Infinite Undiscovery

Infinite Undiscovery is one of three Xbox 360 titles being released by Square-Enix this season; the other two being Last Remnant and Star Ocean 4 (er, sorry, this one seems to be releasing far later that I thought). This oddly named RPG, made along with tri-Ace (Star Ocean, Valkyrie Profile), was the first of the trio, released in early September.

My first impression of the game was: This is so half-assed. If you play just a few minutes of it you'll understand what I mean. It has great potential, and some really fantastic elements, but it's not executed as well as one would expect from a Square game. It feels like Square stretched itself too thin with Star Ocean (2 on the PSP and 1 on the 360), Last Remnant, Infinite Undiscovery, 3 upcoming Kingdom Hearts games (DS, PSP, mobile), 2 (3?) Final Fantasy XIII games, Crystal Chronicles (DS and Wii), remakes of Chrono Trigger and Dragon Quest IV (DS)...did I get them all? I know they're a big company, and some of those have second developers (like tri-Ace), but damn. I'd rather they put some more focus onto singular games and make them really fantastic, because I feel like IU suffered from a lack of polish and focus.

To be clear, I did enjoy the game. I've sunk around 50 hours into it, and it's really only a 30 hour or so game. It comes on two discs, which seems a little strange. Don't jump the gun and think that as a Square game it's full of space hogging CG cut scenes...because it's not. There's one CG cut scene, and it's not part of the game at all. It's the intro movie that plays before you get to the menu screen, and that is the only time on either disc you will ever seen graphics that good. Unfortunately it's a gorgeous cinematic, which makes the game itself all the more disappointing. Not that the game is ugly - it has good graphics, though some of the shading effects are off on occasion (specifically the way facial features are shaded...the coloring is totally off and it makes them look a little strange).

In Infinite Undiscovery you take on the role of Capell, a traveling musician (he plays the flute) who is mistaken for a rebellion leader and arrested. It might sound strange that an unarmed wandering minstrel could be mistaken for a hardened warrior, but it won't once you meet the Liberator - turns out that Sigmund and Capell look exactly alike, and not even Sigmund's follower Aya could tell the difference when she arrives to rescue you from prison. Sigmund and his rag tag band are attempting to sever the chains that bind the moon to the surface of the Earth. These chains are very slowly (but surely) dragging the moon down from the sky, which would cause untold destruction. Leonid, the Dreadknight and leader of the Order of Chains, is behind this potentially devastating event and must be stopped at all costs. Unfortunately something far more powerful and dark is behind Leonid's actions and is granting him power. The group must travel throughout the land destroying the chains and hunting down Leonid, but what they discover along the way could shatter the reality of their world.

