The word of a world created and ruled over by an ancient language, Kartia is the source of all life. In this strategy RPG, two heroes living different lives (yet coincidentally meeting up again and again) are drawn into the struggle surrounding the Original Kartia, each searching to fulfill their own destiny.

Kartia creates the world of Rebus

   In the game world, Kartia is an ancient language that, when printed on cards, can be used by humans for anything imaginable: from creating weapons and armor, food and drink, evil monsters... to building entire cities. The world of Rebus is based entirely upon Kartia, and many people fear that if Kartia is abused, the world will eventually be destroyed. (Perhaps a little like Earth's abuse of natual power sources?) Most Kartia is printed on mithril or silk, cheap materials that can only be used to create simple things. However, if World Tree paper is used, the Kartia becomes inherently more powerful. The danger in this is that the supply of World Tree is limited, and the power should not be wielded by common people, but only by those trained specifically for the task. Legend reveals that God created the Original Kartia, and all others came after it. Original Kartia, such as "life," "death," and "human," are rare treasures that can have devastating results. If any human is to use an original, they will die immediately afterwards.

Lacryma struggles to live up to her father's memory

   The story of Kartia is told in two halves, with two heroes: Lacryma, a shrine warrior, and Toxa, a wandering knight. Although the plot is understandable within each half of the story, the pieces only truly come together after both halves have been completed. The remainder of the characters switch parties during the course of the game, forcing the two heroes to meet up, and also adding a note of familiarity when finishing one quest and beginning the other.

   Lacryma's half of the story centers on Vigilance, a volunteer organization dedicated to protecting the common people from phantoms, monsters created for fighting purposes. Lacryma is the daughter of the hero Kainas, and a very religious girl, who regards the laws of God so highly that she has dedicated her life to upholding them. "I would rather accept the bad deeds than see the bad judge the bad" is her motto throughout the game, but her quest will lead her into a circle of lies and betrayal far deeper than she could have imagined. Toxa's half of the quest places him in the position of protecting Mona, an elf with a special mission, and of trying to unravel the mystery behind why she was kidnapped. The elves are the only creatures who can care properly for the World Trees of the land, though Toxa appears to want to protect Mona for reasons beyond that.

Troy tosses off another stinging remark

   Not to be outdone by the heroes, the other characters of the story display as much depth and personality as Lacryma and Toxa: Troy, Lacryma's childhood friend, adds humor to the story with his constantly obnoxious and insensitive comments, but at the same time, it is obvious that he cares for his friends more than he lets on. Alana is Lacryma's best friend, but jealous of how perfect she is. Posha is the youngest member of Vigilance, timidly admiring Lacryma and desperately wanting to be like her. Ele, the daughter of the count Toxa works for, is a spoiled brat who wants the freedom to live her life, and Kun is a well meaning but misunderstood young man who desires to be a knight. The character designs are remiscent of FF VI's artwork, as Yoshitaka Amano's hand is behind the colorful creations -- Lacryma's character art, in particular, seems similar to Terra's.

   The pasts of and interactions between the characters gives Kartia its life, and keeps the story flowing, often being more intriguing than the actual plot of the game. (The plot itself centers on a group who wishes to use Kartia to create Eden, the land of God, in hopes that they will find happiness and power there.) The characters' portraits appear with varying expressions beside the dialogue during the story sequences, adding more emotion to the lines being spoken. The music is also wonderfully orchestrated and truly adds both to the story scenes and the battle sequences.

Battling in the Arena

   The battle system of the game also centers directly on Kartia, and the game cannot be played without having an understanding of how it works. Text pieces are discovered throughout the course of the game, and can be used and combined to create more powerful weapons and armor, and to customize them to the player's appeal. Kartia is also the source of all magic, and various text can be combined to create new magic not initially found in the dictionary of spells. The trick to Kartia is experimentation, for playing and rearranging the text in various combinations will often produce many different effects. Battles are fought in standard strategy fashion, with the screen divided into tiles, and each character moving individually to attack. Kartia is used to create phantoms, monsters that will fight alongside the human characters. Only humans can create phantoms and equipment and wield magic, and if a human is killed in battle, the game is over. Using the phantoms to protect the humans, but still allowing the humans to fight in order to gain levels, is the basic strategy of the game.

Phantoms line up for battle

   In addition, the phantoms work on a rock-paper-scissors method, with three types (Doll, Common and Shadow). Each is stronger than one other, and weaker than another. Having the wrong type phantom attack an enemy might mean suicide, while using one with an advantage will often kill an enemy in one blow. New and stronger Phantoms can be created over the course of the game; some travel longer distances or move through water, while others can utilize higher levels of weapons and armor, or attack from a distance. Weapons must also be used carefully -- while a sword is good for same-level attacking, the terrain varies in height. Axes should be used while attacking from above, and spears when attacking from below. Kartia also offers a two player mode where gamers can battle each other using their phantoms and equipment from the game.

   Although Kartia doesn't offer the complicated job system that Final Fantasy Tactics does, the strategies it requires break the monotony that the battles sometimes have. The idea of Kartia as a creation tool is unique, and the story surrounding it is full of twists. As the plot progress, it strays from the traditional "defeat the villain, save the world" premise into something more complicated. But perhaps the most endearing and overlooked part of this game is how fascinating and complex the various characters in the game are (moreso than in many recent RPGs), and it is these people that add the real color to the world of Rebus.

Retrospective by Tamzen Marie Baker, GIA.
Kartia: The Word of Fate
Developer Atlus
Publisher Atlus
Genre Strategy RPG
Medium CD (1)
Platform Sony PlayStation
Release Date 08.18.98
FAQ / Game Shark Codes
76 screen shots / Opening movie
Character designs
Box art / Japanese packaging