Review by Basil_No_Brush

"Basil_No_Brush"

Like many of you out there who are fans of JRPG games, I was looking forward to this game for weeks before it's release. It has all the hallmarks of a typically great Square Enix release, and their first on Xbox 360. However unlike some (as other reviews have suggested) I have found the game to be just as good as I had hoped. As with any Square Enix RPG the size of this game is XL. It's just massive. As I played through the first time I couldn't help but liken it to playing Final Fantasy XI Online (but without the annoyance of never having enough gil and difficulty in finding a good party).

The graphics are good. Cut scenes are well done and intergrate smoothly into the game and the animation at times is quite superb. Slight glitch with some of the lip-syncing but this is primarily a Japanese made game so no real surprises there. One other slight problem is animation slowdown when there is a lot going on on-screen. This is probably unavoidable, and doesn't interfere with the gameplay too much, but does take the gloss off what is otherwise a superb looking game.

The controls are simple but responsive and difficult to master (when playing on the harder difficulty levels you really do need to be able use parry). Although some have said the combat is entirely one dimensional, I believe the secret is it's simplicity. Good party management can often be the difference between winning and cursing yourself that you didn't go back to that last save point.

As with any game of this nature there is a big onus on levelling. Exp farming is just something you have to do in order to get the best out of this game and whereas some players may find this a waste of time (non JRPG fans in my book), I find it helps to level the playing field somewhat. If you ever get to a point in the game where a boss battle is just too tough (as it will on harder difficulties) you can simply level up your character and skills (the latter but takes some time and a lot of MP consumption but is very much worth it) and have another go. Thus rewarding you with the satisfaction of pummeling a previously impossible opponent with mischievous glee. Classic JRPG.
Another fine addition I think is the crafting section. You can craft aa enormous range of items from weapons and equipment, potions and food, materials and even magic enhancing spellbooks. Again this skill needs to be levelled up in order to make some of the rarer items in the game (again a la FFXI). Although a lot of material farming is necessary in the earlier and later stages of the game to get those items you crave, it is well worth the time and effort. Especially later in the game when the very best items are available. Levelling up is relatively simple but can cost a great deal of fol (money) and a few painful failures from time to time (always best to craft in a town with a save point close at hand to avoid too much disappointment). One easy way to avoid all that farming is simply to obtain the FREE DLC. This allows you to purchase just about all the materials from any shop in the game (handy if your chasing after the various crafting achievements in the game).

As with any RPG the key to a great game are the story and characters. Again here the game doesn't disappoint. Yes it does have a lot of the various cliche character types. The reluctant hero, the love interests and so on and so forth. I say if ain't broke don't fix it. The story is refreshing and original and the script is well put together and witty at times. The cut scenes are put together in a way that doesn't allow the story to slow down at all, at least on your first playthrough. This game's trump card though are it's characters. The characters, however cliched they might be, possess true depth when it comes to the gameplay. Each character (and there's an awful lot of them) adds a certain degree of influence in the way you approach the game. Depending on the characters traits, some of which develop as the game progresses, they will all react differently to party members and monsters. For instance; the twins in the game work best when they are in a party together, Aya can't deal with bugs, Michelle hates flying creatures and so on and so forth. Some even have a particular palate which means the effects will vary when eating a certain type of food. This makes party selection key to success in this game and is a great tactical addition. You also have the usual elemental attributes you find in games of this genre. These are usually defined by the type of Glyph (magic symbol) each character possesses. For example Aya can do fire elemental damage, Rico is lightning and Michelle is Aether. Taking all these traits and elements into account, coupled with the sheer number of characters at your disposal later on in the game, can make party selection a real headache at times. This amount of depth, although welcomed by players such as myself may have proved a little much for some players who simply want to pick up and play the game. Thankfully though this isn't really a problem when playing on either Easy or even Normal difficulty settings. It's only when you are playing on Hard or Infinite that you should need to worry about taking these things into account. It's really geared for the hardcore player who wants a challenge and to get the most out of this game. Personally I think they've got the balance just right!

As well as the main story, there are also an almost infinite number of side quests (further DLC will add to an already impressive number). These can range from simple errands to entire dungeons. It's here where I reserve judgement slightly on the game. This isn't because I don't think there is enough content. It's simply that I haven't discovered enough of it yet to make a fair account! There is a lot here. An awful lot. Add to that the promise of even more content on DLC and we have what could be a true epic on our hands.

It's all been very positive so far, but I did give this game a 9 and not a 10. So it ain't perfect.
Here's why:

- As mentioned in other reviews, if you don't have a large HDTV (at least 32" Widescreen) you will struggle to read much of what is on screen. This is a problem that we experienced also in Mistwalker's recent Xbox releases, Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey. Maybe the japs all have big tellies but unfortunately I, and I'm sure a lot of you, don't.

NB- THIS NEXT ONE ISN'T REALLY A COMPLAINT ABOUT THE GAME BUT MODERN RPG's IN GENERAL. JUST AN OPINION

- Call me masochistic but I would have liked to see a slightly longer story. 30-40 hours of gameplay isn't quite long enough for me (I actually completed my first playthrough in 4-5 days). Although the game makes up for this with extras to a certain degree, I don't really think any RPG I've played on the next gen consoles have the sheer scope of some of the previous incarnations on Playstation/Playstation2. People often harp back to Final Fantasy VII, stating it's the best RPG of all time. And do you know what, I'm inclined to agree. The sheer volume of gaming enclosed within that one title would put any modern RPG to shame. But FFVII was a Playstation 1 game. Two generations on and we have yet to see anything like it since (although rumours of a remake are most welcome indeed). This game, like many others around now, looks amazing but at the cost of something more important maybe. I just think developers could do a bit better with what's at there disposal. Guess we'll just have to wait for Final Fantasy XIII (and Versus) to find out if Square Enix can finally buck the trend.

PS- Hope I didn't contradict myself to much with the ranting. This game really is huge by modern standards!

To summarize then:

+ Good graphics, vibrant and colourful
+ Intuitive and varied party AI
+ Lots of side quests add to a 30-40 hour story
+ Crafting part of game is so large it's almost a mini-game in itself
+ 4 difficulty levels and huge tactical scope add huge variety to gameplay
+ Forthcoming DLC should add even more dungeons and side quests

- Not for everyone. You have to be prepared to put in the time and effort to get the most out of this game
- Once again a JRPG with ludicrously small font sizes. These games should come with a warning, 'May lead to repeated visits to the opticians and mild headaches'


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 09/30/08

Game Release: Infinite Undiscovery (EU, 09/05/08)


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