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July 7, 2017

Spectral Force Genesis

I don’t walk around with my smartphone’s web browser opened on Metacritic or another review score aggregate at all times, on the off chance that I stumble upon a game that interests me, and I can look it up online, and see if it’s a good game or not before purchasing it. Thus, sometimes I just check the box before I buy a physical game for the DS, Wii or 3DS. And boy is it a mistake sometimes. We’ve all done that, haven’t we? I remember doing that with more than a few games, Anubis II being one of them. That was a big mistake! Even on Steam; although it’s possible to check the reviews for a game before you buy it, you can’t tell if you’ll enjoy it as much as everyone else seems to.

Such was the case for Spectral Force Genesis; its box art looks great and promises some interesting anime style, the back advertises it as an RPG, war simulator and real-time strategy game. How do these genres fit all together? By fighting for supremacy with each other on top of a sort-of story that only follows the logical beats of the setting!

Let’s just get this one over with, shall we?

Totally not villains.
When one starts a new game in Spectral Force Genesis, you’re shown the World Map, covered in flags of the various locations to capture. There’s about 30 countries, though only a few are available when you pick a starting one. The top screen helpfully shows the place’s Lord, its number of Troops, current status, as well as how much money it has.

Once you’ve picked a country, you get a short cutscene showing that country’s Lord and their turmoil. If you picked the country with the biggest army, highest amount of currency, and the like: Good job, you picked the villains. But what if you chose any other available country? Oh, don’t worry too much, unless you’re of the unlucky type you should fare okay. The villains are the head of the Republic, who are trying to keep a strong grip on what they own. The world is on the verge of a war, and there seems to be nothing to stop it. The various factions are preparing themselves for battle, but that hasn’t stopped the trades, accords and diplomatic trips from happening. It helps that every country has some allies it can rely on, if things were to get rough.

Every month has a theme, but not a
single month is "Peace&Love" Month.
However, I don’t think there was any information in the intro that would let you associate to any characters presented in the game. We’re off to a bad start when you can’t identify with anyone. The cutscenes, while pretty, will only confuse you more as you only catch details of the setting and can barely figure out anything else. Perhaps it’s a way to mimic real life? I dunno. Thing is, the cutscenes and text boxes will explain some background, but it’s like a combination of basic fantasy plots (the guys who want to take over the world, those who lay low while war ravages the other countries, those who are looking in the other countries for ancient artefacts) combined with all the lingo and official terms for all forms of geopolitical discussion and exchange. In other words, if you’re not into fantasy, skip this – especially if you’re not into barely-explained fantasy where nothing is really discussed. If you’re not into politics, skip this. And if you’re into neither of those, seriously, I know the anime characters on the box make it look like a big RPG adventure, but it’s all lies! LIIIIIIIIES! They’re lying to you! Don’t trust your perception!

…Anyhow. This means that they take a fairly serious approach to real-time strategy and war simulation, as you negociate trades and alliances with other countries, in an attempt to diminish the human losses that war could cause. You trade with the nearby countries, send in goods to receive money, send out money to receive goods. Of course, sometimes battle is inevitable. Not that you actually choose when you get to fight, though…

Ah yes, I need to mention this. The game is split in such a way that one turn lasts a month. During that turn, you can take charge of various elements in your kingdom or trade with other kingdoms. However! Each month has a set category: Taxes, Strategy, Foreign Affairs, Human Affairs and Battle. Here’s a quick overview of each.
Buy! Sell! Make friends!
You,ll just attack them later.
-Taxes: Buy stocks from other countries, sell your stocks to other countries, promote a soldier to General. That last one is more important than it sounds, as you can only have a maximum of 400 men in a battalion led by a General, so some of your men will be unused if you don’t have more Generals.
-Strategy: Increase the defense of the walls surrounding your city, and increase your country’s value by investing in your economy. A stronger economy will attract more troops and strengthen your army.
-Foreign Affairs: Pick a General to negotiate an alliance with a foreign country. Obviously, when battle rolls around, you won’t fight your allies; those can be invaluable if you get in trouble. Of course, if your General is awful with people, you won’t get anywhere. You can even persuade powerful Generals to join your side!
-Human Affairs: Appoint people to important ranks. You can also look for more Generals, and lure one to you with a General you own who has a lot of charisma.
-Battle: Get into a straight-up battle against an opposing country (you can be attacked too), or be sneaky and send an army to loot said opposing country.

