Some Thoughts on FromSoftwares’ Lost Kingdoms

Great developers don’t forget previous ideas and they don’t throw them away either. They refine them and build on them until these ideas find a home in a game that utilizes them efficiently and proficiently. Released in 2002 for the Nintendo GameCube Lost Kingdoms is full of neat ideas that were not yet fully fleshed out when they were implemented by its developer FromSoftware. In hindsight Lost Kingdoms is a cacophony of design and artistic hallmarks of FromSoftware–influential gothic world and character design, action-oriented gameplay, and use of limitations that are compounded on the player to increase difficulty and demand for clever understanding of the game’s systems. This cacophony is not just dissonant, it is also harmonic though. There is a charm to Lost Kingdoms that makes this 20-year-old game’s issues easily palatable.

Lost Kingdoms’ big draw is its action combat performed with cards. The player-controlled character, princess Katia from the land of Argwyll, utilizes cards in combat. Each card houses one of the 105 different creatures in the game. These creatures are found throughout the game’s world as enemies and once acquired in card form; they can aid Katia on her adventure. Some of them serve as quick actions, others allow Katia to summon/transform into them for a one-time use, and the rest of the cards serve as independent minions controlled by a faulty AI. They participate in the battle alongside the protagonist.

Lost Kingdoms was released at the height of the Yu-Gi-Oh! craze in the United States and the similarities, though shallow, that the game shares with the multimedia franchise were enough for me to want to play it. I remember seeing ads for the game in Nintendo Power and being drawn by the game’s aesthetics, in-game collectible cards, and its non-sexualized female protagonist (an oddity in 2002). Perhaps Katia’s appearance was a result of another anime making waves in the US at the time, Cardcaptor Sakura whose titular character is also a “magical” girl. It’s possible that FromSoftware wanted to make a game whose target audience was similar to both Cardcaptor Sakura and Yu-Gi-Oh! But also making it more appealing to a more diverse group.

Lost Kingdoms’ story is bleak. A mysterious black fog descends on the land and Katia takes it upon herself to investigate the fog and eventually save the kingdom and inevitably, as it often happens in jrpgs, the world. The story is simple, something that FromSoftware is now famous for since the release of Dark Souls. Lost Kingdoms’ world-building and lore are presented via text on the card’s descriptions and also scattered throughout various places (told by characters and posted on various signs and structures) in the world. They are optional for the player to read and interact with.

The game’s story is not substantive yet like in Dark Souls FromSoftware follows a similar philosophy described by the GZA as “half short, twice strong.” We the players focus on the gameplay and by engaging in the world we become concerned with the moody and mysterious places that we visit. The creatures and inhabitants perplex us. In turn, we seek to understand what it is that we are encountering. FromSoftware grips use through environmental storytelling and not sweating the exposition.

Katia exploring a castle befouled by The Fog. Contributed by Servo via

I have mixed feelings towards stories told in video games. I love an engaging tale as much as the next person, but video games often focus primarily on telling the story through cut scenes that break up the flow of the game and create uneven pacing. I want the story to be told while I play, If I’m not playing the story then it’s not a game. FromSoftware is a studio whose choice to background a bad practice of telling a story through non-gameplay means and leave it to the players to delve deeper only if they are inclined to be an excellent example of superlative story design. Environmental storytelling is a craft that FromSoftware has fine toned for decades and many of these trappings can be seen in Lost Kingdoms.

During my most recent playthrough of the game, I was shocked by how similar the character design and creature design is to that of Dark Souls. Many of the monster designs are found in Lost Kingdoms in Dark Souls. The Zombie Dragon for example as well as the propensity of skeleton-type creatures can be found albeit with higher graphical detail and fidelity in the latter – FromSoftware loves decaying flesh and bones!

Lost Kingdoms is a rare game in that when it was released in 2002 all of its problems were bare for does who played it to see. These problems persist, yet I didn’t find any new issues. The problems the game has in 2022 are the same problems the game had in 2002. Katia’s frustrating walk animation that makes it so that it takes her quite some time to reach her destination, uninspired level design, exploration and interaction with the environment requires random encounters, and little character development is three issues that I noticed when I played the game in 2002. They are glaring issues in 2022.

Katia’s walking pace is most likely a device that FromSoftware concocted to make levels take longer to complete. If her movement speed was fast, more in line with most other games with real-time movement released in 2002, the already small levels would be complete too quickly. This limitation also makes the game more difficult as it makes it difficult for the player to maneuver Katia away from enemies as they are attacking. FromSoftware would later become renowned for creating a game whose difficulty would be tied to character movement like in Dark Souls where the weight of the armor equipped to the playable character can potentially restrict movement. In a game where enemies hit like air conditioners falling from skyscrapers, this can be fatal. In Dark Souls, unlike Lost Kingdoms, the design offers players benefits alongside disadvantages. Heavier equipment means that you can take more damage even though it will be more difficult to dodge attacks. The choice ultimately falls on how the player wants to experience the game; either you can create a nimble attacker or a tank that eats hits. Lost Kingdoms does not provide a choice. The limitations are there to compensate for issues inherent in the level design. Maybe it was a budget issue and if so then slowing Katia’s pace is an ingenious solution to the budget constraints. Regardless, this is the most frustrating part of my recent playthrough. Luckily the game is short, and levels usually take between ten to twenty minutes to complete. FromSoftware fixed this problem in the subsequent game in the series Lost Kingdoms II. Maybe I’ll cover the Lost Kingdoms II if I can find a copy at a decent price on the secondhand market.

Official Concept Art from product page via

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