My Year of JRPGs: Infinite Space
Like many of you, I’m sure, I experience a feeling of deep sadness when I think about the state of the world’s space programs and the very low likelihood that probably almost none of us currently alive will ever have the opportunity to travel into space, since most of us can’t become astronauts or fund our own space program. We’re destined to live our lives on the damn ground. It’s depressing.
This, of course, makes me a sucker for science fiction, and in particular science fiction about space travel. Enter Infinite Space, the Nintendo DS JRPG that was made for those of us who dream of traveling the endless sea of stars.
Infinite Space (DS [Reviewed], PC)
Developer: PlatinumGames / Nude Maker
Release Date: March 16, 2010
The story of Yuri, a kid who lives on a planet without space travel, Infinite Space takes you across two galaxies as you make new friends, battle an invading empire and maybe, just maybe, make sweet love with your sister. Hold that thought.
What I’ve learned this year is that if a JRPG doesn’t have excellent writing and story — which this does not, mostly — then it needs a setting and mechanics I’m totally enthusiastic about, and this game definitely has those latter two things. The setting, of course, is space, and the mechanics, well… those are certainly geared toward the obsessive compulsive among us.
One thing that bothers me about a lot of JRPGs is that they’ll explain how the game works through large boxes of text. Infinite Space avoids this pitfall by mostly letting you loose to do what you will. Aside from a brief battle tutorial, you’re on your own, and I love how unforgiving it is in that way. The player is forced to really dig in if he wants to survive his journeys through space, and there’s a lot of trial and error involved.
I like that. It’s like Infinite Space is forcing the player to level along with the characters in the game simply by figuring out how to play. You can buy ships and customize them to your heart’s content and assign characters to crew positions in the fleet you’ll accumulate in your travels, and you’ll have to discover on your own how to best take advantage of a character’s skills or what ships and ship pieces will actually benefit you the most or what tactics will work best for your fleet during battles. The game gives you absolutely no guidance whatsoever in these areas, but it isn’t impossible to progress if you don’t have everything down perfect; no, you can stumble through the game just like Yuri would, and that’s find, but everything goes a lot more smoothly once you figure stuff out.
And figuring stuff out is what makes all the space battles interesting. You’ll be spending a hell of a lot of time doing real-time space battles in a battle system that is pretty unique. (I’m not gonna try to explain it, though. That’d take up too much space.) For the most part, the battles, which happen during story events and at random, are more about perfecting your tactics so that when you face a tough boss, you’ll be able to take it down. It’s good that there’s a hook aside from grinding.
There is one quirk I found pretty astonishing and irritating, though: there’s no quest menu. When you’re told to go somewhere, you’d better remember it, because the game isn’t gonna remind you. It’s a bizarre design oversight for a game like this.
OK, enough of that stuff. Let’s talk about story.
Infinite Space has a weird one. It’s not weird in its broad strokes; it’s a pretty normal tale about battling an evil overwhelming force that’s trying take over the universe, for the most part. It rips off Mass Effect quite a bit, too, in that it has mass relays (“void gates”) and is ultimately about, in a major twist… well, I won’t spoil it for you.
It’s weirdness is best summed up by its most obviously weird trait: that all the characters try to get our protagonist Yuri to f–k his sister, Kira. At first I thought this was just some silly Japanese weirdness and dismissed it, but it kept happening, and after a while I became irritated about it, because it seemed clear that the game was setting the stage for them to realize they aren’t actually related so they can bone.
But that’s not how it all worked out, and the explanation for this particular recurring theme is wacky and interesting and not at all insulting. In short, I bought it.
Aside from a rather lackluster payoff at the end, I’d say the 50 hours I spent with Infinite Space were extraordinary. Despite being very JRPG-y, it’s also very unique, and there’s a sense of adventure and enthusiasm to it that few games have. It’s not for everyone — I bought it, but a lot of people aren’t going to — but those who take the plunge are in for a rewarding experience.