Title: Infinite Space
Platform: Nintendo DS
Developers: PlatinumGames & Nude Maker
Infinite Space is a a hard game to classify, but I guess it fits the RPG genre the most. It's the story of a teenager who decides to travel through space in a quest to understand his father's legacy. While the premise is as stereotypical as it gets, the storytelling is actually quite good and is still riveting to me after 25+ hours. It's an epic tale in which you'll meet many characters, fight many battles and eventually change the fate of the universe itself!
Official website: http://platinumgames.com/games/infinite-space/
The video at the top is a neat trailer but it is spoilerish, be warned if you care. You should also know that the actual game has no voice-over nor any animated scene that I've seen. It's all unanimated character portraits and full on text dialogues.
I'm making this thread to inform people about the game and answer whatever questions you guys might have. Eluvei wanted 3 pages, so let's see what I can do. I'll start right away by saying that the game is austere. It's impossibly grand and runs on the least powerful of all current platforms, so concessions were made. As you can see above, that means rudimentary graphics on tiny screens (check out IGN's image gallery to see more). It's also not a fast-paced game by any means. The battles are somewhat slow and not especially varied. But it's my favorite game on the NDS, and I own 44 NDS games so I think that means something.
I briefly mentioned the story earlier and I won't say more about it in order to avoid revealing too much, but I want to reiterate that it's not just an excuse to have space battles. The plot is well crafted and relatively complex (space politics!) and the characters, despite their young age, behave like you'd want them to most of the time. In other words it vastly outclasses most video games in that department. If you like Sci-Fi or just good stories in general you'll have a blast playing this.
Another thing I've been enjoying a lot is that the game doesn't hold your hand. It doesn't hammer plot points or tutorials on you; if you miss something the first time it shows up there's a chance you've missed it for good. And it also treats your wannabe character as he ought to be treated. The downside is that it can be unforgiving if you aren't quick to "get it". For example there's a very well done Help Menu, but it's up to you to go check it, as the game won't go over every little detail for you. I can get behind this philosophy myself but it might not be for everyone.
Now let's talk about the gameplay. You are the captain of a fleet of space ships. You'll start out with one, and over the course of the story come to command over a maximum of 5 ships at once. You'll fight enemy ships in battles involving a maximum of 5 enemies at once. If you look at the above screenshots, you'll see various aspects of the game. The first two screenshots were taken during a battle, the last two represent different aspects of the management of your fleet. The very first one represents the main screen(s) during a battle, and you can see that it makes good use of the dual screens.
A quick description of what's in that picture: on the upper screen you have the position and attack range of each fleet at the top, the Command Gauge on the left which regulates what command you can issue (e.g. attack or evade), the shielding (HP) and crew availability of your ships (only 2 vessels in this case), whether each one of their weapon is in range (the small icons above the health bar, blue is OK, red is not), and of course your flagship and the currently selected enemy ship in the middle of the screen. Note that they're not just there for show: the halo around the enemy ship indicates the state of the enemy's Command Gauge, and if fighter "jets" are involved, the damage they deal is displayed there in real time. The number of available fighters is also displayed underneath the "HP". In the screenshot we can see that none of the ships carry any.
On the lower screen, we can see the class of each enemy ship (e.g. Destroyer, Cruiser, Battleship, Carrier, Other, etc.), their position within the fleet (Front, Middle, Rear), which is very important as ships on the rear are extremely hard to hit, and their "rank" (from 1 to 5, number 1 being the flagship). Below that, you have the commands you can issue (by tapping the touchscreen with the stylus). "Back" and "Forward" allow you to move your fleet in and out of Attack Range, with "Stand By" being self-explanatory. The two "Cam." button at the bottom right and left corner allow you to toggle the view of the fleets on the upper screen. Can either display both with a focus on your flagship or be centered on the enemy fleet. Worth mentioned is that the D-pad allows you to change the angle to see the other ships in the fleet.
Finally, in the center are the actual combat commands. "Normal" is a normal attack: one shot of each weapon from each ship that is within range (note that the fleet's Attack Range differs from each weapon's individual range). It can be used as soon as the bar hits yellow, and consumes a third of the Gauge's total length (so if you just hit the yellow section and launch it, you're back to zero). Barrage is a triple shot. You have to reach the red zone to use it (not picture on the screenshot), meaning the bar must be at least 2/3 filled. It consumes 2/3 of the bar. Dodge is a state you activate and stay in until you launch an attack. It consumes a little less than a third of the bar. It allows you to evade a Barrage, but makes you more susceptible to be hit by a Normal Attack.
