Despite strong visuals and gameplay, 'Kingdom' lacks mainstream appeal

Don't read this review. Still there? Good. That's the sort of blind ferocity needed to pick up the controller and jump head first into "Kingdom Under Fire: Heroes." This Xbox Action/RTS (that's real-time strategy, ya'll) takes over where it's predecessor "Kingdom Under Fire: The Crusaders" left off: in the heat of battle.

The story sets off in the fantasy land of Bersia, where tensions run high between the forces of good and evil. It takes a while to become acquainted with the complex alliances of various Elf, Orc, Human and Monkey factions, and about just as long to get a grip on the controls and the troubling camera angles that make up KUFH.

It's best to ignore the backstory and get right down to the conquering. To begin, players select one of several commanders, each with motivations and side stories of his own. The strong point of KUFH is the ability to engage the selected leaders in direct combat with the enemy forces during battle. This allows for a balanced melding of two different strategy styles and is a fresh approach to the genre.

The leader selection process at the start of the game really comes in handy in tight spots, when the right set of attacks on the field can shift the favor one way or the other. There's also something heartwarming about fighting alongside the troops through the good times and the bad, in the mud and the rain, when supplies are low and when you're lonely and need a shoulder to cry on.

In terms of the game's aesthetics, there are both pros and cons. Though the graphics are fantastic, the writing and dubbing is simply ridiculous. Maybe the Korean approach to medieval fantasy doesn't translate well into English. It's best to skip through any character interaction unless dreadfully necessary. Adding to the pain is a terrible pop-punk soundtrack that tempts one to mute the sound altogether. Play some Wagner, or something.

Gameplay is rather fast; the landscape is beautifully crafted and therein lies nary a dull moment. The basic strategies and controls of the game are not at all tailored for gamers new to the genre, but they'll do all right after an hour or two-if they last that long.

"Kingdom Under Fire: Heroes" has its flaws. It probably will only appeal to that crowd of RTS fans looking to relive the old "Kessen" and "Dynasty Warrior" days, before the barrage of next-generation gaming swallowed them whole like a trout. Or gecko. Or Dark Elf.

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