A refreshing next gen take on the RPG Genre. Murder mysteries, amazing powers and wonder abound in this fantastic game
Gameplay : Now if you've played the demo, you might not say this is an RPG, but I'd say it is. The combat is reminiscent of Kameo in that you have the ability to use many Folks (the spirits you absorb, more on that later) which are assigned to the square, circle, X and triangle buttons (By the way, there are literally 100+ folks in the game with more coming later). The main part of the game related to combat has to do with capturing folks that can defeat other folks later on. As I said, assign up to 4 folks per pallete and go around and start abusing more as you progress through the various worlds. The more you beat on a folk, the more its "soul" pops out. When it turns red, you can absorb the soul by pressing the R1 button and then yanking back on the SixAxis controller, sort of like hooking a fish. Bigger stronger folks require some more complicated motions like pulling when the soul turns red, miss and the gauge lowers, or wave it back and forth as if you are slamming it on the ground. Anyways, it's like a big game of tug of war and is an excellent use of the SixAxis controller for once.
While fighting folk, you can dodge with R2, lock on with L1 and L2 swaps folk out (you can save various sets of folk for quick access later if you like that setup). The folk, which are tremendously varied in size and shape also come in many flavors of attack types. Some are melee, some are ranged, some are... hard to describe, some are defensive, others inflict status ailments on enemies. There are elemental types, like fire, lightning, destroy and such which while an enemy may do regular type melee damage, another might do fire type, another might do destroy, etc.
Some folks are completely impervious to certain folk attacks and elements, so you have to take advantage of using the diverse array of helpers you collect. In the game you can pickup a folklore book for each area which through pictures describes what folks beat other folks (including bosses). They don't always give you the exact order in which to attack or what folk to hit a boss with first, but the pictures give you a clue to interpret (don't bother with reading, the characters are weird runes). Bosses have a very Zelda feel to them (when it was good). They are challenging, but not unreasonably so. Don't get complacent though because you start off doing well, they often change attack pattern and weakness through the fight.
Beyond that, the game has RPG elements where the more folks you either absorb (Steal their soul) you can gain experience to get more HP, increase karma (Power up folks), get items etc
Releasing Karma can be achieved through defeating other folks with the type you have, absorbing that kind of folk, defeating any folk, or using karma releasing items. The increased abilities include more damage, more folk of that one type able to be used at once, reduced magic consumption, etc. From various quests you run for people in town you can get more karma releasing items, different clothing or other such rewards.
That pretty much explains most of the gameplay. In town you run around, talk to NPCs, advance the story.
However, since there are two characters, and beyond storyline (more on that later), they play slightly different. Ellen regenerates magic. I.E. you can use attacks more frequently once low. Keats on the other hand uses all his magic until he stops attacking for 3 or so seconds, then it instantly refills. So while pretty similar and there is no major unbalancing, the two characters play somewhat different. Keats also has a transformation attack where once he absorbs enough souls, he can transform into some zombie/demon thing where he is invincible and can do MASSIVE DAMAGE to enemy weak spots.... err my bad, massive amounts of damage quite quickly. Too bad it lasts only 5 or so seconds. Ellen gets different cloaks that add to her powers.
The biggest drawback though in gameplay is that you absorb the same folk for the most part (they are somewhat different in each characters hands), you absorb them and play through the game in both characters in the exact same way, it tells the story differently, but the areas are the same through both characters, you fight the same bosses, etc. This brings down the gameplay value a bit, not enough to take away from it being amazing, but it does get somewhat repetetive, but then a lot of RPGs are.
Gameplay = 8/10
Graphics : This game is an amazing visual feast. From the first full motion cutscene, which rivals anything Square or Namco puts out, to the ingame engine to the particle effects, this game has it all.
Let me highlight some of the game's strong points (which are many).
- Excellent dynamic lighting. Walking past a lightsource will give you realistic shadows. Shadows just don't come from howhere here, but are affected by the light source. Additionally, shadows cast by overhead objects realistically translate into the game. You stand under clouds then walk into the sun, your character will illuminate properly.
- Walking through grasses and flowers disturbs them, sending little particles into the air. Same for dusty ground. Little things like this are nice.
- The folk themselves are very diverse and representative of the themes of their area. For instance, in the Faery Realm, you get little pixie elfin creatures, giant giraffes with hammers on their heads, huge bear/owl half breeds, while in the Warcadia zone, you get devilish military gnomes, mechanized war machines, airplanes with faces, etc. Their attacks are all varied and their appearances are all varied. Quite a diverse array of models.
- The particle effects are out of this world. The flying butterflies, sprites, wisps of light, enemy explosions, flame and lighting attacks, everything is very magical and ethereal. Translucent lighting effects, vibrant colors, you name it this has it. The greatest feature in this regard is the soul stealing aspect. The game has a deformation engine that is reminiscent of ghost busters, where you have the enemy trapped and you are tugging at their gossamer soul strings. It's just beautiful.
- Clothing and the main character modeling, specifically Ellen and Keats are on par with anything seen in Gears of War or Heavenly Sword (although the skin and facial expressions aren't quite up to those levels). The clothing flops and flows in the wind and with movement. The characters move seamlessly and diferently. Keats has an disinterested quality to him, while Ellen has a very protective withdrawn nature to her, clutching her arm to her side. This is even reflected in battle in how the stand and attack. Ellen is more magical, graceful and feminine, Keats is more masculine and overt.
