[Break Time! is a series of posts about video games that Rick has spent entirely too much time with over the years.]
Infinite Undiscovery is the latest JRPG for the Xbox 360 from Tri-Ace, one of my favorite developers. Tri-Ace is known for producing RPGs with innovative and entertaining battle systems. Tri-Ace games usually focus more on real-time action rather than slow, turn-based battles. So how does Infinite Undiscovery look, feel, and play?
Read on for my impressions.
Infinite Undiscovery is a beautiful game. You can really tell that this is a next-generation title. The introductory video, by the way, is one of the most impressive things that I’ve seen in a video game. Gorgeous.
In-game graphics are also done very well. You won’t be complaining about the visuals, unless …
Unless you don’t have a high-defnition television. To put it simply, this game assumes that you have an HD set, and you will not be able to read the on-screen text and other displays if you don’t. Consider yourself warned.
My only real quarrels with how this game looks are minor. The non-player characters (NPCs) in towns aren’t very distinctive, and the main characters do not change their appearance when equipping new clothes or armor. I know that most JPRGs have the same problem, but come on … it’s 2008! Impress me!
Surround sound is used effectively. Music and effects fit the game, but are largely forgettable.
The voice acting is serviceable, but the lip-syncing with the characters in cutscenes is horrible. It’s so bad it’s funny. The trouble is, you might end up laughing during some of the more serious scenes in the game. Also, you’ll find that about half of the cut-scenes in the game aren’t voiced at all. This solves the lip-sync problem, but will leave you thinking that your copy of the game is bad. Voiced scenes and unvoiced scenes look almost the same – and often follow one another.
You’ve probably heard that Infinite Undiscovery is a short game. It is. I spent more time on the first CD of Star Ocean: The Second Story than I spent on the entire two DVDs of Infinite Undiscovery – completing the main story, quite a few sidequests, and a little of the bonus dungeon.
The story itself is fairly weak. You play the role of Capell, a musician who happens to look like a great hero – Sigmund. Capell is tossed in jail, and broken out by one of Sigmund’s followers. Then Capell becomes the next Great Hero, albeit reluctantly. I won’t say any more about the plot to avoid spoilers If you’re familiar with JRPGs, you will see no surprises, and you’ll roll your eyes a lot.. Tri-Ace isn’t known for their stories, of course, but this one isn’t very good even by their standards. There’s a large cast of characters you can use as party members (as in their previous game Radiata Stories). Unfortunately, only three of the characters (Capell, Aya, and Edward) have any real depth, and they’ll be the obly ones you care anything at all about.
Tri-Ace games focus more on gameplay than on story. So how does the gameplay fare?
First, let’s look at the battle system. Battles – and the entire game save for cutscenes – happens in real time. There are no random encounters, and no real dsitinctions between dungeons and everywhere else – though you won’t typically fight in towns. battles themselves are similar to the real-time combat found in Star Ocean: Till the End of Time, although in Infinite Undiscovery you can control only one character directly. For the most part, you battle by using normal attacks, strong attacks, and combos. You can assign two special attacks at a time for dealing extra damage, as you could in Star Ocean: Till the End of Time.
You can ask other party members to heal you by pushing a button, and you can also link with party members for certain special attacks. This linking – which the game calls “connect” – shows come promise, but the control of things like Aya’s bow-shooting is so bad that you’ll be thankful you don’t need to do it very often.
Buttons are sometimes slow to respond, and there can be slowdown when lots of things are on-screen at once. This is annoying at times, but usually won’t cause you to lose a battle.
Combat itself is fast and furious, though it occasionally devolves into spamming special attacks and the heal button. It’s usually fun, and you’ll probably be finished with the game before you’re bored with the combat. Because combat is fast and furious, you’ll find it very difficult to use things like healing items. Why? Because combat continues while you scroll down through a long menu to use an item. Of course, enemies will beat on your defenseless body while you are fumbling around in the menu. The game does remember the last item you selected, but it’s still highly annoying to have enemies beating on you while you try to navigate a clunky menu. Perhaps this concept would have worked if there was a quick-menu of healing/recovery items? You’d think that an adventurer who knew he was going into combat would pack recovery items in an easy-to-reach place, right?
As Tri-Ace games go, the combat is okay but not great. The sluggish controls, menu troubles, and clunky “connect” system keep the game from greatness.
Gameplay: Item creation, sidequests, and the bonus dungeon
There are other things to do that combat. The game has an item creation system, where you can create items using raw materials either purchased or dropped by monsters. Each character can create different kinds of items, though there is some overlap between characters. One drawback of this system is that you have to “connect” with characters while in a town if you want to create items without worrying that a monster might attack you while creating. Since your party splits up while in town, and since towns are sometimes huge in this game, this leads to lots of walling around trying to find the right party member to craft each piece of that new sword you need. Another drawback is that without Xbox Live and a download code, some raw materials are very hard to get.
There are also quite a few side-quests in the game. Some of these sidequests flesh out the main characters a bit. Most of the sidequests are simple fetch quests given by NPCs in towns. Usually, these quests give very little in terms of reward, and require lots of aimless wandering around the map. To get from one town to another to complete these quests, you typically have to walk. And walk. And walk some more. And did I mention you would be walking? You won’t miss much by skipping most of these sidequests.
There’s also a bonus dungeon, called the “Seraphic Gate”, which becomes available after you beat the main game. Like other Tri-Ace bonus dungeons, it ratchets up the difficulty level and offers almost nowhere to save your game. If you’re still enjoying the combat after beating the main story, it will add a few more hours to the game. It’s a challenge, but I found myself getting bored with the game a little ways into the Seraphic Gate. There’s only so many times I could take walking through the desert.
Infinite Undiscovery is a distinctly middle-of-the-road game. It’s not awful, and it’s not great. It just … is. The game is extremely short by JRPG standards, but by being so short you’re done before the flaws of the game make you want to put it down. With some gameplay tweaks and a story transplant, Infinite Undiscovery could have been great. Get it when the price drops if you’re a JRPG fan. After all … what other RPGs are you gonna play on the 360?