If the likes of Final Fantasy XIII and White Knight Chronicles haven’t been hardcore enough for you as JRPGs, then this game from Tri-Ace would love to dominate you in a cruel way that your sick mind will love.
The cutscenes are nice to look at despite large amounts of foppishly designed miserable emo teens and them not really explaining anything well at all. The towns of the game world make a decent effort of cramming in a lot of detail too. The dungeon or linked arena levels are very sparse and repetitive though.
You can opt for the original Japanese voice over, but if you go for the English one you get treated to the mighty Nolan ‘Nathan Drake’ North of Uncharted fame. He’s using his regular ‘Drake’ voice and even has a nice selection of funny lines to cheer you up during a cutscene. And boy will you need cheering up…
The game swaps the usual blade weapons of the genre for guns. Battles are turn based with a dash of real-time movement too. Shots are fired by selecting a target and waiting for a gauge to fill up, possibly multiple times over for multiple shots, all while making sure another gauge doesn’t deplete meaning the end of your turn. The closer to the target you are, the quicker you can fire.
Enemies have two types of health bars. The first one is the Scratch meter which is like a shield. Damaged caused by machines guns ‘scratches’ the health bar turning parts of it blue. Then characters with handguns or thrown weapons attack to convert the scratch damage into permanent damage, removing a chunk of the health bar. Hand gun shots at a target that hasn’t got scratch damage will barely damage it at all.
Out of your three participating characters, one has a machine gun and the other two handguns. So you follow a pattern of scratching targets then following up with hand gun attacks. So that’s basic damage covered. Now things get really complicated.
You can also perform Hero Actions where you set a waypoint in the arena to run to while pulling off a larger number of shots. You can also do a huge jump to automatically get a better shot at weaker spots on armoured foes. You can knock enemies into the air and go for bonus shots too.
If you go for one of these actions and run directly between the other two characters you’ll earn a Resonance Point. Then for the next turn you can do the same again for another or you can cash it in and go for a Tri-attack where everyone will run around in a triangle -indicated by everyone’s position- pulling off multiple shots. So the more spaced out you are the better. Getting this right can be devastating for your opponents; unfortunately there are loads of weaknesses to the battle system.
Hero Actions and Tri-attacks need Hero Chips. Perform a particularly decent combo and you’ll get it back. However, you won’t every time, especially if you brush up against an enemy or hit a wall because you can’t see where you’re going. Worst of all, your Hero Chips gauge is ridiculously linked to your health. Each chip acts like a Scratch meter of your own. So you have to use the Chips to fight but if one attack goes wrong you could be one enemy combo away from disaster as you start the game with only two or three Chips. Once enemies start eating away at your actual health, your chips shatter, meaning you have to scramble to pick them all up in a weakened state before the enemy does and becomes even more powerful.
It wouldn’t be so bad if the combat elements are introduced steadily, but you’re given them all from the off. The tutorial sessions go through everything but are poorly explained and set you up for a fall by giving you a dozen Chips to play around with. Then comes the kick in the balls when you only have a couple to play with in the real world.
Admittedly the Hero Actions do look cool with everyone leaping around, flamboyantly blasting the hell out of everything in enthusiastically acrobatic fashion. Looks great, but is a nightmare when you want to change targets while the camera is upside-down and spinning.
Characters level up their hand gun, machine gun and thrown skill sets rather than themselves. Damages translates as EXP, so it’s pretty simple to grasp. Along your travels you’ll be picking up parts to pimp out you weapons. Such as new sights, bigger magazines, barrels and so on. These will improve your gauge speeds, damage, shots fired per round and the like.
Parts are hard to come by and new weapons are even rarer. If this part of the game had been expanded more, it might have added a little more incentive to play.
Grinding it out
With no introduction to speak of you find yourself doing odd jobs around town and the odd story mission. You’ll pretty much have to do every job for the cash and extras and get involved in extra scraps just to try and level up.
The world map is blocked by hexagonal tiles which you need to unlock by finding pieces to match. It’s ugly to look at, with you travelling around it by dragging a cursor until a random battle kicks in.
You’re going to have to do this or get into the linked arena areas and do a lot of fighting though. Ten hours in you’ll be lucky to be past chapter three. If one party member dies in battle it’s game over. You can retry a fight for a fee, which goes up with each chapter and it really starts to add up. So you’ll be trogging off back to the safe house all too often seeing as pressing one wrong button during a fights can f**k everything up.
Fifteen hours in, I was waiting for a magical moment for everything to suddenly click into place. Even beyond, it just doesn’t happen. This is a game that’ll kick the shit out of you from start to finish for little reward.
- Innovative if painfully hard combat
- Nolan North on fine voice acting form
- It’ll last more than a weekend
- Miserably difficult
- Where’s the story? Why am I here? Who’s that?
- A lot of grinding required for little rewards other than EXP
The Short Version: The combat system could have worked if they’d have removed the Scratch bar or more importantly severed the link between the Hero Actions and your health. It’s just so miserably hard, even seasoned RPG players will be shocked at the game’s attitude. If you’ve finished all the other console RPGs that have come out recently (out of work are we?) and you like pain and anguish, then by all means step up.