Spectral Force Genesis is a multi-genre hybrid, consisting of RPG, RTS, and War Sim elements. Combining the 3 is a daunting task, and this game is definitely not for uninitiated genre fans. Released on April 12, 2010 in the US, this game has been available since 2008 in Japan and has made its way thanks to the efforts of Ignition Entertainment. Ignition last bought up King of Fighters XII and its forthcoming sequel.
The only thing stranger than the story in this game is the title. This name sounds better suited to a sci-fi epic than a war simulation/RPG game, but given that this is actually an entry in an entire series of games, maybe it will be explained as the game unfolds.
The story takes place in the land of Neverland in which 40 nations are in conflict with the ruler of each seeking control over the other 39. You can pick one of 7 nations at the beginning and proceed to let all hell break loose on the rest of the world, battling for world domination.
Unfortunately you do this mostly from behind a desk rather than the royal throne. This means that you must complete paperwork, collect taxes, deal with the economy through different resources, handle diplomacy, try to find new generals and so on. I’m sure I’ve made the game already sound laborious at this point, but it might be difficult to realize your responsibilities in the game from simply glancing at the back of the box.
There seem to be snippets of a larger plot going on, with random characters with long names occasionally appearing at the beginning of months to talk about some plan they have (without actually doing anything). This might develop into something significant eventually, but I was too busy keeping track of what happens each month to notice.
The graphics are really unexceptional. Most of the game is viewed from an omniscient point of view in which detail is sparse; the player actually only recognizes their nations and allies because of the superimposed "Me" over them. Character portraits are tiny and little is done to make them stand out. Each character is pretty much an anime stereotype, from the pretty boy to the tough guy, they are all here.
You would think that downplaying the world map graphics would save room for the battles to have lots of visual fireworks, right? Wrong, the fighting sprites are small, lack detail, and suffering from poor animation, seeming to waddle from space to space. Compounding this error, the battle perspective is a bird’s eye view, which makes combat even harder to make out. I know it is mostly automatic, but details are often a labor of love, and Spectral Force Genesis doesn’t really have any such thing.
The only flair comes in the form of special attacks. These attacks are designed to supplement superior troop numbers through devastating damage to turn the tide or healing to ensure that your troops will be able to fight a little longer, perhaps that small amount of time for you to pull a victory from the jaws of defeat. While the level 1 attacks aren’t that special, the level 2 and 3 are quite impressive, with screen filling effects and the kind of nice sprite work that you wonder where it is in the rest of the game.
When it comes to music, it does little to stand out and is barely catchy even at its best. When you aren’t in combat (most of the time) you hear the same triumphant melody repeated ad nauseum throughout different months of the game. It works well and is probably the best piece in the game, but found myself wishing for each month/war function to have a different piece of music, as one would expect. I can’t fathom why there is so little music in Genesis; the low budget excuse really isn’t valid in today’s market due to the glut of independent musicians always willing to feature their music in projects for the chance at recognition.
The battle preparations music is average and the actual battle theme is mediocre as well. I guess gamers should be thankful that these tunes are used sparingly, as they do not convey a sense of combat and the chaos that is involved within.
Battle sound effects deserve a dishonorable mention because of how they are the same for every combat situation. They consist of little more than the hacking and slashing of swords; also as if they were lifted straight off of a generic sound recording of battle noises. What is used for person-to-person melee combat SHOULD NOT also be used when your army is storming an enemy’s walls!
Before we get to gameplay, I must caution those who want to play this game. There are a lot of tutorials, explanations, and menus that will not make much sense at first. Tutorials attempt to explain how each aspect of the varying gameplay works, but it is actually better to just go with the flow early on and settle your way into understanding through repetition. This is because there is a different task to do each month, and given that it is possible to save at most anytime, you can always reload if you screw up your nation badly. Seriously, even the manual isn’t very good at explaining how the game works; it just kind of tells you what different things do. Try not to be intimidated, as the game really gets fun when things become second nature and familiar.
That caveat aside, the game is pretty simple once you play through each month’s mission a few times. Depending on the month, there are different tasks that your nation can accomplish. Tax month allows you to collect money in the form of relics, which you use to reinforce walls on your bases. You can also draft troops from your army during this month. The amount of troops each tax month seems to be dependent on various hidden factors, but you can expect to get 200-300 new troops each time. Each general can command a max of 400 troops, so care on your part will ensure you will have plenty of troops to you know, wage war.
Battle month is the most self-explanatory period, and the one I always look forward to. As the name suggests, you engage border countries, attempting to invade after defeating their armies. Should you succeed in breaching their walls, the nation is under your control. In battle preparations, you select up to 3 generals, each representing a different talent (attack, shield, or magic). You then place them on different parts of the field for optimum strategy and movement, and then the battle begins.
You urge your armies via the stylus. I say "urge" as while you can direct their path by drawing a line, they seem to resist your suggestions, almost as if you were dragging them along. They will follow your basic path until they encounter the enemy, then it becomes really difficult to get them to move in any strategic or intelligent way. You can’t really try and flank two armies locked in combat to attack from the rear. When it comes down to it, the only real way to win is to hope you have more troops to overpower each individual army. Retreating doesn’t really work for the same locomotion issues listed above. Luckily there are special attacks that can be a great help, if you have a steady eye to notice when they become available.
These attacks become available as you take and deal damage to the enemy groups and range from 1 to 3 levels in power. Your power meter will fill up as this occurs until you are prompted that a level 1 attack is ready for use. Level 2 and 3 require additional charging but are well worth the time if you are in a pinch.
The rest of the game is spent moving through the same different development phases until you can conquer more territories, obtain more gold and so on.
Challenge-wise, Spectral Force Genesis is entirely dependent on your ability to acclimate to complex system presented right from the beginning. Though who persevere will find it to be an interesting quest and once you master the nuances of combat, the only real challenge is worrying about rival nations attacking you in the same turn you are trying to take over other countries. Because your troop amounts are sure to be drained in one attack, having to deal with another army is a setback.
Because such attacks are random, assiduous use of saving and reloading seems to prevent such problems, boiling the game down to victory via steady resource gathering and army building. It really amounts to little more than having more troops in each grouping than the enemy and you’ll win! I was really wishing for more strategy, as it not only would’ve made the combat more interesting, it would’ve made it more challenging.
Replay value is nil. The game wants you to believe that different actions lead to different outcomes, but aside from your starting nation, you should always use the same strategies to achieve victory. Short of deliberating avoiding battles and purposefully crippling your country’s defenders via surrender and suchlike, there isn’t really a different way to play the game.
I did obtain several vassal nations early on to test the effects on my war machine, but it didn’t seem to help me to get more troops to draft or anything like that, so I can conclude that anything but invasion of the other countries is a waste of time.
Spectral Force Genesis is a promising concept that has several good ideas. If some areas were to be streamlined to address the gameplay flaws, it would be quite an intriguing game. I definitely see the mark of potential throughout this game, and wish the developers to take another shot at it. In truth, you don’t see these kinds of ambitious games often enough, with Dragon Force on the Sega Saturn being the last one I can think of.
I played this game more with the hopes that fun would emerge on a consistent basis. It didn’t, but I still enjoyed the time I had with it. You could say that the problems with the game were not enough to make me abandon it, or I’m just persistent.
- Ugly Bob