Review by MarioSoldier
Innovative, but hindered by several flaws.
"The people of my world were forbidden from traveling the gulfs of space...but I never stopped looking up and dreaming of the stars."
Infinite Space is a RPG that takes place in the endless sea of stars (space). The game got onto our fair shores in the west in March 2010 and has received lukewarm reception. The game is said to take themes from the novel Childhood's End by Arthur Clarke.
Despite the lukewarm reception from a majority of reviewers in multiple forms of media, this reviewer has many good things to say about the tactical RPG. For those yearning for space age RPG done well, this game is for you.
The graphics are simply amazing. The artwork is done in a way where it is not visually gratifying like mainstream anime (sexual appeal) but fits completely into the overall theme and setting of Infinite Space. Men, women and children (aside from obvious loli-bait) are drawn as grungy and less-than-appealing as they are all rugged spacefarers. Despite this fact, the characters are all drawn to reflect their personalities and modus operandi. The backgrounds and other artwork are crisp, clean and visually appealing for the spacefarers in all of us.
The 3-D models are also well-done, each ship has a unique shape and size -- from the ships you yourself can construct to the ships owned and operated by NPCs. Generally speaking, the NDS' graphics are analogous to the Nintendo 64, but the 3-D renders are beautiful even for these standards.
The story is divided into two major parts: the protagonist (Yuri's) life as a teenager and his life as a grown man in his late 20s. The story is engrossing and though it starts off slow (you probably have to get to Chapter 3 before it starts picking up), once it begins you continue to get deeper and deeper into a plot that encompasses the entire universe. Despite the overarching story that generally involves Yuri's exploits along with other main characters, the minor crew members enjoy semblances of story despite there being over 100 of them. The story branches at multiple times so you would have to play the game several times in order to enjoy different crew members and their stories.
Unfortunately, the game pulls a Star Ocean 3 as the story comes to a climax, which culminates perhaps one-sixth of the 2nd half of the game. Though I normally do not hate the plot, the game makes the same mistake as SO3 where this important plot point seems tacked on instead of developing it into a third act. Despite this, the game has an amazing story up til that point and you become engrossed into the characters' lives.
In my opinion, the gameplay is innovative and new in the realm of RPGs that tend to either be turn-based (some with ATB) and real-time battles (a-la Star Ocean and Tales of...). The gameplay for battling is divided into two different battle systems.
The first battle system is where most of the action occurs, where your fleet engages an enemy fleet in battle. The formation of your fleet actually affects the outcome of your battle, and your flagship is key as if it dies you automatically get a game over. This is where the main complaints about the game stem from, as it is said to have a steep learning curve -- but once you learn when to use barrage, normal and dodge then you pretty much will be fine for random encounters. You also are able to move forward and backward on the battlefield to get the enemy in range of your weapons or to escape the range of the enemy's weapons. Boss battles are a different story, and while the game gives you hints to dispatch them they all have different quirks and strategies to prevail, otherwise expect failure.
Speaking of fleets, you have the ability to modify your ships in three ways: the modules, the weapons and fighters in the hangars -- all of which you purchase or obtain as the game progresses. Modules are essentially rooms and facilities that improve different attributes of your ship and fleet -- hours and hours of gameplay can be attributed to optimizing what modules you place and choose in every ship since they act much like puzzle pieces (minus the ability to rotate them). Weapons are fairly straightforward, as they all have accuracy and damage stats along with other special attributes (single target, multiple target, "special"...). Fighters are gained in the middle of the first half of the game and act as another way to attack your enemy and counter the opponent's fighters. Fighters also have the ability to disallow you or your opponent to move within the battle, making them a tactical priority once you attain them -- however, they require the Hangar module on ships that have "catapults" so not every ship can use them.
You are also able to assign recruited crewmembers to different posts that, via stats and innate skills, affect not only your fleet-to-fleet battles but also the second type of battle. The second battle system occurs on the ground, either on a planet or when you board a ship with the "melee" command during fleet battles. This is a simpler system, as you are presented with an amount of troops (the crew members that are currently on your ship(s)) against an enemy group of troops and it generally works in a rock-paper-scissors fashion. Though generally speaking a good crew member and more troops spells victory for you.
While not in combat, the game plays out much like a visual novel where you, the player, are given choices that either help or hinder you. There are many instances where you can get a game over for choosing the wrong choice, where Yuri (and maybe his friends) meet grisly deaths in a multitude of ways.
The only complaints about the gameplay is that there is a lack of a "quest log" so if you're lost you generally will fly around for hours to figure out what to do next, though it's quite reminiscent of much older RPGs. Also the battle system (especially if you're grinding random enemies) can be tedious to do after a while. Speaking of grinding, there is a heavy amount of grinding in this game in order to do well in battles in general. Otherwise, the gameplay is great.
Music and Voice Acting
Much like Skies of Arcadia, most of the voice acting occurs within the fleet-to-fleet battles. The opening for the game also has voice acting, presumably from the official anime trailer. However, from the limited voice acting presented into the game it was a decent job though there are a bunch of lines delivered lazily.
However, where the game really shines is the music. They are atmospheric and fit well into the entire theme of Infinite Space. Battle themes, such as "Warspace", "Great Warfare" and "Hand-to-Hand Combat" have an epic feel to them, as each battle is one step to some sort of galactic domination. Themes that go along with events, such as "Emperor Garland" and "The Universe in Despair" are amazingly well-done and add ambiance to what occurs in the story. They even go the route of more mainstream RPGs and have a song with vocals, "Infinity Route", and the singer's low tone and chilling vocals essentially describe Infinite Space.
Infinite Space is not really for casual RPG gamers, as the steep learning curve may turn off these types of players -- but if you're a perfectionist and quick learner, you will enjoy Infinite Space. From this reviewer's point of view, this game is a must buy for any avid fan of jRPGs.
Rating: 4.0 - Great
Product Release: Infinite Space (US, 03/16/10)
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