In the long history of video games, it is impossible to catch everything at the time of launch. That is why re-releases and remasters can be so useful; introducing a whole new generation to games that might not have the same cultural penetration as the bigger releases in a genre but still deserve to be celebrated and enjoyed. With the Prinny Presents NIS Classics Volume 2, we get a chance to enjoy two classic RPG titles and celebrate the more light-hearted side of Nippon Ichi Software’s catalogue in the process.
The previous entry in the NIS Classics series didn’t sit as well with us as we would have liked, but the two titles here don’t take themselves nearly as seriously and they are significantly better for it. First up we have Makai Kingdom: Reclaimed and Rebound. This is an updated version of Makai Kingdom: Chronicles of the Sacred Tome for the PlayStation 2. Originally released in 2005, this game offers the isometric tactical combat that fans of other games from Nippon Ichi Software will be well familiar with.
Both the visuals and the gameplay here are similar to the games in the NIS Classics Volume 1 collection, but the story is decidedly different. Here, players will take control of Zetta, the “Bad-Ass Freakin’ Overlord” who gets turned into a book due to his own hubris. He must attempt to rebuild his personal demonic kingdom and reclaim his own body in the process by creating a group of fighters, healers, and mages to fight his battles for him.
Characters are summoned and equipped in a hub world that serves as Zetta’s home as he attempts to gain his power back. These characters grow in level as they fight, making grinding for both money and experience points a central part of the game. This is generally the biggest drawback to games like this; hours get spent completing missions and maps repeatedly to make the latest story mission possible. While the combat has its fun, it gets repetitive very quickly without some plot to break it up.
Makai Kingdom is full of fun and colourful characters who breathe life into an otherwise straightforward game. The game takes advantage of the otherworldly nature of the setting to give us some really outlandish character designs. There have been plenty of tactical RPGs since this game came out that have enhanced or improved upon the formula of placing and moving troops on the battlefield, but few can match the charm and fun that we encountered here. The addition of Petta Mode, which follows the story of Zetta’s daughter from the future, for the first time in the West means that even existing fans will find something new to enjoy here.
The other half of this collection is Z.H.P. Unlosing Ranger VS Darkdeath Evilman, which originally hit the PSP in 2010. This game plays out like a tokusatsu story like Power Rangers; it is a dark future in which a magical Super Baby, prophesised to save the world from destruction, has been born. This attracts the attention of the subtly named Darkdeath Evilman, who plans to kill the Super Baby to exert his own dominance.
Opposing him is Unlosing Ranger, a hero who has never lost a battle. He does, however, get killed by a passing car before arriving at the final fight and is forced to pass his powers on to a random kid. This new hero promptly gets killed fighting Darkdeath and is sent to Bizarro Earth to train himself up so he can save the Super Baby and the rest of the world from certain death. It is a silly plot but it works for the style of show they’ve chosen to emulate. Tokusatsu plots aren’t known for their subtlety, after all.
The gameplay here is presented in the same isometric visuals as other titles from NIS, but it is actually more of a roguelike than a tactical RPG. Players get to control this new Unlosing Ranger as they enter dungeons, gain levels, and help the citizens of this alternate world. Rather than summon other characters to do the fighting for him, he gets stuck in himself, making his way through randomly generated dungeons. His level is reset to one each time he enters a dungeon, but he retains his base stats whether he succeeds or fails as the core progression mechanic.
Much like Makai Kingdom, the gameplay is fairly basic by today’s standards. It is certainly easier than most isometric RPGs of the time, but it will still take a lot of patience and grinding to get through the story. However, the writing and humour in this game are top-notch. It is littered with references to anime and characters with terrible puns for names, from US President Brick Oldlama to elderly Spanish citizen Jose Gazpacho. There is a sense that everything here is meant to be over-the-top and not to be taken seriously, making it far more enjoyable.
Like other isometric RPG titles, these games have a steep learning curve at times. Z.H.P. has fewer frustrating moments than Makai Kingdom, but even it has points where enemies will be nearly insurmountable without grinding for new gear and higher stats. Reaching the end of either story will require several dozen hours. Both of them together will likely take over a hundred hours to complete, especially with the bonus content included in Makai Kingdom, making it a big time investment for players. It is a lot of content for the price, at least, and worth it for the quality of the writing in these games.
Both of the games that make up Prinny Presents NIS Classics Volume 2 benefit from having a light-hearted approach to their story. With gameplay that doesn’t feature too many surprises, the humorous writing and charming characters sand over the rough edges of these older RPGs. While we had a preference for the over-the-top antics and writing of Z.H.P. over Makai Kingdom, both games have plenty to offer both new and existing fans and showcase the humour that has made these and other NIS titles so enduring over the years.