Tri-Ace, creators of the well known Star Ocean franchise, leave the stars behind and bring it back to earth for a refreshing take on the steampunk genre. Without delving too much into the story, in fear of spoilers and such, mankind raped the earth to hell and now live in a giant spire-city connected by a series of elevators. You play the role of three mercenaries trying to make a better life for themselves, and of course, get mixed up in some kind of god fearing church conspiracy, where the people have been following a robot that looks like something out of 2001. That’s in the opening movie folks, I have ruined nothing for you.
My original interest in this game stemmed from the fact that the combat is based around the use of firearms. Actual firearms. No gun blades or laser blasters – Colt .45s and MP5s, oh my! Speaking of the combat system, it’s tough to explain in text, but it’s where the game truly shines. A random battle doesn’t feel like a chore, like they start to become in my playthroughs of a Star Ocean or Tales of (whatever) game.
Played out in real time, you move each of your three characters around the battle map while a blue activity bar drains -leaving you to balance movement and time spent aiming to your tactical discretion. While most battles can be brute forced, there are a few map and monster combinations that require a little more finesse and use of cover. When firing your gun, you wait for the aiming reticule to fill – and this become the balancing act – as many times as you can before you either get interrupted or your blue bar runs out. Filling the bar multiple times adds multipliers to effects like your damage or knockdown rate or stun chance. You can also enter bullet time to run around, flying through the air shooting bullets willy nilly, and set up more complicated triple attacks once you store up enough Resonance Points.
The other balancing act is what is known as scratch damage. All of the machine guns and most effects, like poisons or flames, do a non permanent damage that the enemies recover from over time. Which sounds bad until you realize that these scratch attacks are the most powerful, while handguns and explosives are not as powerful, they convert all the scratch damage that couldn’t be recovered into a much more deadly permanent damage. Add all the above together, and you have some pretty exciting boss battles that have you blowing off massive chunks of armor, conveniently placed red barrels and dismantling giant cannons before they can be fired at you.
The game world is dividing into hexes that you must unlock by restoring power to the afflicted areas by using energy hexes. The game does drag on as you will eventually feel compelled to gather giant battle bonuses by linking a ridiculous amount of Energy Hexes of the same color. It does pay off, but it gets old.Other than that, placing hexes unlocks dungeons and the occasional bounty of loot, like ammo or a grenade. Or items to change the appearance of your three characters, which, I’ll admit, is stupid amounts of fun.
How does the story work out? The game is dividing into chapters, with a story mission that you are required to complete, and a few extra missions that you should, unless you really want to plow through the game and never unlock more firearms, complete. These missions, and the battle arena, and the perpetual need for hexes ensure that you are forever on the lookout for scrap metal to make parts for your guns, a part of the game that also shines, but is too complicated to go into here, truly. Go search Youtube for some of the more ridiculous mods.
And, in order to make this a review and not just as summary of game features:
+ The game has GUNS, actual real life firearms, starring in a JRPG
+ Combat isn’t a chore, at least I don’t think. It’s feels like it’s own game, separate from the exploration aspect.
+ The characters, for once, aren’t all that annoying, and the voice work, is in my opinion, fantastic.
– Farming energy hexes DOES feel like a chore that plays off your obsessive RPG playing tendencies.
– The same repetitive aspect plays into leveling up your characters, as the only way to do so is to use weapons they are terrible with. That makes the formerly simple battles tougher than they should be, and frustrating because your overall level keeps you alive, but your low skill drags the battle out.
All in all, it was a very enjoyable game, with a few twists and turns along the way. Where I really ended up liking the game was the very fun battle system, the characters not being that annoying, and a steampunk setting with GUNS!