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LONG BLOG

PS1 REVIEWS: Kartia: The Word of Fate

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The most striking thing about Kartia: The Word of Fate is immediately apparent, and it is the distinctive artwork and character design of Yoshitaka Amano of Final Fantasy and Front Mission fame. Attempting to support Amano's art is an ambitiously unique Tactical RPG system with a mature and character-driven story.

Admittedly, the gameplay and story do not consistently live up to the excellent art design, nor do the basic sprites translate the full character of the many portraits Amano drew. However, its ambitions in both story and gameplay do go beyond their minor hiccups and annoyances, and the result is a perfectly respectable hidden PS1 gem.

#A59: Kartia: The Word of Fate:-
Year: 1998.
Genre: Tactical RPG.
Publisher: Atlus.
Developer: Atlus.

First things first, I am changing my rating system to a simpler 10 point system. Games that get above a 7 I fully recommend, and those that get below that are mostly a waste of time. That leaves the score of 7 to depend on your taste.

"Chaos crept into the world when people took the power of Kartia for granted, the destruction of Rebus began"

The game is set in Rebus, a world where people learned how to use magical cards (called Kartia) to summon everything from Coffee to building materials. Naturally, this soon expanded to summoning weapons and even "phantom" soldiers, thrusting the entire world into a continuous conflict that necessitated the creation of nations and religious orders to control the use of Kartia. People who issue Kartia or disobey the rules of the church are branded as "heathens" and there is strict control on who and how to use Kartia.

In this world, you can choose to follow the journey of one of two characters: the aspiring Knight Toxa or the religious Shrine Warrior Lacryma. Both tales are completely unique, and they differ drastically in tone as well. Toxa's journey is more upbeat, while Lacryma's is more somber and serious, which fits their personalities. I find that Lacryma's story is much better, with better character motivations and development, while also having some levity with her supporting cast.

Is that discount Kefka?

It should be noted that the story is designed to be played from both points of view, as some events are only properly explained through information gleaned from both stories. It's actually brilliant in how it encourages you to play the two stories.

Fortunately, even if you don't end up liking both Protagonists, the story also takes the time to explore the thoughts and actions of the other supporting characters and even the villains. In theory, this is an interesting plot with love, religion, trust, friendship, and betrayal all woven into a complex narrative.

Yet, that remains mostly theoretical because of the game's awkward dialogue and some poor localization choices. While you can get the gist of what's happening in some scenes, awkward phrasing sometimes ruins the emotional impact of what's happening or simply gives a different interpretation of what the character is supposed to be feeling.

At least the humorous dialogue isn't affected... much

It creates a situation where the increased dialogue (compared to a SNES RPG) actively works against the game's narrative. At least your own imagination could bridge the gaps without poor phrasing and awkward dialogue.

"I'd rather accept the bad deeds than see the bad judge the bad"

Despite its shortcomings, Kartia's story can still be enjoyed with no significant detriment on enjoying the game. The same cannot be said about the gameplay system, which if you don't manage to enjoy constitutes most of the playtime.

The game is a typical TRPG with a rock-paper-scissor weakness table, coupled with extra wrinkles in the form of a magic system and height-based damage multipliers. However, the game's unique approach is purely n the preparation phase for each battle.

Simply put, you must create all equipment and most of your combatants ("Phantoms") through the Kartia card system. Each card comes in one of three types, and you can imbue it with a collection of "Texts". Each combination of cards and texts creates something different, which you can also adjust by adding in more cards with different "Texts" (with a combo limit that increases as you go on).

Initially, that's all just Japanese gibberish

Initially, I was overwhelmed by that aspect of the game, which is also used when using magic (a combination of cards and "Text" are used for magic spells). I had no idea how to best equip my "Phantom" army, and I was afraid my limited pool of cards can be exhausted without recourse.

As the game went on, I realized that you must diligently destroy all the enemies and barrels in each map to unlock more "Text", which naturally gives you the latest and best equipment and "Phantom" options. Also, you shouldn't upgrade your "Phantoms" until they start dying in battle.

That's not to say that you should neglect to upgrade your army and gear in fear of preserving your cards. You can always farm for cards in the arena battles between each chapter, which I only felt I had to do once or twice.

"Can human beings go against God's will? Is t worth living when you can't control your own life?"

So, once you get a hang on how to prepare your army, how are the battles themselves. Serviceable and fun, but not particularly impressive, with a side of cheap shots, is my verdict.

Typically, you will end up controlling around 16 units for each battle, and most of them are either about defeating a key enemy or all enemies on the map. This means that turns can take some time, with some minor annoyances added due to the size of some maps.

Combat is heavily influenced by the type-advantage and overall equipment and natural strength of each "Phantom", with their levels having little influence. In theory, there is always another triangle related to weapons and heights, but you can always position your sword-wielding soldiers in the best place to strike (same level). Alternatively, you can create a suitable weapon at any time during the battle and equip it just before hitting the enemy.

Some battles are better than others

The human characters can cast magic, which is their only reliable damage output at the end of the game, and these attacks can be devastating with some hitting a wide area. Of course, there is a variety of elements, and each type of enemy has a different resistance stat that is highly vital to how effective the attack is.

Be careful to protect all of your human characters, as any one of them dying will lose the battle. Generally, I didn't find the game challenging unless I failed to upgrade to the latest equipment, or when enemy reinforcements come in the same turn at the worst place and move in to kill every unit they attack (that's not cool at all). However, be careful at the end game of making armor with elemental resistance to survive the enemy magic attacks.

