Written by Brock Wednesday, 23 February 2011 12:00
Retro Review: Kartia: The Word of Fate
Before Atlus were the US publishers of the deviously challenging Demon's Souls, they released a humble strategy RPG for the original Playstation. Kartia: The Word of Fate, is a shining example of game balance, design, and just plain fun from a past gaming generation.
“Kartia... The card which can create anything. People have lived with Kartia since the beginning of time.” The game's introduction tells a tale of an incredible magic that can create anything. The people of this world use it to heal, fight, cook, build, and do anything else imaginable. It also foretells the inevitable end of the world because of Kartia, and the unlucky heroes destined to prevent the disaster.
Keepers of Kartia are sort of a mix between nuns and druids; they protect a “world tree,” which provides the most powerful kartia. The story is centered around protecting one of these nun/druids and the world tree, preventing it from being used for evil. It also has a strange “Crusades” vibe, which is odd for a fantasy RPG.
The graphics are obviously two generations old, but being played on a Playstation 3 the backgrounds are not terrible, and the 2D sprites are actually quite pretty; crisp and surprisingly detailed.
There are two full single-player campaigns to play through; one with the plucky, over-eager male protagonist, and the other campaign featuring the blonde waif with a mystical aura. It's somewhat typical RPG fare, and the story is painfully unskippable, but having two full-length campaigns definitely means there is a lot of gameplay to be had.
Kartia uses a very clever system (also named kartia) that combines casting spells, crafting weapons and gear, and summoning monsters all into one. Each element is represented by a kanji symbol written on a card, and they can be combined to add bonus effects to spells and gear, or to the “Phantoms” that can be summoned to assist in combat. These phantoms become an integral part of combat, and use another clever game mechanic, a rock-paper-scissors combat balance that asss yet another level of depth to the strategy of Kartia.
“Shadow” phantoms (represented by paper) are strong against “Common” (rock) phantoms, which are strong against “Doll” (scissors) type phantoms. It adds a level of strategy when selecting troops, and your phantoms gain experience and can become formidable assets in battle.
Additional strategy in combat comes in the form of a terrain system, wherein attacks from different elevations are more effective with certain weapons. Axes are better if you are above your opponent, swords if you are on the same level, and spears if you are below. Weapons can be changed on the fly, allowing the player to use the terrain to his advantage.
All of these small touches make Kartia a cerebral, well-paced game that is a worthy companion (not to mention a less expensive alternative) to another Atlus strategy RPG: the iconic Tactics: Ogre. That game has earned its reputation, but Kartia was unfortunately overlooked, and deserves a second chance, even 12 years later.