[7 October 2008]
Someone at Square must really love nonsensical titles for their role-playing games.
It seems like countless times now the company has called sequels to its marquee RPG franchise Final Fantasy, despite the fact that there seems to be nothing very final about the whole enterprise. They might as well call it “Alright, So There Might Be A Few More Fantasies.”
So it should come perhaps as no surprise that the name of Square’s newest RPG is called Infinite Undiscovery, a name that sounds intriguing and deep at first but when you actually sit down and think about it, it’s sort of ridiculous. “Wait, how can you undiscover something?”
This sort of process kind of describes the entire experience of Infinite Undiscovery, which seems like a rather interesting and novel game at first, but settles quickly into ho-hum JRPG (Japanese Role Playing Game) mediocrity. It’s not that there aren’t good ideas here but considering the pedigree, it’s hard not to be a little disappointed with the final product.
Still, let’s look at the positive stuff first. The combat in Undiscovery is actually some of the best I’ve experienced for this type of game. It’s a lot more action packed that the creaky turn-based, menu-driven system of JRPGs like older Final Fantasy games, but not quite as pure hack and slash as a game like Elder Scrolls: Oblivion. If nothing else, it is a just a tad more action-orientated than the menu/action hybrid of the Knights of the Old Republic games where you could fight in real time by assigning certain behaviors like “aggressive” or “defensive” to your party members.
In Knights of the Old Republic, though, you never felt like like you had complete control over your main character, whereas in Undiscovery, there is no “hit a button and watch your character perform an auto attack.” You really have to move around and hit enemies with different button combinations to build combos and use special moves. There is also an interesting “Connect” feature where you give orders to your party members to dole out character-specific special moves like a bow and arrow that can stealthily take out an enemy from behind. Though it feels a little too Zelda-esque, the X button will also play your flute, which lets you perform various tunes that will reveal hidden passages or enemies or shield your party from harmful magic.
The combat feels frantic but fun and a little bit nerve-wracking because you can’t even really feel comfortable resting somewhere. The items and equipment menu doesn’t pause the game at all and you can be attacked by opportunistic baddies while you are sitting down on the cold dungeon floor trying to decide if you want to equip that cool looking axe.
On the other hand, this can cause some frustration because it’s never fun to get hacked in the face over and over while you’re fumbling around your menu trying to activate a healing potion. Overall, however, the combat system is extremely satisfying.
As much as Undiscovery‘s combat feels fresh, the plot feels like it was something taken from the Generic JRPG Plot discount rack. It’s another coming of age tale about a whiny boy who has to learn how to become a hero in time to take on a token evil empire. At the start of the game, you play as Capell, a sassy redheaded flutist who is rescued from prison by a female archer named Aya. Aya apparently has you confused with the world’s greatest hero, Sigmund, because besides the fact that one is a sissy woodwind musician and the other is a badass swordsman, they could basically pass as identical twins.
Following the jailbreak, Capell ends up being shoehorned along on Sigmund’s quest to defeat an evil group called The Order of the Chains. These wrongdoers are attempting to bind the moon with, well, enormous chains, in order to take its magical power for themselves. Though that sounds utterly ridiculous, what really causes the plot to suffer is the amateurish dialogue that causes you to feel little connection to the characters. Capell and Aya (who feels like Eventual Token Love Interest from the start) banter and snip at each other in a way that’s probably supposed to feel like the charming interplay between Han Solo and Princess Leia in Star Wars, but instead falls flat.
It also doesn’t help that eventually you get so many different characters in your party (15 or 20) that you lose track of who is who and cease to care about any of them individually. The exception is a bear character who is cool, well, because he is a bear. Another noticable flaw is that seemingly half of the dialogue between the main characters is voice acted, and the other half is text only, making the game feel somehow incomplete.
Clocking in at about 20 to 30 hours of gameplay, Undiscovery is shorter than most Square RPGs and simply feels a bit more lightweight than it should. If only developer Tri-Ace had kept the excellent combat system, crafted a more original story and worked on the dialogue (and worked out a few other kinks), the game could have been one of the better JRPG’s on the market. As it is, perhaps it’s a game best left, well, undiscovered.