Things I loved:
  • Interesting characters. Even with such a short game, the characters manage to be interesting. There are a few duds, but all the main party characters (meaning the ones you have control over and can use in combat) are fairly interesting and decently developed. Now, they don't have a lot of back history and depth, but they're clear and defined, though occasionally a bit cliche.
  • The item creation system. This allows you to make just about every item in the game, from potions to materials for making armor and weapons, and the armor and weapons as well. In order to make the best use of this, you must download (for free) the A and B vouchers from Xbox Live, otherwise the item components you will need will not be available in stores. And unless you sink an absurd amount of time into this thing (and I mean like 5 times the amount I did) you'll never gather up enough items naturally to make use of this system. And it's far cheaper to make items than it is to buy them from the stores. Equipping 18 characters can get expensive.
  • The story. It's not very long, but it's good. Aya's secret identity, the origin of the Aristos, the true connection between Sigmund and Capell, the truth about Lunaglyphs, the fate of the Unblesseds.... It's all very interesting, I just wish there had been more. I also wish it had been a bit more balanced. The first disc is rather lacking in story telling, but the second disc is nearly over whelming and full of long running cut scenes.
  • The graphics. The game does look good, despite the aforementioned shading problems. The character designs are distinct and their outfits are, for once, fitting and well designed. The environments are all unique and each city has its own personality. There are also some weird lip sync moments, and I don't mean that the lip flaps and dialogue are off, because that's done well. I mean spots where characters are speaking and there's no mouth movement at all. They're moving about, but the lips aren't moving, and it's rather random in occurrence. But otherwise the characters emote really well.
Things that just needed some more thought/work:
  • The combat system. Sure it's great that I only have to worry about one character. All action is real time, even menu access. But the AI...well it's not bad AI, but you don't have much control over it. You can set your active party (4, including you) to follow various instructions - act freely, save MP, focus on one enemy, combo attack, spread out (not sure how this is different from "free") wait behind. They work. But act freely causes them to use special MP consuming attacks constantly, and run off and attack enemies at random. Save MP makes them not use them much at all, but it also causes any healers to tend to use items instead of spells (stupid Eugene! You have a revive spell! Stop using expensive revive medicines!). Focus does exactly what it's supposed to do, and it's really useful if you just want to take down the darn boss already and forget the minions. You don't really have any other control of your party members. They act entirely on their own. You can do a connect, which allows you to access 2 special moves of the character you're connected to, but Capell can't act when you use the abilities. You can also go into your characters' spell lists and tell them which spells you never ever want them to cast. And you can set 2 battle abilities to them which they will use more often than other abilities. All very useful, but it's just a smattering of control and it makes me long for Final Fantasy XII's gambit system. Also, as the game is an RPG, I didn't really want to button smash my way through it. But that's how it's played, and you get used to it quickly. It also means you can't access your items menu unless there are no enemies around, otherwise you're a sitting duck...unless you're really quick with your eyes and fingers. Fortunately for you, your party members will use your items with annoying regularity. Also, targeting can be a pain sometimes.
  • The item creation system. It's a brilliant idea, but damn does it cost you. As I said before, finding the items in the field is not going to get you anywhere. You're going to have to buy them from the stores (download the vouchers or they won't show up). And they can get really pricey. Early on make sure you create (or find) a Harvest Coin, which gives you 10% more cash from kills. That will help a lot. So will several "get rich quick" items, like the Smiley Charm and Horseshoe, which have low component costs and fantastic selling profits. I believe only 5 of the 18 characters lack any sort of item creation feat, so that's a lot of shit you can make. The failure rate is also annoying high, so if you're making high level equipment that uses ridiculously expensive materials, make sure you save right before so you can reload and try it again. I'm sure that's "cheating the system" or some BS, but you're going to want to do it; it'll save you a lot of anger and frustration.
  • There are too many characters. In all, there's 18, including Capell. The game isn't all that long, which means getting attached to characters, or having 18 individual stories play out isn't really going to happen. The main party gets a decent amount of face time, except for a couple, and the secondary party is the reverse (nearly no face time but for a select few). For reference, in case you're confused, main party members can be added into any party. Sometimes you have to split into 2 or 3 separate parties, and these secondary parties will move and act entirely on their own without your input. But there are certain characters (5 of them) that can never be part of your main party. You can talk to them and connect with them in towns, and they'll pop up in the story line, but you can't enter combat with them. An interesting feature of the game is the personality screen, which lets you see the traits and abilities of each character. For example, Capell's personal thoughts, or the kind of food (items) they like to eat, or if they perform poorly in the dark or when ambushed, or dislike specific monsters (which lowers attributes around them). You unlock more of them as you adventure with or speak with characters, and Capell's thoughts of each character change pretty frequently throughout the game. It gives you a bit more connection to them and gives them a bit more personality. The bear is still stupid, though, no matter what it says. I guess they wanted to put some cute creature in there but it's not cute at all.
  • Lack of awesome cut scenes. Seriously I really miss this. That opening animation is such a freakin' tease.
  • Capell has a turn around...and then goes right back to being his lame old self. I was so thrilled that for once a main character had a defining point in the story where his personality totally changes. Capell goes from innocent, goofy, perverted and a tad cowardly to this hard core, cold, everyone-is-my-tool kind of guy, and it's awesome. Check the personality descriptions right after this happens for the best effect. Too bad it didn't last. I guess getting your freak on really does fix everything.
  • Can't change my party! This is so frustrating. The only time you can change active party members is in towns and between certain scenes. Now, I'm not asking to be able to switch members out just any old time in the middle of some dungeons or something. But I'd appreciate being able to do so at a save point, at the very least. The game gives experience to characters on standby as well as the active party, so experience is not an issue (though I do think it's less than what the main party gets...items can fix this). But there are SO many characters, and it just seems such a waste to play with the same 4-5 the entire game.
  • Sound. The music is OK, but hardly memorable. Even the CG movie before the game suffers from a weak score where it should be sweeping and epic. But that's not an issue I had with the game. What did bother me were odd game moments where there should have been voice over work, but for some reason there was not. Just subtitles (sometimes moving too quickly) and silence, in the strangest places.
  • As a musician, Capell totes around a magic flute. Throughout the game you pick up or create various songs that Capell can learn and that he can play at any time. But they're mostly useless. Or at least I didn't ever use any of them. Except one that reveals hidden items, and there's a sound that plays when you're near them, and that's the only time you use the song. You also use the same song to make vermiforms (a specific monster that appears late in the game and there are only a few in certain areas) visible. There's one you can play in towns to collect money, but it's hardly worth the time. I didn't use any of the other songs, though they do various things like improve party defense (but lower attack, and then vise versa) and lower magical effects against the party.
  • Vermiforms. What a nuisance. During a certain part of the game, there's an event that causes party members to transform. I didn't have much of a problem with this, because during that time I just sheathed my weapons and ran until I left the area. And that's what I suggest to anyone playing the game. Because there are only 3 (playable) characters in the game that aren't affected. And one of them is the stupid bear, and he takes up two whole character slots. Aristos aren't affected either, but of the 3 you get, you can only use one of them. It's mostly just a silly thing to have to worry about.
So I didn't really hate anything out right, which is rare. Except the stupid bear, which was annoying and pointless. But I didn't absolutely love anything either (though I did enjoy the story). It's an entertaining game, but it's mostly mediocre. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, because there's nothing really broken or glaringly bad about the game. I hope this review gives you a good description of the game, so you can decide for yourself if it's the type of game you want to play. The Xbox has been getting a load of RPGs, and while this one isn't excellent or outstanding, it's still a good game. It can also be found fairly cheap (particularly for so new a game) if you know where to look.



