The Kingdom of Fire series made its first appearance on PC and then followed it up with two sequels on Xbox. Although they were fairly good representatives of real-time strategy hack n’ slash they never really caught on and therefore were not big sellers. In a bid to change that, Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom has done away with the large armies and the strategy aspect and instead has made a passing nod at the RPG genre. But whether this will make it the big seller they’re hoping for is doubtful.
Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom is much more action than RPG oriented; indeed, the only RPG elements are level up points that may be allocated to HP, SP, Luck and weapon synthesizers. So if, like me, you’re an RPGer looking for something to tide you over until this year’s RPGs start arriving you’ll probably be disappointed. In fact, even if you’re not an RPGer you may find Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom a disappointment.
There are six playable characters (one of which is initially locked) that each tell their story - although ‘story’ is a bit of a misnomer as there really isn’t much of one at all. Instead the character you choose to play follows a strictly linear path through various settings and dungeons from one of four Idols to the next. As there are no shops, the Idols are where you buy, sell, synthesize your weapons and sometimes get clues for your quests. The Idol is also the setting for you to ‘sleep’, so you are able to enter the ‘Age of the Dark’ where you’re able to learn new skills and are given quests from the handful of characters you meet there. And these are the only people you meet in the entire game, because there are no towns, no houses, no travellers on the road, no one anywhere. This is one area where Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom falls down badly, because although the scenery is lovely to look at there’s no break from it. Of course, it changes from area to area but there’s nothing else, nothing to look forward to. You come from nothing and no one and you go to nothing and no one.
Naturally there are enemies on the roads. Lots of them. Crowds of them in fact. But the trouble is that they’re all the same. Three or four red Lizard Warriors dispersed amongst other coloured Lizard Warriors is fine, but twenty of them fanned out around you, all looking exactly the same, is boring. They even move the same, sound the same and die in the same way. The one animation per enemy type used over and over is as uninspiring as pushing the same buttons over and over – and you do that a lot. You’re not even able to strafe or block just to make the button mashing a little more interesting, so you’ll need to put most of your exp points into HP because that’s the only ‘defence’ you have.
Every move in combat drains the ‘SP Meter’ before the move; fortunately it refills fairly quickly so you’re rarely left with nothing to do. Even though each weapon has a description showing how much SP is needed to wield it and how quickly it will recharge, I was never able to figure out if the gauge began to refill while the attacking animation was happening or if it refilled after the attack was finished. But magic attacks have, in effect, two gauges, because like physical attacks, SP is taken from the SP Meter, but it’s all also drained from the Recovery Meter. I felt that magic was unwieldy because the character comes to a complete standstill before the spell casting animation kicks in - which, in the middle of fast paced combat action, is not a good thing to have happen.
The weapon and equipment synthesis, although a good idea, leaves a lot to be desired as the actual mechanics are difficult to figure out. Basically, you can synthesize anything - as long as you have the money to pay for it – but unfortunately it’s not as easy as putting two items together to create one better one. Experimenting is costly, and often, for some strange reason, results in a weapon that’s less powerful. But by the time you’ve got it sussed out you should be well into the game and therefore getting some decent weapons and items to work with.
The soundtrack is a bit of a mixed bag. Several different styles of music have been used, not always achieving the best results. And after a while it becomes repetitious and annoying. The voice acting is passable, with nobody standing out as being great or equally as being awful.
All in all Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom is not one to race out and buy as soon as it appears on the shelves. It’s a mediocre Action/RPG hack n’ slash that looks nice on the surface but doesn’t stand up to too much scrutiny. If you can find three others with Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom for co-op play, you’re likely to stick at it longer, and get more out of it, than if you play the game solo. But I think it’ll be a bit of a task to find three others with the game.