Review: Infinite Space (Nintendo DS)

Infinite Space
Genre: Japanese Role Playing Game
Developer: Platinum Games/Nude Maker
Publisher: Sega
Release Date: 3/16/2010

I’ll admit that the only reason I was first interested in Infinite Space was because it had a catchy name that caught my eye while searching through IGN’s release date calendar months ago (though the game was called Infinite Line back then). As I dug deeper, I found out it was an RPG made by Platinum games, of Bayonetta and Madworld fame, and since those guys have a pretty good track record, I was optimistic about this title. It included three things I am absolutely fanatical about: RPGs, Sci Fi and customization. So did Platinum add another great RPG to what is arguably the best JRPG platform this generation?

1. Story/Modes

The game puts you in the role of Yuri, a 16 year old mechanic on a planet named Ropesk which is ruled by a feudal lord by the name of Panfilov. Yuri’s father was an accomplished adventurer, and before his death, gave his son a mysterious cubed shaped artifact known as an “Epitaph”, of which there are many in the galaxy, and all of them are rumored to grant the power to change a galaxy. Unfortunately for Yuri, Panfilov has decreed that all people born on Ropesk are forbidden from traveling in space, but luckily, our intrepid hero hires a female “launcher” (pilots who help others get into space) named Nia Lochlain to smuggle him offworld. From then you get thrown into a plot of intergalactic politics and conquest.

Frankly, if that sounded like your typical cliché JRPG plot (16 year old bishonen gets a mysterious powerful artifact from his dad and goes on adventure despite his age) then… well, you’d be right! The start of the game had me disappointed by how utterly predictable it was in terms of events and characters. Panfilov is the first boss, and when the reason why he trapped his entire people on a planet was revealed, I literally facepalmed, it was THAT silly and childish.

Thankfully, the farther you go into the game, the better the plot becomes, with some really interesting plot twists in the second half of the game.

Yuri is also not a bad character; he doesn’t go emo at the slightest provocation and is a real go-getter (though his enthusiasm does throw you into a couple of tough boss fights). You also get a huge cast of characters, and many of them are available to be part of your crew, in a similar fashion to the Suikoden or Fire Emblem series. Even minor and missable characters get their share of backstory through chats you have at the local taverns on each planet you visit, as they say their opinion about events that occur during your journey. So aside from some very one dimensional villains you face in the early part of the game, most people you meet during your travels in space are interesting and unique.

As for game modes, there is a multiplayer option to take your customized fleet and battle with other players, but unfortunately it doesn’t support online play. You can also unlock New Game Plus mode and “Extra mode” where you are basically pitted against a succession of powerful enemies. New Game Plus mode also comes in handy for exploring different routes through the storyline you didn’t take in the first playthrough.

That’s right kids! Unlike what some games lead you to believe (*cough*FFXIII*cough*) JRPGs don’t need to follow a single absolutely linear plotline, you CAN have decisions that affect the storyline! Isn’t that great?

Story/Modes rating: Very Good

2. Graphics

The game represents story scenes and characters with two dimensional graphics and anything involving space ships with three dimensional graphics.

First the 2D. The characters themselves are well drawn and colorful sprites, though I do believe that the main characters are better drawn than some of the auxiliary characters, some of whom who have strange body proportions. My main complaint isn’t tied to that, however: it’s that none of the sprites are animated in any way, shape or form. I don’t ask for much, just some lips moving and eyes blinking. Is that too much to ask? I mean Fire Emblem has been doing this shit for decades now with a similarly large cast of characters and it’s not like Fire Emblem is a multimillion selling series with huge development costs.

As for the 3D, the actual designs for the ships themselves are quite attractive, with each nation having its own specific aesthetic in ship architecture and some of the best looking space fleets in any videogames… hey, Infinite Space concept art team? Give yourselves a pat on the back.

Now for the criticism. The actual modeling for the ships could be bett6er. You can’t help but think after looking at so many beautiful space games like X3: Reunion, EVE Online and Evochron Legends that the ship designs in Infinite Space really deserved better graphics, and I believe that this could have been done on the Nintendo DS as well, as the game utilizes full 3D on both screens. The top screen shows the battles while the bottom shows the interior of your ship’s bridge. The detail on the bottom screen is exquisite, and you even get monitors that show the action going on around the ship (basically a mirror image of what’s happening on the top screen). When your fleet is being attacked by carrier born fighters you can actually see them zipping around outside the bridge’s window shooting lasers.

Now all that shit is useless because ninety percent of the time the bottom screen is covered up by your command menu… Why? Why waste so much processing power on a useless addition to the game and not making the ships look extra sexy for us Sci Fi nerds? And don’t get me started on the laser and explosion effects because even the primitive Starfox 64 from over 13 years ago had better explosions.

