Publisher: Atlus USA
Genre: Turn Based RPG
Release Date: 05/25/2010
I have a love-hate relationship with Sting. I like the idea of their games and their attempts to try new things, but I find the finished products to be somewhat or deeply flawed, be it in gameplay, story, or both. Evolution was a second rate but adorable roguelike. We have three staffers that have played both the Saturn and Wii/PS2 versions of Baroque, and all agreed that the game had issues. I hated their remake of Wizardry for the Wonderswan, yet enjoyed Rivera on the same system, while loathing Atlus’ localization of the game for the GBA and PSP. Yggdra Nation was flawed and dull, Dokapon Kingdom was fun with friends but god awful boring when played by yourself and finally Knights in the Knightmare was a great idea in theory but not very well implemented.
With all this in mind, there is something about Sting’s games that make me keep coming back for more. That brings us to Hexyz Force. Chris Bowen wrote a preview for this game a month ago, but now it’s time for the actual review. Does Hexyz Force continue Sting’s streak of innovative but flawed games, or have they made something appealing to RPG fans of all walks?
Hexyz Force actually features two plots for you to peruse that form an overall story. By choosing each main character and following their plot, you get half of the events that make over the overall plot for the game. Both characters’ events cross over from time to time, but both stories stand on their own for the most part.
Both stories are also wildly different in tone, plot and characterization. You have Cecilia the cleric and Levant the warrior. I made the mistake of choosing Cecilia’s tale first since I always pick the cleric when given an option of characters (magical healing yay!). Cecilia’s tale is exceptionally boring and is filled with unlikeable characters. Cecilia herself is a ditzy, lazy goof of a priestess who takes neither her faith nor her job seriously. Then when the sky turns black and monsters start killing villagers, she is revealed as the Maiden of the Staff, the chosen warrior-priestess of the kingdom, and then spends the rest of her tale whining and bitching, while trying to get out of her destiny. The cast and crew she meets along the way had me actually rooting for the bad guys.
Meanwhile Levant’s story is actual quite fun and filled with a lot of political intrigue. Levant’s best friend Alex is the king of the humans and his kingdom has been fighting with demihumans for decades. It turns out to broker a deal with the elves in hopes to stop the bloodshed on all sides, Alex becomes engaged to the princess of the elves. At the wedding announcement in an elvish village, the princess is assassinated and this drives the king crazy with rage and grief. He takes to wearing a helmet that covers his face at all times and he decides to commit complete genocide on the demihuman races. Levant, who is actually quite racist as you will see regularly throughout his story path (shades of James in Koudelka) stands up to his old friend and master when innocent lives on both sides are lost due to his actions and is thus marked for death. Levant manages to escape with the help of the king’s half sister and a lygar (lion-man furrie thing) and ends up siding with the demihumans, who he is still well, let’s just say he keeps calling them the equivalent to the “n-word” throughout the first chapter. Making friends all the way, Levant.
Both stories intersect with the fact both Levant and Cecilia are Hexyz, beings that wield Ragnafacts – weapons made by (or from) the gods of this world. Both characters are on a quest to prevent the upcoming Time of Judgment from ruling in favour of Destruction, where all life shall be extinguished. Instead, if the characters can tip the scales in favour of Creation, life across the world shall be saved. No pressure, right?
Overall, I hated playing through Cecilia’s story, but found Levant’s to be rather interesting. Both stories follow RPG clichés from beginning to end in this relatively journey, but at least you get two wildly different stories so if you find one to be dull, you can always try your luck with the other. It’s nowhere as good as the option you would find in say, Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance 2 which does roughly the same thing as this game and gives you SEVEN characters to choose from, along with less linearity and an action RPG combat system, but it’s like getting two games for thirty bucks. Now if only Atlus would do that with both Persona 2s, eh?
Story Rating: Above Average
I’m just going to be blunt – holy hell is Hexyz Force ugly. This game looks like very early (or very bad) PSX graphics at its best and during the wandering bits, degenerates even further to 16 bit quality. Seriously, I’d rather look at Shining Force 2 than this as its more visually impressive and well as being over a decade old. This, my friends, is an ugly game feature some of the laziest and ugliest character designs I’ve seen on the PSP. The overworld, the battles, the character designs, the animation, and the backgrounds all look horrendous.
