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The story takes place in the word of Rebus, a place that has known no war for thousands of years. It lived by means of Kartia, which is a form of magic. Chaos came into the world, and you play the roles of two heroes who must face the unknown dangers around them.
Toxa is a masterless Knight living on the estates of Count Shinon. He is young, reckless, and more than a wee-bit arrogant. The story begins when Toxa intercepts a group of thieves trespassing and saves a girl named Mona from them. Mona has an interesting story to tell that pulls Toxa into a plot to save the world from destruction.
Lacryma is a Shrine Warrior, a position of great power in both the secular and religious realms. (The story of Kartia takes place in a theocratic society, from what I gather). Shrine Warriors are the unwavering defenders of the law. As warriors of God, they are forbidden from creating Phantoms, whom are considered heathen. Lacryma's father was a Shrine Warrior and a hero known throughout the land. He died when she was young and she placed the large mantle of his legacy on her shoulders.
You will play each of the characters quests separately, but both quests intertwine beautifully. One character, Posha, begins in Lacryma's quest, leaves to join Toxa's for a while, and then comes back to Lacryma's near the end. The story itself is very engaging. I found myself not giving a lick about the battles; I wanted to get through those so that I could get the next chapter of story!
The game itself is set up like story, battle, story, next chapter FMV, story, battle, story, etc. Notice all the story in there? You'll spend more time reading than you will in battle, I assure you. But, as I've already mentioned, the story is very good, especially Lacryma's. To get all of it though, you must play both characters to completion. There is also a screen that lets you go back and review story segments that you've already received (in case you haven't played in a while, or just wanted to read it again).
Mona Saradiart is rescued by Toxa when she was kidnapped by thieves. She is the one who gets Toxa involved in the quest to save the world. She is very quiet and trusts Toxa with a sort of puppy-dog admiration.
Ele la Monella Shinon is the daughter of Count Shinon, the person Toxa is currently working for. She is a rebellious child, frustrated with her lot in life. Her father taught her swordmanship and how to use Kartia (one of his greatest mistakes, in my opinion..).
Duran Bouquet is a Shrine Warrior with a cool exterior. He does melt, though, with the right woman. He, like Lacryma, is a member of Vigilance, and a natural born leader.
Misty Rouge is a part of the group whom kidnapped Mona originally. She is very distrusting of everyone. She views the faith anyone places in her with doubt that they truly trust her. Why should they?
Kun Vine traveled to join Vigilance and receive his Knighthood. Growing up in the sticks, he his very na´ve to the world around him. What he doesn't have in Kartia wielding skills, he makes up with his steel.
Posha Saint-Amour is a Shrine Maiden and member of Vigilance. She is the weakest member fighting and magic wise. Troy picks on her constantly while Lacryma covers her back on and off battlefield. The only one who doesn't seem to look down on her is the Kyuu that lives as a 'pet' at Vigilance headquarters.
Troy Wreathring is an Encrypter who joined Vigilance in order to get a higher license. He is self-serving in nature and confident to the point of cockiness in his abilities. He's very sarcastic and cynical. Fans of Daria should get along with him nicely.
Alana il Vanya is essentially Makoto from Sailor Moon. I know, sounds weird, but she has the same 'old boyfriend' complex that Makoto does. She has a big heart and is loved by everyone. She's a dancer at the local pub. That skill has translated into an elegant mastery of the sword.
What is Kartia?
Simply put, Kartia is created when texts (kanji) are written upon cards made of various materials (silk, mithril, or world tree). The materials used effects how powerful the spell can be. Texts are usually found in treasure chests and received at the end of battle. Materials are also found in chests, are hidden (find them by altering the playing field), and are received at the end of battle.
Kartia has three primary purposes:
Kartia can be used in 'traditional ways' (attacking/ healing). In this game, casting an earthquake-like spell will change the playing field by either lowering it or raising it. This becomes very important on some fields when you're trying to reach lookout points. Items are also hidden that can only be found by 'unearthing' them or by setting trees on fire, etc. In short, you want to make sure the battle field looks like a battle occurred there by the time you're finished.
Kartia can be used to create weapons and armor. You often times won't find the most powerful weapons, you have to use rare Kartia and even rarer texts to make them. This replaces the usual 'shop' system of buying weapons. There is no in-between battle town hopping that Tactics has.
