So, I recently finished playing Square’s Infinite Undiscovery for Xbox 360.
When I was travellng in Asia, I ended up in Akihabara (a.k.a. Akiba) Japan at some point. Video game mecha of the world. I mean, er, mecca. When I’d left North America the year previous to that, I had just burnt my PS2 to a crisp due to overuse. I was at that time console-less– I had told myself that during my stint in Korea, I would go cold turkey as far as console gaming went, because videogaming held sway over arguably too large a slice of my life back in North America.
While I was out there though, that didn’t stop me from browsing– I mean, it was Japan! This is where the games come from. Akihabara was practically the Mother Ship.
I take my gaming seriously, but no genre takes my attention pound-for-pound as much as Japanese RPGs. (I wont be talking about any of the Western RPGs I’ve played for this one.) Naturally, Squaresoft and it’s progeny are one of the companies I keep an eye on, and like most gamers of my generation, I’ve been playing their games across platforms since I was a kid. I’ve gone from NES to SNES, to PSX, PS2, and now Xbox 360.
RPG Gaming has changed over the years. It’s evolved from it’s 8-bit roots to a level of processing such that we don’t even talk about bits anymore. Our 2d sprite characters have evolved into three dimensional polygonal graphics, and then to fully pre-rendered ‘skinned’ characters with dynamic lighting and environment sensitive physics. Onscreen drama, previously depicted by a sprite spinning in place (which could be death, joy, or confusion, depending on how you intepreted the accompanying text) 5was replaced with prerendered fullmotion video clips. Later, fullmotion clips were combined with prerendered graphics as a background, and now console processing power is such that we’re afforded a quality of sprites that we can hardly call them ‘sprites,’ since they seem definitively as ‘characters;’ we are granted for fullmotion videos using in-game graphics processed in real time.
8-bit MIDI based sound gave way to 16-bit, to Surround Sound, to 5.1 Digital Dolby…
And that’s just how a game looks and sounds.
Regardless of the technological advances though, a good RPG has always been about two things: The role playing, which is to say, the story, and the game, which is to say, the gameplay mechanics by which this story is delivered.
While I was in Akihabara, there were two flagship titles floating about from Square: Last Remnant, which I started playing but didn’t finish, and Infinite Discovery.
We’re here to discuss the latter today.
If an RPG is a combination of storytelling and gaming, Infinite Discovery more or less fails on both accounts.
If you intend on playing this game to proove me wrong somehow, then read no further, for there will be spoilers!
First of all, the story:
The story in itself isn’t too bad, which is actually why I was led on until I actually finished the game. However, the delivery and execution of the story was terrible.
First of all, the voice actors had no chemistry, and that’s in large part because their lines were terrible. Balbagaan just sounded like an idiot, because his role as the tank of the group was stereotypically overdone to the point where he just sounded like a 24/7 meatshop. Ruccha and Ricco annoyed me because they’re the most chirpy twins on the planet, and they’re unfortunately two of the characters who are in your party the longest throughout the game.
Props to the the voice actors for the male lead, Cappel, and the female lead, Aya. Cappel’s actually does a fair job of making you feel the personality of his classically reluctant hero character, and I especially liked the little differences that his VA made in his tone after the deaths of Faina and Leif– after their passing despite his promise to protect them, his in game techniques (which like in any true Japanese game, the character shouts out whenever he uses them) are actually are voiced with a noticible degree of anger and agression, compared to his normal voice. I thought that that little step into a darker character was well well done and it was a bit of attention to detail that I really appreciated.
The dialogues between Cappel and Aya get better as you get closer to the end of the game– their lines get better, and you can actually even hear the trembles in Aya’s voice when she cries.
BUT, two voice actors can’t plug all the holes in a sinking ship.
The main problem is that the story seems to be twisted in such a way as to make the game longer by making you do stupid things.
The ending stretch of the story is a perfect example. First, you enter a tower where you fight pretty much every boss you’ve ever defeated in the game. You do this, one level of the tower at a time. You do this for what feel like 30 stages. Then you fight the boss Leonis, who killed your father at the end of Disc 1. You fight him and fight him and you beat him, and your character says “This is the end!”
But wouldn’t you know it, that just jinxes it, and the boss escapes to the moon, where you have to go to. AND FIGHT HIM AGAIN. So the problems with the story are thus tied very closely with the problems of gameplay. Gameplay wise, it’s bad game design to basically recyle boss fights. Storywise, it just makes no sense.
But that’s not enough, because after you fight Leonis, you meet his god, whose name I can’t remember, who is scarcely mentioned throughout the rest of the game except in casual reference. So, you have no idea who the fuck this guy is when he shows up with halos and lens flares, all you know is that he wants to kill the fuck out of you, and that after spending a fair amount of time on Leonis without a save point in between he does exactly that the first few times.
This godly final boss has roughly three stages of attack– one where he makes you fight level 255 clones of everyone on your team if you give him the chance (and there are like… more than a dozen playable party membersyou can get, so it gets helluva tedious); one where he basically summons lightning bolts, vaccums, and rain of death (quite literally) to spam the entire stage; and if you can survive that, then he’ll fight you one on one. Storywise, the problem is that when you kill him, you don’t care, because who the fuck was he anyway? I don’t care about a character that was introduced only in through a 5 minute FMV of monologuing. You have to work him in slowly over the course of the game narrative! That, Squaresoft, is called CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT, and for the most part, that’s probably the bigggest and most recurrent problem with Inifinite Undiscovery– over the course of the 25 or so game hours I logged in that game (although that count is misleading, which I’ll tell you about later) they introduced too many characters and spent too little time making you feel for them. If you’re still adding new ‘unique’ party members within the last 3 hours of gameplay, that’s really not going to impress me.