I'm still a little watery-eyed after having just finished the final episode of Basilisk. I was pretty much in tears during the whole thing, which may be the result of watching it right after I woke up this morning, or of it just being a well made episode...or both. Let me tell you right now that this is the kind of show that you just know, even in the very first episode, can only end in tragedy and heartbreak. Anything else is impossible.

Basilisk is the story of two ninja clans in the early 17th century, the Kouga and the Iga. The Kouga and Iga have been at war with each other for centuries. Hundreds of years of bloodshed, betrayal, and hatred. Hattori Hanzo the first somehow manages to create what is basically a cease fire treaty between the clans. But years later, after shogun Ieyasu retires, a succession dispute arises between his two grandsons. To solve the problem, Ieyasu orders the no hostilities pact dissolved, and creates the Ninja Scroll, a list of the 20 best ninja, 10 from each clan of Kouga and Iga. Only a bloody annihilation between the clans can determine the shogun's heir (each clan represents an heir). Unfortunately this event comes right on the heals of possible peace between the two clans, with their respective heirs, Oboro Iga and Gennosuke Kouga, betrothed to each other. But while Oboro and Gennosuke desire peace, their clan members are less adaptive to the situation and jump at the chance to wipe each other out once they learn the pact has been dissolved.

The biggest problem with the show is the sheer number of characters involved. Several of them have similar character designs (across the clans and within them) and it took me a few episodes (and about 5 dead ninjas) before I could sort everyone out. The upside is that by the 4th episode, 5 of them are already dead. And they keep dropping like flies until the last handful of episodes. The second half of the series focuses on a select few of them pretty well. I don't think much more really needs to be said. It's two ninja clans fighting each other to the death, while their leaders struggle with their love for each other. This is not a show for kids. The deaths can get pretty brutal and bloody, two of the characters use their, erm, feminine wiles to kill, and for some reason Tenzen of the Iga likes to rape women (there's at least 3-4 rape scenes in the show...or the beginnings of rape at least, which doesn't really change the point...no pun intended).

