Crispy Gamer

Games for Lunch: Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom

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0:01 An incredibly basic title screen features a ring of fire on a black background in front of the title. Lord of the Rings much?

0:02 The ?Blood? setting is set to ?off? as a default. Isn't this game is rated M? What are they doing? Bring on the GORE!

0:03 I have my choice of a few characters with a good variety of speeds/styles/strengths. I choose the slow melee-attacking guy who's built like a tank because standing around and beating things sounds like fun.

0:04 Even though the press materials explicitly suggest playing with more than one person, I start a single-player game.

0:05 A horned, hooded guy is kneeling. He looks up at a bigger, horned guy. Suddenly the bigger guy lifts the smaller guy by the throat. Now the small guy is... alone in a field of flowers. ?Hmm, it's been quite a while since I last had a dream.? Then more loading. Weird, but intriguing.

0:06 I'm in the ?Forest of Embracing.? I'm suddenly glad the game isn't rated AO.

0:07 Quick tutorial on camera work and movement/attacking. Seems simple and responsive, although the camera movement is a little floaty.

0:08 Attacking uses ?SP? that refills slowly. How to use status menu, equipping, blah blah blah.

0:09 My ranged weapon is some sort of double-edged boomerang sword that is just about the coolest thing ever.

0:10 My starting items include an incredibly out-of-character baseball hat, an incredibly-out-of-character pair of sunglasses, and an incredibly out-of-character ?Mask of Director Mr. Lee.? Looks like someone on the dev. team let their vanity get the better of them, eh?

0:12 Dang. The just-equipped dash ability sends me hurtling across the screen rather impressively. I'm a fan. And with that, the tutorial is done and I'm 10 Achievement points richer.

0:14 Pet peeve: The ?inverted camera? option only changes the up-and-down axis, not the left-and-right. Grumble.

0:15 Wow. I'm not wandering for a minute before I stumble upon a group of about two dozen enemies that climb up over an embankment. They're mostly tiny, armed, raptor-looking things, but there are two bigger ones. The music changes to some impressive piano/electric guitar bass groove and I mash the attack buttons. The combat is impressively smooth, and the game really makes you feel it as each hit connects. Sure, it's mainly just mashing buttons, but the way the enemies react gets to me for some reason. I'm impressed, in spite of myself.

0:17 Battle done. I get some gold, some potions and a ?Usable Bastard Sword of Power? for my trouble. What a name! OK, back to wandering.

0:18 Annoyance #2: The map in the upper right corner is so small on my SDTV as to be unusable. If there's a way to zoom in, the tutorial didn't mention it.

0:20 Level up! I get to allocate my new attribute points to HP, SP or luck. Nice and simple... just the way I like it. I focus on HP and SP, because I like to rely on skill, thank you very much!

0:21 A fortune cookie is part of the spoils of my latest battle. ?Look for fortune in the places no one explores.? I love that this game doesn't seem to take itself too seriously.

0:22 I just realized I'm about 22 minutes in and I've only been forced to sit through about 30 seconds of contrived cut scene story. This is an amazing achievement in this day and age.

0:25 The red baseball cap sitting on my character's head still makes me crack up.

0:27 I get to a shrine where I can go to sleep (exciting!). After some loading, another dreamworld. ?I need a new ability,? I tell a white-haired sage. ?Tell me what you want.? One of the selectable options is ?Clap.? Hmmm... in health class, they told me I don't want the Clap.

0:28 I try to buy Leap, but he tells me ?everyone must pay a price.? I need 10 wooden golems and five rare wooden golems. I wish they'd told me that earlier... like on the menu, maybe?

0:29 ?You are being chased. Do you know what's chasing you?? asks the sage. Apparently, I'm a mortal, now. The guy says he can help me, but he won't say how. Color me confused.

0:30 Time to wake up. What a waste of time.

0:33 Playing around on the ?synthesis? screen. You can combine two items to make a new one. Neat, except most of the likely combinations I try have no effect or actually make the item worse. At least the game tells me what will happen before I go through with it. Still, I have a life, so I don't have time to pitter around trying endless combinations. Some FAQ maker will love it, though.

0:36 A few more battles (with archers, even) and it asks me if I want to ?move to the next region.? Uh, I guess so. I mean, what choice do I have? I suppose I could walk back along the linear path down which I've been wandering? No, thanks.

0:37 I'm now in the ?Forest of Embracing Shroud of Fog.? Either the translators need new jobs, or this game takes itself even less seriously than I thought.

0:38 New enemy alert: A big plant-thing that's right out of "Little Shop of Horrors." Mostly it seems to sit there and take damage. Oh, well.

0:39 Playing around with my weapons a bit. I love the ?Klein Vogel Cannon? on my left arm. When I attack with it, I slowly raise my arm, aim forward, then BOOM. Like a steampunk Mega Man.

0:42 These battles are actually getting tough! Being a big, bulky battlemaster is good when there are a bunch of mindless enemies, but not as good when archers and magicians assail you from all sides.

0:44 I've apparently collected enough stuff to learn ?Clap.? Nice of the game to let me know. Really, it is. That wasn't snark!

0:46 The battles that were so smooth early on are showing signs of slowdown now that there are four or a dozen enemies on-screen at once. This is not a good sign.

0:47 My inventory is full already. I can see this is going to be a game full of selling useless crap. Meanwhile, I got a ?Mortar Cannon of Puncture.? I LOVE these naming conventions!

0:53 Algorithm for selling (as far as I can tell): If (sellable_weapon.attack_power < current_weapon.attack_power) SELL else DON'T SELL. Complex!

0:54 Sleepy time again. A black-clad woman reaches out for me, then shies away. That was... suitably creepy. I learned Clap! ?Last time you visited here you were protected by the ancient heart. This time will be different. ... do you still remember what pain is?? ?I don't care.? Damn, he's badass. Or pretending to be.

0:58 So besides the sleeping, this game has been a bunch of button-mashy combat punctuated by walking in a straight line. I should hate it, but oddly enough, I don't. Chalk it up to effortless controls, challenging but well-balanced enemies, or just general good design, but this is pretty fun. The minimal story prattle is nice too -- lets the game breathe a little. I can definitely see playing this with some friends.

Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yes.

Why? See 0:58.

This column based on a retail copy provided by Microsoft.

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