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Cycle of Eternity: Space Anomaly (3DS) artwork

Cycle of Eternity: Space Anomaly (3DS) review


"In space, no one can hear you make quiet noises of frustration."


I'm a sucker for a good space game. And I like turn-based RPGs. When I discovered this game on a recent foray through the 3DS eShop, it seemed like a slam dunk purchase.

What I discovered after download was an old school JRPG that involves three friends who have recently graduated from Space Fleet. Each has his or her own ship; each ship has different abilities in battle. One has a strong attack on a single enemy ship, one is a sort of "healer" that can boost a ship's energy (HP) or shield all three ships from taking full damage; the other has the potential to damage more than one enemy ship.

I've used the term "old school;" I do so with care. In this instance, old school means:

1. There's no tutorial in the game. You'll have to read the manual.

2. The manual isn't in any way exhaustive. You'll still have to poke at the game, play with it, experiment, to see what you can do and can't do.

3. The localization is clumsy and imperfect, in an "All your base are belong to us" kind of way.

4. It's hard. The challenges are twofold: in order to keep travelling, you'll need to carefully manage resources; in order to battle successfully over time, you'll need to wisely assign skill points.

The graphics are serviceable. They are not awe-inspiring; they don't contain anything that might resemble "fan service"; there is no 3D support. I tend to play with the sound off, but the music that I heard seemed pretty cool. There isn't any voice acting, which, given the translation, might be a blessing. The loading screens seem quite long, given the relatively simple graphics of ships against backgrounds that contain relatively simplistic representations of solar systems. None of this should turn off anyone who plays indie titles.

Gameplay involves moving from system to system. The system maps show what each location holds. There might be supplies for the taking (repair items, oxygen, fuel), a group of enemy ships to battle, or a shop. You know from the map which of these you're going to encounter in each area. There is some comfort in that, given the game's difficulty, though the game might be improved by the sense of discovery that would ensue by flying blind into a new system. Are you going to find the fuel you desperately need, or an enemy you might not be prepared for?

Battle is turn based, and always follows the same order. It doesn't appear that you can control the order of the ships in your party. That would have been a nice touch, and added some strategic elements to battle. You do have the ability to pass on a turn for any given ship, but unfortunately that doesn't seem to alter the battle sequence...you don't access your next ship's skills any more quickly, and the enemy ships attack as if you hadn't skipped that turn.

There are stats on the main screen for two resources that you have to keep track of: fuel and oxygen. You can pick up the occasional supply of either within certain systems, or buy them in a shop. But supplies are pretty strictly rationed in this game, and so is currency. Without strict management, resources are likely to be a problem. My second game came to an abrupt end when I ran out of fuel between systems, and could progress no farther. That happened because I wasn't paying sufficient attention, but also because I was backtracking to see if you can return to previous maps to grind supplies or levels (it doesn't appear that you can).

In my third attempt at the game, I ran out of oxygen. I didn't asphyxiate out there in space, and I didn't seem to slowly lose health. I traveled through several systems with no apparent effect. I don't know if that's a bug, or if, had I survived longer, some bad oxygenless end might have befallen me. But it wasn't very satisfying to know that I had spent so much money on oxygen supplies for apparently no reason. (Note: upon revisiting the manual, I see that ships without oxygen have to create their own oxygen, and thereby use twice as much fuel. It's important to read the manual, as stated, and evidently important to REREAD it as well).

There are RPG elements to these ships that you have in your party. Every battle results in a handful (or fewer) points that can be assigned to one of four categories. They affect attack, defense, total hit points, and chance to evade. It must take a good deal of experimentation to optimize these points; I haven't mastered them at all. I tended to put points into attack, which had a significant effect in the early game. Later battles, though, made it clear that defense and total hit points were going to be important for long-term survival.

I only spent perhaps three hours with this game before writing this review. I restarted three times, but did not complete a full playthrough. In that time, I didn't feel as though I had come to know the characters all that well, or care about their predicament. Even after working to understand the mechanics of the game, I ended up feeling that the system was clunky enough that it didn't motivate me forward. The autosave feature leaves you either having to restart the game upon reaching the game-over screen, or restarting the last battle, so there is no going back to a mid-game point correct a mistake.

Most video games present a puzzle that must be solved, a conflict that must be resolved, a story that seeks resolution. This game has that too. But in this case the game itself is inscrutable. The game itself is one of the puzzles that is set before the player. I don't think that's one of the intended challenges, but is rather a consequence of a game created by too few people, with perhaps too little beta testing. Modern games have largely overcome this problem, making game mechanics more transparent to the player. This game has that old school challenge of trying to figure out the mechanics of the game even as one is playing. For a while, I enjoyed that challenge. But eventually the tedium overpowered the tropism toward discovery, and it just wasn't that fun any more.

For just the right sort of niche player, this game would be a solid purchase. For most of us, I'm afraid that I have to report that it's skippable. I enjoyed my time with it, but in the end there is a large backlog of games on my shelf that will be more moment-to-moment satisfying. That said, I look forward to reading the review from someone for whom this game worked.

In all, I'd have to give the game 2 out of 5 stars. It's a fun little world to play in for a while, but not a place I'd want to inhabit for dozens of hours.

2/5

dirtsheep's avatar
Community review by dirtsheep (May 10, 2018)

jeff white is an old guy who came to gaming late. He plays mostly RPGs. He'll play on any of a number of devices or consoles, but is particularly fond of the Nintendo 3DS.

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honestgamer posted May 10, 2018:

This was an enjoyable review that told me a lot about the game in question, allowing me to see the game's potential and also the ways in which it was somewhat squandered. And yet, I get the sense that the end product really could work for some people. Thanks for your contribution, and I hope we'll see more reviews from you around the site in coming weeks!
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dirtsheep posted May 11, 2018:

Thanks, man. Good to be a part of Honest Gamers.

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