Review by Phantasium
108+ Stars of the Galaxy.
Infinite Space is a curious gem brought to us by the increasingly JRPG-friendly Sega. And gem is right; somewhere within the last generation of consoles and portables, the JRPG has started to flounder within its own tropes and has been content to live in mediocrity. There is nothing wholly new in Infinite Space, but its presentation and gameplay is amazing.
You start the game as Yuri, a fellow who has been trying to get off his home planet Ropesk so that he can discover what's so special about the "Epitaph" heirloom that his father left him. Unfortunately, the answers are not on his planet, and the leaders have forbidden space travel supposedly so that those who inhabit Ropesk can help it to flourish. Not caring about this, Yuri hires a "launcher," one who can help him get off the planet illegally, and not shortly after the universe is partly yours to explore.
The game opens with a tutorial from a character who you'll learn the identity of later on, but the game is nice enough to let you skip it. But first timers would be wise to pay full attention to all tutorials. If there's one complaint about Infinite Space, it's that the game doesn't hold your hand. Aside from brief tutorials for the game's initially bizarre battle system, and an exhaustive help system that will sound like nonsense when you first look at it, the game never stops to make sure that you're up to speed. But that's okay. It makes replays of the game more engaging.
The battle system starts off sounding relatively simple, and for a part it is, but once it "clicks" you'll take on a new look of admiration of how the simple elements add up to make it compelling. You start off with only three commands: barrage, normal, and dodge. Their relationship will remind you somewhat of Rock-Paper-Scissors. A barrage attack will deliver three times the number of attacks as a normal attack, and takes up a whole command gauge, but misses completely if used against an enemy that is dodging. Normal will shoot just a regular volley, and does more damage if the enemy is dodging. And dodging does pretty much what you'd think by this point. Each one of these takes up a different amount of your command gauge, and the enemy's is visible at most times. Eventually things like melee attacks (wherein you board an enemy ship) open up, and increase the game's complexity. After a while, you'll be able to figure out what the enemy is doing, but each random battle could just as easily be your last. Not to fret though, since Infinite Space is one of the few DS games to offer you an auto-save and five save slots. And more than likely you'll be using them.
Your crew's large number of positions can be filled with an even larger number of crew members. The game has multiple outcomes more multiple scenarios, and you can recruit them by carefully studying all of your options. It's probably a good idea to save at significant story points to take advantage of the very real possibility of permanently losing possible crew-mates.
You can also customize your fleet from top to bottom, from the ships you use, to the weapons and rooms - called in the game "modules" - that are onboard those ships. The module placement entails a Tetris-like minigame, where you try to find the best combination to fit the best number of modules that you can. Ship and weapon purchasing happen more similarly to a regular JRPG, though you need blueprints to buy them. But of course, with the blueprint, you can buy the modules or ships wherever they're sold.
The gameplay is something of a beauty. Your options are varied, and the customization of your ship and fleet is impressive. It won't seem like that much in the beginning, but it doesn't take long before you start being introduced to better and greater tactics, as well as an enemy AI that likes to play mind games with you. The battle system rarely gets old, even with how simple it becomes later on.
This game's story rarely mires itself in bad tropes of the JRPG genre, and the times it does the scenes are handled with a particular flair that makes you forget all about their unoriginality. The only thing that comes across as odd is the fact that the characters in the game consistently swear with the non-curse word "Grus," which is awkward but doesn't really break the dialog in any significant way.
The music in Infinite Space always accompanies the ongoing narrative nicely. The sound effects in the game sometimes come off as somewhat crude, especially explosion noises that accompany ship destruction, but voices of your crew in battles come across as a nice addition to help enhance the experience.
Most characters are only represented by 2D portraits, and scenes consist almost entirely of pictures, though everything else is usually represented with 3D models. None of which are particularly great, but its still impressive considering the sheer variety of ship models you'll come across. Unfortunately, most planets are usually derivatives of each other, but this is an incredibly minor complaint.
If there was anything else to compare Infinite Space to, it would be like a Suikoden game where all the battles are played out with duels. If you have no idea what that means, don't fret. It means that this game is ridiculously good. Any DS owner would be doing themselves a great favor in buying the game, assuming they don't hate all RPGs with every fiber of their being. And even then, I'd say you'd be missing out.
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: Infinite Space (US, 03/16/10)
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