The Xbox 360 has been screaming for quality RPGs to fill the void left since Lost Odyssey. Japanese RPG powerhouse Square Enix has had some new titles looming on the horizon for a while now, and the first of its big release, Infinite Undiscovery, has appeared to take Lost Odyssey's baton.
Developed by tri-Ace and exclusive to the Xbox 360, Infinite Undiscovery was always a bit of a quiet one -- most of us knew it existed, but nobody was really talking about it too much before release. Now it's out and the Internet is certainly talking -- mainly asking help forums where to go next.
Yes, Undiscovery may not be a word, but it's still an incredibly fitting title, as you'll find out when you join Colette and I in our official Destructoid review.
Infinite Undiscovery (Xbox 360)
Developed by tri-Ace
Published by Square Enix
Released on September 2, 2008
Here's an idea for a game: Let's create vast maps full of generic environmental details so that everything looks the same, then hide new areas and key locations around the map, which the player won't see in full until they've traversed the whole thing. Giving our players only the vaguest hint of where they need to be, we will then throw them unprepared into this huge wasteland with very little of interest between locations, and even open up new areas of the map without ever announcing that we have done so. This is a brilliant idea.
Infinite Undiscovery is a truly prophetic name, as that's exactly what the game is about as you wander lost around the game's large, obscure maps. The very fact that many users of online message boards are all asking the same questions about where the Hell to go next is very telling -- Infinite Undiscovery is very badly designed, throwing the player into a big and boring world before telling them to work it out.
This is Undiscovery's biggest trespass, but it is still just one in a long line of offenses that have marred what may, at one point, have been a decent idea for an RPG.
You play the role of Capell, a flute playing moron who has been wrongly imprisoned by The Order of Chains. The Order, being the generic evil empire that it is, has chained up the Moon and locked it in place above the world. Capell is at the mercy of these fiendish brutes because he looks identical to the man they are really after -- Sigmund the Liberator, a man with the power to cut the Moon's binding chains.
Accidentally rescued by one of Sigmund's followers, Capell escapes to find Sigmund and his liberation force, and from there follows them on a journey to rescue the cliché world from a cliché villain while having a cliché coming-of-age story with all his cliché friends.
Ah yes, the RPG character clichés. They are all there -- the annoying twins, the brooding emo, the musclebound idiot who's a child at heart, the one that's an animal and of course, the female lead who is madly in love with the main character but acts mean to him, yet is jealous of any woman that looks at him funny.
It wouldn't be all that bad -- Lost Odyssey had its fair share of stock characters -- but I have never seen an RPG employ its leads so ham-fistedly and with such obnoxious obviousness. For example, the female lead Aya begins her worn-out love and jealousy routine almost moments after meeting Capell, as if the writers knew that we all saw it coming so dispensed with any kind of build. Why bother when we've seen this trite idiots-in-love bullshit a thousand times before? Characters are randomly inserted into the plot, barely fleshed out, and then almost forgotten. I was actually surprised to see at least one character in my party -- he was so inconsequential I hadn't noticed him there.
In fact, every single character -- from the jealous, whining Edward to the unapologetically camp villain -- is so boring or extreme in its clichés that you'd be forgiven for thinking the whole game itself is a parody -- a well-observed caricature of Japanese RPGs. However, this notion falls apart when you realize that if it's a joke, it's not a very funny one, and things become thoroughly depressing once you see how seriously the game begins to take itself.
As far as the overall plot goes, this is yet another coming-of-age story that we've seen in JRPGs for the past ten years. However, while other RPGs have found ways to keep the story interesting, Infinite Undiscovery is so amateurish in its script that it only serves to highlight how stale the genre can be. The characters are nearly all thoroughly unlikeable, and are given no help at all by the awful dialog. Most of the game is so predictable that you're wondering if there is some JRPG handbook that tri-Ace is merely copying from.
The game only really gets interesting by disc two, but at that point, it's too little, too late, and the game quickly degenerates back into its formulaic progression and characters that you want to kick repeatedly in the face.