Even the anime cut scenes are less than impressive compared to what else is available for the PSP. Hell, the umpteenth remake of Lunar: The Silver Star for the PSP uses the same video footage as we saw on the PSX and Sega Saturn and those look better. There’s just nothing kind I can say about the graphics here. Characters are unimaginative and lack detail, dungeon designs are dull and lackluster. Even bosses look like scrubs. The visuals are sloppy and poorly done across the board.
Graphics Rating: Bad
A decent chunk of the game is voice acted, but it’s not what I would call good by any means. Much like the graphics, the voice acting harkens back to the 1990’s in terms of quality, which is to say – not good. Irene, Levant’s love interest and fellow Hexyz sounds like a transsexual or a less sultry Dr. Girlfriend. The rest of the actors range from bad to passable, but with the same few bits of dialogue running through battles consistently, you’ll be looking to play with the volume muted outside of cute scenes.
The background music is actually pretty good. I found the tracks in both games to fit both the mood and style of the game nicely, which is impressive as tracks do overlap both scenarios.
There’s really not a lot to say about sound effects. Most creatures make the same noises and a lot of attacks sound similar. What’s here is acceptable for two shorter JRPG’s, but none of the aural aspects are really up to the usual quality seen in Sting titles. Especially Baroque.
Sound Rating: Mediocre
4. Control and Gameplay
I wasn’t very impressed with the actual gameplay in either scenario in Hexyz Force. You spend most of your time running through overly large dungeons. Thankfully the game eschews random battles and goes for set monsters on the screen. If you touch a monster from behind, you get to go first, if they do it to you, they get a sneak attack and your team order is reversed and if you both touch head on, it’s a normal battle. This is fairly standard stuff used as an alternative to random battles and one I prefer. However, whenever you go back to a previous screen, the monsters have regenerated and they are ALL faster than you so good luck trying to really out run any of them. This mean you will be fighting a lot. Of course all this means there is no quick save option for you and save points only occur at certain locations. Because you know, being able to save at any time in a portable game just makes sense so why would Sting put it in there. Thumbs down for that one.
Battles are as boring and vanilla as turn based battles get. You and your opponents are on opposite sides of the screen and characters go in order of speed. Characters walk up slash and walk back. Repeat until over. This can be pretty boring, so Sting has attempting to mix things up by giving characters Reaction Points. Every attack costs at least one reaction point and once you are out, all you can do is defend. In an odd game design, when you heal your character from the menu screen, only hit points are healed, not RPs. This is pretty stupid, although not as bad as the lack of quick save. The only ways you can get RPs back are by defending on your turn, finding a healing fountain (which you first have to purify through a battle before you can use, making this another strange/stupid design decision) or by leveling up. Out of the three options, leveling up is the most common. You level up constantly and quickly in this game so you should rarely run out of points unless you are only using your strongest attacks.
The only other thing worth mentioning is that you earn FP as well as XP. FP are used to power up each character’s main weapon. You can increase the overall power, learn new attacks or the “resonation” of the Ragnafact, which lets you attack sooner and makes attacks cost less RP. Of course, all characters share the same pool of FP and each advance is rather expensive, so you’ll have to decide who gets the bonuses and which ones. This reminded me a lot of the Magical XP from the Sega CD version of Lunar: Eternal Blue, and we all know how well that turned out…
Overall, I found playing either scenario of Hexyz Force to be dull, archaic, and slow. The battle system is heavily flawed and boring, with no need to even bother trying to learn or utilize things like Hexyz charges as your battles will be done long before they can come into play. Yes, even boss fights. Hexyz Force is simply an unremarkable and deeply flawed game
Control and Gameplay: Poor
With two very different scenarios and the ability to customize each of your characters weapons, you can get a lot of mileage out of Hexyz Force if you actually find the game enjoyable or rewarding. On paper, two full storylines for $30 is a nice deal, but you’ll have to have some pretty big JRPG fanboy blinders on to ignore the issues with this title. In that case, you’ll be able to come back to this regularly as you play through each scenario.
Replayability Rating: Above Average
Although both scenarios are pretty easy, Cecilia’s story is noticeably harder in the beginning if only because her team consists of two characters and Levant’s has a total of three. In either case, most enemies can be defeated in two or three attacks, and bosses in about two or three rounds. In both scenarios I only ever lost a battle (earning a “game over” screen) once. So if you are looking for a highly repetitive game that is easy as it is dull, Hexyz Force is right up your alley.
