"When the moon (known as the Throne of Gods) is chained up by the one called Dreadknight, the world is overthrown by evil. The chains run through the atmosphere, all the way from the moon to quaint towns and cities, turning vast areas into monster havens. At the same time the planetís life is being destroyed, striking fear in its occupants while creating a theme Square Enix fans have come to embrace."
During the PSone era, Square didn't have much of an action/RPG legacy. Their other RPGs were champions Ė Final Fantasy VII through IX, Chrono Cross, Final Fantasy Tactics and Xenogears were unforgettable. But their action/RPGs lacked the same quality. Brave Fencer Musashi was a disaster, Legend of Mana was more of the same, and Parasite Eve, while great for its story, soundtrack and presentation, was extremely frustrating to play.
Then, shortly before the Square Enix merger, an unlikely gem arrived for PS2, one that featured the stars of numerous Disney films and an original cast designed by Tetsuya Nomura, the man known for bringing FFVII's characters to life. That game was Kingdom Hearts.
Square's luck improved from then on. This was no coincidence Ė by merging with Enix, Square gained access to the Valkyrie Profile and Dragon Quest properties, the latter of which led to a classic action/RPG spin-off known as Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime. Now Square Enix has given birth to yet another action/RPG property: Infinite Undiscovery. Developed by tri-Ace, the studio behind the Star Ocean and aforementioned Valkyrie Profile series, this oddly named game was created with the Square/Disney venture in mind. Borrowing elements from Kingdom Hearts while considering the game industryís newfound obsession with accessibility, Infinite Undiscovery is a mix of familiar gameplay, traditional music and gorgeous backdrops. Not surprisingly, the story is where most of the new discoveries are made.
When the moon (known as the Throne of Gods) is chained up by the one called Dreadknight, the world is overthrown by evil. The chains run through the atmosphere, all the way from the moon to quaint towns and cities, turning vast areas into monster havens. At the same time the planetís life is being destroyed, striking fear in its occupants while creating a theme Square Enix fans have come to embrace.
While that might not sound like the most spellbinding tale ever told, it is enhanced by a cast of quirky (or just plain kooky) characters that donít fit the Final Fantasy mold. Capell, the leading man and star of Infinite Undiscovery, is initially filled with hesitation. After being mistaken for Sigmund, the only man capable of freeing the moon and saving the world from extinction, Capell is thrown into prison. Guarded by the Order of Chains (Dreadknightís personal army), Capell has no chance of escaping. That is, until Aya comes to his rescue.
A leading member of the Liberation Force and one of Sigmundís biggest groupies, Aya breaks into Capellís cell, hoping to free the one who can free the moon. Speaking to Capell as if he were that man, it isnít long before he realizes sheís got the wrong guy. Nonetheless, the two just caused a ruckus in one of the Orderís prisons. Theyíd better get out of there and discuss the facts later.
Ultimately the two decide to team up, leading them down a path of war, turmoil and eventually salvation. Capell is joined by many others, including Balbagan, Edward, Rico, Rucha, and the great Sigmund himself. Players will appreciate the variety of characters but their story and voice acting qualities are not equally developed. Most of them sound like they came from a Cartoon Network anime; not too serious, not always believable, and often on par with a daytime soap opera. Guiding Light fans may take that as a compliment Ė others may not.
Though there was a time when the story was enough to keep players hooked, RPGs have slowly moved away from this stance, as evidenced by Infinite Undiscovery. The majority of the game is spent hacking and slashing enemies in a way thatís closer to Kingdom Hearts than The Legend of Zelda. Battles are conducted in real-time without exception. That means no pausing the game to heal (you arenít safe when accessing the item menu), no freezing enemy movement to think up a new strategy, and no automatic run away feature to escape a battle gone sour.
