It’s got a great sense of humor, but the gameplay is just too clunky.
Kingdom Elemental Tactics is a high-fantasy strategy game from the creators of the much-revered Gish. Over the course of the game you unlock new classes and powers to use during short 2-3 minute arena battles. The concept is interesting, and the process of unlocking new abilities and characters gives you a lot of impetus to keep playing through the game.
But the game’s defining characteristic is its humor. Kingdom Elemental is nothing if not a giant wad of self-aware irony. Every moment of this game is dripping with sarcasm and loving jabs at a well-worn genre. On one hand this bit of levity is very welcome. The Achilles heel of the high-fantasy genre is that its seriousness can often backfire and make it seem even more ridiculous.
But on the other hand it only serves to highlight how unimaginative this game is. It’s like one of those tourist T-shirts that say, “my parents went to Cancun and all I got was this stupid T-shirt.” Whether it makes fun of itself or not, it’s still a stupid T-shirt.
Similarly, the sarcastic approach to the game’s narrator may be novel, but the bulk of this game is a rehash of other ideas. For instance, the classes of the game are completely standard fare: swordsman, cleric, archer, necromancer, monk, druid, and bard. And they all have very standard abilities that boil down to damage dealing, healing/buffing, and crowd control.
But the real problem is that the battle system is just too clunky. There are too many characters on screen, and too much going on too quickly to be able to effectively juggle all of the skills necessary to win. What’s more, your allies never seem to target effectively so you constantly have to change their targets.
For a while this system works fine. But after a few levels the difficulty gets really tough. At that point you’ll also have to move your characters around the screen to dodge enemies as they come out of holes in the walls or spiders descend from the ceiling, while also managing aggro and trying to keep the enemies’ attention on your tank (swordsman.) It’s just too much, especially if you’re not accustomed to difficult strategy games.
The graphics are blocky and low-budget, but it’s the audio that will really win you over. In fact, it may be the only true benefit that Kingdom Elemental has going for it. There’s a pretty awesome over-the-top fantasy soundtrack, and the narrator is often a joy to listen to. He plays that role of a professional wizard who turned narrator to pay the bills. As the game progresses he gets more and more irate about the generic fantasy scripts he’s being forced to read, often making snide, derisive comments.
In spite of its difficulty and clunky controls, Kingdom Elemental‘s tone is very unique and offers quite a few laughs for those who have been playing fantasy games for years. It’s got a few quality elements, but ultimately Kingdom Elemental is more of a reminder that people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. They rip on genre cliches at every opportunity, and yet rely on them at the same time.