Melee attacks take as much of the bar as a Barrage and require you to be in very close range of the enemy. When you launch one such attack your crew will board the enemy flagship and battle its own crew. Melee battles are fought using a system of Rock/Paper/Scissor. You have three options: Shoot, Slash, and Leader. It works like this: Shoot > Leader > Slash > Shoot. The size of your crew is determinant, as well as the characters you have assigned to take care of the fleet's "security" (will come back on this later). Depending on who's in charge, a special attack is also available during melee battles. If you win a melee battle you win the encounter, regardless of how many ships are left intact in the enemy fleet. Both parties can try to escape during a melee battle, which takes you back to the main battle. It's a risky tactic but it can be rewarding. Worth noting is that melee battles regularly occur while invading enemy bases as well.
Below the "Stand By" command on the screen is a greyed out "Spcl1" option. That's a special attack. Those are acquired through your characters' skills. Specifically those of the Captain and the First Officer. There can be up to three. Special attacks can be extremely powerful, and are not affected by weapon range (only by Attack Range). The two greyed out and empty places opposite Dodge and Normal are devoted to fighter combat (specifically the launch of fighters, and the activation of Anti-Air defenses against enemy fighters). It's a tactically very important part of combat, but it only comes into play after a while in the game and this section is already long enough, so I won't go over it in detail. Suffices to say that you can't move Forward or Backward if you're under fire from fighters, and that you can't Dodge and use Anti-Air countermeasures at the same time.
Well, that's all for that first screenshot. On the second one you can see what happens when you launch an attack. There's a sequence of cutscenes showing your ships firing and the enemy ships taking damage or vice versa. You also regularly hear some lengthy techno-military babble before the actual attacks, which is amusing but that you'll end up skipping almost continuously in order to shorten battles. A tap of the stylus is enough to skip a sequence so it's really not much of a bother. You can also select to permanently shorten these sequences in the options.
One last word about the combat: there are random battles. I hate random battles personally. But not in this game. Most of them are escapable, but I've gone through them all without problem. Make of this what you want, but I see it as a testimony to how addictive the game mechanics are.
The second major part of the game is the management of your fleet and your crew, illustrated by the third and fourth screenshots. There are several aspects to this. Let's start with the fleet. First off you have to buy blueprints from a shop. Either for ships or for modules (equipment to place on the ship). Then you have to find a planet on which there is a shipyard to actually build the ship or install modules on it. Like I said earlier there are different classes of ships, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. Additionally various models within each class can vary quite a bit in regard to what aspect they favor. Ships have all kinds of stats and they're all equally important, so you're bound to have to make hard choices.
Then come the modules. It's what the third screenshot is specifically about. Modules are shown as little Tetris-like blocks (you cannot rotate them) that you have to fit in the ship's available space as best as you can. You start out with few modules available but you quickly get to have way too many to choose from. More hard choices. There really is a lot of modules and each can affect various stats in various ways so the system's got a lot of depth. I have to say, equipping modules is really very fun, in the same way Sim City is. It's a mix between a puzzle and equipping a character but with an extreme potential for customization. You can fill a ship with cargo holds and just make money carrying merchandise from a port to another (automated, seamless process each time you dock), or you can cram in as many BEAM AMPLIFIERS and SHIELD GENERATORS as you can to make it into a monster.
In short, modules play a huge role in the game, ranging from how well you perform in battle (how fast you move, how well you dodge attacks, how big your attack range is, how hard certain weapons hit, how resistant you are, how fast your Command Gauge fills, how quickly your fighters get repaired, how well you do in melee battles, etc.) to how often your R&D department comes up with ship enhancements, how much money you earn or how little your crew tires while you travel (can have a drastic impact during battle if they're too tired). In parallel you also have to manage fighters. That means having a ship that can launch fighters, then buying hangar modules to house them, and finally buying the fighters themselves (first the blueprints, then you have them built).
There are various types of fighters: Strikers (Anti-Ship), Interceptors (Anti-Air) and Multi-role. Anti-Air means "Anti-Fighter", in case that's not instantly clear. They each have their own stats (speed, length of flight, attack power vs ships, attack power vs fighters, etc.) and specificities. Additionally their size can vary from single to triple depending on the model.
