Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: September 2, 2008
Developer tri-Ace may not be as well-known as its publisher, but through the years, they've established a reputation for creating unique action-RPG titles that immersed the player in smashing their foes with fleet fingers and fast thinking. They've taken players to the stars with the Star Ocean series and back into fairy tales with Radiata Stories and Valkyrie Profile 2. Infinite Undiscovery arrives as part of the fall JRPG vanguard on the X360.
The Moon, the source of magic for the world, has been enslaved by the nefarious Dreadknight and his Order of Chains. Titanic links rise up to snare the moon, and chaos erupts around the world. The player takes on the role of Capell, a flute player whose youthful looks have been mistaken for that of the Liberator, who is the sworn enemy of the Order and regarded as a legendary hero. Thinking that they have their man, the Order throws Capell into prison. Fortunately for him, a member of the Liberation Force also thinks the same thing and works to free him, only to discover the truth too late. It's a case of mistaken identity that will shape Capell's destiny in the game and drives most of the predictable story, but it also asks the player to stomach plenty of sugary melodrama along the way.
Part of the problem lies with Capell, who falls into the "reluctant hero" mold and suffers from a severe case of spinelessness. There's nothing wrong with that if it helps the story, but here, it's incredibly overwrought and feels awkward when he pulls an Errol Flynn in dispatching scores of foes and then acts like it was all a big mistake. It's as if Arnold Schwarzenegger's Conan decided to throw away his sword after killing the giant snake because he had gotten icky blood all over his sandals. He does this in nearly every scene in the first few hours, which really wears out hi welcome. As a JRPG, it's almost a given to expect a certain element of this, but Infinite Undiscovery drags out the point. By the time he comes into his own during the second disk, some players might have stopped caring enough to get there.
Not everyone is like this. Aya is his brave rescuer, and Edward seems as if he would be a better stand-in for Capell as the hero of the story. There's also Rico and Rucha, two kids whose prodigy-like demeanor in battle mask some of the childish playfulness that they happily share with the rest of the party. The story throws in other characters, such as an NPC who asks me to find a bear, making me wish that the active battle commands were available instead. I get it already, tri-Ace, the joke is old. Capell starts off as a doofus.
The strong voice acting is undermined by the occasionally saccharine dialogue, but as the end closes in, the story develops poignant scenes that really show the potential it should have had from the start, but it's a case of too little too late. The world doesn't make a whole lot of sense since little is explained. It also doesn't help that it also has some of the worst lip-synching that you will ever see outside of a Hong Kong potboiler. Not every scene is spoken, either, and you can be easily caught off-guard in reading silent subtitles at certain points, making the presentation feel like a mess.
Motoi Sakuraba, a name well known among tri-Ace fans for his music, adds flavor to the game with several stirring tracks while running through the Luce Plains or the Seraphic Gate, but it doesn't feel as diverse as his previous work. On the other hand, the clanging of swords, explosions of unbridled power, and the fury of nature manage to fill the air. Using a proprietary engine, the world of Infinite Undiscovery also looks good, but it's a degree of a quality that wildly varies as much as the story does.
The seamless delivery of each area will keep you exploring the vast deserts outside of the city of Fayel to the shimmering walls of the Underwater Palace. Unique character designs and motion-captured animation help many of the NPCs and party members stand out, and the game isn't shy with its special effects — sometimes to the point that you lose track of the enemy's location when the screen literally bursts with color and flashing lights. Other times, certain aspects can make the game feel generic, with repetitive textures creating tiled grass to boxy buildings, uninspired interiors, cloned townspeople, invisible walls blocking off open streets, and recolored monster models when stronger ones are needed.
As a relatively linear RPG, it will take players from one town to the next dungeon and then back again until the end. You can often go out and explore the world to grind up for experience and materials for the crafting system that can be used to make weapons, armor, and goodies such as potions and food. You can also talk to NPCs for side-quests that usually turn out to be little more than fetch jobs. Much like the game up to this point, the options that the gameplay gives you are stifled by few opportunities to really explore it in more creative situations. There's not much out there to discover.
