Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom - Staff Review  

Circle of Dull
by Michael "Macstorm" Cunningham

Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom
Xbox 360
10-∞ Hours
Click here for scoring definitions 

   Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom is the first RPG in a series comprised mostly of strategy games. Developed by Blueside, a small Korean developer, this title may have the company returning to their roots, as Circle of Doom lacks many elements of a quality RPG. As an action RPG, Kingdom Under Fire offers a multiplayer experience that has some redeeming value, but even that does little to help overall. Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom is the first RPG of 2008, and it certainly makes for a rocky start.

   When starting off, Circle of Doom offers a handful of characters to pick from who each have their own unique combat style and storyline. There are close combat powerhouse characters such as Regnier; agile, ranged attackers like Celine; and balanced fighters such as Duane. Character stats are made up of hit points, skill points, and luck. Upon gaining a level, the player is given the option of distributing a specific amount of points between the three categories. Skill points are a key factor in the game as it allows the character to perform more consecutive actions in battle. Weapons and armor can be equipped based on the amount of skill points a character has available. Both ranged and melee weapons temporarily consume a certain amount of skill points when used in combat. While the player may have enough skill points to equip and use a more powerful weapon, without enough skill points players will not be able to use it as often as would be effective. Skill points are never permanently used up as they do recover over time, and certain equipment and items are available to improve the rate of recovery. Equipment can also be enhanced to grant bonuses such as increased attack power, a drain on an enemy's hit points, and detection of invisible enemies.

   All of the characters in Circle of Doom can learn abilities both for restoration or damage dealing. The process to learn these abilities is frustrating and time consuming. First, players have to travel to the game's dream world to meet a character that will train them. This training process involves selecting a skill to learn, returning to the waking world to slaughter a set number of enemy types, and then returning to the dream world to learn the skill. Using such an uninspired method for learning skills will try many players' patience especially because the game does not specify what type of enemies will need to be defeated before selecting the skill. This could mean that a player might have to backtrack to a past area to find the correct enemies or even wait until that enemy is found in a far off location. Because skills are extremely helpful for taking down the vast swarms of enemies that the game produces, this process is a necessary evil for reducing the monotony.

Balroc You shall not pass... though I doubt you would want to.

   The items and equipment that enemies drop are the means best used to improve the character, so players are forced to fight for money and items. At certain intervals throughout each level, players will run across a sanctuary featuring one of three Idols: Greed, Love, or Death. Which of the Idols will appear depends on the in-game time of day. The Idol of Greed sells weapons and simple potions while the Idol of Love sells many of the same items along with other basic items. The Idol of Death sells armor, accessories, character enhancements, inventory expansion, and special potions. All Idols can also synthesize new items by combining two items together, though the process is very cumbersome and unintuitive making it more of a hassle than it is worth.

   Combat itself is nothing more than constant hack-and-slash. A flood of enemies attack forcing the player to pound away at them before looting any left over items. Wash, rinse, repeat. Enemies always attack in large groups, often stunning the player and making him unable to move or counter for a few seconds. Many times this will continue until the player has gotten away from the swarm to recover before having to charge right back in. While starting off, combat is tolerable, but after the first few stages it can become very boring.

   While combat is a chore for the most part, the burden of defeating the evil legions of enemies can be shared by signing into Xbox Live for multiplayer action. Players can team up online with up to three others for some team combat. Even better is the fact that players are able to join in at whatever location the game's host is at. If a player is having difficulty with a boss or stage, it is simple enough to host a game, allowing others to join and assist. This online component expands the game's scope marginally, allowing players to coordinate combat and trade items. While this does make mindlessly slaughtering enemies slightly more tolerable, sadly, there is no local multiplayer; Xbox Live Gold is required for playing with others.

   Kingdom Under Fire's plot is more like a series of side quests than a coherent, engaging story. Any story at all takes place in the game's dream world as it is the only place where you meet characters. These characters usually have a line or two of dialogue to say before the player has to wake up and continue more mindless fighting. Most of the game's characters have their own unique story, but the manner in which they are placed in the background makes them easy to ignore. Some characters don't even have a story at all. Luckily, players who picked a character with no story are not missing out on much. Even if players go out of their way to hunt the story down, which often requires backtracking and killing nearly endless amounts of random monsters to progress, they are only rewarded with a shallow bit of dry dialogue. In fact, players can ignore the story completely as none of the quests that grant dialogue are required in order to see the game's ending credits. Sadly, players will not miss out on much.

Loki Kingdom Under Failure

   Kingdom Under Fire does not look bad, especially in the smattering of cutscenes. The environments are fairly well detailed, though they offer very little variety apart from each stage having a different theme. Later in the game, many of the areas start taking on a darker brown look that is just bland. There are a few exceptions such as the ice cave, but even it does little to branch out. Enemies are mostly carbon copies of each other, maybe offering a dozen more or less unique enemy types throughout the entire game, excluding bosses. On the plus side, each playable character is unique with armor and weapons giving characters a different look depending on what they have equipped. The game features an instrumental rock-themed soundtrack, which is rather fitting with the action focus of the game. Sadly, there is little variety offered in the music. One theme plays when enemies are attacking and another plays once the enemies are all defeated. The few other tracks within the game do not stand out enough to be noticed. At least the soundtrack did not become annoying, though it is dull enough that many players might opt to mute the game and find more entertaining audio options. Finally, there is the problem of the horrid voice acting. What little voice acting there is seems like a complete waste of effort, standing out as awkward and often completely out of place for the character speaking.

   Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom can be as short as eight to ten hours or it can be played on until the end of time. Players are encouraged to not only play through as all of the characters, but to level all of them as high as the level 120 cap. Gamers even receive achievements for maxing out characters. This cyclical process can be a circle of doom in and of itself. Difficulty is adjustable after completing the game with one character, first opening up a Hard option and later an Extreme option. As mentioned before, Xbox Live Gold members will be able to enjoy this game more by playing through with friends or even random strangers, as the mindless combat will take less time with help. Outside of needing an extreme amount of patience to plow through each stage, most are not very challenging. Only Kingdom Under Fire's bosses are much of a challenge and sometimes that is only because certain character builds are less effective against certain bosses. Overall, players who enjoy hack-and-slash games with friends, and who can do so over Xbox Live, might enjoy Kingdom Under Fire. Even that might be a stretch, for bringing nothing new to the genre; offering minimal story, repetitive gameplay, and mediocre presentation; Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom would be more aptly titled Kingdom Under Failure: Circle of Dull. The strategy games in the series might have been decent, but this RPG is not.

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