As far as gameplay is concerned, things will be familiar if you ever played tri-Ace's other big disappointment, Star Ocean: Till The End of Time. It's a hack n' slash action RPG affair, where you generally hammer buttons until everything is dead, aided by a group of NPC characters. Although simplistic, there are some rudimentary combos and you can hold down buttons to perform special attacks, provided you have the AP and MP for it.
There is also an interesting method of getting extra bonuses during battle. If you chain together attacks, you will be able to gain action points, extra HP/MP or experience points. If you chain together a string of attacks on a standing opponent, you will get the AP. If, however, you knock an opponent into the air and juggle them, you will gain extra EXP. Similarly, attacking an enemy when he's down rewards you with a health and MP bonus.
You may also partner up with one of your party members and assign special skills which you can make them perform in battle. This doesn't always work however and, while it's a nice idea, it's rarely all that useful.
The combat has its interesting moments, but it is subject to glaring problems. First of all, the targeting is absolutely horrible, as is the hit detection. It can be difficult for Capell to hit an enemy at times, especially if he gets surrounded by multiple foes that he can't deal with at once -- which happens often. Capell will close with an enemy if the targeting reticule on it turns red. However, again, this sometimes just doesn't decide to work right.
The lack of a block button is also detrimental to the whole experience, and makes the game feel like even more of a button-masher. Instead of blocking, Capell's only means of defense is a rather shit parry, which gives you the split second ability to stop an enemy's attack and make them vulnerable to extra damage. However, in the chaos of any given fight, when you're surrounded by more than one enemy, and with a ridiculous amount of people on-screen all screaming the names of their attacks out loud, it can be almost impossible to judge the already unpredictable attack patterns of the opponents. It's an absolutely worthless system and the game could have been a lot more involved if a real block or dodge command existed.
The game also isn't helped by the terrible ally AI. You get the ability to sneak up on enemies and surprise attack them, but when your "team" is intent on charging the monsters with no sense of subtlety, it can be a frustrating task indeed. You'll need to keep your weapon out of your hand at all times to stop your allies making prats of themselves, but it quickly becomes a hassle to keep sheathing and unsheathing in between battles. It's a real shame, because sometimes the allies show themselves as capable fighters and can hold their own in a scrap. They heal you when you ask and usually revive you in time if you fall. Yet sometimes they just turn into complete retards. It's very spotty and could have been much better.
Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core had a very similar combat system to Infinite Undiscovery, but its tactical use of dodging and blocking, along with a solid use of commands and abilities, made it a lot of fun. A PSP game probably shouldn't have a combat system that is ridiculously superior to an Xbox 360 game. But in this case, it does.
You soon come to realize that the game is all about buying as many revive items as possible and then just hammering buttons while hoping you'll pull through. Oh, and of course wandering around in a barren desert for twenty minutes before asking someone on NeoGAF or GameFAQs where the next town has been hidden.
The graphics are pretty enough, and the music is nice, but the animation, lip-syncing and voice acting all offend. The lip-syncing in the original Metal Gear Solid is better than this ... because there is none. Maybe this was a side-effect of the game's worldwide release, but it's like tri-Ace never even bothered to synchronize the English voice acting to the characters. Mouths flap around in silence for seconds at a time, and sometimes characters will speak without their lips moving at all. I've not seen lip-syncing this bad in ... well, since those aforementioned days when it didn't even exist. Also, if you're doing a story-driven game, try not to use the entire voice cast of the Dynasty Warriors games. I recognize the voices, and while they might work in the "bad kung fu movie" cutscenes of Koei games, they only serve to make a terrible script even more pathetic in this instance.
Ultimately, this is a poor JRPG, and a very poor videogame. Japanese roleplayers may not want to evolve mechanically, but the very least they could do is evolve thematically. Lost Odyssey did this, providing a compelling and emotional story that was, at times, entirely beautiful. Infinite Undiscovery, however, serves almost to insult everything that the best games in the genre have ever achieved -- trampling over it all with clumsy footsteps and big, unwieldy fists. It is at best amateurish and at worse a slap in the face to its peers, exemplifying all that is wrong with the genre while portraying none of the good stuff. It followed arguably the best JRPG on the Xbox 360, and I don't know how it had to sheer nerve to do so.
