Kya Dark Lineage is one of three PS2 platformers that I consider overlooked by many. The others being Scaler and Legend of Kay. It stars the titular Kya on her quest to save her brother and the native population of a magical world from the oppression of her own father and his army of Wolfun, hence the title. It's not heavily focused on collectibles, though there are a few to find. Instead, it's more about puzzles and combat.
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Let's get the story out of the way first. The summary I just gave is about everything the game has to offer. I's the bare minimum needed to give context to the gameplay. Nothing except for the cliffhanger is bad, but there's nothing to really grab on to. Kya is a decent protagonist, driven to save her brother. But no one is particurlary memorable, nor funny.
The "Dark Lineage" thing doesn't really have any meaning, Kya's dad is just evil. I blame marketing.
During demos, it's standard to offer a vertical slice of gameplay that covers everything the game has to offer. But I rarely see intro do that, unless the game is really simple. This game does just that, have a look.
I hope you enjoy this PS2 footage in decent resolution, without black bars and at a buttery smooth 60 50 FPS. It was an uphill battle.
We get the plot and then the game rains mechanics on you in a quick fashion. They introduce jumping, kicking, wind, sliding, stealth, freefalling, puzzle kills and combat all in about 20 minutes. If these pieces were complex, this would be horrible, but it's easy to pick up.
As a platformer, Kya controls well. It passes my standard test for platforming controls (landing on small platforms in fast succession) with ease. But you don't have that many moves dedicated to platforming. There's the jump (duh), climbing, hanging and bouncing on stuff. There isn't anything that would let an experienced player fly through the levels at a high speed.
But what's there works well. I'm happy with the acceleration of movement, it doesn't make you panic mid-jump. This slower pace tells me that they wanted a balance between platforming, puzzles and combat. The levels feel rather believable and let you interact with the world in interesting ways.
Having stealth in a platformer is rather unusual and here it works for the most part. The actual sneaking is pretty fun. You just crouch, avoid laser sights and kick enemies down ledges. It's not complex, since you don't have any specific tools made for stealth.
But once you get discovered, things take a turn for the annoying. Wolfun in sneaking sections usually have machine guns that stunlock you infinitely. That's fine unless you get stuck in a corner and have to wait for them to tickle you to death with their shots. They're supposed to knock you away from them, but it doesn't always work. It's also very unclear when they've lost sight of you, since I think their knowledge of your presence is based on distance and not on time.
So you can get out of what feels like resonable range, wait a bit and then go back to find that they still know where you are. It's quite annoying, so you have to make an effort to not get caught or remember how to reset a section.
The combat was the biggest surprise in this game for me, as it's much more complex than what one would expect out of a platformer. We have two ”modes” of combat. The first feels in line with standard platforming combat. You just throw a bomerang at critters and jump to avoid shots. It's barely worth thinking about.
But once you get in range of a Wolfun, things take a turn for the Tekken. Suddenly, the game turns into a 3D fighter with an impressive movelist. You get punches, kicks, jump kicks, grabs, throws, a parry, dodging, blocking, the ablity to hop on or over enemies, a charge attack and a very useful kick to the groin. It's nuts!
As you progress you can buy more moves, with the starting ones being rather simplistic. It borders on being overwhelming after a while, since a few of the combos are hard to remember. But I'm really glad that so many of them are good. You can rely on the vault-groin-kick-charge-attack combo like me, but the other moves aren't that much worse. You can even use grapples on big enemies!
With the combat system being so bold, it's no surprise that it's a bit shaky. I find that enemies block standard attacks very often, making them hard to use when compared to grabs, throws and vaults. This might be my fault, but a guardbreak would have been nice. The parry and dodge feel rather undercooked as defensive options. The dodge and enemy attacks are really fast, so timing it many times in a row is hard. But you can chain into a side throw after just one dodge, so it isn't useless.
The parry comes late, has an annoying input (R2 + Back + Square) and only serves to slow down foes. With how positioning and encounters works, it's hard to take advantage of a successful parry. Hell, even realising that you hit a parry is hard, since there isn't a flash or loud noise to signify it.
The lock-on is automatic and can get confused if you vault a bunch between Wolfun. Enemies have a tendency to stay back, so I think you're intended to focus on one foe at a time. Still, a reticule would have been nice. Even better if you could control it yourself.
And lastly, the timing on a few of the moves are really weird to me. You need to input some much earlier than you'd think. This leaves you feeling out of control when you do the buttons for a combo but won't get to see if you did it correctly until a few moments later. If you really focus, it's not much of a problem, but the inputs aren't exactly as I want them. But with so many options, you can easily recover from a bad move and get in a side kick or tail throw.
It's a really fun system that'd like to see explored further.
Magic isn't really much of a thing in this game. It serves two purposes, healing and restoring Wolfun. For you see, they are your main collectible! If you take too much damage, you'll have to use magic that you want for Wolfun, so you might have to backtrack a few times. Your stock gets big fast, so it's not much of an issue. But it does incentivize you to not suck, which is repectable. A few more spells would have been cool though.
