate objects picked up in battle- everything from flowers and trees to vegetables and swords is fair game. Be warned, though; the type of item used affects the starting stats of the character you confine to it, so whilst rocks and anthills are useful for making high defence physical attackers, mages will become more adept if created from flowers and weeds. As with previous NIS games, both humanoid and monster types are available for creation, with new classes becoming unlocked when you either encounter them in battle or fulfil specific conditions.
Reincarnation/transmigration also makes a return appearance; if the character has been confined to an item with a star next to its name, that star can be used to reincarnate it into a new level one body, with certain abilities and stat bonuses carried over. Unfortunately, if the character has no star available, the only way to reincarnate is to turn them into a facility (more on that below).
- Getting equipped: When it comes to equipment, Makai Kingdom follows the same lines as Disgaea- characters can equip one weapon and three (or in a few cases four) accessories, with different classes having proficiencies in different weapons. Compared to earlier games, however, the range of weapons is much more varied- alongside the usual run of swords, spears and guns, characters can also equip more esoteric brands of weapons, from drills and wrenches to magnets, UFOs and even cakes. As someone who has always wanted this variety of weaponry, this is a most welcome addition. Unlike its fellow games, however, there is no way to level up equipment- what you see is what you get.
- Facilities: Completely new to Makai Kingdom is the ability to create facilities, which not only serve a purpose on the base map, but can also be deployed in battle. Forget about summoning your warriors to the battlefield one by one- not only can you deploy five or six at once with the help of a facility, but every character in the facility will gain a protection stat bonus as long as that facility remains on the field. Facilities also make a great holding area for characters you don’t want out on the field anymore- simply put a weakened character inside and replenish your fighting force with a fresh one.
When you first start out, Pram will kindly supply you with a doghouse, shop and hospital (the latter two can be used for buying items and healing after battle, although a merchant and healer character can perform the same function and gain EXP for it), but by making a wish in the Sacred Tome, you can create more facilities for your use, from simply huts to academies. Any character who is not currently equipped or assigned to an existing facility can give up both life and mana in order to bring a new facility into existence- unfortunately, the trade-off is that if you want that character back, you then have to reincarnate them into a new level one body.
- Vehicles: Another innovation for this game is the use of vehicles in battle; ranging from simple cars to full-fledge mecha, they offer characters a way to increase their range and employ devastating attacks. Vehicles can take one driver in their cockpit, and other characters or equipment in their accessory slots, and like characters, they can take damage, gain experience and undergo modification. In order to get the most out of vehicles, you will need a professor to turn their experience into an actual level up, and a mechanic (as supplied by the game) to repair them and supply parts for equipment and modification.
Whilst all these features help to make Makai Kingdom an experience that is the same but different to its predecessors, it cannot be denied that the game’s system can sometimes be a bit fiddly and tedious, to the point where the average player will probably ignore a lot of the options available to them because they are simply too much trouble. For example, in order to simply get to the facility creation screen, you have to make sure the character you want to use is unequipped and not inside a facility, and that you have room to place another facility on the base map- if any of these conditions are unfulfilled, the menu will simply close and you’ll have to start all over again. Then, by the time you actually reach the list of available facilities, you will most likely realise that you don’t have enough mana for anything but the most basic of huts- but of course, if you cancel the process at this point, you have to re-equip the character and put them back in their original facility. All in all, it’s not a recipe that encourages you to experiment.
Reincarnation is similarly fraught with difficulties- especially as for non-“starred” characters, the only way to reincarnate is to go through the whole facility creation process, followed by the steps for reincarnating your character into a new object. At this point, you may well find that your plans to reincarnate your character into a higher tier of their class are again foiled by a lack of mana- instead, like Zetta, you will have to restart from the ground up.
Reclaiming the Netherworld
“I’ll crush you like a grape!”
Mana issues aside, when the time comes, Zetta and his loyal battle monkeys will have to take to the field, and here again Makai Kingdom borrows from its sister games whilst adding a few touches of its own. This time around, Zetta himself is effectively the base panel, and whilst he cannot move himself like Marona can, he can be lifted and thrown by other characters (and it’s best to throw him out of harm’s way, because if Zetta is attacked, everything on the field gets damaged and you lose the ability to summon more characters).
Using the Invite command, Zetta is able to summon vehicles, characters and facilities to the field, up to a maximum of eight characters/vehicles and three facilities (characters inside facilities do not count towards the population). If a character dies, your maximum population decreases and naturally, once it reaches zero it’s game over (although there are times when you’ll have to quit before actual game over because the only thing you have on the field is an empty car). Turn order proceeds in Disgaea fashion, with your units and the enemy units alternately making their moves.
