Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
Kowloon High School Chronicle is a localization I didn’t know I needed. A weird and wonky mix of Indiana Jones, Dungeon Crawler, Tomb Raider, and Visual Novel. If that sounds like a weird mash-up, that’s because it is, but you know what? It works, and well.
KHSC is the story of a young aspiring Treasure Hunter (yes with caps). After discovering a relic with some sort of mysterious powers in Egypt, you are accosted by a group looking to steal the relics for themselves. You manage to escape, and the Rosetta Organization, which you are a newly minted member of, sends you to a highschool in Japan, where there is supposed to be some sort of relic hidden. Upon arrival you meet a cast of interesting characters, find out there is an inverted pyramid type ruin beneath the high school graveyard, and do battle against supernatural black sand that is possesing people. You also steal anything that isn’t nailed down, like a true RPG protagonist.
Now before we get off on anything here, I’d like to note that this is originally a PS2 game released in 2004, so before you go harshing on it, please keep in mind that we are only now getting a port here in North America. That being said, the game has held up well. Let’s move into what you’re probably here for though: the gameplay. As you may have picked up from the intro, KHSC is a weird mash-up of themes and genres that surprisingly work really well together, although a bit clunky at times. The core focus would probably be the ruin exploration, as you are a treasure hunter after all. This is done in a sort of traditional dungeon crawler fashion: you move around a 3D labyrinth on a block-by-block basis, looking for the door or stairs down to the next level.
What sets KHSC apart though is there is a large focus on puzzle solving and movement. While inside the ruins, you have two different states: investigation and battle. Investigation lets you examine objects, jump and grapple, or use items. Battle mode lets you fire a gun, throw a grenade, or wield a melee weapon. During the investigation, you’ll be tasked with solving puzzles, such as turning or moving statues, inserting the correct object into door slots, melting gold locks, and other various tasks. You will be climbing ropes, jumping across pits, and throwing grenades and breakable walls.
In combat mode you enter a turn-based battle style, but instead of going traditional turn-based, you can still move around the room, but performing any action, whether it be turning or moving or attacking, consumes action points. When you run out you end your turn, or you can end turn earlier for strategy reasons. Your main forms of combat are the melee weapon, gun, grenade/throwable, and your up to two assistants. Your melee weapon has a range and action point cost depending on weapon, and can hit a different range of squares depending on the weapon. Thankfully the little minimap shows your attack range while your weapon is out.
Your gun also has an action point cost and range, but can also be aimed, so you can target different areas on enemies. You should pay attention to this because enemies will have weak points that you can shoot for extra damage. The grenade/throwable is pretty self explanatory: you huck something at something else. Now, the assistants on the other hand, are friends that you can bring into the ruins, two at max, and they give you stat adjustments, one active skill, and one passive skill. For instance, the first partner you get has a chance to reflect incoming ranged attacks as a passive, and has a powerful smash attack as the active. Additionally, their stat adjustment helps to increase your jump distance.
Speaking of stats, you do gain exp and levels from killing enemies. Once you level up, you are awarded 5 basic stat points for your main stats, and 3 “grade points” which you can use to increase you grades in certain classes. This will give additional benefits, such as increasing enemy item drops, or increasing lockpicking skill. It can also increase quest rewards, which you may want to put some points into, as quests are the main way to earn money. Essentially, you can accept up to six quests from your room and when you head into the ruins, you must perform certain actions in certain rooms to unlock the treasure you’re looking for. As an example, the very first quest, which I still have yet to complete, is “Ground connecting room, from the Southern Door, Daybreak Prayer”.
Now obviously enough, the middle part means I have to in front of the Southern door in the room, and Daybreak prayer means you have to face East for a little while. No idea where the room is though, which the first part indicates, and I’ve already completed more than ten other quests, this one is just eluding me for some reason. Once you meet the requirements, you will see a golden glow. You can now head off to a safe room to collect your reward, something that maybe wasn’t well explained. In a save room you can access the rewards for any side quests you’ve met the requirements and send the rewards to either your room, or into your combat vest pockets. You can now open up the quest menu and send the rewards to the requester, who will give you your reward. Keep in mind that occasionally quests will give more than just the money, and that the item must be sent to the quest giver, which can be sent from your room while in the quest menu in the ruins. There is no time limit on the quests, but there is a fee for checking the requirements, and for abandoning a quest.
Since I mentioned the save rooms earlier, let me tell you a bit about how the game functions as a whole in regards to ruin exploration. Apart from equipment, you can bring up to 15 items with you into the ruins, and any treasure you find must be stored in your vest. This can get a little cumbersome, but fear not, as save rooms not only fully heal you and any damage your armour has taken, they also allow you to access your room and deposit or pick up items. Enemies only appear upon entrance in the ruins, so clearing a room means that room is clear until you leave the ruins and re-enter, and bosses will also respawn, allowing for some easy experience grinding if you are good at them. Your buddies also have limited active actions, and save points refresh these. Guess what also always respawns upon re-entering the ruins? Chests! Not the pots, but the chests do. Usually these only contain basic items or items to help complete puzzles though, so don’t go expecting to try and roll a super awesome item by constantly refreshing chests, those are in pots.
So what happens outside of the ruins? Well, you get to talk to your new classmates and faculty members. Say the right things and they might get a better impression of you. And you are given a wide array of possibilities when talking. You have 9 “emotions” that you can respond with on a sort of compass. If you choose nothing, then you will remain silent. Holding a direction longer gives a “stronger” response of the same emotion. For example, left is somber to grief, up is joy to love, right is amity to hot, and down is cold to anger. Yes I wrote these out because they are bloody hard to read on the compass thingy. During your breaks during class, you can explore the school and chat with people and investigate the rooms and areas around campus. If there is someone in the location you visit, you can both chat with them and investigate, no one or the other. Investigating usually turns up some rudimentary items, like chalkboard erasers, pens, or folding chairs. Other items, like detergent or cleaner, can be found at the pool, and may be combined to make other items. This also works for making food through synthesis of items.
So, because this is an older game recently ported over to NA, I can say for certain that it isn’t exactly the prettiest thing going. Is it bad? Definitely not. Could it look better? Yes, if it were to get a remastering, but honestly, it has its own charm as it is. Everything in the ruins is easily enough discernible, and the character portraits used while talking have a wide variety of poses and emotions to display dialogue interactions. The cast is also fairly large and unique, which provides for some interesting conversations with some of the quirkier characters. The music is also pretty decent for a PS2 port title, and is generally quite fitting for the scene or area of the ruins you’re exploring. It really feels like instalments of an Indiana Jones series, especially when they used the same font from the movies for the chapter intermission font? MMMMMMM
I’ll be perfectly honest, despite how much I really enjoyed this title, it isn’t without its flaws. The emotion wheel thing isn’t explained before you first have to interact with it, and some of the time, I wasn’t certain whether the emotion I was responding with was in regards to the character or what was being said. For instance, if someone said something depressing, and I reply with “Grief”, it could be hard to tell whether my response was “I don’t approve of your statement” or “I feel sad about what you said”. After awhile you can sort of tell how a response will roll out, but the first few times are tricky. There is a lot that needs better explanation in general. While a lot is handily added to your digital notebook, there were still some aspects where I was really confused for awhile. The game is also a little clunky, and it feels a little awkward switching between combat and investigation while trying to solve puzzles, and the minimap shrinks when entering combat mode, meaning it can get really hard to see enemy icons if you aren’t playing on a TV. The amount of grenades you need also feels a little excessive, and they start getting real pricey for anything worthwhile for the most part.