Now about the weapons. You have different types of weapons, placed in different parts of the ship. That influences their damage and their range. The big frontal cannon does more damage and has a bigger range than the small cannons at the back. First off, there are anti-ship weapons and anti-air weapons. That's right, they're different and if you only equip anti-ship weapons on all your ships you'll be a sitting duck as soon as fighters will enter the fray (unless you have high performance fighters yourself). Second, there are single attack and multi-attack weapons. Single attack means they only damage one ship, multi-attack means they'll damage multiple ships in the enemy fleet.
Third, you have beam-based weapons and solid ammo weapons. Beam weapons have a higher range and a better accuracy but their effectiveness can be reduced if the enemy has implemented shielding technology. Solid ammo weapons have a shorter range and a lower accuracy but they usually total more damage (e.g. 3 x 50 vs 1 x 120 for a beam) and cannot be dampened by shields. Worth mentioning is the fact that weapons have a maximum range AND a minimum range. If you're too close to the enemy some weapons might not be usable.
On the other hand of the spectrum we have the management of the crew, which is what the fourth screenshot is about. It's in Japanese but I don't think that matters much. On the upper screen you can see the character's name, his portrait, his affiliation, his age and gender, his stats and his special abilities. On the bottom screen are the lists of characters available (on the left) and positions within the crew (on the right). There are 35 positions in total and you can recruit over 60 different characters. Each section boosts certain characteristics of the ship (e.g. Fire Control will improve your attacks), and each position makes use of a certain stat from the character (e.g. the position of "Captain" and "First Officer" are based on "Leadership", while the position of "Nurse" is based on "Medicine"). All characters gain experience during battles and as they level up their stats grow depending on their affectation. They eventually can aquire special abilities as well, related to their area of expertise.
Characters can be recruited in many different ways. They can be hired for money, rescued and then recruited, fought and defeated then taken in, they can join your crew without asking you the permission, etc. Some are met through the main story, some through sidequests. Some join your crew temporarily, others permanently. It's quite varied overall. They also interact with you and with each other during talks in Taverns (that's right, space taverns in space villages!) or during story-related events. Depending on what you do it can have positive or negative consequences (e.g. gaining Leadership experience when properly handling a situation). Of course there's a main cast of "core" characters, but even the less important guys have something to say from time to time.
And this brings me to the final part of the gameplay: the travel. You travel between planets in a 3D environment, by following starlanes. What this means is you basically have certain points in space you can visit, and to travel to these you have to follow certain routes (which can open or close depending on story-related events). While traveling along those starlanes you are vulnerable to (random) enemy attacks. Their frequency and probability of occurring can be increased or reduced depending on your ships' Cruise Speed stat. As you travel, your crew progressively gets tired (influenced by the livability stat of your ships) and so frequent stops are preferable. Each time you dock in a proper starport all your ships' durability (HPs) is replenished and your crew rests to the max.
You also gain access to the Save/Load menu, the Help menu and the CTA menu which allows you to Edit your Crew and Fleet parameters, see your Ranking as a spacefarer (currently I'm ranked ~3000), your Status (how many battles won, how many escapes, etc.) and so on. You cannot save the game or do anything but fight/escape while traveling in space. On certain planets you can also find shipyards or various shops as well as plot-related locations. And of course taverns! The perfect places to get jobs or just the latest galactic news. Going back to the Status part, I forgot to mention that it's something you earn alonside Experience and Money during battles. It's called Fame Points, appropriately abbreviated as FAP. Among other things, Fame is useful because certain characters you can recruit will require you to be famous enough to deserve having them on your team.
While traveling in space you'll also sometimes witness certain vistas (a super nova here, a nebula there) that will add to your Fame and will be added to a big database you can access from the main menu, regrouping information on characters, nations, planets, ship models and so on. Certain points that would usually be uninteresting, like groups of asteroids, will sometimes also contain resources that can be mined for money. Lastly, in order to travel from one region of space to another you'll have to go through Void Gates. Mysterious gates that link far-away places together and allow you to instantly Warp between them. They play an important role in the story.
That's about it for this brief introduction to the game. It currently has an average score of 76 on Metacritic, but I honestly believe it's not getting the recognition it deserves. For example IGN UK has a one page review of it that's just shameful and dismisses all of the game's amazing qualities on account of it being "boring". Well it's not been boring AT ALL to me, quite the contrary in fact, and I urge you guys to look into it because it's the kind of low-profile title that really needs all the love it can get. And you'll get a lot bang for your buck too, in total I must have spent about 30 hours on the game so far and as far as I can tell the ending is still a ways off. There is a multiplayer component, but unfortunately it's local only. On a side note, the soundtrack is competent but the sound effects are nothing special.
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