Once out on the field, characters can take all the usual actions, from moving and attacking to lifting and throwing everything from items they find lying around to each other, and in some cases, even facilities. In Phantom Brave style, the grid has been replaced with circular move ranges (although characters now move immediately so there’s less annoyance in getting them where you want to go), whilst the ability to throw things off the map and out of bounds has returned. There are still some annoyances about characters getting all clustered together or things accidentally slipping out of bounds, but overall the gridless system feels better implemented than it was in Phantom Brave.
Unsurprisingly, just like you, the enemy will have their own vehicles and facilities on the field, and facilities especially need some thought as to how to deal with them. Attacking a facility from the outside is entirely possible, and if its HP drops to zero, it will explode- taking everyone inside with it. If that looks like too formidable a task, however, you can send your own warriors inside the enemy facility, where they will do unseen battle with the occupants until one side wins. Victory within a facility is sometimes desirable, since it erases special effects like the ability to produce one new enemy each turn, whilst often giving your own characters new and powerful protections.
Makai Kingdom has more up its sleeve, however, for when it comes to the battle map, what you see is rarely the same as what you get. The initial map also comes with extensions outlined in white, which can be unlocked either by throwing something onto them (instead of going out of bounds it will reveal the new part of the map) or by defeating an item or enemy marked as a ‘key’. Each extension will contain newer and often harder enemies, and revealing one may also cause added effects, such as inflicting an unpleasant status effect on the entire field. On most maps, the form of these maps and their extensions is random, although important story and boss battles always have a fixed map. The type of enemy encountered also depends on which Overlord you asked to write a wish in the Sacred Tome at the beginning of a game ‘episode’.
When it comes to clearing a stage, however, it may comes as something of a relief to learn that you don’t always have to defeat every enemy. Makai Kingdom works with a point system, where each enemy and item on the battlefield is worth a certain number of points. Once you reach the point requirement for a stage, you can choose to ‘end action’ at any time during your turn, even if many enemies still remain- you’ll miss out on points and EXP, but it’s a useful way of getting through a map when your flagging party is unable to tackle the last few enemies. It’s also worth noting that the trees and flowers lying around the battlefield aren’t always chump change when it comes to points- sometimes destroying a single flower can net you over a hundred points.
The number of points you earn also acts like Disgaea’s bonus gauge- the more points you have at the end of a stage, the more bonus items, money and EXP you get to take home with you. You can also bring back any random items that you picked up during battle (these can be equipped as a weapon or put into a free accessory slot), but unfortunately, the reverse is also true- if you drop your weapon and leave it behind on the battlefield, it is gone forever.
Speaking of which, lifting and throwing is also back in this game, but sadly, the awkward Phantom Brave system has been chosen over the easier Disgaea one. What this means is that if one character wants to throw another, both must unequip their weapons, and not only is it undesirable to throw an unarmed character into a bunch of enemies, but you have to take care that those weapons don’t get lost forever as described above. Fortunately, you can tackle most levels without ever needing to lift and throw.
Battle mechanics aside, when it comes to plain difficulty, Makai Kingdom is the easiest of the PS2 Nippon Ichi games, which is to say that it is easy by NIS standards rather than general gaming standards. No, you can’t just expect to brute force your way through without any strategy whatsoever, but if you have the “SRPG mindset”, there are very few story maps that will cause any difficulty whatsoever- in fact, in direct contrast to the Disgaea and Phantom Brave, you can get through the entire main game with only a handful of game overs and no real need to ever spend time levelling up. What difficulty there is is generally contained in hideously difficult secret bosses and lengthy random dungeons (which can also contain restrictions to stop you summoning vehicles and facilities).
“Like I haven’t heard the book jokes a thousand times already.”
It would be nice to say that Makai Kingdom could make up for its game play flaws with something good in the way of story, but sadly, this is actually the weakest aspect of the game. Although there is some amusing and sharp dialogue, the overall story of Makai Kingdom is most underwhelming- aside from doing the whole Netherworld/Overlord thing to death in the first instance, it all gets a bit stupid in the later episodes, with random and barely plausible plot twists shoved in to disguise us from the lack of any real story. It doesn’t help that the main game is a paltry nine episodes long (compare to 12-20 for the other games), with most cut scenes taking place in a featureless area of outer space.
