Over the weekend, I sacrificed a Friday night out to view a demo of the newest Sting/Atlus RPG, Hexyz Force. I’ve always been a fan of Japanese Role-Playing Games, though I’ve been ambivalent on the market as of late due to some uninspired offerings that play up vapid female characters at the expense of everything else, including the player’s budget. Games like Mimana: Iyar Chronicles are indicative of what’s wrong with the medium nowadays: lots of sizzle (and boobs) and a full price tag, but no substance to speak of. The only recent JRPGs I’ve even liked are Persona 4 and Crimson Gem Saga. Fortunately, Atlus brought over both of those games, and after Friday, I have some faith that Hexyz Force might be on that level.
For those of you who saw the name “Sting” and started thinking of Riviera,Yggdra Union and Knights in the Nightmare, cue either a sad groan or relief, depending on your tastes, because Hexyz Force is a lot more vanilla than those older games. That will actually come as a relief around these parts; Lucard and I both hated Riviera, and I wasn’t too high on Yggdra Union, either. What I see when I watch Hexyz Force in action is something closer to Crimson Gem Saga, which I loved. It’s a bit more traditional as far as JRPGs go, with the caveat being two different stories, each of them taking 25 hours each.
In Hexyz Force, the main story is that the Emperor Alex has gone cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs, and wants to eliminate all non-human races. His subordinate, Levant von Schweitzer, does not approve of this, but is reproached by his emperor, and scheduled for execution when the story cuts the player in. While not exactly inspired, the story does set up both perspectives. The stories are that of Levant, which puts you right into the thick of things from the start, and of Cecilia Armaclite, a 17 year old cleric that has been described by the developers as “naive” and an “airhead”. My Weeaboo Sense is screaming “TOKEN MOE ALERT! TOKEN MOE ALERT!”, though in the context of this game, this perspective is welcomed at first when contrasted with Levant’s more serious tone. Though the stories cross paths at a few points, they’re separate for the most part, and show the story as two sides to the same big plot. This is an interesting idea, as well as the main selling point of the game, and it will be interesting if Sting accomplishes their goal of having the quests be separate enough to go through each one. It should be noted here that Atlus have told me that there will be a New Game + option.
Sting and Atlus have made a big deal about making this game more playable for short bursts of gameplay. They made the R trigger a speed-up button that speeds up battles, walking, and text, for people that might need to get to a save point ASAP to avoid burning their battery out, or who are coming up on a bus stop. This is a nice feature, but one glaring omission for me was the fact that a quick save/field save option wasn’t put in. There’s also not much in the way of load times, though they can be completely mitigated by either installing the game from the UMD or purchasing the game via the PSN, making for a very smooth experience. This is positive for someone who still has memories of Last Remnant, and especially positive on a handheld format. Furthermore, the install is only about 80MB, which is great for people with small memory sticks that don’t have a lot of space left, like Aileen.
The battles revolve around standard JRPG elements such as selecting actions that date back to Dragon Quest, but the innovation here is an element system that strengthens a gauge at the top right of the screen based on what the element is; if you chain elements together, that gauge strengthens until someone – either you or an enemy – breaks that chain, getting a stronger attack. This adds a level of risk/reward to combat; do you continue to add to the chain, knowing your enemy could use that against you, or do you break it early and go conservatively? Other than that, Hexyz Force seems pretty vanilla. There are skills that can be developed, but they’re tied to weapons instead of to characters. There are also no real shops; items are developed by combining elements and other smaller items together in what sounds suspiciously like an alchemy system to me. I’m not a fan of them, but that’s a minor complaint. One thing I did find interesting is the use of FP, which counts as currency, skill points, and heal points all in one. This seems limiting, but I can see the strategic implications.
In terms of story progression, there is a morality system in place that changes the ending, depending on choices made throughout the game. Most of the time in other games, the choices are so black or white that you have to be trying to get a bad ending, with choices that amount to “save the world” or “kill small puppies”. The people at Atlus gave me an assurance that the morality system in Hexyz Force won’t be so cut-and-dry, which we’ll have to see for ourselves.
Hexyz Force comes out on May 25, 2010. It will retail for $29.99, in both UMD and downloadable versions. There will be no “spoils” with the UMD versions, such as a soundtrack or any of the goodies that Persona came with; Atlus made it clear that they wanted to keep the game affordable for a general audience. Here’s hoping my good vibes turn out to be accurate.
(Thanks to Destructoid for allowing us the use of their screenshots)