This is about as helpful as handing a
fork to someone who's hungry, and
not giving them any food.
How do I know all this? Not thanks to the various abbreviations used throughout the game, that’s for sure! How did I learn any of that? Through the various helpful tutorials… which are never a part of the main game. Nah, they’re hidden in the options menu and explain only in broad strokes the various elements. Pretty poor tutorials, honestly. They didn’t really help all that much. If anything, I’m left even more confused! It’s like they translated the whole thing from Japanese and used a font for English too large, so they wound up having to make short sentences and drop most of the useful information. I mean, there’s laconic, then there’s “not explaining anything enough”. Then there’s “spending way too long on every single goddamn detail and plot point”, the opposite of laconic, which pretty accurately describes Planned All Along as a whole…

Another bad element about the game? Well, each month’s activity is set randomly. You heard right, one month you may be doing human affairs, the next you may be doing strategy, then some more human affairs, then who know, you might as well have three battle months in a row. Most of the war simulation elements happen through menus and we don’t see much of the interactions that take place. We get the odd comment from a person we talk to, with a very tiny image of their face next to their text box, but that’s it. We do get a lot more out of battle sections, though…

Shields defeat swords and magic?
Not that it’s much more, mind you. First you pick a country to go to war with, then you set up your troops. See, each General and their troop specializes in one of three fields; attack, defense or magic. It’s basically rock-paper-scissors: Attack, represented by swords, beats up the wizards; magic, represented by wands, can defeat the shielded opponents; and the shields have better protection against swords, and can better beat them up. It’s not a 100% beat-up rate. Scissor doesn’t automatically cut paper, it just has a type advantage of sorts, like in Pokémon when a Fire attack hurts more a Grass-type creature. You can strike back with a Grass-type attack all you want; it’ll hurt a bit but it won’t do much. You can attack a Shield battalion with swords; good luck winning though, send a team of wizards instead. Or a team of shields from your side, that works too. The advantage is that you can direct your teams on the battlefield, towards the enemy factions or around them to flank them. That’s one interesting part of that strategy “mini-game”, if you’re quick enough you can take advantage of the touch screen and devise strategies to attack some enemy battalions from behind.

Are you protecting your own walls?
Are you tearing down fortresses?
Either way, some walls are GOING
Were you the one attacking? Did you lose? Then you lost your army, I hope you’re proud of yourself. Did you win? Good! Then you can attack their castle! You’re limited to three actions: Persuade the attacked country into surrendering, or tear down their walls and reach the castle, claim it, and force the alliance upon them. A country that has lost its army is unable to fight back, so if you fail at taking the castle the first time, you can just go back on the next battle month. Were you attacked? Did you win? Good! You defended your turf. Did you lose? Gee, I hope you had enough strong walls. If you did, then you should be able to get back on your feet – if you have enough soldiers remaining, that is; you can only send 1200 at a time on the battlefield, after all. If enemies gang up on you, though, you’re doomed.

As your empire grows in size, other factions will start rallying against you in a bid to protect themselves. Things get hard past that point, and your resource management has to be tighter and more effective, as you’ll need all the troops you can get, as well as any of the Generals you can salvage. Still important to keep a good standing with the neighbors, and not play any dirty tricks on them, and- I realize right now that I don’t give a semblance of a damn about this game.

Geeeez, could these people be
even MORE dramatic?
There’s still a lot to unlock, still; do you want to see every cutscene? Then, beat the game with every available starting country. Actually…it seems that you’ll eventually be able to pick any one of the 40 countries when starting a game, later down the line, so you need to beat the game with every single one of them. You have to, if you want to unlock every single Nation Event, Battle Event, Database item and Character Info page. Good luck…

Has anyone ever done that, though? I can’t even finish the game for one of these goddamned countries. As a game, I don’t like it, but I could see this as an anime. Like a Japanese Game of Thrones or something. It does have the big anime feel, with plenty of characters – too many to keep track of without gigantic flowcharts, perhaps – and so many intertwining stories. Problem is, there is no interest whatsoever in trying to discover them all. The strategy element is there and it’s executing all of these elements as well as it can. However, you need to actively seek out the tutorials to understand how to play – and even if you find them, they won’t help much, delivering not enough information. You know what we needed? Playable tutorials. That would have been useful.

"Com"? "Dft"? "Tax"?
Communications, defeat...
On top of all this, the strategy element is greatly weakened by the seemingly random order of the events as they happen every month. You can get screwed over by too many Battles in a row, or spend more than half a year without any battle taking place. Actually, it’s kind of silly that everybody decides on one particular month to battle. I mean, I see why they did it, as it would be complicated if players could decide to go to battle at any moment, but the randomized element here also means that you can end up doing any of the other elements (Human Affairs, Foreign Affairs, etc.) more often, even when, say, you’ve got no need to do them. Even outside of that, there’s an element of randomness – you can attack, or you can be attacked, and things can conspire against you. Granted, that’s how real life conquests go, you can head out to conquer or risk being conquered…

The anime style does look pretty good, and I can tell there was an effort to feature stories that might interest the player, but since we have no proper introductions for anyone and no incentive to see more of them, we lose any desire to see more. What’s worse, the bits of dialogue we read early on do imply a greater story as well as many mysteries around the characters we meet from the get-go… but there’s no incentive to follow on any of it!

"Unicorn Flag", and this guy has a hair spike shaped
like a unicorn horn? That is the stupidest haircut I
have ever seen! And I know a lot about stupid haircuts.
I watched Yu-Gi-Oh, for crying out loud.

All in all… yeah, just skip that one. I’m almost grateful that information on this game is so rare, that this game is almost unheard of. It’s a shame for Neverland and Idea Factory, the game’s developers… but yeah, this is just bad. Just find some friends and play Risk instead.

Next week, a better game. One that I will actually give a damn about.