I’m complaining a lot about a game who’s graphics aren’t actually that bad at all, and in fact they’re quite good for DS. I’m just completely disappointed at the potential this game could have achieved, hell it could have been one of those titles that showcases a system’s graphics many years in the future, like how many people cite Donkey Kong Country as theshowcase of the SNES’ power.

Graphics rating: Good

3. Sound

Much has been made of Infinite Space’s voice acting. As you would expect, everyone went straight to bashing the English voice acting despite it barely being present in the game. The only times you hear voice acting is in the animated opening cutscene and during battles when you issue a command. Considering you’ll only view the cutscene once and listen to the commands a few times before you decide to skip them, this makes the voice acting a pretty moot point. All in all, I thought the voice actors did a decent, but unspectacular, job.

Music was decent as well. There aren’t many tracks in the game, but the tracks that are there are well done, if not very memorable. Many of them are marching band music designed to add some epicness to the universe of the game, and it does decently enough, but the only real track I can recall is during the midpoint of the game. I won’t spoil the events that lead up to this battle, but the music was a slow sad piano piece that made you really feel that the particular battle you were fighting was tragic as hell.

I wish I could say the same for the sound effects. Most of the laser, missile and engine sounds in the game sound like they’ve been ripped from an Atari 2600, and I thank god I can skip over the battle scenes and just view the damage report.

As for other sound effects, well there are plenty of stock sound effects for things like punches, doors closing, radio static and the like, and as they get the job done, I really can’t complain.

Sound rating: Mediocre

4. Control/Gameplay

Infinite Space is divided into 3 main parts: Ship sailing and combat, RPG style dialogue on planets, and finally, first person dungeon crawling.

I had hoped that sailing through the universe would be done in a manner similar to the classic Elite, where you control your ship in first or third person view around planets and asteroids and other celestial objects. Unfortunately, the game eschews that for a traditional JRPG style world map which actually breaks all laws of astronomy. You click on the route you want to go through and you automatically move around the starlanes until you reach your destination, being interrupted only by other ships attacking you, viewing some astronomical phenomena like nebulas and such, or harvesting resources from asteroids. Once you get to your planet of choice, you dock at the space station, where you are provided with a menu to save your game or consult the CTA (Cosmic Trade Authority) to edit your crew and your fleet as well as view your stats and ranking amongst “Zero-G dogs” (the ingame term for space adventurers). Some stations also have shipyards and remodeling stations to build ships and equip new modules and weapons. You can also take the orbital elevator down to the surface, but I’ll touch on that later. Frankly, this is disappointing, because for a game called Infinite Space, the universe I’m playing in seems completely small, since it’s just a world map (or galaxy map, whatever). Any veteran of a game in the Elite genre is going to laugh at the Famitsu reviewers being dumbfounded by the “vastness of the setting”.

As for battles themselves, they look complex but are pretty simple, and they follow a rock-paper-scissors mechanic. You have an Active Time Battle-like bar that has three sections that fill up one by one, along with three corresponding commands: Dodge, Normal and Barrage. Normal is a normal attack and requires two sections of the bar. Barrage requires three sections of the bar but has the power of three “normal” attacks. Dodge requires only one bar and makes you near-impervious to barrage attacks but makes you vulnerable against normal attacks. Later on in the game you will have access to three more commands: AA (Anti Air), Fighters and Melee. Anti Air orders your fleet to engage any enemy fighters instead of ships, Fighters launches your own fighters and Melee will engage a melee battle if your two ships are close enough. You eventually will also have up to three “special attacks”. The first one is Yuri’s special attack “Final Roar” which is basically a barrage attack plus a forty percent chance to land a critical hit with each blow, basically rendering Barrage useless off the get go. The second special attack is the special skill of whoever you have as your first mates which can offer a lot of useful things like the ability to break the enemy’s formation.

There’s also a range meter at the top screen that shows a visual indicator of the range between your fleet and the enemy’s. Finally, there’s your ships’ HP and weapon icons, which are blue when you’re in range and red when you’re not.

Even though you have an impressive number of commands you really only require three: Special 1, Dodge and Normal. Carriers are not nearly worth the effort to get fighters, enemy fighters are more of a nuisance than a real threat, and why you would melee when you can just blow an enemy’s ship up (not counting the times the story forces you to melee) is beyond me. Also, you can’t flank an enemy or do any cool maneuvers that you’ve seen in many a space opera; it’s just generic rock-paper-scissors JRPG combat with some added gimmicks. The best thing I can say about the combat is that it’s fast paced and you can skip the attack animations so they’ll be over quickly enough. They also are pretty generous with the experience points and gold you receive after battle so you’ll never have to grind much or even at all!

