Spectral Force Genesis: Why Big Ideas Need Big Effort

Bargain-bin video games can often be a mixed bag; while typically inexpensive, you tend to get what you paid for. However, trying out cheaper, more obscure games can sometimes turn over an interesting title you might not have ever noticed otherwise. Spectral Force Genesis, a Japanese strategy RPG for the Nintendo DS (apparently titled by the tried-and-true method of choosing two or three cool-sounding words and sticking them together), fell somewhere in between for me; the game had interesting ideas and mechanics, but the execution was fumbled badly, explaining its low price.

As a strategy game, Spectral Force Genesis’s primary virtue is that it is ambitious. As a game in general, Spectral Force Genesis’s primary vice is that it is incredibly lazy. This may seem contradictory, but playing the game is an endless march of interesting ideas executed poorly because of a general lack of effort with the game design. You can have a dozen officers to help run your kingdom, each with their own unique stats suiting them for different tasks…but you have no way of accurately assessing those stats because they change based on how smart your advisor is, and the hundreds of officers in the game share about ten sets of dialogue, effectively giving them no identity of their own. Rather than just fighting, you can also negotiate alliances and persuade officers of other nations to defect to your side…but doing this is completely luck-based, and even your best-qualified officers succeed or fail based on what appears to be a coin flip. You can build up your military to conquer other nations…but the actual combat in the real-time-strategy section is more than a bit of a crapshoot, and the bizarre deployment system the game uses means a kingdom with 1200 soldiers divided among three officers will be perfectly evenly matched in battle with a kingdom that has 9999 soldiers divided among twelve officers. Each turn is devoted to a particular duty to keep the nation running, but the duties are randomized so you’re often stuck rearranging furniture when you want to be making war or getting invaded half a dozen times while begging the game to give you a turn to repair your walls and armies. If these aspects of gameplay were simply more polished, the game would likely have been extremely innovative and fun; as it is, it makes the game interesting but rather frustrating to play as every feature is beset by glaring, obvious flaws.

One of the things I like about strategy games like Fire Emblem or Advance Wars is that there’s a rich story and cast giving shape and meaning to the endless warfare, and I get the feeling I am leading my troops to victory towards a point and purpose while following a meaningful narrative arc. Spectral Force Genesis is very lazy in many ways, but the one place it doesn’t even try is in the story department. The game is implied to HAVE a story, but to be honest I’m still not really sure what it is; I only know the game is set on a magical continent called Neverland because I skimmed the manual. From the three or so scenes of actual dialogue the game gave me instead of stock lines, I can only assume the nation of blue and pink-haired teenage girls I led to be the continent’s military and economic superpower were pacifists being picked on by a corrupt republic before my campaign of conquest moved them from an island nation in the armpit of the world map to 50% of the map’s territories; was I the good guy? Were the people whose walls I knocked down and whose armies I put to the sword the bad guys? Why did people who were clearly supposed to be villains of some sort show up in a single scene to mutter vaguely at me and then never reappear? What the hell are Chick Bugs, and why are they so much better than any other kind of soldier? No answers were forthcoming, as when I conquered the last of my upstart rivals and won a diplomatic victory by virtue of being allied with everyone left, I received a single sentence congratulating me for uniting the land through virtue instead of bloodshed before the credits rolled. If there was a story in there somewhere, I clearly missed it. I made do by assuming I led my underaged anime-style legions to overthrow Wizard Hitler and end a World War, but for all I know I trained the put-upon pacifists in the ways of imperialism and the bad guys never showed up again because they saw I’d beaten them to the Evil Overlord vacancy.

All things considered, I give Spectral Force Genesis a 5/10. I liked the ideas of the game and gameplay itself was interesting enough to keep me involved all the way to the terrible lack of an ending, but the nonexistent story, lazy implementation of gameplay mechanics, and glaring design flaws kept it from actually being a good game. With some effort, there is clearly an ambitious, intelligent game inside, trying to get out, but there’s only so much you can do when your developers lie down on the job and settle for a half-assed implementation of the big ideas.

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