Rating: Good Kartia is a strategy RPG, and in general, I like traditional RPGs a lot more than strategy RPGs. Traditional RPGs place the emphasis where it belongs (on the story line) while also having a decent amount of battles and exploration, while strategy RPGs are often about little more than running around getting in battles, tediously building up your characters' experience levels for hours on end. So needless to say, when I first started playing Kartia, I wasn't too thrilled at the prospect of sitting down and getting in battle after battle for the whole entire game. Fortunately, the battles are so well-designed and the plot is so good, that all these doubts went out the window and I was having a good time faster than you can say "Methoosala." First of all, as far as I got in the game (and I got fairly far), it is completely, 100% linear. After choosing to play as one of two characters (each of whom has a different story line which meet each other at various points in the game), you will find that the gameplay structure is identical in every single part of the game (or "Episode"). There are some non- interactive story line sequences, then you fight a big battle, then there are more story line sequences, and then it's on to the next Episode, where the process is repeated. Surprisingly, the game's complete linearity didn't bother me at all because the game is so tight, so focused, and so intriguing. The battles are interesting to say the least. In addition to the main characters in the game, you can create a set number of Phantoms in each battle, which are generic monsters which will fight for you until the battle is over or they are killed. Also, there are three different kinds of Phantoms, which are play-balanced using a Paper, Rock, Scissor-type system. Rather than just attacking anything in sight, it's important to attack the right enemies with the right Phantoms, or you will face the consequences. Also, if you get a friend to bring over his memory card, you can battle his party in a two-player duel, and even trade items with him or her if you choose. Kartia's story line is very good, but it's not at the epic level of Final Fantasy 7, Chrono Trigger, or Wild Arms. Those who usually skim through the text in RPGs quickly just trying to pick up the major points will find themselves lost in a hurry. You really have to pay attention to catch everything that's going on, both during conversations between characters and when a character is thinking to himself. Elsewhere, the battles can last a while, but the game engine itself is very quick and painless. There is no running around building up your experience levels at all, and there is almost no load time to speak of. Some of the story line sequences are pretty long, but they are well worth the time to get every juicy line of dialogue. Also, the music is outstanding, and the graphics are good, but not amazing. Only a few flaws prevented me from giving this game the "Awesome" rating it came oh so close to reaching. The entire game has a sort of unspectacular feel to it, from the good-but-not-great graphics, to the great-but-not-that-great plot. And as clever as the design is behind the battles, there are still some major issues that should have been worked out regarding balance. All of the characters only have 100 hit points, and sometimes all it takes is two spells in a row by the enemy and one of your characters could be dead before you even had a chance to heal. And if anybody in your party dies (besides the Phantoms), you have to start all the way over from the last place you saved. It's a little hard to justify having to start the battle all the way over from the beginning when you've got the enemy down to nothing but one more unit and that one unit kills one of your characters. There's no reason why you can't spend a turn to revive your fallen party member, and I would even settle for having them un-revivable for the rest of the battle. But when one insignificant, un-defendable death makes me start the battle all over again, that's not challenge, that's just poor design. Flaws aside, Kartia is still a very good strategy RPG that every role- play-gamer should at least rent.
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