By Sega , Nude Maker Released: 26 Mar 10
Infinite Space brings together two of my favourite things in life: JRPGs and space-opera. For those with geek-levels matching my own, such a combination is irresistible. While Mass Effect's allegiances lie firmly with western RPG mechanics, and the Star Ocean series only really uses space as a setting in the pseudo sense, Infinite Space brings the two components together seamlessly. In layman's terms, it's Final Fantasy meets Battlestar Galactica; the beautiful amalgamation of eastern role playing mechanics, starships and the melodramatic politics of advanced civilisations.
Half an hour in, and my hopes had been well and truly dashed. The graphics were scrappy, the main character was brimming with the clichés of an RPG protagonist, the story had yet to take a cohesive form, the visuals lacked continuity, and the battle system was a befuddling bore. The only solace I found was at the thought of the scathing review I would later write. With my mind already putting together some delightfully derogatory remarks, I begrudgingly played on. To my joy (and also disappointment), I found that the game got better. Significantly better. Normally my snap judgements are well founded, but this time I'm happy to admit I was wrong.
The turning point was shortly after I became captain of my very own battle ship, which I named Pegasus. As any Star Trek or Battlestar Galactica fan can imagine, taking command of not only a starship, but an entire armada of vessels willing to exact your every command is an alluring prospect indeed. Before explaining the stunning amount of depth available to the commander of just such a fleet, I should probably explain the events leading up to the young protagonist's acquisition of such a responsibility.
In the distant future of an unknown universe, a planet called Ropesk is imprisoned by the laws of an iron-fisted feudal lord, its inhabitants forbidden to travel into space. Our ambitious hero Yuri has no intentions of conforming to such laws, however, and enlists the help of somebody known as a 'Launcher' to help him escape. Enter Nia; a busty intergalactic guide with the perfect set of skills to stage just such a rescue mission. With the infinite chasm of space at his disposal, Yuri intends to investigate the Epitaph – a strange heirloom passed onto him from his late father.
While initially the story failed to spark my interest, the more time I spent with the game, the more interested I became in the fate of the characters. Yuri might not be the most original character ever conceived, but he's developed incredibly well, and the story that unfolds around him is expertly crafted. It had to be though; you never actually take control of Yuri at any point, meaning that progression is all menu and text based. A well written script was therefore vital, and Infinite Space thankfully does not disappoint, with a cast of interesting characters brought to life through pleasant anime artwork and solid dialogue.
It isn't long after escaping Ropesk that Yuri acquires a ship of his own, and the game is blown wide open. With money earned from battles and jobs, Yuri can buy blueprints for new ships, remodel existing vessels and recruit a crew in an intergalactic equivalent to the excellent Suikoden series. If you're struggling to imagine how the game plays minute-to-minute, I'll paint the picture for you. You travel from planet to planet along set routes defined on the bottom screen of your DS. Along the way, you'll be interrupted by space pirates and other nefarious space travellers, and gameplay switches to that of the unique battle system. Once you reach your destination, you can repair your ship, advance the plot by speaking to characters at taverns, or kit out your ship with new weapons and crew members.
The battle system is a curious affair; quite unlike anything I've played before. First and fore mostly, your battle combatants are not characters, but ships (although there are melee battles later on in the game). With some 150 odd vessels that can be bought, named and customised, the starships of Infinite Space are your 'party'. Characters are purely a means to increase the effectiveness of each ship, and don't affect combat directly. In battle, the bottom screen plays host to a range of commands available to your ship, and the top screen shows the action from the perspective of the ship's command deck.
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