Visually, Makai Kingdom is much like the other NIS games, with its isometric maps and 2D sprites whose low level of detail have caused many a complaint in the past. Personally, I’m fine with the distinctive NIS style, although admittedly the character sprites here look a little squashed and stubby when compared to Disgaea. At least character art is as good as ever, although it is rather sad that the few impressive location designs in the artbook seem to have taken second place to the dull cut scene location of outer space mentioned above.
For once, the game music is not handled by Tenpei Sato, and whilst it is not as distinctive and memorable as his work, nor is it as bad as feared- most tracks are simplistic and there’s a lot of forgettable filler music, but there are also a number of catchy themes that you’ll find yourself humming along to.
Although it is a fun game to play once you get into it, Makai Kingdom feels like the least well developed NIS SRPG- there are some interesting and novel ideas packed in, but it all feels a bit rough around the edges, and it is this lack of polish that causes it to lag behind its fellow games. It’s something of a shame that development of a sequel seems to have been abandoned, as it would have been interesting to see what the series could have accomplished with all the kinks worked out.
Extra: My Party
A-team: Always used in battle
Dyne (Fighter): Although he dropped down to second place for a while, a glut of EXP has ensured that Dyne now holds the pole position uncontested. My strongest physical attacker, Dyne wields a standard sword in battle, letting him crush a single enemy with Moon Slash, or devastate a group with Tornado Slash. His high HP also lets him withstand most attacks; a real powerhouse on the battlefield.
Nida (Fighter): Despite holding the post of strongest for a while, Nida has since dropped down to the third place. After switching from sword to knife, Nida has become highly damaging with her Illusion Hunt and Aero Striker skills, and rarely requires help in taking down an enemy. Sadly, she seems to get targeted a lot by enemies. Since she and Dyne share the same class and were the first two characters to be created, I imagine them to be a couple.
Akira (Warrior): My second female fighter, she constantly tries to break up the ‘relationship’ between Dyne and Nida by copying Dyne’s sword technique. Sadly, her strength is far below his, and so she usually needs some backup assistance in order to actually finish off the enemy.
Clare (Sorceress): Despite being green in colour, Clare is a master of ice magic, and although the order switches around a lot, on average she is my strongest mage. As she currently only knows one type of elemental magic, she isn’t very versatile, but in most situations she can pack a punch.
Maya (Witch): The third tier of female mage (I forget its exact title), Maya is a master of fire magic and thus complements Clare.
Makoto (Witch): Another fire user (I’ve yet to gain a wind mage), Makoto was my first ever mage, but has subsequently become one of the weakest. Like all the mages, she can devastate with elemental magic, but usually dies in one hit when it comes to the enemy’s turn.
Su Ling (Hell Kitty): One of my two kitties, Su Ling uses a flail in battle, giving her great power but adding an unfortunate tendency to toss the enemy out of bounds, or at the very least out of reach of a planned follow-up attack. Like the other kitty, Sora, Su Ling’s high movement range puts her on clean-up crew duty, roaming the battlefield and finishing off weakened enemies.
Sora (Hell Kitty): A katana-using kitty, Sora has been reincarnated from Cat Kid to the next tier up, making for a swift, strong attacker.
Alfred (Magician): My final mage, Alfred is another ice user who lagged behind somewhat after being reincarnated once, but is almost back up to par.
Clara (Healer): My main healer, Clara comes out to use her curative magic on my warriors, before retreating to the safety of a facility.
Tan (Orderly): A backup healer, Tan also wields a gun but is generally too weak to contribute on the offensive front.
Akatsuki (Ronin): Although his stats are promising, until Akatsuki gains a few more levels he remains too weak to be placed on the front lines.
Ardavan (Professor): Named for a former tutor of mine, this sexy professor rarely fights on her own, but as the pilot of the Driller G vehicle she mows down the enemy.
C-team: Completely ignored
Isaac (Enlistee): A gun user, he has never been able to inflict more than zero damage.
Melodee (Junk Trader): My merchant, Melodee’s job is to sell me items back at the base, for which she receives experience.
Jack (Pickpocket): A weakling from day one, Jack is only ever brought out to throw facilities across the map.
King (Pumpkinhead): Once I had to rely on him in battle due to a lack of other options, but now his low attack power has relegated him to the bench.
Elric (Prinny): Every team needs a Prinny, and Elric is mine- sadly he has never done anything of note in battle.
Odpaul (Mechanic): In charge of vehicle modification and repair, Odpaul once was a respectable presence on the battlefield as well, but now is my lowest levelled character.