NewClassic reviews Press X, an RPG by SquareEnix and Tri-Ace.
I'll begin by admitting two things right off the bat:Like a bad reviewer, I still haven't finished Star Ocean: First Departure (Henceforth to be known as Press X).This was originally intended to be a full Guest Review, but I honestly couldn't finish the game in any decent rapidity.
That accomplished, there's something special about Press X that really made it an experience worth mentioning. The backgrounds are beautiful, the animations are smooth, the gameplay is very accurate to the Star Ocean: Second Story style, and the entire experience looks, sounds, and feels impressive.
I'm getting ahead of myself, though. Press X is the remake of Star Ocean for the Super Famicon (Never released in the 'States). This remake remains largely faithful to the story of the first game, with an updated engine from the second, and graphical updates (once) completely unique to the PSP title. The problem is obviously that this is just a remake. If you striving for something completely brand-new, you'll find little love out of Press X.
The scenery is quite gorgeous, though...
If you are something of a graphical enthusiast, then Press X will not disappoint. Pre-rendered background on a fixed-camera plane is done beautifully and with such style in Press X that it's hard not to occasionally sit down and enjoy the scenery and graphical wonders found out of this title. I've spent countless occasions admiring the scenery, and it's no surprise that this game is among the prettiest titles I've ever played on the PSP. It's nothing terribly innovative, but it's hard to complain about just how well-done it all is.
The problem is the lack of innovation. Press X isn't the panacea of stale gaming because it is by definition a stale game. It changes nothing from Star Ocean 2's battle system, and maintains the same story from Star Ocean for the Super Famicon, so it doesn't really push a lot of envelopes. Or any envelopes. It does provide a game for fans, but doesn't innovate.
Gameplay itself hardly deviates from the jRPG standard that most gamers have come to expect from a Japanese RPG title. The world map is large, the towns are full of generic NPCs, the dialogue is long and drawn-out, and battles involve a lot of repetitive button-presses. In fact, the game earned it's nickname for a reason. Within 2 hours of gameplay, I had gone through roughly an hour's worth of dialogue. This entire time was spent, and I'm not exaggerating, pressing X.
This is a very dialogue-intensive game.
The voice acting is provided within the goings-on of the dialog, and can be skipped by pressing X. If X is pressed, then an arrow will appear, halting the physical voices and prompting you to Press X to call up the next line of conversation. So, two button-presses for every skipped dialogue, and just one if you actually wait out the voice acting. This means you will be pressing X quite extensively in dialogue and cutscenes.
In combat, X is the command for "Run to enemy and attack." If you are currently at the enemy, then X is the prompt to attack. Each set of attacks and build to a three hit combo. There are also skills that can be applied to a trigger, but considering the generally low damage per skill, you can squeeze a lot of extra damage into a series of attacks by using the default combo as well as skills. This means that you'll be pressing X a lot in battle as well.
Because of the dialogue-heavy story and the repetitive battle layout, this is a very slow game. The gameplay is fun while you're in the middle of an action storm, but long strings of dialogue and constant fear of impending cutscene, the game gets very slow and tedius very quickly. The fact that I got several hours of game time into the RPG, but hardly 40 minutes of gameplay is not a good sign.
Beyond the core elements of gameplay, the leveling system is rather unique to Press X. Instead of gaining a certain number of stat-points like pen-and-paper RPGs, or already determined stats and skills like most jRPGs, you instead get to learn skills based on allocations of skill points (which are mixed in with the pre-determined stats. So, a bit of variety). These skill points aren't very well explained, and as much fun as adding massive amounts of skill points to the skill "Whistling" (The ability to put your fingers in your mouth and blow hard to produce a piercing sound.) is, I'm not entirely sure what function it served.
The arguably real-time combat is usually pretty fun, at least.
The skill setup is rather neat regardless. You can choose to allocate points to battle skills or more passive abilities like "Cooking," or skills that will help your statistics, such as those that increase your Agility (for stat-based dodging) or Constitution (for being hit a bunch without dying). While this is appreciated, it certainly leaves the player a bit out in the cold when you're looking at the skill list wondering how "Sketching" will help an adventurer. While I appreciate "The ability to exactly replicate the shape of an object on paper," I'm not sure how it helps my fight in the game, but I suppose it does.
The actual abilities in battle are all random-activation, and get quite numerous and frequent in the later parts of the game. It adds a painful amount of luck to the gameplay system, and really makes me feel like actual ability is an unnecessary facet of a player's capabilities when figuring out what they can bring to the table.
Despite being what amounts to an interactive novel with RPG elements, Press X does at least a good job of writing realistic characters. The situations are somewhat out there, but the characters are easy to empathize with, and are very expressive and personable. Writing for their personalities isn't perfect, but feels a lot less stale than many other RPGs I've played, both Western and Japanese titles alike. One of Press X's stronger points is that I empathized rather well with everyone, from main party members to random NPCs.
Story-telling aside, the thought "Everything in moderation" comes to mind. Because the game is so prone to dumping massive amounts of dialogue on you suddenly with little provocation, even when I was empathizing with the characters and growing to enjoy their company, I was feeling over-run.
The anime cutscenes were the most immersive I've seen out of a game yet. They really did a good job with them.
Despite that I could relate, I had trouble putting myself in the shoes of the protagonist. I didn't relate to him in a way that I felt I should have, and therefore when I was presented with the choices that would be his, I didn't feel like I should want to make his choice. I felt like I was making mine. As a role-playing game, I feel like I should've been more entrenched in my role. As such, Press X really could've done just a little more to immerse me into my character.
The atmosphere did do a good enough job, I guess. The music fit the environments, but without the strong, immersive writing, I didn't feel wrapped up in it all. Had everything followed the consistency of the voice acting or CGI sequences, I don't believe it would've been as much of a problem. The game does a lot to be good. I felt like the game could've done more to be great.
Press X really could benefit from a little more "Game" to it's "Role-Playing Game" genre, but overall seems like it's something that'd be hard to rate. It has potential, and it can easily show it's strong sides, but it feels like it's something that not everyone would, or could, enjoy.
Bottom Line: Potential is through the roof - especially from a story-telling and narrative perspective. Actual application has quite a bit that is simultaneously to be praised and leaves much to be desired.
Verdict: Rent it. It does a lot that could make fans of the genre jump for joy, just as it does a lot that could turn people away from games like these. Possibly great, but not for everyone.