Freefalling is the most iconic (not Ubisoft iconic, proper iconic) mechanic in this game. In regular levels, there are winds set up to let you traverse between different heights. But in certain branches and set pieces, you get to do proper freefalling, like in the intro.
And it's awesome. You have perfect control over Kya and you'll need it. These sections are long and full of obstacles. It's simple, but oh so satisfying. I don't have more to say really, it's one of the game's highlights.
The board serves a similar purposes. It's used a bit for traversal in levels and sometimes gets a proper section. And just like with the freefalling, these sections are long and decently challenging.
It's not as fun as freefalling, but I still like it. I kind of feel that you go a bit too fast sometimes though, but that might be my fault for not braking. Gotta go fast!
Progression is decently paced, but also a bit weird. You get a good place to grind money in the second level and there is also a treasure vault further in. Generally, there isn't much money to find in levels, so it's nice that they did that. But I would have preferred some more spread out shinies.
The health boosts are really weirdly placed. There's one in the first level that gives you another healthbar and then another one to buy. There might be a few more elsewhere, I can't recall. I don't like heart pieces, but they could have hidden one of these health boosts in every level and made them give only half a bar each.
Besides the fighting moves, you can get a few abilities for platforming and puzzles. They gate progression and are a bit fun to use, but are nothing special.
The puzzles in Kya aren't exactly murder on your brain. They are mostly enviromental, letting you progress through the level in interesting ways or get in a fun kill on a Wolfun. I like that they made so many situations unique. It keeps the game from growing stale and can be funny at times.
You'd be surprised in just how many ways you can use kickable bombs to progress.
Platformers usually resort to floating islands as a way to contain a level. Giant walls or death water are other popular choices. But it's fun to see a game embrace floating islands and make them look good. The skyboxes aren't always great, but there are a few spiffy ones. There's also a subtle day and night cycle to help with the atmosphere.
You can't platform easily if you can't see, so a good camera is important. Kya's camera works for the most part, but has a tendency to lock into place for certain platforming sections. It's often fine, but sometimes it'll whip around a bit hard and annoy me.
In the playthrough I did for this review, I also ran into a catastrophic camera bug related to the Jamgut. It's an animal you can ride and use for puzzles, kinda like Elum in Abe's Odyssey. For whatever reason, the camera got the bright idea to lock itself to its back and look backwards. It's easily fixed by dismounting, but it had disastrous consequences in a setpiece.
You need to ride a Royal Jamgut that can dash while you are chased by a crusher vehicle. Standard stuff. But halfway through, the camera went backwards. And I couldn't dismount to fix it without getting killed. It was awful. But I swear it didn't happpen the other times I played. It might be something with my copy or some weird bug related to how long you play. (Edit: In fact, I'm certain that I used a bad controller.)
If it is a common bug, then I can't forgive the game. But I am willing to give the game some slack since I got through before without triggering it.
As easy as they are to miss, there are actually a variety of portable bombs that you can use in this game. I never do, since they feel like an afterthought. None of the encounters feel built with these in mind. They are also a bit costly in my mind. I think you could have cut them and not made much of a difference to the final product.
The game is semi-linear in structure. Every level has optional parts full of Wolfun and you can generally choose between two levels at any time. The game does a good job of guiding you to progress and isn't confusing to navigate.
As a consequence of the game being set on floating islands and you having the ability to launch Wolfun with kicks, it's very easy to have them drop into the great beyond. This is really frustrating, but remedied by jumping down yourself and resetting.
But it's still annoying and I'd have liked if the game kept the purification cloud where they fell and allowed you to restore the Wolfun no matter how they were bested.
I'm always a bit saddened if a game doesn't explore its mechanics fully. It always feels like a waste. But Kya is nice enough to give you a giant battle with an army of Wolfun at the end. It looks insurmountable, but as long as you take it slow, you'll come out on top. And with the way progress works, if you manage to restore one, it won't be there when you reload. It's a bit cheap to do that, but you feel unstoppable.
The board and freefalling don't get as cool at the end, but you'll still have to make use of them. Still, I'd liked a nice escape sequence alternating between the two methods of traversal.
It's kind of easy for a game to go too far with this and end up with a challenge that demands insane understanding of the game. That's cool, but a gigantic skill ceiling can be intimidating. The Mushroom XIII in Kingdom Hearts 2 and the secret missions in Devil May Cry come to mind.
I wouldn't call Kya a hard game, but it has some difficulty spikes that I feel diminish the game. Stuff like certain fights and the ballon ship section. It stands out so much since the rest of the game has such a serene feel to it (Despite what the trailer tries to convince you of.). I like the chill parts over the exciting ones. I got mad a few times at it and not in the good, ”I'm gonna get you this time, game!” kind of way. But I'll admit that I didn't offer the game my full attention, so YMMW.