| paleface [sys=PS2; cat=Beat_em_up; loc=NA] |
|A gorgeous action RPG with high-resolution 2D graphics, but I can't really say if I'm high or low on it, because the beginning is so darn slow.|
It's almost like Sega is trying to make you work to like it. For one thing, the story begins with that most overused of RPG openings: the mysterious magical hero with amnesia who washed ashore to be cared for by the beautiful girl. And then they prolong this retreated tale by forcing you to sit through three long, unskippable conversations.
The UI is ugly, and not very intuitive. I still can't figure out why I can't select in battle the skill that I just spent points on levelling. Healing and other beneficial items have to be toggled through on a single list as you fight. You can do team-up moves with your partner in battle, but they require first "locking" the partner down with one shoulder button press, then triggering the move with another. You can hold L2 to run fast (well, not really fast, but sorta faster) while just exploring, but in battle, it operates as a charge kind of thing, where you can pivot in place, then rocket off. This doesn't seem very handy, and I'm not sure how you're supposed to do it in coordinated fashion with both characters at once. In battle the buttons feel mushy and unresponsive, perhaps due to the single-button chain combo stuff. Even on the highest text speed, speech bubbles appear in sluggish fashion. And to get out of every menu screen, you have to confirm your move in an ugly, pulsing little pop-up menu with unintuitive icons, held over from Sega's 16-bit Shining games. I really hate that thing.
And then it's like the story doesn't want to go anywhere. After a long conversation, so long that you forget what it's really about and just wish it would end, you're usually left to run around the city on your own. There's a way to trigger the next story sequence hidden somewhere, but the game gives you no indication or pointing in its direction. The worst time so far was when I talked to everyone in the inn where I stay, and nothing happened, then I wandered all over the rest of the city, twice, talking to everyone and visiting every shop (loading time in and out of every shop, sigh), finally wandered back to the inn in despair, talked to the same person I had talked to before, and THEN the next story sequence began. Damn. It. People.
More bafflingly yet, although the back of the case advertises two-player support, apparently you have to get about two hours deep into story mode before co-op becomes available. Wow, talk about killing pick-up-and-play value there. There's also something disturbing in the manual about needing a separate memory card for player two. Without 2P, your AI battle partner sorta fights on their own, but they seem to be pretty darn stupid, really, and you have to help them out with shoulder-button commands and even manual movement with the right analog stick (this is kind of neat, but it's necessary more often than it should be).
On the plus side, the high-res 2D sprites and backgrounds look absolutely fantastic--although it hurts me (and my screenshots) that no progressive-scan option is available--and the music is nice enough. Oh, and you can save at any time in exploration mode.
The more unexpected nice aspect of the game, however, comes in the characters: although stuffed into what begins, at least, as a stupidly conventional plot, they have distinctive personalities that give occasional life and spark to the interminable conversations. The hero, for instance, becomes a blood-thirsty killing-machine when he puts on his battle-ring, and worries the heck out of his friends as he says things like "Let's go do some slaughtering!" The inevitable blond elf babe, all innocent and pure in appearance, is actually extremely greedy, and insists on sticking close to the hero so that he won't get away without rewarding her richly for saving his life. Well done, there.
Other than that, I don't know. The game is kind of slow and unintuitive. I'm not yet sure if battles will end up being fun, or just sort of tedious Square-button-mashing fests. Aside from the characters and the visuals, the game certainly could be doing more to endear itself to me in the early going.