Should you buy this game? So glad you asked. Yes!
Should this be your very first JRPG? Yes, but...
My recent gamplay was a 90+hr adventure (some offline) that was well worth the discounted price (-50% = 8€). The game's positive reviews are well-deserved, but tell little of actual gameplay to someone who might be interested in this kind of RPG, but never did play a JRPG/SRPG.
This was may be your case, too, so here's what I learned...
***** World of Zemuria
: thoughtful, detailed, infinitely rich. (5/5)
For this installment in the popular franchise we get to adventure in Kingdom of Liberl, discovering a wide-reaching plot and tackling some mysteries. Cliché much?
This game does not shy away from the overused concepts, but delivers them with fresh spins, and gives them some unexpectedly serious reasoning. Talking to various NPC's, including random household members, paints the game's stage a somber shade of grey - with much emphasis on recently fought war and new orbment technologies available. (You'll be amazed at how many NPCs stress over a family member unable to get or hold a job.) As you march on, you'll learn that beneath all the apparent sweetness lies a serious, compelling narrative. Its logic includes economy, psychology and strategy and favours realism + logic to drive and resolve many conflicts. The overwhelming cuteness and apparent anime-aesthetics serve as a visual counter-point and a fun diversion for the consumer - as ever.
XSEED did a wonderful job on translating and adapting the game. With the problems they faced
and work ahead of them, this needs to be stressed.Warning for the easily offendable:
This RPG follows the tradition of amalgamating many diverse cultural and historical influences in a distinct blend of East & West. When the Gospel and an Apostle make an appearance, they singify something else from what one might expect. Also, while loved and cared for, children of Liberl do get exposed to real danger. That orphanage you helped? Burnt to the ground. The grand-daughter wanting to help her grandpa? Gets sternly warned, but ultimately joins for an incredibly dangerous infiltration mission to rescue him.
***** Playable characters
: varied, with very flexible builds, require some system mastery. (5/5)
You get to make a party of up to 4 PCs and as the story goes on, more people join the Bright kids. The Bracer Guild they're a part of provides them with much quest fodder and some plot protection, but ultimately, they're on their own. Their companions are darn well excellent and come in very handy: if you can't fight through an area, wait until your ranks well. Of the 6 available, Schera's and Oliverier's antics made me giggle ever so often, and they are my favourites. In lieu of an old favourite of mine, imagine a game where most of in-game banter has Sands pitted against Neeshkas... You'll love it.
So what's with the builds? They are limited, but not in a bad way. The character level-ups are automated, abilities are unlocked intermittently and vary greatly (each character has a different build, but no class). You get a pick of 5 equippable items + some slots to fill wil crystals which are more than wondrous items, because they synergize. You may play around for a bit and just pick anything to wear/slot, because there's always a reload/retry or flight from a battle... I've actually made it halfway through the game before I read up on those orbal crystals and made my first optimized builds.
All in all, the character building is very beginner-friendly, which helps a lot. And there's ample room for experiment, which is great. Strategic value of turn-based combat is best described elsewhere, but let's just say it doesn't disappoint.Warning for the lazy:
The characters need to be fine-tuned, eventually. Final chapter presents a tournament which requires a higher level of orbal system mastery, while the final battle sequence ranges from enjoyable (if you got the combinations right) to downright enfuriating (if you didn't).Warning for time-constrained:
Beware the walls of text. Seriously. It's a living book. It eats players.Warning for the romantically inclined:
There is much in-game talk about the nature of Joshua and Estelle's growing relationship, yet not one NPC seems to mind the fact that they're officially siblings (Estelle is Cassisus' daughter, and Joshua's his ward/stepson). Which is fine by me, because the two couldn't be more opposed than they are, and their confusion about life & love is delivered tactfully and with much wit.
*** The gameplay
: a rocky ride to get through the story. (3/5)
What I didn't miss here was a feeling of game being rushed and some content dropped because of time constraints - something my favourite Western RPGs chronically suffer from. The main narrative is one of adventure, with walls of text hinting at massive spoilers. I enjoyed it immensely, and can't wait for the sequel!
With that said, there are some glaring issues with gamplay and story presentation. The one thing I did have a problem with were wildly varying secret quests one can discover along the way (you'll need to consult a guide
to get them). In-game Junior Bracer Journal served me well as an agenda, so that's a plus. Warning in general:
achievements such as best rank/weapon take a lot of time and effort, so be warned and grab a guide BEFORE starting the game properly. As TvTropes put it, my playthrough suffered a heavy case of Guide Dang It!Warning for time-constrained:
I didn't mind all the grinding, but you can't escape it. Especially if you want the best gear the game's got or insist on micro-managing stuff. The difference between starting the Chapter 1 as L14 (my first try) and L18 (the second playthrough I finished) taught me to grind as I save: at every opportunity, as much as I can. And also, the railroading, apparently a traditional facet of the JRPG genre. Finally, hasty decisions versus small time windows. You can miss so much with only a click. I re-did the Prologue because I was merely getting to know the ropes and I missed two books I wanted to collect. The re-run was worth it.
: Very good game, with some issues for the uninitiated. Merits a sequel (localization's in the works!) and a second playthrough (especially for achievements).
Thank you for reading this review. It was my first, and I hope it served you well. =)