- The levels range from a virtual acid trip of pastel colors, flowering fields, dark forests to bombed out fantastical European settings in WW2.
- Individual AI scripts run for even birds in the background. Some might be picking at a dead body, another flaps wings, another is just sitting there, others may be in flight. The point is that there is no detail unnoticed by the programmers.
The whole game is so diverse and so visually enthralling. The only exception to the amazing graphical features is that there aren't enough FMV cutscenes, a lot of the game is played out through comic book stylized static in game engine cutscenes. While they are very nice and another varied art medium, they don't quite hit home as well as the in game engine or FMVs. Nice, but still wishing for a little more.
Graphics = 9 out of 10
Sound : The sound in this game only adds to the immersion level. The voice over actors are great. One of my complaints about Heavenly Sword for instance was Asian looking people with Asian names sounding English took away from the immersive qualities. This game is set in Ireland and people have Irish, or at least English accents that fit better. I'm from the USA, so I wouldn't be able to tell if they are 100% spot on with the local dialect, but it's quite convincing. Again, Ellen is meek and timid, but determined, Keats has an always optimistic and openminded rational air to his voice, as if he is always in charge even if he knows he isn't. The folk's voices are delightful. From the traditional elfin high pitched voice to ... well what does a talking tree sound like or a two headed robot?
More impressive sound effects and musical numbers are outlined as above:
- Walking on different surfaces, I.E. Grass vs. dirt road vs. stone vs. wood and such all make different footfall noises in accompanying the different graphical effects.
- In town at night you hear crickets, owls, frogs and other creatures of the night surrounding you. This is extremely immersive especially in surround sound mode. Similarly, in the Netherworld regions you hear all sorts of background noise like the owls in the forest, fluttering of butterflies, chimes and other magical sounds from nearby magical creatures. Everything adds to the ambiance that just draws you right in. The same goes for other realms. In the Warcadia zone, giant bombs are being dropped, planes flying over, sounds of gunfire in the distance.
- Each folk also has a distinct sound when they attack you, or they are attacking under your command and what not. Same as before, graphics and sounds are very diverse.
- The musical score ranges from a haunting piano tune in the middle of the day in town. Reminds me of Silent Hill/Resident Evil or something like that with the whole mysterious vibe. The Faery Realm battle music is some demented circus music that you might hear in a Tim Burton feature film, the Warcadia music is a thumping marching hymn that sounds straight out of WW2. Again, the only lacking feature is that there is very little of the voice over dialogue, only reserved for FMV cutscenes rather than NPC conversations in game engine and comic cutscene engine. If there was more voice work, this game would have a perfect sound score.
Sound = 9 out of 10
Value : While I've been playing for 10+ hours now, and I'm only in chapter 2 for each character. I've done many quests, upgraded and captured almost all my folks and I still probably have another good 20 or so hours.
Another intriguing fact about this game is that the creators have already expressed interest in releasing additional folks, downloadable dungeons and the ability to create your own dungeons for time trials and difficulty tests to upload and let other players try. While not in full swing, this aspect should merely add to the replayability of this game. I can't wait to see what happens in the future. Since this feature isn't realized in reality yet, I can't give this a full 10 value since it's not 100% implemented.
Value = 9 out of 10
Tilt : What can I say? This game has solid gameplay taking elements from Pokemon, Kameo, Zelda and making them all work into a solid game. The graphics and sound are amazing and highly immersive. Trust me, play the game, you will be drawn into an amazing and fantastical alternate world that seems as real as ours. This game fully feels next gen in almost every way. While the repetition of the gameplay hurts the gameplay score somewhat, an interesting thing to note is that while you tread the same ground throughout the game in both characters. They story told is distinct, yet interrelated. Keats sees things Ellen doesn't and vice versa. Both are working to the same goal and with each other, but in reality the forces they deal with are on opposing sides. The two characters are so polar in mannerisms and behavior and beliefs it's like two completely different games that somehow fit together perfectly. Hell, the game explains to you even why if you play as Keats that even if what Ellen did already or vice versa didn't and yet did happen at the same time. In otherwords, the game tells you the flow of time is different in the Netherworld and it makes the whole chronology of the game make sense. Little touches like this are quite nice.
Again, besides the lack of a lot of FMV cutscenes and more use of voice overs, the game has a bit of a loading fetish, and it fulfills its desires frequently. Every scene or locale change is a 3 or 4 second loading screen, even with the paltry 35 mb install file. Still, a lot of games nowadays have loading screens, some hide it better than others. In reality it won't ruin your experience, just it sticks out.
Overall this is one of those amazing games that the PS3 is taking a chance on a new intellectual property and I believe it paid off. One of the most immersive games with high quality production values and solid gameplay you can get this generation or otherwise.
Tilt = 10 out of 10
Gameplay = 8 out of 10
Graphics = 9 out of 10
Sound = 9 out of 10
Value = 9 out of 10
Tilt = 10 out of 10
Overall = 9 out of 10
+ Incredible graphics and sound. On par with anything Square or Namco or Epic puts forth. Amazingly immersive.
+ Epic story told from two fronts with two likeable characters.
+ Diversity of characters, monsters, and realms makes this game very unique. Very next generation. Must be experienced.
- Some issues with loading can be annoying
- Dearth of voice overs and cutscenes kind of hurts, especially with supposed "Next gen media storage" AKA Blu-Ray.
- Sometimes repetetive, even if telling a different aspect of the story. Too bad the paths that the two took weren't different at least.