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Nintendo gets original

Justin Hoeger
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

SUIKODEN TIERKREIS

Publisher: Konami

System: Nintendo DS

Price: $34.99

Age Rating: Everyone

The Nintendo DS has quietly turned into the best platform for role-playing games, from remakes of "Final Fantasy IV" and "Dragon Quest V" to original fare such as "Suikoden Tierkreis" and "Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume."

"Suikoden Tierkreis" takes place in a new world without the baggage of the previous games. Some fans of the series and its recurring characters may not like this, while others will welcome it as a breath of fresh air. Either way, they'll find the game play similar to classic "Suikoden."

The story revolves around finding the 108 Stars of Destiny, a group of people key to facing a great threat. The game begins with a band of young warriors from the same village on their first mission.

Strange things happen. The landscape changes, but after a moment, no one can remember it being different. A mysterious book grants several of the characters magic powers. Eventually they learn of the existence of other worlds and the portals that lead to them.

In battle, players can execute an automatic physical attack with all characters or give specific instructions to attack, cast spells (called Marks of the Stars), use items and so on. Certain sets of characters may join together for combination attacks that deal extra damage.

The visuals of "Tierkreis" are serviceable and the action is fast. Many lines are voiced but not very well — everyone speaks as if they've had way too much caffeine.

VALKYRIE PROFILE: COVENANT OF THE PLUME

Publisher: Square Enix

System: Nintendo DS

Price: $39.99

Age Rating: Teen

"Tierkreis" changes the setting but keeps the game play, whereas "Covenant of the Plume" does the opposite. The play style is considerably changed — instead of exploring dungeons with a party of warrior souls, the player commands a squad of characters on a series of grid-based maps, similar to "Final Fantasy Tactics" or "Disgaea." This new element is mixed with established ones; each character is attached to one of the four face buttons, and pressing the corresponding button triggers a warrior to attack.

By maneuvering fighters to surround an enemy, a player can hit it with multiple fighters in a single move. Using one attack to pop an enemy into the air leaves it helpless against a pummeling, for example. Combos like this produce extra experience. But enemies can use this tactic as well.

The hero of the game, a warrior named Wylfred, is killed early on. Instead of being taken by the valkyrie Lenneth to become a warrior of Asgard, he makes a pact with the underworld to destroy the goddess who took Wylfred's father when he was a boy. He is granted a year of renewed life to stain a feather black with sin; if he succeeds, it'll be forged into a weapon able to kill the valkyrie.

Each battle has a quota of sin to be reached or exceeded (earning extra grants greater rewards).

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