In all seriousness I was shocked at how easy this was at first, but then I remembered Sting only makes games that are highly difficult for most gamers (Knights in the Knightmare) or games that are extremely easily (Baroque) with no real in-between. Hexyz Force offers no challenge or any real depth to the battle engine. Instead, you’ve got one really well done story and one that would have Chris Bowen letting loose a string of profanity I’d have to edit out of his review.
Balance Rating: Poor
There is nothing in Hexyz Force that hasn’t been done by countless other games already, and said games have done it better. The morality system in this game is black and white, allowing a mere two choices of “Creation” or “Destruction.” Compare this to other RPGs with multiple endings and paths. Hell Ogre Tactics was less linear than Hexyz Force and had twice as many endings. That game is fifteen years old. I can think of 16-bit games with better graphics and dozens of games with a similar but better battle system.
Hexyz Force is one of those games that really doesn’t do anything right. Now that doesn’t mean the game is awful or even bad. It’s just simply a very lackluster title without any real thought or care put into it. It comes across half-assed, especially compared to Sting’s other titles. There is no real innovation or even creativity here. This is just as generic as a JRPG can get, save that you get two on the UMD instead of one. Deeply disappointing here.
Originality Rating: Bad
I couldn’t wait to put this game down. When I had finally finished Cecilia’s story, I was like, “Thank Cthulhu! The game was too easy, the level designs were insipid and uninspired, monsters were mostly palette swaps and the characters on either side of the fence were unlikeable. Then I remembered I had Levant’s story to go and, oh my, did I swear like a sailor on nickel beer night. Thankfully though I actually liked Levant’s story and the different characters it contained. Still, the only thing enjoyable there was the story itself. It was the same sub-par combat and progression system. When all was said and done, I was more than happy to move onto other games like Disgaea Infinite and 100 Classic Books. Hell, I finished those after Hexyz Force but wrote those reviews first so I could get the taste of Sting’s latest foul up out of my mouth.
I play way too many RPGs, especially JRPGs for my own good and Hexyz Force is down there with Iyar Chronicle and Sands of Destruction for the worst I’ve played in 2010 so far.
Addictiveness Rating: Poor
9. Appeal Factor
I can’t really think who will like Hexyz Force save either the most diehard Atlus faithful, JRPG apologists who like any JRPG that comes out, or people with shockingly low standards. As I’ve said throughout this review, Hexyz Force is simply a dull and uninspired game, lacking any of the depth or heart even the BAD Sting games have shown. However, every game has its audience and there will certainly be some people who cling to this simply because it is the same trappings and gameplay style they have always known, even if it’s not very good. Still, if one is looking for an easy or simple JRPG, Hexyz Force does at least fit that bill.
Appeal Factor: Poor
Your first clue that something was wrong with this game and that Atlus knew it was the price point. Two games for $29.99? Atlus usually prices their games over the general MSRP most publishers follow. $34.95 for DS games and 39.99 for PSP games. As such, this was a bit of a red flag going in for me, and I should have heeded it. Yes, it’s night to get what boils down to two $15 RPG, and honestly, you get what you pay for in that respect. Neither scenario is bad over all; it’s just neither game is good in their own right, They are simply lackluster experiences easily overshadowed by better games for the PSP. I mean, when you hold this up to say, Crimson Gem Saga, and you see Hexyz Force for what it is. CGS held to the generic turn based trappings as well, but the encounter system was superior, battles were far more fun, the graphics were vastly superior, the localization and plot were incredible and the customization of your characters was deeper and more involved. Hexyz Force is simply a below average game made by a developer that still has yet to make a truly solid across the board title.
Miscellaneous Rating: Poor
Modes: Above Average
Control and Gameplay: Poor
Replayability: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Poor
FINAL SCORE: BELOW AVERAGE GAME
Short Attention Span Summary
As long as you keep in mind that you are getting two $15 quality RPG’s in the $30 title that is Hekyz Force, you should be okay. Neither scenario is anything special, with boast boasting graphics and battle systems far behind what other JRPG’s have offered as of late. The game is quite dull, and it’s exceptionally easy, so many gamers will find proceeding through one of the storylines, much less both, quite monotonous. Neither scenario does anything truly awful – it’s just two low budget RPG’s using the same battle system packed onto a single UMD. There are far better JRPGs for your PSP than this one, so it’s only worth purchasing if you are a big Atlus or Sting fan, or you just simply enjoy every JRPG that has ever been released.