The whole experience feels kinda rushed. If I didn’t know better, I’d say that Infinite Undiscovery was actually an adaptation of a manga or something which was pretty famous and which someone said “make it into a game!” or something, but I haven’t done the research on that angle. The reason why I say this is because it feels like there is so much in this story that is half-assed; it’s almost as if you were expected to fill in the blanks, when at times the blanks were chapters long.
Level design followed the same problems. There were too many sections of the game where it felt like you were just walking through the same dungeon, jungle, or castle forever. And while the designs for costumes, characters and archetecture are pretty good, for this game there was wayyyy too much character and level recycling. First of all, if an NPC is going to be given a name, please give them a unique face. this game is on two DVDs– do you know how much you can fit on a DVD? Or how much space it takes to put fit a single character skin? Yet every old man uses the same character skin in every city, regardless if he’s the father of Simon, a Nightwisperer agent, or a plain Old Man.
Level design? How many fortresses do you have to fight through in this game where the area is literally a replugged section of another part of the map? It suffers from what I like to call “Halo Syndrome,” where level designers are under the mistaken impression that the gameplay is good enough that it justifies cutting corners on location uniqueness.
The final tower before you crossover to the moon is the final stage and the longest bit of level design repetition, and at this point it’s just infuriating.
The mapping system is also abominable. No in game auto-map– you have to go to a menu to see a map. Okay, so maybe that’s realistic– you can’t really run and gun AND navigate on a map in real life, so maybe this is a step in a direction for realism?
But when you’re in an elevator, the map shows you only the map of the elvator. That’s right. A 10 x 10 foot box is your map. Walk forward 5 steps, outside of the elevator, and then recheck the map, and you’ll find that it reveals the rest of the map. I mean, come on– that’s just inconvenient and annoying. To say nothing of the mapping in these towers, where your characters are constantly in stairwells– you have no functions whatsoever to check previous maps of previous levels either, and because of repetitive level design you’ll never know if you’re coming or going if you somehow got disoriented during a fight. Especially because a lot of the primary missions involve you returning to past locations.
The battle system is basically what I’d call “Secret of Mana” style. It’s a hack and slash type battle engine where you control Cappel, the protagonist, and the computer controls between 1 and 11 of your allies. They loosely obey your commands, and are notorious for not reviving you if ever you fall during battle.
Using items in this game is painful. You have to navigate the menus full of items to find what you want, and you have to do it in real-time– the game doesn’t pause while you’re browsing, so meanwhile you’re eating clubs, swords, arrows and magic. By the time you find the “Cough Drops” to
cure your healer’s silence status ailment, you’re probably dead, and your healer’s running around the stage like an idiot because he doesn’t know what to do without magic.
But nothing gets me as bad as the game saves. Oh GOD. There are stretches of game time with over an hour of battles in between saves, not including FMVs. Oftentimes, this was over an hour of miniboss or boss fights. I suppose it is true that my initial run through this game was on Hard mode (I always chose the hardest difficulty setting on any game I pop into my system, even if it’s just the first time) but still. Follow the tradition– put the boss fights after a save point. Dont’ make us fight 40 minutes of random battles just to get to a boss fight that we might die on.
You have no control on any deffensive capabilities whatsoever. You can basically use items, but like I told you, items suck because you’re going to die while you try to use them. You have no useful control over the actions of your party members either– so if your enemy is fire-vulnerable, you can’t actually tell your party members to stop using ice on them. There’s no such thing as the classical “shell” or “reflect” spells, which I guess isn’t such a big deal– this isn’t a Final Fantasy game, after all. But this game leaves you more or less deffenseless, and takes makes pretty much all strategies, with the exception of more leveling up, useless in a boss fight. You have a magic flute which you can use to play an anti-magic song, but it doesn’t actually repel or even dampen any boss magic or status effects. You can cast enchantments on your part that will upgrade their physical and magical deffenses, but only prior to a fight (the option is barred to you during a fight). You have a physical parry move, but it doesn’t work against minibosses or bosses, so it gets pretty frustrating when, for example, a troll performs a belly flop and you have no skillful means of getting away. You can’t predict the moves of the troll either, because it doesn’t telegraph. As a fighter/bard class, your character needs to be at ground zero at all times, so it’s not like you have any time to dodge.
It seems to me that certain bosses would be better handled using certain characters– for example, some are more suspect to in-fighters, whereas some are better dealt with with ranged attacks of magic.
However, there are huge gaps between opportunities to switch party members. Even larger gaps than the amount. No, you can’t ever save or change party members on the ‘world map’ or even when you do find a save point; only at select points in the story, which I guess loosely correspond to the designers’ ideas of chapters.
Okay, but is there anything good to say about it?
In totality I’d give it two thumbs down. I give it a thumb up for the looks of the game (the game looks great) and a passable score. It even gets a thumb up if I were to throw out the script and just paraphrase the story– I mean, the idea of trying to liberate the chained Moon from Earth to save us all from a bad case of the falling skies? A reluctant hero, rescued by his future love interest, avenger of the friend he later finds out to be his father, cursed to relive his youth with his memories wiped– It’s really quite the epic tapestry of cliches, but it’s entertainment in theory, and I liked the story. I just didn’t like this storyteller’s version of it, nor the part directed to me by the game. Role play: fail.
Voice acting? Level design? Battle system? Saving mechanics? Map mechanics? Story pace? Direction? Cinematography? Controls? Ergonomics? Style? Replayability? Addictivness?
How did Square so systematically alienate all the things that make an RPG good? I thought this was supposed to be their speciality?