This game was an enjoyable throwback to 16bit turn based RPGs, but with a twist. They improved the combat system by adding some complexity without making it overly complicated. Since the core of all these turned based RPGs is mostly how well and fulfilling the combat is, the majority of this review will go over that section in detail to give you a greater understanding of how the game plays. I broke down the review in bold sections so you can read what is most important or what is most interesting to you in order of importance.
At the end of this page there will be a Pro's Con's and overview which would be the closest thing I have to a "TLDR"
THE GUI (Graphic User Interface)
When you get into a battle in this game, you will see a very familar layout, the graphic user interface or (GUI) will probably remind you of a plethora of similar older turn based titles like the final fantasy series, chrono trigger, or the breathe of fire series. You'll see fight or attack, item and Defend. However this is where the similarities end and some of the polishing of these older combat system begins. The menus themselves are fairly easy to navigate and use, nothing new to see here but nothing bad either.
The GUI also has one new feature which is really nice, which is a bar on the top of the screen with the portraits of each of your characters and the enemies on a visible time line which shows you who or what enemy is likely to be next in turn. I say likely because in this game there is a "speed" stat and interrupt mechanic attribute which can be manipulated to increase or decrease the likelihood of who's next to perform an action. Speed is exactly as it sounds, a flat given rate at how quickly your next turn comes. Once their portrait goes from the right side of the screen to the end of the bar on the left they start somewhere back on the right, distance moved on the bar per action or round spent is based on your speed stat.
Hovwering over an enemy unit will tell you the current hp of the unit, and how many elemental weaknesses it has, but not which ones. Its your job to explore and find them your self! It will also usually include some kind of humorous description of the unit, generally relevant or commenting on its aesthetics.
Other cool features are the skin changes, at any time outside of battle you may change your skin from "furry" "gender swapped" "undead" or "normal". I remember one battle actually had a condition of increasing the power of all female characters during it, but it wasn't an issue and this feature really is just there for your visual enjoyment.
One more thing of important note: This game has a range of 4 preset difficulties which can be changed at any time (outside of combat/dialogue), should the game not be challenging you enough or too much. It defaults on normal.
THE INTERRUPT FEATURE
You can slow targets, stop them, or increase your own speed, but the best feature is the interrupt feature. The interrupt feature allows you to push back the time it takes of a current foes next turn. When you use an ability that has this feature you will see their portrait be pushed back. This effect generally is on a diminishing return so you can't "lock down" an opponent from ever being able to preform an action, but you certainly can hinder it, and many interrupt abilities later still deal damage, or have other bonuses like not costing MP! Usually every 2nd interrupt wont hit as hard as the previous. So interrupt 1 will give you a good knock back, 2 maybe not so much, but 3 will be powerful again and the pattern continues.
CUSTOMIZING YOUR CHARACTERS
This game has the traditional armor, weapon and accessorie slot, but the real customization begins with class pins.
Each character has its own unique abilities, and later on you get up to 14 (1 from an optional boss) "pins" which provide new abilities, passive abilities, and bonus to certain stats and pretty much work much like Espers or Materia for you final fantasy fans.
There are no restrictions on what character can wear what pin, so you can have quite a few different combinations. The equipped pins gain experience along with the character's core abilities as well, and unlike other older games the unequipped pins will still gain experience but not as quickly as the ones being used. However, each character will inevitably be able to wear 2 pins, so that only leaves 5 pins not at use at any given point in time. So this lets you balance and combined 3 classes abilities on one character, his own, and the two pins you equip on to them. So any character can fit the role you decide to give to it.
OTHER IMPORTANT COMBAT MECHANICS
The most important feature in the combat here is that, you can drag out a boss or any battle until you win but.... it gets much harder.. Ever so often the power of the NPCS get stronger, the longer the battle goes the more damage the abilties and attacks of the NPC's do. So only using one character to deal damage, while healing all the incoming damage is rarely an effective strategy. When you hover an enemy unit you'll see something like XXX% power, every interval they gain 10% more power. The longer you go... well... they start to hit harder and hurt more...
Certain battles even have conditions where certain types of damage or stats are increased (which affects everyone in most cases, you and your enemy). Most of the time these bonuses can be used in your advantage. Other times they add in a new element to the fight to over come and conquer.
MAGIC POINTS AND NON EQUIPMENT ITEMS REVISITED AND REDONE
Essentially every turn you get 1 MP or Magic point and you get a variety of abilities to use, but like any ability it has a cost, some are free, some have greater effect on the first turn, others cost more, and/or have other conditions or bonus effects. However there are items and abilites later in the game that allow you to gain MP faster, such as stealing it from your other allies, or energite, an item that can only be used so many times per battle thatr grants X MP.
Now to items, Items in this game are consumables that you can upgrade and have a limited number of charges per battle. Every battle they reset to full.
There are 6 different items to use in the game and they can be upgraded in two different ways, their effect (how powerful) and charges (how many uses).
PROS AND CONS
The tone of this review may sound to some overtly positive but this game isn't without its flaws so we will start with Con's first. There aren't too many though I am happy to say.
Certain abilities or ability combos can become overwhelmingly powerful which cause you to stop using previous abilities or fall into routines.
The game is rather linear, and besides 2 optional bosses, and the Arena, there is little room to "Grind" or gain additional experience or $$$ to farm items, upgrades, and accessories.
The plot line of the game is a bit hazy if you haven't played the two previous installments. Some of the events and dialogue can leave you feeling questioning your self, If I were to have played the two previous games would I have a much greater understanding of what the hell these people are talking about and who they are?
Innovative combat system that holds true to turn based combat while adding in new features to keep it as fresh as possible
Lots of character customization and combinations in terms of classes.
Despite the potential plot confusion the game's dialogue has made me chuckle, laugh or bust a gut on many occassions and was still enjoyable regardless of any confusion.