Kartia can be used to summon Phantoms. Phantoms are essentially monsters with different strengths and weaknesses. As you gain more powerful materials and text, you can create more powerful Phantoms. I'll discuss their use at some length in the Game Play Tips section.
Kartia is much in the same vein as Tactics with some very interesting twists. Your party is made of a varying number of humans (1 to 5) and then supplemented with Phantoms (monsters) that you create. If any of your humans fall, the game is over, but you can lose all the Phantoms you want. There are advantages and disadvantages to that. Phantoms make great decoys, but they can also gain levels and become powerful warriors if they survive that long. Level 20 monsters (the highest level in the game is 20) can also be turned into items.
The battlefield is three-dimensional like Tactics. Unfortunately, you don't have as much camera control that you had in Tactics. You can turn on a meter function that will display a small life meter by every character. I found this to be very useful when deciding if I could have one character take on another.
Kartia does have a 'compatibility' twist to it like Tactics. Instead of using the zodiac though, they used a 'rock-paper-scissors' system. Phantoms are created under one of the symbols and then have the strengths and weakness associated with it. (Rock beats scissors but is weak against paper, etc). The appropriate icon is show on the character's info when you select them so that you can try for the stronger match ups. Humans have no alignment.
Two other factors can give a weak character the advantage. The first is the weapon they are equipped with. Swords are strongest against enemies that are on the same level as them. Axes are strongest when used from above. Pikes are strongest when used from below. The amount of different the weapon makes is staggering sometimes, so don't be afraid to re-equip during battle for the advantage!
The second thing that can make the difference is how many hit points the character has. The more they have the harder they hit. A character with 10 points left is near useless unless they're fighting someone with 2 - 3 points. (Every character has 100 points at the beginning of battle). A Phantom with 100 points fighting another Phantom with 50 points and who has the advantage of alignment and weapon could be at the disadvantage overall.
If this all sounds complicated, don't worry, it is, but that's why the game has a handy training mode. You can go into the battle arena as either Lacryma or Toxa (depending on whose quest you're in) with a team of Phantoms and have it out against the computer. This is a great place to learn the quirks of the gameplay that makes it so interesting. The other plus of the arena is that you can win items and materials that will transfer over to your quest, but any materials spent while battling there aren't deducted from your quest total! You can go to the battle arena any time between chapters, as often as you like, so make good use of this feature.
The other fun thing involving the battle arena is the two-player option. You and a friend can load your teams from separate games and battle each other there. There are also five scenarios to play each other with. I, honestly, haven't the opportunity to try this feature out. (I lack a second controller and a friend willing to play me ;) But the concept sounds fun.
One of the most entertaining battles that occurs in both quests is when the group goes to the battle arena. (Alright, so going there is somewhat contrived in the story, but the battle itself makes up for it). Your team has 10 rounds to defeat as many monsters as possible, or, if you're quick enough, all of them on the screen before more show up to end the battle. If you can accomplish the latter condition, the rewards are great!
There are 18 story-related battles per quest. With only 36 battles total, the game is short. Atlus says it takes 30 hours to complete, others have told me 20, I did it in 40. Overall, Kartia isn't an especially challenging game; it just throws loops at you that may take a bit to figure out. There is a lot game mechanics wise to figure out. Not all of the spells you can create are on your grammar screen, you have to mix and match your texts to make them.
The music isn't anything to write home about. Anime and game soundtracks are one of my favorite genres, but I wouldn't go out of my way to get this game's music.
There are short (10 - 15 seconds) FMVs between the chapters and a longer one showing many of the Phantoms during the opening of the game. FMVs aren't as prevalent as they are in Final Fantasy 8, but they introduce things nicely.
The game's graphics themselves aren't nearly as nice as Tactics, but better than LUNAR. The character portraits were done by Amano. (Yes, that Amano, the one who did the gorgeous artwork for the earlier Final Fantasy games, including 6). Those are, of course, wonderful. The animations for the spells are pretty nice looking.
This game is almost entirely about story. If you love story, that makes this a great game to buy, if you don't, then Kartia will likely come off as slow. Personally, I don't think I would pay more than $30 - $35 US for the game due to its the length (or lack there of). A person could beat it with a game rental or two from the video store if they just wanted to play it through once.
Reviewed October 9th, 1999