Last time, the long intro cutscene finally ended.
And now, actual gameplay! This is adventure mode, the meat of the game. You walk around, fight stuff, and solve puzzles, just like in any other RPG.
The game also chooses this moment to dump absolutely everything on you at once. This is definitely a poor design choice – no one likes to wade through a bazillion text boxes of tutorial information just as they finally start the first mission. Most of the stuff is already explained in the manual and the game’s information page on the web anyway. It does have to be brought up some time, I suppose, since the battle system is pretty complicated, but it could definitely have been worked in more gradually. Instead of going through them all now, I’ll comment on gameplay mechanics as they come up.
Every player character also has a giant status page in the menu cluttered with information. I’ll show the ones for our current party members, but there’s no need to go into detail right now.
Vasra is our healer (and only female party member, surprise surprise), though she’s good at inflicting a specific kind of damage that the captain can’t. She is also wearing a ridiculous outfit for some reason.
This is the only place Clapian’s full name is mentioned in the prologue. In battle, he is a pathetic, useless little thing, as can be reasonably expected. He can be a decent tank if you use him right, but his offensive capability is practically nil.
You need to actually talk to your party members and absorb them before they’ll be counted as part of the same combat group. I think the idea of this is so you can form multiple parties that can split up to cover more ground, but I never bother with that mechanic.
There are things you can examine here, but they just produce pretty generic descriptions.
Let’s go downstairs.
There’s some funny flavor text here, as well as an important item:
This gets me some “black powder”, so they totally have gunpowder but still fight with melee weapons. I guess stable hand cannons haven’t become widespread yet.
I can’t go any farther, so I head back to the deck. This time, I’ll go right.
…I need to get better at screencapping. That’s supposed to be a “!” bubble, and the armored guard gets one too.
Battle time! As you can see, there’s a lot going on. The basic idea is that, instead of standard HP and MP counters, every character has “Body”, “Mind”, and “Soul” meters. Each meter has an attack and defense stat that corresponds to it (though skills often have attack stats that don’t match up with the type of damage they inflict, which makes things kind of complicated). All three of them act as HP and MP simultaneously – if any of them reach 0, the character is defeated, and skills can draw from any meter for fuel. A significant part of the strategy involves figuring out which meter an enemy has the poorest defenses on, and then attacking them with that type of damage exclusively. This can lead to some awkwardness where there’s no point in attacking a specific health meter because you’re already focused on another one, a problem compounded by the fact that almost all playable characters have at least one damage type they can never inflict.
There’s also other stuff like elemental rock-paper-scissors and weapon/armor triangles and those weird bar things at the top of the screen and so on. You can probably imagine why there was that “LONG” warning next to “battle basics”. Those things don’t really matter right now, though – you can easily brute-force your way through these easy enemies without much trouble.
Space is a factor, too, although there’s only one dimension of movement (characters can’t move vertically, and all abilities have a range that spans the entire vertical length of the battlefield). I personally rather like it. Many JRPGs have justly been criticized for not having any spacial element, a mechanic that tends to produce a great deal of tactical depth. However, my experience with some tactical RPGs (hello Final Fantasy Tactics) has made me a little traumatized when it comes to spacial mechanics introducing too much tactical depth, so simplified spacial mechanics are a good compromise for me.
The character closest to the enemies will almost always be the only one targeted by enemies. This makes it fairly easy to game the system by putting your meat shields in front and letting everyone else hide in the back, but the body/mind/soul system does make an attempt at compensating for that. Characters usually have a crippling flaw in one aspect, so no one can be a perfectly consistent meat shield. (For instance, Clapian here is a tank in terms of body stats, but if an enemy starts gunning for his soul, he can get in pretty hot water.)
Things are fairly simple here. Captain S can carry most of the battle on his own – both enemies inflict body damage, which he can tank, and his regular attack is super-effective against the crewman. The guardsman resists his swords, but his magic makes short work of them. Vasra can also help out – she inflicts mind damage, which they have poor defenses against. Clapian spends the battle being useless.
Oh no, there’s nothing here! That means we
brutally murdered “subdued” those poor innocent people for nothing! How sad.
Interestingly, it’s actually possible to make it through the entire mission without fighting any battles – in fact, it’s the requirement for the “Peaceful Approach” objective.
I really enjoy being able to actually avoid preexisting encounters. In lots of RPGs, I have this weird obsession with trying to inch my way around enemies in the hope that maybe I can avoid them that way – but of course they always notice you just when you reach the exit. But here, you can actually do that! Look:
I’m impressed by the novelty, even if in this case I think the cramped quarters should make the group pretty noticeable.
At the prow of the ship, there’s someone who’s actually willing to talk to me instead of leaping into battle:
I acquire an “ornate telescope”.
Navigator: “You always were my favorite, Krys. My favorite of all.”
…Okay then. Is this is one of the developer’s in-jokes or something…? It doesn’t make much sense to me.
There are stairs here, so I head down…
…and down again.
The bottom deck is crawling with guards, but…
…this will allow me to bypass them. Somehow nobody notices the explosion this produces.
Oh hey, haven’t we seen these guys before?
Crewman Todd: “Hang on, what’s that you got there?”
Delivered [an ornate telescope] to Murphy.
Crewman Todd: “Is that…! It’s finished, he finished it, I can’t believe it! Oh, man.”
Crewman Murphy: “Yep, this is the one. Let’s go up top onto the deck and try it out.”
Crewman Todd: “What a nice gift, I hope they gimme something good when I retire.”
This completes the objective “Special Delivery”, and gets them to move out of our way. With that, we’re done with the gameplay section here; next update is more cutscenes.