Infinite Space DS
Space! Everyone loves space. Professor Brian Cox particularly loves space, and he used to be the keyboardist in D:Ream, so he’s probably on to something. So, if you love space too – and you bloody do, alright? – read on to find out why Infinite Space for the Nintendo DS is a pretty good video game. About SPACE!
The sci-fi setting might throw you a little, but make no mistake – this is a JRPG through and through. You start the story as 16 year-old Yuri, desperate to escape his homeworld and find out the massive secret to this little box his dad gave him. In truth, the story isn’t all that interesting, but the dialogue is still compelling enough. Most JRPGs have me mashing the A button to skip the dialogue as quickly as possible (even if mashing A doesn’t actually speed anything up, it makes me feel better), but one of Infinite Space‘s characters makes a joke about premature ejaculation in the first five minutes of the game, so I was pretty hooked from that point onwards.
Of course, the real meat of the experience is the game’s combat, and Infinite Space‘s fleet-based battles are definitely a breath of fresh air compared to the genre’s usual party-based swords & sorcery guff. It’s not turn-based, as such, but your fleet has a ‘command gauge’, that consists of three colour-coded areas – green towards the bottom, yellow in the middle, and red at the top. It constantly fills up (albeit slowly), and depletes when you issue orders. To begin with, you have three main orders – dodge, normal attack, and barrage. Each one depletes the command gauge by a certain amount, but also requires the gauge to be in a certain ‘phase’ – dodging only requires your command gauge to be green, a normal attack requires a yellow gauge, and a barrage attack (which shoots three times instead of just once) requires the gauge to be almost full, in the red area. The benefits of saving up for a barrage attack seem obvious, but if the enemy issues a dodge command shortly before the barrage, there’s a good chance you’ll completely miss with every shot – but, if they dodge and you use a normal attack, your chance of scoring a critical hit is raised.
Now, where this elevates itself above a simple paper-scissors-stone system, is the fact that you can see the colour of your enemy’s command gauge. This means that, if you spot him slipping ‘down’ a colour (say, yellow to green), you know he’s probably just employed a dodge command, and so you need to hammer him with normal attacks. Similarly, spotting no such colour change since the enemy’s last attack means you’re free to barrage his face off. In literal terms it doesn’t make a huge amount of sense, but it’s a nice facsimile of a fleet commander’s ability to ‘read’ his enemy’s actions. On top of all this, you can control your fleet’s movement, though you’re limited to ‘forwards’, ‘backwards’, and ‘stay here’. How you use this depends on the types of ships you’re commanding – for example, fleets made of fast, lightly-armoured ships might want to close in on the enemy for an attack, then pull away in the hope of leaving the enemy’s effective weapons range while your command gauge refills. Or you could fit your ships with long-range weapons in the hope that you can keep your distance from the enemy, and bombard them whilst staying out of their attack range.
Of course, the system isn’t perfect – you can win a lot of the game’s random battles simply by hammering them with normal attacks instead of risking a barrage, for example – but once the game starts throwing in the option to board enemy ships and engage in melee battles, or send out squadrons of fighter pilots, things get really interesting. Better yet, Infinite Space offers you a huge amount of customisation with regards to your fleet – not just the ships you travel around with, but the equipment they have on-board, and the people responsible for using them.
Messing with your ships’ equipment is a matter of purchasing modules from a shop, then finding a space for them inside your ship. Each ship class has a certain number and arrangement of free blocks in which you can place your modules, and the modules themselves come in a variety of shapes and sizes. On top of that, certain modules need to be placed in certain colour-coded areas of the ship in order to be effective (engine modules, for example, generally need to be at the back of the ship). It sounds irritating – and it can be, at times – but it’s weirdly satisfying when you manage to cram all your best modules into a ship, without having to downgrade any of them to their smaller but less-effective versions.
Crew management is, sadly, a bit less interesting. You meet various characters as you progress through the story, and can assign them to specific roles in your fleet – everyone from the captain down to the poor sod who has to serve everybody dinner is listed, and where you choose to put people can affect how your ship performs in various different ways – how quickly your crew tires of long voyages, for example, or how quickly your command gauge recovers in battle. Sadly, this isn’t quite as interesting as it sounds – generally, you’ll look at a new character’s stats, and shove them in a role where their highest stat is most important. And for the most part, you’ll get away with it. Which is a bit of a shame, no?
There are a couple of other niggles, too. Some of the music is weirdly irritating, the only exploration you do on the planets you visit is done by clicking buttons on menus, and there’s no mission or story log. So, if you come back to the game after a couple of days, you’ll probably have no idea what you’re meant to be doing, and no way to find out without traipsing from planet to planet, talking to bar managers until one reminds you that you’re meant to be chasing some guys who owe him money, or something. It doesn’t ruin the game, but it’s a pretty silly oversight nonetheless. It’s SPACE YEAR 2010, after all – are we really still expected to keep notes with a pen and paper?
Despite its shortcomings, though, Infinite Space is a thoughtful and addictive space-based romp, with an incredible amount of depth waiting for those who are prepared to put the hours in. If the recent release of Pokémon HeartGold/SoulSilver wasn’t enough to stir your special JRPG loins, Infinite Space is well worth a pop.