This is hardly worrisome in the beginning stages, where defeat is unlikely and the most difficult thing youíll encounter is a word puzzle. Larger monsters/boss battles wonít change your perception. Five hours in, however, and youíll be looking for any way to boost your partyís strength. Actually, the word ďpartyĒ doesnít quite cut it. Capell is the only character youíll control firsthand. The others are secondary, following Capell like an entourage that will step in and pepper spray an enemy whenever necessary.
tri-Ace bent the rules a little, as you do get to influence other characters and utilize some of their special abilities. Up to three allies can be assigned to Capell and he may connect with them at any time. By connecting, he and his ally form a special bond that allows Capell to attack with the allyís magic or weapon. Certain puzzles require a connection, as this feature can also be used to make an ally speak on Capellís behalf. But most connections will be used to defeat enemies more effectively than normal attack strategies (ex: a faraway projectile assault tends to be much more effective than a close encounter).
When not connected, allies move at the AIís discretion. Thankfully, their movement may be slightly influenced here as well. By assigning specific commands Ė such as Save MP, which tells allies to attack without using mana power, or Focus, which makes them attack Capellís current target Ė players will be able to rely on their allies to pick up any slack. This is crucial because there are hundreds of battles, and you never know when a new type of monster is going to appear. Infinite Undiscovery is rarely overwhelming. But death is inevitable. Sooner or later, Dreadknightís minions will catch up with you.
On his own, Capell controls very much like Sora with a flute. By holding the X button, heíll play the loveliest or most heinous sounds possible to attract monsters, locate items, or solve minor puzzles. The combat mechanics arenít as fast or as intuitive and lack the airy, pick-up-and-play feel that made Kingdom Hearts a success. But if you enjoyed that game, there are things to like about Infinite Undiscovery, starting with the combo system. To say that itís similar would be an understatement. Capell attacks with two primary buttons, A (quick attack) and B (power attack), both of which may be blended together for several different combos. The combos are as easy to remember as they are to execute, and are particularly damaging against enemies that are stunned when Capell deflects an attack. The simplicity of it all may not win over fighting game purists but should be enjoyed by the RPG crowd.
That enjoyment may be limited, however, by your ability to endure repetition. Square Enix fan or not, those who are bored by hack and slash-heavy games should not play Infinite Undiscovery. As already mentioned, there are hundreds of battles in this game, and most of them cannot be avoided. You could choose to physically run away some of the time, but that will only hurt Capell later when he is too weak to fight the latest crop of enemies.
Your enjoyment may also be limited by the presentation, which is impressive in some regards but generally lacks the mind-blowing, never-saw-it-coming effect Square Enix games typically have on its players. For starters, the designs are fairly basic. Rather than creating a bunch of new and exciting characters, tri-Ace designed a cast whose aesthetics would fit right in with the recent Secret of Mana games. Theyíre not overly complex in their design, nor are there any memorable characteristics that would make them stand out in a crowd.
When the characters speak, their mouths donít always move appropriately. You wonít see much from their eyes, which lack the realistic glisten of other big-budget titles. Expressions are few and far between. Players may have accepted a stone-faced presentation when the technology didnít allow for something better. But after Final Fantasy X, the bar has been raised so high that we cannot play an RPG Ė surely not a Square Enix RPG Ė without having high expectations. In this regard, Infinite Undiscovery did not live up to the publisherís own standards.
The part of the presentation that does impress is the music and environments. Players will be engrossed by the soundtrack, which is sweet, soothing, and occasionally aggressive. You wonít become addicted to any particular song Ė none of them are import-worthy. But your time with this game will be made better by the music coming through your television which you will never want to mute. At the same time, your eyes will be widened by the sight of organic structures, colorful forests, moody dungeons, exquisite towns, and many other areas. Some of the monsters arenít bad either, though the designs are nothing an RPG hasnít used before.
Pros and cons aside, the thing most players will take away from Infinite Undiscovery is that itís a good RPG that doesnít have the ability to ďwowĒ us. Itís fun but isnít overly addictive; itís exciting but isnít at all unique. The repetitive battle design doesnít cater to marathon play (all-night play-throughs are a tradition for me) Ė instead, youíre better off playing for no more than a few hours a day. The story may intrigue some players, but it wonít leave anyone begging for more, and the graphics are only impressive when staring at the environments. The character designs, primary or otherwise, leave a lot to be desired. For these reasons, it is impossible to recommend Infinite Undiscovery as the must-buy RPG Square Enix fans have been waiting for.
Freelance review by Louis Bedigian (September 23, 2008)
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