Have you ever played a game where you alternately found yourself enjoying what you were playing and cursing at the television? One moment you are experiencing gaming bliss and the next that game disk is sure looking attractive as a frisbee. This is one of the most consistent things about playing Infinite Undiscovery the newest offering from Tri-Ace, developers of the Valkyrie Profile and Star Ocean series.
Wait… what the heck sort of name is that? Infinite Undiscovery?! While it's likely supposed to evoke some sort of sensation of wonder or something but that's just a nightmare of abuse towards the English language.
Moving past the nonsense that is the name IU is the story of a young flute player named Capell. By some strange twist of fate this humble flutist happens to look exactly like a great hero named Sigmund the Liberator. This mistake lands him in the custody of a group named the Order of Chains, an insane group that has lashed magical chains to the moon and seeks to steal its power for themselves. Rescued from the Order Capell finds himself, very reluctantly, dragged into a story full of twists and turns that are surprisingly hard to see coming especially considering how cliche many JRPGs have gotten.
One thing that some people have found to complain about is how immature Capell acts throughout the story but this is something of a misconception. At the beginning of the story he is nothing more than a simple flutist and doesn't want to be dragged into a war between Sigmund and the Order. This is actually fairly realistic as opposed to the main character who can't help but join in the good fight and just generally jumps at the chance to play hero.
Unlike most of its fellow RPGs Infinite Undiscovery plays out in a real-time format. Combat, accessing the inventory and using special abilities are all executed in real-time, no pauses in the action for you. This keeps the combat faced paced and makes some boss battles quite tense but it also brings a series of its own problems to the fore.
Your allies are controlled entirely by AI and commands that you give them and this works well for the most part. The problem comes that any management of their abilities, such as telling a mage which spells they can and cannot cast, are done in menus which you can't do during a fight. Should your party die on you then you would need to open a menu to heal them, there are no hotkeys to assist with this, which you really can't do during a fight. All you can do, as Capell, during a fight is attack, use your attack skills and play your flute none of which will help if you're in dire need of ordering your party around a bit more.
It isn't all bad though, there's a lot of fun to be had from this. You will find yourself using your skills with glee as you and up to three other party members unleash hell upon your foes. It can be a sight to watch all four of you unleash your skills at a foe, juggling them in the air and shearing their health away. As strange omission is that of a block command replaced by a parry command that barely works. Here's a free game tip, don't bother with the parry just keep on a swinging and let your party members heal you. Most strategy dissolves in all but the hardest of battles so just run away if you find it necessary and regroup.
The combat system takes second chair to the actual meat of any RPG, the story and characters. It is here that you will find IU to take its greatest steps forward while stumbling just a little bit.
The story here is fairly interesting and they introduce a lot of new ideas and concepts that flesh out the game world quite well. You really feel like you're going through a storyline that could have been taken straight from a novel. Every time some new element is introduced in the story it is explained in a fairly even way that doesn't feel heavy handed and it helps to draw you in even more. By the time the credits roll you will know this game world very well and it's an almost sad event when you find yourself having to leave it.
The characters are also incredibly well fleshed out. As you play through the game you will slowly see more and more personality emerge from them and you will learn more about who they are. Admittedly, with eighteen characters, the developers would have been hard pressed to get into too much detail on most of them but it's done rather admirably. All of the characters that really matter to the storyline are given time to shine while others are there for a short time and then mostly fall out of sight. You will likely find yourself picking favorites and hating some but you will have some sort of emotion for each of them over time.
With such a massive world and all this information it's sad to see that the developers were apparently rushed into completing the game. There are a number of elements that feel quite rushed and unfinished, worst of all is the secondary character system.
There are many points where you will find yourself having to make two or three different parties as opposed to the single four man party that you will be dealing with most of the time. You will be able to put up to twelve people into action at times. Sounds great, right? Well how about having characters that can only be used when you split up into these two or three parties. It's just as silly as it sounds.
You will end up with five of these characters and as examine them you will realize they were meant to be playable. They have skills you can set to work with them in the battlefield and they are equipped with weapons that only one member in your party can use other than them. It rapidly begins to reveal itself that they were kept in game due to story purposes but they had to be relegated to support roles instead of you being able to take them with you. If you want to bring a second bow user then you're out of luck, he's a secondary character only.
One thing that this game doesn't share with its Final Fantasy and Valkyrie Profile contemporaries is the soundtrack. While it sounds good at all times it doesn't produce any all too memorable tunes that you will stick with you long after completing the game. There are a few tunes that stood out at the time but at the time of this review it's hard to remember what they ever sounded like. Luckily the graphics are pretty strong and work well for the most part. All of the character and enemy models are quite well detailed but the backgrounds can look a bit flat. They would have probably looked flat on the original Xbox.
A major issue with the graphics is the lack of lip-synching. It's usually pretty noticeable when something has been dubbed into English and no work has been done to make the mouth even look like it's saying what's coming out. However there are even times when the characters will talk, the camera will zoom in on their face and no lip work is done. It's horribly amateur and it would stand out even on a last generation game.
Infinite Undiscovery is a flawed, frustrating but still strong game experience. Every time you really start to enjoy yourself you will hit a speed bump that jostles you out of the experience. This becomes a serious problem when you find yourself wondering how someone is so chatty with their mouth moving so little while a dramatic cut scene is going on. If you find yourself wondering if someone is talking without lip movement or if they're doing an inner monologue don't worry, that's entirely natural. Just try to grin and bear it and you will find a diamond in the rough here.