The game of chess dates back to ancient times, and seeing as how it's still widely played around the world in its traditional form, this seems like a good indication that no additions, improvements, spin-offs, sequels, or other departures are necessary. Nevertheless, here comes Online Chess Kingdoms, a PlayStation Portable game whose title pretty much says it all. The first two words may well be intriguing to you. While online chess dates back to the ancient times of the Internet, there's something to be said for the idea of having portable online chess on the PSP, and it basically works as advertised, if you can find someone to play. As for the "Kingdoms" part, it represents an awkward attempt to layer a storyline and greater sense of purpose to chess, as well as add a real-time twist to the conventional rules. In spite of this, it seems unlikely that anyone without an inherent interest in chess would be willing to give this game a shot. Still, those with a casual appreciation for chess may enjoy it.
The premise of Online Chess Kingdoms is that some omnipotent deity once created the world from forces like chaos, magic, spirit, order, and law. But after a while, these forces started to squabble, so the deity sends them all packing to their own respective realms. Much later, these forces each become advanced enough to reach their neighbors' borders, so they decide to battle, and many games of chess ensue. This all manifests itself in the game in the form of multiple fully 3D chess sets, featuring various alien-looking fantasy and sci-fi characters that vaguely resemble the chess pieces they represent. There's also some repetitive, epic-sounding music that blares during gameplay, which is evocative of big fantasy battles but seems sort of silly as accompaniment for chess. When playing a quick game, you do have the option to play using traditional-looking chess sets, but you'll likely be seeing more of these original armies since they figure prominently both in the campaign mode and when playing online.
The campaign features a strategic layer in which you and your opponents take turns moving your armies around a gridlike map similar to a chessboard. When two opposing armies meet, a game of chess ensues, and the winning army remains. Since a typical chess match can take a good 20 or 30 minutes, the campaign can feel very drawn out, especially since Online Chess Kingdoms doesn't play a particularly fast game of chess. However, that's where the battle mode comes in.
Before you start a campaign game or a quick match, you get to choose between classic chess and the battle mode. Classic chess is faithful to the traditional rules, as you'd expect. Battle mode, meanwhile, takes classic chess and makes it real time. If you played chess as a little kid, perhaps you had an experience where you decided to ignore the whole turn-based nature of the game and just move all your pieces as quickly as possible to stomp your surprised and irritated opponent. That's basically what this battle mode is. You have to quickly move a cursor around the playing field to make your units advance and crush the opposition as quickly as possible. Each chess piece has a different point value in this mode, and the first player to reach the point limit is the winner. Such a match takes just a couple of minutes. But while it's faster than classic chess, maybe it's no surprise that it isn't better. It seems too easy to let the opponent come to you, so that you can pick off his individual units while all of your forces are still gathered together. At best, battle mode is a decent distraction from the real game.
As for the online mode, it's got a strange but fairly interesting structure that's tied into the premise of the campaign game. When you join a lobby you side with one of the different factions, and your goal is to wipe out the other factions, one territory at a time. To get into a match against another player, you may select a territory along your faction's border to attack, and then another player on the opposing side may choose to receive your defense. Then you play chess. Alternatively, you can opt to defend your own territories against would-be attacks. Winning matches earns you prestige, which is basically an indication of how experienced you are.