The real tragedy of the show is that neither Oboro nor Gennosuke want to be involved in the battle, but the events sort of get away from them. Particularly in Oboro's case, as Tenzen takes over the leadership of the clan and runs away with things. I wouldn't say she's weak, because she's actually one of the strongest characters in the story, but physically she is not very capable in the arts of the ninja, and she's a very quiet, innocent character; Tenzen completely overpowers her, helped by the fact that Oboro basically refuses to act against the Kouga or aid her own clan.

The animation is very well done and the fight scenes are excellent. Being a ninja show, each character has a ninja power, so you're going to see some pretty strange looking characters and some bizarre powers (Nenki uses his hair to attack, and Jubei is just a torso and moves along the ground like an insect). Though as I mentioned before, some of the character designs are rather similar. Kagerou of the Kouga and Akeginu of the Iga look almost exactly alike. Yashamaru and Koshirou of the Iga also look fairly similar. The rest are pretty distinctive, though. I enjoyed the opening and ending themes, and think they fit the show well, and I particularly enjoyed the opening's animation.

Basilisk is a 24 episode series from Gonzo, produced domestically by FUNimation (with a pretty good English dubbing). It is based on the manga by Masaki Segawa, which was based on a novel by Futaro Yamada. Watched it via the FUNimation channel.


Holiday Updates (2008)

Well the year is almost over. I'm busy cleaning house, going to family gatherings, baking, gaming (in 4, count 'em, FOUR RPG games now, sheesh...2 D&D, one Warhammer, 1 Star Wars), wrapping presents, and trying not to freeze my ass off when I go outside to do laundry. My hands are really dry, so this season is hell on my skin, and my knuckles are all crackly (and occasionally actually bleeding), so handling wet clothes outside in 40 degree weather isn't fun (and though it hasn't quite hit that yet, it will within the next day or so...I got a weather alert for "icy rain" for tomorrow morning, hooray). Fun times. And I'm sure everyone wanted to know that. :)

Basilisk is just about over. There can't be too much more; there's only 3 characters (out of 20) that are still alive. So expect a review of that soon (I liked it for the most part). I did finish Peach Girl. I still don't like it. Momo chose the right guy, in my opinion, but the process it took to get her there was absurd. But saying she actually "chose" between the two is a little overstated. Especially considering the reasons she jumped from one to the other to begin with. For a show aimed at teenage girls, it teaches them really horrible morals and ideas.

And while I won't review it yet, I will say that Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicles is pretty fantastic. Nearly every episode brings a tear to my eye; the entire series is just so heartbreaking.

I'm nearly finished with Infinite Undiscovery, I think. I seem to be at the end of the game. Or the ending chapter at least, if not the final area.

And why did I just see Harrison Ford getting a chest wax? Some crazy climate change, deforestation, conservation something or other analogy. Odd...oddly sexy. Moving on.

My love/hate relationship with Anime News Network aside, the site is a really great place for news. Here's some interesting new shows coming our way (or Japan's way, I guess) within the next year:

In fall 2009, yet another CLAMP series will be getting the anime treatment. This time it's Kobato.

April brings us the new Full Metal Alchemist series. If I understand correctly, this is a revamping of the series, and not simply a sequel. The series previously produced strayed from the manga in its second half (I believe because it got ahead of the manga, as often happens), and this series is supposed to follow the manga more faithfully.

Now, I actually found this show rather cute and charming, if sappy and a little cheesey. La Corda D'Oro is getting a second series, Secondo Passo (the first was Primo Passo). It's reported as a "special," so I'm not sure if that means a single episode or a full season.

The story of Nodame and Chiaki will also continue into next fall, with another Paris season of Nodame Cantabile. I don't read the manga, and the current season is still ongoing, so I'm not sure how the seasons will break up the story. It's a great show though, and every bit of it is worth waiting for and watching.

Alright, it's nearly 3 pm and I'm still in my PJs, so I think it's time to get up and do something a little more productive. Like change and play more Infinite Undiscovery.