Now we come to the towns… errr… I mean planets. If you take the orbital elevator down from a space station you can go to the surface. Usually, this is also a menu that offers at least a tavern at bare minimum, though other planets offer shops or some exclusive locations like a forest or an HQ. Frankly, this cheapens the whole thing, as most planets already have a tongue twister of a Russian name (or German in the later parts) and making them all just menus with some slightly different window dressing is just lazy. This really does throw immersion out the door, especially when games like Freelancer, which came out in 2003, can give a unique appearance to every planet in the game as well as a detailed history/backstory and easy to remember names.

The good thing, though, is at the tavern you can choose the option to “Talk to your friends”, which gives you different conversations depending on which crew members are in your party as well as which point in the storyline you are at. I really liked these conversations, as they reminded me of the support conversations in Fire Emblem and how they managed to add a personality and background to even the most minor of characters. I always check in at every tavern to see what my crew has to say because of this. There is a minor problem though. Let’s say there are four conversations available when you enter the tavern. You pick “Talk to friends” and listen to conversation #1. You want to listen to conversation #2? Well if you click “Talk to Friends” again it will give you a random conversation. So you’ll maybe listen to conversation #1 three times and THEN listen to #2 before listening to #1 two more times before the game switches to #3. WHY does it do this?! Why can’t it cycle through the conversations every time I click? Better yet, why can’t I select from the available conversations? Anyway, aside from that minor complaint, the character interactions get a thumbs up.

Now for the best part of the game, ship customization. There are literally dozens of ships to choose from to make your fleet and dozens more modules and weapons to customize that fleet. As I mentioned earlier, many of the ships’ designs are beautiful and I have many favorites. The way you equip modules to your ship is through a sort of puzzle minigame. You see an outline of your ship and grid within it, and the modules themselves are Tetris like pieces that you slide in and try to fit in the limited space of your ship, with higher level modules requiring more space. The only complaint that I have is that you can’t rotate your piece so “L” and “T” shape blocks cause holes that waste space, but other than that, it’s quite a fun little minigame. All the upgrades and the time you spend flying your ships gives you a sort of attachment to them I can’t explain, like how you some people bond with their cars (or more unusually, their roombas). I actually felt sad when I sold my very first ship for funds to buy a new one (It was called the FNA Ram, and yes, you can give the ships in-game names and people will refer to them… I won’t say what FNA stands for because it’s ridiculous and embarrassing).

The very final part of the game is first person dungeon crawling, like Etrian Odyssey. Certain points in the game have you infiltrate a pirate lair or something similar, and you switch to a first person view and go into a dungeon. Now this isn’t a maze or anything, usually it’s just a straight line till you reach the boss and several little fights on the way. Sometimes you may get a branching path, but one just leads to a treasure chest or other reward. Then we get into the melee battles… oh boy.

Like ship battles they follow a rock-paper-scissors sort of theme… but unlike ship battles where you had things like range, healing and fatigue to dress up a simple battle system, melee battles are pretty much just rock-paper-scissors with hit points… that’s it. Oh, and a special attack that you can use once per battle that does a lot of HP worth of damage. Like the ship battles, the best thing that I can say about melee battles is that they’re over quickly.

When you have two battle systems who’s biggest selling points are “You don’t have to grind” and “They are over quickly”, Infinite Space is lucky its customization and crew elements are so good. Building a badass space fleet and crew has never been so good.

Control/Gameplay rating: Good

5. Replayability

As I mentioned before, Infinite Space boasts several branching paths in the storyline which offer completely different missions and even a different cast of characters to recruit. Although this is not a game with multiple endings or anything like that, it is worth it to go through the game a second time to see the storyline from different perspectives, as well as pick up any characters you missed first time around. New Game Plus adds some new blueprints into the mix to keep the game interesting and Extra Mode is fun enough for a play through.

Despite this, you probably only need to go through the game twice to see everything there is to see, but when the main adventure is around 50 hours long that’s not really a bad thing.

Replayability rating: Great

6. Balance

The game’s difficulty level begins at a pretty formidable level, but that’s actually due to the game not really explaining its mechanics very well in the tutorials. The learning curve is actually quite shallow despite what other reviews may have said, and less than an hour reading the manual and the in game help file and I was basically swatting bosses like flies. Once you figure out the battle system, you can completely exploit it, and battles become more of a minor nuisance than a gameplay requirement, which is really sad when you can almost phone in every single boss battle in the game.

On the plus side, the developers have really balanced their ships well. When you get new blueprints for a ship it doesn’t automatically outclass your current ship like most JRPG weapons, but rather provides a different type of ship into your arsenal. Some ships I received in the early part of the game still outclassed ships I received 10 hours later in some areas! Though I really have to wonder about the usefulness of Carriers… sure, they can use their fighters to stop enemy fighters and also harass and pin down enemy ships allowing you to pull back and heal yourself, but there’s really no consequence for going the entire game with big gun battleships and cruisers and no incentive to really include them at all.