The usual staples are here, such as managing your inventory, purchasing items, gathering money, and even collecting raw ingredients to create items later. As a flute player, Capell can use his music to reveal hidden items or bestow an effect or two on the party; it becomes a key element in later battles, when the flute becomes the only thing that can reveal certain monsters. Capell can also "Connect" with one other party member hanging around town to make use of his or her talents. The party won't follow him around like invisible groupies and will go their own way on arrival, but by "Connecting" with someone, you can use them to engage NPCs that won't speak to adults, talk with animals, or open locked chests (depending on their talents). As interesting as this sounds, running around and tagging the right person for whenever you need him isn't a lot of fun when they're spread all over the place. A locked chest and an animal in one room? Guess how many trips that's going to take?
While in town, you can also save the game at an inn or organize your party. Capell will always be the leader of his own party, and when you hit the outside world, he and three others will deal with whatever is in their way and can save their progress at decently spaced points. Certain scenarios will also ask you to assemble up to two other parties to help lay siege on a dungeon, but you will only be able to control Capell while the AI takes control of everyone else, including the other parties. Interestingly enough, these other parties are also apparently immortal, which allows you to focus on your own team. Asking for healing is as easy as hitting a button, but don't expect to give too many orders other than determining which strategy the party should favor (i.e., focus on one monster, spread out, or save magic points and rely on strength of fundamental fighting skills).
Fortunately, tri-Ace spent time in shaping the AI to be more than capable in combat. As characters level up, watching several of them pile on an enemy becomes a fireworks show of spells, steel, and sublime chaos. Veterans who have played any of tri-Ace's previous titles will see this as a huge improvement over the generally dunce-like behavior with which they have had to work in the past. It's still not as detailed as I'd hoped it could be, and it has a tendency to spin characters in circles when confused, but on the whole, it's still a remarkable accomplishment.
If you can stomach the pitiful tutorials before it throws you into the proverbial fire, the action-packed gameplay becomes very rewarding later on as Capell and company improve. Using a weak and strong attack, these can be chained and mixed into simple combinations. Special attacks that draw upon magic points can also be used, filling the screen with plenty of flashy bling when they go off. Infinite Undiscovery's monsters are visible, so you can try to avoid certain encounters or more easily Connect with a party member to see if he can sneak in a surprise attack. You can help work out a puzzle, provided you have the right character in Capell's party. A lock-on system is also available to help focus on certain monsters, but it ultimately felt useless.
Certain battles also have hidden conditions that can reward the party with extra experience or items as part of the title's theme of discovery, which doesn't actually apply to ruins or buried treasure. The action doesn't stop even when the menu is opened, leaving you to figure out how best to manage the inventory during battle or to find a spot that seems reasonably safe to play around with the crafting and enchanting options.
Most of the party members in Infinite Undiscovery have skills that you can use to craft weapons, armor, write new songs, cook, or brew potions to aid the party. The more they work at this, the better they become, so you'll be able to forge powerful items later in the game. As strange as it sounds to simply create stuff while sitting around in the middle of a dungeon, it works to add a welcome dimension to the gameplay between each battle as you find ingredients and make use of them. Capell also has a talent for enchanting, bestowing timed bonuses that range from increasing attack damage to raising the amount of experience gained from each fight. Oddly, you can't do any of it in town.
Even if you Connect to a character to create some weapons with, like Edward, the option is locked until you actually leave town with the right mix of people. Even more awkward is the party command; you might be able to organize a party in town, but once you leave, you simply can't despite everyone being able to show up at the next destination. It's especially annoying when you run into an obstacle or locked chest and don't have the right person with you, but if you really want it, you'll need to head back to town, switch someone out, and then fight your way back in. It's as if the gameplay wants to play with a little realism from time to time, but only at the worst moments.
Surprisingly easygoing as a tri-Ace RPG goes, Infinite Undiscovery fans can expect about 30+ hours of play on the normal difficulty before arriving at the rewarding end. A bonus dungeon called the Seraphic Gate, a familiar tri-Ace extra, opens up and is packed with even more vicious monsters with powerful prizes, such as new weapons, armor, and plenty of precious money to spend.
Infinite Undiscovery's cobbled-together feel and thin story make this a disappointing experience on several levels, which is especially frustrating given tri-Ace's colorful history. Outside of its polished action formula, sharpened AI, and crafting system, the only thing that dungeon crawlers might discover is how finite the experience can unexpectedly feel in so many other ways.
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