Forever Kingdom is an action RPG. For those not used to RPGs, in an action RPG you can freely move your character during the battles and attack your opponents just like in a classic action title. There is no transition between battles and exploration, and there isn’t a menu-based combat system like the one used in the Final Fantasy series. Then, random battles are rare in this genre of RPGs. This makes the game more fluid and gives the player the possibility to explore the environments without the constant “anguish” of a possible random encounter.
The control system is extremely important in an action RPG, and the developers of Forever Kingdom did a nice work. There are three different control settings; I have found myself extremely comfortable with the Type 2 setting. During the game you can freely switch between Darius, Ruyan and Faeana, that are all always on screen, by pressing the L1 button. You can move the selected character with the Left analog stick, while the Circle button is the action button. The right stick is used to attack. If used alone, the selected character will perform a vertical attack; if used in conjunction with the left stick you will perform a horizontal attack. Each character in Forever Kingdom is then assigned a button (Triangle, Square or X) used to perform Palmira actions. These are simply magical or physical attacks, depending on the accessory item equipped by the character. In this way, even if you have direct control over the movements and attacks of only one character at once, you can still control when the other characters have to perform their Palmira actions. This makes possible to perform powerful chains of Palmira attacks. The result is a combat system that is extremely fresh, dynamic, and well implemented in the game. Palmira actions can be also used to solve certain puzzles throughout the game. For example, a Palmira action based on the fire element can be used to light a torch.
Like its predecessor, Forever Kingdom features a unique dress-up system. Throughout the game, several crystals are scattered. By pressing the action button when facing one of these crystals, you enter a shop, where strange creatures with long noses will be happy to sell you every sort of accessory. There are five categories of accessories (weapons, armor, accessories, helmets and legs) and all of them can be actually equipped by your characters. Many of the objects are just absurd; pots, cat’s ears, pumpkins and much more can really turn Forever Kingdom into a odd looking game. I have been playing part of the game with Ruyan wearing a Jack-o-lantern as an helmet. It was indeed a unique experience to look at this Pumpkin-head boy in the most tense moments of the game. The shop owner will also evaluate your character’s dressing style.
Weapons and other objects also represent the only way to increase your character’s stats, since the characters in Forever Kingdom cannot level up. The weapons can be upgraded through the use of Palmira Crystals that you obtain by defeating your opponents or opening treasure chests. Anyhow, since great part of the accessories can be equipped by more than a character, it’s extremely important to choose the right equipment for each of your party members.
In fact, when compared to console RPGs like Final Fantasy X, Forever Kingdom is a difficult game. The difficulty level reminded me those hard games of the NES and SNES era. Sometimes, unless you don’t find the right combination of objects for your party, it’s impossible to overcome certain opponents or situations in the game. You have only a life gauge for your whole party; if one of your characters dies, all the others will die too. Adding to that, certain enemies are able to kill your party with just a couple of deadly blows. While Forever Kingdom is an Action RPG, strategy is extremely important. In fact, your characters cannot attack the enemies continuously: after an attack, your character needs a couple of seconds before performing a new attack. You need to create a well-balanced series of Palmira Actions combos and physical attacks mixed with a good use of the guard button (R1) to successfully proceed in the game. Fortunately, there is also a shortcut button to heal your characters using life extracts. In the Type 2 command setting, the one we used, the right analog stick is used to attack; since the healing button is R3, which can be activated by simply depressing the right analog stick, you can heal your character without moving your thumb from the attack stick.
There are just a couple of evident issues in the gameplay of Forever Kingdom. First of all, the lack of frequent save points: sometimes, you have to wait for quite a long time before being able to save your game in one of the shops. Then, bad camera angles can occasionally confuse you during the battles.
Overall, the gameplay of Forever Kingdom is extremely varied, rich and well developed, making of this game one of the most original and intelligent PS2 RPGs, filled with many good ideas. Very, very good.