Balance rating: Mediocre

7. Originality

You know what game comes to mind when I play Infinite Space? No, not Fire Emblem or Suikoden, nor even space RPGs like Mass Effect or Rogue Galaxy but rather Sid Meier’s Pirates! That’s right! You go around from planet to planet (islands in Pirates) fighting other pirates and government forces with your space ship and recruiting crewmembers to join you. It’s like Pirates, Skies of Arcadia and Rogue Galaxy had an orgy and Infinite Space was born (though the whole isn’t equal to the sum of its parts unfortunately).

There really isn’t another game like this out there, but aside from some clichéd plot elements and anime archetype characters, most of what Infinite Space offers is pretty fresh and new, gameplay wise.

Originality rating: Great

8. Addictveness

The sad lack of many side quests actually presents something positive to the game. The story is always rolling along in some way or another, so you always have something to do, and since the game is quite light on the grinding aspect, that doesn’t hamper your march through the storyline.

Though at times the game is pretty vague on what you should be doing, or it throws a series of cheap boss fights your way in an attempt to artificially create challenge. Both those scenarios led me to shut off my DS in a rage and put me off from the game for quite a while.

Addictiveness rating: Above Average

9. Appeal Factor

I really don’t know what Sega was thinking, really, when they picked a release date for this game. We have God of War III, Final Fantasy XIII and Splinter Cell: Conviction on the surrounding release calendar, so Infinite Space was going to have its work cut out for it even before mentioning the true giant releasing merely two days before it: Pokémon HeartGold/SoulSilver. It’s like Sega sent this game out to die a horrible death in the bargain bins of obscurity by choice, not to mention that this has Platinum Games logo on the box. Let’s not kid ourselves: Platinum Games (and their old iteration Clover Studios) makes some pretty awesome games, but sales wise? I can really only call Bayonetta a success (which also happens to be their very latest game and first to ever crack one million copies sold) and a complete lack of marketing means Infinite Space isn’t going to follow in the witch’s success.

The only real redeeming factor is that anime-styled games nearly always find some sort of niche to crawl into, and this title might get a little profit through word of mouth.

Appeal Factor rating: Poor

10. Miscellaneous

I’m about to spoil a big part of the game now so if you don’t want to hear it then scroll right on by.

I hate the JRPG convention of getting pretty sixteen year old boys to go on an expedition to save the world, and my initial reaction to main character Yuri (RUSSIAN name, not Japanese, perverted readers) was negative, but as I mentioned earlier, he doesn’t go emo at the drop of a hat and is quite focused and brave. Pretty much every new character you meet in the game is quite surprised such a young kid could be a ship captain. Plus, there are plenty of old characters and crewmembers to give balance to all the young kids on the crew, and actually, they even outnumber teenagers! SHOCKING I KNOW!

But still, I thought it was a little weird all these people were joining a sixteen year old captain and risking their lives for him, but the game rectifies that with a mid game ten year time skip that basically transforms Yuri from a sixteen year old pretty boy to a twenty six year old prettier version of Captain Harlock. Since this is the closest I’m getting to playing AS Harlock (and I don’t believe the character designer didn’t intend this) it bumped my enjoyment of the game considerably.

Miscellaneous rating: Very Good

The Scores:

Story/modes: Very Good
Graphics: Good
Sound: Mediocre
Control and Gameplay: Good
Replayability: Great
Balance: Mediocre
Originality: Great
Addictiveness: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Poor
Miscellaneous: Very Good

FINAL SCORE: Enjoyable Game!

Short Attention Span Summary
Infinite Space could have been one of the DS library’s masterpieces. Instead, it’s an enjoyable niche game that fans of Japanese space operas like Legend of the Galactic Heroes or Captain Harlock will enjoy. The interesting story, characters, and ship customization options, as well as branching gameplay paths are offset by a slow beginning to the game as well as boring battle sequences that are thankfully over quite quickly. Here’s looking forward to an improved sequel.



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4 responses to “Review: Infinite Space (Nintendo DS)”

  1. AFN Avatar

    Dude, I love the way this is formatted with the separators. It makes it so much easier to read. I wish all of DHGF was done like this.

  2. Mohamed Al-Saadoon Avatar
    Mohamed Al-Saadoon

    I have to thank Robert Capra for that. He’s the one who first taught me in the way of the separators. :)

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  4. […] up Devil May Cry clone with a ton of fantastic action, replay value and slick style to spare. Infinite Space was an ambitious, if ultimately lackluster title, but two out of three ain’t bad. The fourth […]

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