Score: 3 -- Poor
However, tri-Ace actually created the title, and that’s where the great pedigree starts to falter a bit. The Star Ocean series is rumored to be decent (I’ve personally never played it), but the general impression I got was that it never surpassed average in a lot of people’s eyes, and let’s face it, if I plan to spend 80 hours of my life on a game, I want it to be great. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.
In Infinite Undiscovery, you play the role of a young man named Capell and begin your adventure trapped in the aforementioned jail, which a mysterious girl comes and helps you escape from. This is your first meeting with Aya, a member of the Liberation Force which fights against an organization called The Order of Chains. I know it’s hard to believe, but you’re eventually going to join the Liberation Force and fight alongside them to defeat the Order. What a crazy, violently unique turn of events!
Anyway, Aya was the first major hint that things were going downhill. She and Capell quickly fall into a regular style of banter comparable to long-term married couple who are apparently in love but constantly annoy one another. It’s supposed to be witty and help you to relate to them, and instead falls flat. This is partially due to the fact that Aya is a bipolar bitch who I constantly wanted to stab in face for the rest of the adventure (sadly the game does not allow you to commit such delicious atrocities). Half the time she insults you and treats you like shit, and the other half the time she spends complaining when other women pay attention to you (just like real marriage). There's nothing wrong with the approach, but it’s just poorly executed here, making you resent the characters rather than bond to them. Don’t even get me started on the two kids that look like some sort of putrid jesters leading an Easter themed apocalypse.
Fighting seems pretty basic, allowing you to use button combinations to execute sword combos. The fatal design flaw here is the lack of a block button (you do have a parry, but I found it incredibly useless.) The menu system also doesn’t pause the game when you open it to use an item, so in a boss fight you can’t block and you can’t heal without running away. You can press a button to prompt party members to heal you, but the entire system felt awkward and seemed like it could have benefited from some fine tuning (better known as playtesting).
Early in the game you get a skill which allows you to use the abilities of your team members called the Connect skill. Once you get the hang of using it, it can be pretty handy … as long as enemies aren’t closing in on you. If they are already attacking you, the skill often isn’t worth the cost of you getting hit while you connect to the character and try to get the spell or attack going. You can use a lot of different options to attack something, but in the end, hacking and slashing usually works just fine. I wish this had been implemented in such a way that the Connect attacks were easier to use in heated battle situations and that you had to use certain ones to beat certain types of enemies. This would have made the battles more active and more fun to take a strategic approach to.
One plus this game has is that it allows you to have a large party which is entirely managed by AI, and they all level up along with you, rather than taking a backseat because your party can only hold five members. This is definitely refreshing, although I can promise that gamers who prefer to manage their characters and actually fight as them may find it more frustrating. It’s nice to actually see the majority of my party during battle for me personally.
Managing the flaws might not have been a chore had the story been compelling, but this is where the game commits one of the worst sins an RPG can in my eyes: it’s just average, and often it feels forced. I’ve played through some games with horrible controls because of a great story, but Infinite Undiscovery just can’t hack it in this department. If you don’t have high standards for RPG storylines you may not mind it, but having played several truly compelling titles this year from the same genre, I just couldn’t bring myself to enjoy the adventure.
Infinite Undiscovery seemed at one point as if it might have promise, and I wanted that promise to blossom into a rewarding gaming experience when I played the game, but regrettably, it never quite came to fruition. There were many times where the game fit the very definition of a chore – I experienced many moments where I found myself saying "Why am I doing this?" Your hard earned money is better saved towards one of the many excellent offerings coming later this year – I’d let this one slide off the radar if I were you.
4 -- Below Average
Overall Score: 3.5 -- Poor (3s went wrong somewhere along the line. The original idea might have promise, but in practice the game has failed. Threatens to be interesting sometimes, but rarely.)
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