"What all this amounts to is a game that’s akin to a great movie with a terrible ending. You plan out each move and become completely engaged in the experience. Then the battle (the ‘movie ending’) comes and you’re left wondering where the rest of the game went."
If you play many role-playing games, it's easy to surmise what might be said during the average board meeting before development begins.
"Johnson, what do you have?"
"Well Mr. Suit-and-Tie, our research shows that the competition is very popular."
"Interesting. Do you have a strategic plan of attack?"
"Not really. We just thought we'd copy their ideas and add nothing new to the genre. Of course, we'll slap a new name on the box and insist that our work is not a knock-off, but was actually 'inspired' by the competition."
"Excellent! Get on it right away."
While promising in, uhh-- scratch that, very few RPGs are promising. I can't tell you how many I played on PSone while looking for the next Final Fantasy VII, Xenogears or Parasite Eve. Or the number of PS2 RPGs that were rented and explored for five hours before Blockbuster was begged to take them back.
The PlayStation Portable has met with the same fate, but there is hope. Load times are getting shorter. The widescreen is being put to better use with spells that drench the display in thousands of colors. Most importantly, the gameplay is getting tighter and more refined. Whereas before gamers had to force themselves to play a PSP role-playing game, the point is slowly coming when we’ll have to force ourselves to stop.
Aedis Eclipse: Generation of Chaos is one of the games helping to turn the tide. Though far from perfect, Aedis Eclipse is a turn-based strategy/RPG with clever tactics in a familiar isometric setting. While most strategy games are about attacks and evasive maneuvers, this game is about the preparations you make before battle. The battles themselves are almost entirely automatic. You may choose when to cast a spell and attempt to direct your army toward or away from the enemy. It just doesn’t feel very interactive.
The style of the game – one you are not in complete control of – sounds ridiculous. Despite the odds, and despite the unpromising idea, Aedis Eclipse has found a way to avoid the expected pitfalls and become a game that – while not for everyone – is unusually satisfying.
Given the history of handheld RPGs, it’s important to note that this game does not suffer from as many technological problems as its spiritual predecessors. While Spectral Souls was plagued by load screens before and after every action, Aedis Eclipse is fairly quick. Battles do not take very long to initiate or conclude. Story sequences come and go at the pace of a PSone RPG – it’s not ideal, but is at least something we can handle. The only time the game fails is when large magic spells are cast. Spells tend to kill the frame rate, all but ruining what was supposed to be a cornucopia of eye-popping effects.
Spanning three separate quests, Aedis Eclipse is filled with hours of silly, anime-style dialogue (some voiced, some not). Rather than search for objectives and a world to save, each journey comes to the player. Enter a region, listen to a character rant, and begin your effort to secure a successful battle. The story isn’t particularly good, which is disappointing for a game whose genre is supposed to be pushed by story development. But that’s an ongoing trend in new RPGs – gameplay first, graphics and music somewhere in the middle, and story dead last.
The strategy portion of the game takes place on grid-based floating islands. This is where you set the stage for how the coming battles will play out, and is where most of the replay value is derived.
Aedis Eclipse’s roots lie in classic strategy games like checkers and chess. Both the player and the enemy are given bases to guard and protect. Your goal is to invade the enemy’s base and wipe out its captain. The game ends if your base is breached or if all party members are eliminated.
Outside of combat you only see and control your captains. In combat you have access to several units (soldiers) that can be programmed to charge at and wipe out nearby enemies. Units are of the monster, knight, and warrior type. Whereas captains use swords, blasters, and magic spells, certain units may only have their teeth to defend against impending dangers. They’ll gnaw until their health is depleted, at which case you’d better hope enemy units have been met with the same fate. Otherwise your captain will be swarmed in a powerful attack.
These actions, no matter how exciting in theory or visual presentation, are not conducted on the grid’s playing field as in other strategy/RPGs. To start a battle, players must move their captains to the location of an enemy (or vice versa). From there the game automatically jumps into combat and, without any player interference, can automatically determine the victor.
Outside of basic magic and skill commands, your only strength is a marker that pinpoints the area of the battlefield where your captain resides. I found this element to be important during the more grueling battles where it was best to use a character who wields projectile weapons. The player can manipulate that character’s location while he or she fires the weapon automatically.
Though useful at times, it’s not uncommon for battles (which last for a minimum of 15 seconds) to pass by without having the need to touch your PSP. To help pass the time, I’ve compiled a short list of things you can do while waiting for each battle to finish:
• Study the art of telekinesis
• Play another video game
If this sounds awful, that’s because the payoff isn’t in the battles – it’s in everything you do that leads up to them. Aedis Eclipse applies most of its depth to the panels and structures of each stage. Fire, water, earth, wind, dark, and holy elements can be applied to a specific panel. Their effects may increase or decrease your captains’ attributes. Water is strong against fire, thus a water panel will increase the strength of captain who has that element. If your attribute is fire, however, the water panel will cause that captain’s strength to fall.
When you come to a vacant piece of land (marked by a wooden post), it's possible to construct a building to aid you during the stage. Construct a hospital to regenerate your HP or build a recruitment office to regain units lost in combat. Windmills are an unusual way to slow down the enemy, as they cause movement to be decreased by one (when moving away from them).
Pyramids come in two forms: Power, which increases attack and defense stats, and Magic, which ups your intelligence and psyche strength. Create an Altar to change the elements of nearby panels, or design a Graveyard to inflict poison on anyone who lands in the area. Power and Magic Circles nullify physical and magical skills, respectively. Last but not least there's the Holy Land, a structure that nullifies instant death skills and effects.
Players also have access to commands like Explore, Terraform, and Prisoner. The former is another auto-command – select it to examine an area to trigger a possible event (such as lowering a drawbridge). Use the Terraform command to change a panel’s element. Some enemies may be captured after they have been defeated, which is where the Prisoner command comes into play. You may choose to execute, release, or persuade an enemy to join your side.
What all this amounts to is a game that’s akin to a great movie with a terrible ending. You plan out each move and become completely engaged in the experience. Then the battle (the ‘movie ending’) comes and you’re left wondering where the rest of the game went.
For some, the buildup will be enough. Most strategy/RPGs follow a series of fixed rules – is it really that bad for a game to try something different?
The problem is that different isn’t always what gamers are looking for. Aedis Eclipse is going to be a hard thing for most RPG fans to swallow, especially for those who were unaware of its unorthodox battle system. If you can stomach it, don’t hesitate to proceed. But it is strongly recommended that you rent and play the game for a few hours before shelling out the full $40.
Freelance review by Louis Bedigian (May 10, 2007)
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