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Exclusive Monster Kingdom: Jewel Summoner preview

The kind folks at Atlus sent us a review copy of their upcoming RPG, Monster Kingdom: Jewel Summoner. I have to admit that the first few hours of gameplay have me genuinely impressed, and I can't wait to play even more.

Monster Kingdom comes from the developer behind the cult-favorite RPG Shin Megami Tensei. While the game shares some gameplay mechanics with this hardcore RPG, don't expect to see the dark themes that were present in the SMT series: so far, no one has been crucified. Because of the game's somewhat cheery, and generic anime storyline, Monster Kingdom feels more like Pokemon than SMT. However, that's not necessarily a bad thing.

The game has you controlling the stoic, and fashionable, Vice who has the innate ability to summon and control monsters. In his universe, people are able to tame wild beasts and turn them into jewels: they are called summoners. There are over a hundred beasts to find in the world, and as you know ... you gotta catch 'em all.

As you progress through the game, you'll catch monsters, aligned to different elements. Eventually, you'll be able to customize their move sets and even transform the creatures through "evolution." No, I'm not kidding at all. In many ways, the game is an exact replica of Pokemon.

But, don't write off the game: people sometimes forget that Pokemon features a great deal of depth, and Monster Kingdom is no different. Firstly, you'll notice that the presentation values are incredible. You'll be treated to some gorgeous anime-styled art throughout the game, with beautifully rendered characters and towns filling each scene. You'll rarely see characters, or environments, rendered in 3D: in typical old-school Japanese adventure game fashion, a lot of your time is spent in conversation with other characters.

Thankfully, Atlus has done a remarkable job with the voice acting. Almost every line in the game is voiced, which is impressive considering the wide assortment of characters you'll meet. For better or worse, there's a lot of personality to the characters you meet. Unfortunately, most of the characters you meet seem like complete brats.

I hate you and I hope you die.

Although some of the characters will make you cringe, the game remains compelling simply because of its addictive battle system. Once again, it works like Pokemon: you throw a monster out to battle and try to defeat (or capture) other monsters. However, there's more depth to it than that: you'll not only want to choose the right monsters, but you'll want to somehow disrupt the flow of battle by interrupting your enemy's turn.

The presentation of the battles is absolutely stellar. The dynamic camera angles, and split-screen appearance make them seem far more exciting than the static sprite-based battles of Pokemon. Certainly, this game uses the PSP's hardware to its advantage. Although the game is nearly a year old (in Japan), the graphics are still impressive, especially when coupled with the absolute lack of load times. Yes, you read that correctly: zero load times, making it a much more accessible game than most of the RPG lineup on the PSP.

While I'm still early in the game, it's fair to say that Monster Kingdom may be the best RPG on the PSP so far. Expect a full review of the game before the title comes out in stores February 13th.

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