"Dragons... Old Continents... Hairy Elf!... What's next?"

With the artwork of Amano the game's most obvious draw, it is clear that the production design is very important to this game. Amano's name is second to only the director, and his involvement was heavily advertised in the past.

And it wasn't wasted.

All key characters in the game are represented by their portraits during their dialogue scenes, and all of them have several portraits showing the range of their emotions. Amano's style is distinctive with an ethereal vibe about it that is instantly memorable, and he does a great job of making several expressive characters with designs that honestly better convey their personality than the dialogue itself.

The portraits really sell the emotions of each character

To translate the portraits into the in-game graphics, Atlus opted to go with 2D sprites against polygonal backgrounds. The character sprites clearly mirror Amano's artwork even if they can never show that level of detail, and they are charming despite their limited (but still occasionally funny) animations. The same cannot be said of the "Phantom" sprites which are just boring, or the background which is drab and samey.

Still, like Final Fantasy and Front Mission before it, Amano's artwork simply grasps the imagination in a way that ignores the console's graphical limitations.

It is worth noting that there are several CGI scenes in the game accentuating key moments, from full-on cut-scenes in the game's biggest awe-inspiring events to small snippets of location establishing shots. These scenes are not impressive, but they do a decent job of showing the world's unique architecture and designs at some points.

Complementing the game's graphics is a good score that stays in the background for most of the game before it swells and rises at key moments in the story. Each of Toxa and Lacryma has their own set of themes, which play in key moments that showcase the development of their characters.

See what I mean

An excellent live rendition of both themes is available, and each one combines the various themes for each character in a single track that covers their entire emotional journey.

The same level of sound design cannot be said to extend to the game's sound effects, which are honestly no better than the most basic of SNES TRPGs, with some grunt and sword slashes that I have heard hundreds of times before.

One rather hilarious effect is a dissonant bell gong that plays whenever a secret is "revealed" during the dialogue scenes. With how many secrets are revealed in the game's story, this bell gong basically comes up in each and every scene, and I just started laughing every time I hear it in contrast to the supposedly serious tone of the moment.

In Conclusion:

Initially, I thought that I wasn't enjoying the game at all and was sad to see Amano's wonderful designs wasted. However, as I figured out the game's card mechanics and started to ignore the writing flaws of the story, I started enjoying it a bit more.

However, it was only when I played Lacryma's part that I truly started to enjoy my time, because it allowed me to appreciate the game's intricate story and its world more as I gathered more information, and I also didn't suffer the initial shock with the gameplay system.

Ultimately, I now recognize it as a true hidden gem with characters that are worthy of their unique designs.

Final: 8/10

*******************************

Pros:

  • Brilliant character design.
  • Good Soundtrack
  • Unique battle preparation system
  • A good story with two protagonists

Cons:

  • Some awkward dialogue and translation issues
  • The battles can get a bit samey and boring
  • Some annoying sound effects

**********************************************************************

Tips:

1-If you run out of Kartia (cards), you can get some by fighting in the Arean between chapters.
2-Destroy all barrels and open all chests in levels to get items, Kartia, and Text options (which expands your arsenal).
3-Pay a lot of attention to the rock-paper-scissor alignment in combat with phantoms.
4-Pay attention to height differences when using weapons.
5-Prioritize elemental defense gear at the end of the game.
6-Focus on protecting your human characters.
7-You can grind on enemies that heal themselves.
8-Generally, swords are the best weapons so prioritize making them.
9-You don't really need to make Phantoms with A-class armor or weapon abilities.

Some sprite animations are really charming

Series:

For those reading one of my PS1 review blogs for the first time, here is the basic concept:

I already reviewed both major Generation 4 consoles, and am now to review Generation 5 consoles. I already finished reviewing the Sega Saturn, so I am now reviewing the PS1. In these reviews, I take a top 100 games list and review the games that interest me in that list.

This time, my review series is based on this list from Retro Sanctuary along with other sources, since the PS1 can handle a list bigger than a top 100.

Also, note the following:

-If you have any suggestions for a game that is not on the Retro Sanctuary list that I should review, please suggest it.
-Make a bet on each game to check whether Chris Charter played it or not.

I guess the CGI scenes were impressive once upon a time

Next Game

"Hidden gems" are always risky to play because sometimes something is hidden because it deserves not to be played by anyone. Thankfully, that wasn't the case for Kartia: The Word of Fate which was honestly an interesting and fun game despite its flaws.

The next game on the addendum list is Guardian's Crusade which is supposedly an introductory level RPG. that is supposed to be short and fun.

Stay tuned.

For Previous PS1 Game Reviews:

The List

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About Lord Spencerone of us since 5:57 PM on 01.12.2014

Hello all, I am Lord Spencer, your friendly neighborhood royalty. Yes, the ancient bloodlines are letting absolutely anyone in these days.

Being the lurker that I am, I have been following Destructoid for more than four years. Well, its 3 AM where I live now, and I just plunged in getting HUGE in the way.

Here is hoping for a fun time.

Oh yes, here is a little more info about me that is probably not as interesting as I think it is:

-I owned and played about 1000+ games.
-I owned and read about 2000+ books (I counted comic books I read as a kid so this is not as impressive as it sounds).
-I absolutely love Legos.

Out of all the games I played, I only regret playing a few. I am a big fan of gaming, and thus I really like most of what I play.

Thanks to the excellent work of community member Dango, now I have a cool infographic of my top 20 games. This list is not my final one, but what I thought off at the moment. If you notice, they are presented in chronological order:





Oh, and here is a link to my blogs:
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