Blazing Souls Accelate PSP Review

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I am always up for playing Strategy RPGs. Even though I started gaming when the Commodore 64 was introduced, I never got into Strategy RPGs until the PlayStation era. One of my first tastes with the genre was Front Mission 3, a brilliant mech themed game that blew me away with its deep mechanics, multiple stories and amazing gameplay structure. Since then I’ve played most critically acclaimed masterpieces, such as Disgaea, Final Fantasy Tactics, Fire Emblem, Advance Wars, Valkyrie Chronicles, and so on. When Rising Star Games announced that Blazing Souls Accelate – a PSP port of a PS2 game that also works on the Vita – was coming to the UK PSN store (a year and half later since the USA launch!), I jumped straight at the chance to play it. Disappointingly, I got excited too much; Blazing Souls Accelate (Accelate) has too many problems stopping it from being a recommendation on a platform that already has some brilliant examples of the genre.

The story introduces you with a setting that places the game after a huge seven year war. Peace has nearly returned to the world, with monsters and small resistance teams causing the only disruption. Accelate’s hero, Zelos, now makes his living as an independent contractor. His personality doesn’t create the most likeable character. He’s cocky, cynical and distrusts everybody with a hardened, uncaring attitude.  Zelos is bundled with an unlikely group of heroes that he’s forced to work with., and the group initially runs around moving from place to place and doing filler quests. This story doesn’t get going for a few hours, but then he finds a mysterious seal stuffed with powerful magic leading to an investigation to find more of these unknown items called core elementals. Strange Human Genomes enter the mixture, which are a new race created by God to become the rulers of the planet.

I can’t say I cared much for the story. It was generic and I never felt a connection to Zelos and his band of helpers. Sure, the plot sets up for the battles, but I’d like a little more than that when I’m spending a huge amount of time with these people. Lacking a great story doesn’t necessarily translate into a bad strategy RPG; the battle system and other mechanics can make them shine past an average storyline, but Accelate is a mess when you look at the overall package.

Battles themselves are turn-based from an isometric viewpoint (think Disgaea, Final Fantasy Tactics, etc.) with movement locked to grids on the battle map and speed determining who goes first. All the typical mechanics are blended into the battle system, but some are done slightly different. Every unit has a given amount of AP and all the actions performed, be it moving or using a skill, reduce these by the required amount. Each move that a character can perform fits under the skill section. Weaker moves, such as general attacks, will cost less than a special move since normal attacks do less damage than the specials. Moves can be constantly used until you run out of AP. One key feature for characters is the ability to charge for a round. It becomes important to do this as the game’s combat focuses heavily on dealing loads of damage through combos. If you set one of your characters to charge, when the next round starts, you can chain their skill move with another friendly unit that is charging and unleash a devastating attack, often leading to one that you can’t normally do. Combos allow you to break enemies, lowering their defence and giving you a chance to dish more damage.

One last aspect of fights is the capture move that you learn. This key move allows you to capture pretty much any monster that you come across in battles. These captive monsters can be summoned  to fight alongside the heroes. Participating in battles is the best thing about Accelate. They’re fun, engaging and challenging. I wish the gameplay outside of combat was just as enjoyable.

A neat idea is that you can explore the battlefields to discover new areas and secrets. There are some bizarre implementations for this part of the game. Shortly after your first couple of battles, you come to a grass area that has a shaft in a cliff blocked by a blue ring of light. There’s nothing that you can do to get past it, even when you use the option “destroy” that is selectable from a group of commands that become accessible during these parts of the game. What I found out is that obstacles like these can only be destroyed in a fight, causing you to force a battle through the menu and then deviate from the enemies to get to the door and destroy it. If I kill all the enemies before removing that door, I have to battle again. The game never told me I had to smash objects in battle; I had a hunch and went with it. The developers created a mess with that idea, but strange design choices don’t end with that.

For starters, the tutorials aren’t thorough enough. They were rather unhelpful and counterintuitive. After explanations, I often found myself trying to do what it would tell me, but to no avail. I found out how to do most of the stuff in this game through trial and error.

Progression to the next story point/battle is another detail that royally annoyed the bloody hell out of me. Seriously, it felt like the game didn’t want me to continue playing. The way it handles and punishes you with its search function is beyond a joke. Unlike most strategy RPGs, this one forces you to discover where you need to go next. I would be fine with that if it was done well, but it isn’t, and here’s why. To do a search you need to choose between one to three characters. Their combined search stats will limit how big of a search cycle you get (hell, even the big one is pretty small) and then you need to select a place on the map and search. Now here comes the problem. Each search costs Work Points (WP) and if you haven’t deciphered the minimal hints that people give you then prepare to be stuck in a pickle. What makes matters worse is that you could discover an area, but your team might not have enough stats to uncover it on the map. This translates to me as the game saying “hey, congrats dude, you found an area, but you’re so crap we aren’t going to let you go to it; instead, I’ll just remove the WP it cost you to find it and let you try later.” Argh!

I’m normally a calm person, but you know what? That idea can go and screw itself. I had to restart the game after around 4-5 hours of gameplay because I ran out of WP for discovering a place and not having the skills to unlock it. This game simply does its best to hinder your progression, oh and the only way to get WP is by either doing story missions (hey, I ran out of them!) the challenges (some can take a while to do, and you need them available) and lastly doing 50 hit combos in battle to gain CP that you can switch into WP. It’s not an easy task to gain WP, so if you waste them, prepare for one hell of a grinding session. What on earth were the developers thinking by putting in such a mechanic? That alone is enough to bring this title down; it’s a time wasting inclusion that’s so close to a game breaker. The only thing I can recommend – something I learnt from my mistake – is save every time you decide to spend the WP because, trust me, you’ll be thankful you did.

The PSP has such a brilliant collection of Strategy RPGs, and I was ready to see if Blazing Souls Accelate would be another game – brilliant or just great – that I could add to my ever growing library for this genre.  Accelate started on my good side, with a respectable combat system that rewarded players willing to flesh out the combo mechanics. However, a poor tutorial system and that ridiculous search mechanic twisted the game from fun to downright annoying – no game should cause you to grind a stupid amount to see the next part of the main story -  and fed me the answer that I didn’t want to hear. I simply cannot cough up a recommendation for this game. I could maybe push it if you’ve beaten everything else and really need a game in this genre to play, but I warn you to read up all the tips and tricks for this game first before you just jump in – it’s going to be ugly if you don’t.

4/10

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Version tested: PSP

Developer: Idea Factory

Publisher: Rising Star Games

Genre: Strategy RPG