Platforms: PS Vita | PSP
Developer: Idea Factory
Publisher: Rising Star Games
The PSP bloomed rather late in life, becoming a go-to platform for hardcore JRPG fans in search of plentiful story-driven niche titles. Amazingly, Sony's handheld discovered the niche it so desperately needed after everything from Persona to Corpse Party and Monster Hunter found a new home on the PlayStation Store, and this rich library is now ripe for perusal on the PS Vita.
Blazing Souls Accelate intends to continue this grand tradition here in Europe courtesy of Rising Star Games, who've secured the localised title as one of the Vita's first 'proper' JRPGs (by default). As a grid-based strategy roleplayer in the vein of Final Fantasy Tactics, it certainly has a lot to offer, but can it hope to stack up against the wealth of competing games already on the downloadable marketplace?
In terms of storyline, Blazing Souls Accelate chronicles the covert war between humanity and a new superhuman race destined to supercede them. You'll primarily experience the narrative through the eyes of a team of mercenaries drawn into the conflict by chance and fate, doing your best to earn a crust as well as altering the course of major events. While occasionally confusing, overblown and sluggish (a JRPG staple), the plot manages to fall on the intriguing side of nonsensical and acts as a reasonable vehicle for the strategic action.
We're thoroughly bored of the conventional JRPG protagonist - the whiny, naive amnesiac orphan with a crop top and hundred dollar hairdo - so it's nice to see Accelate breaking the mould somewhat. Though lead character Zelos is the visual spit of Squall from Final Fantasy VIII, he's cut from a different cloth: a cynical, hardened and world-weary gun for hire whose battle experience makes him thoroughly uncaring towards friend and foe alike. His casual swearing and contemptuous attitude actually threatens to make him totally unlikeable in the early game, but it's a refreshing change of pace nonetheless. Contrasting support characters, such as the romantically unsuccessful yet unfailingly chivalrous wanderer Nguyen and feisty, combatative swordswoman Adelle help to add real angst and personality to the reasonably-voiced dialogue, creating a surprisingly realistic feeling of group dysfunction and angst rather than stereotypical instant bonding. It's a pleasingly mature direction for an RPG to take, though you'll unavoidably encounter a fair few stock cliches throughout your travels.
SRPG veterans will quickly respond to the tried and tested turn-based isometric action, with units acting in order of speed and expending SP to move around the grid or attack. Units run the gamut from tough brawlers to ranged combatants and fragile spellcasters, each of whom has a range of different skills and items to draw upon. Hitting enemies or healing allies confers experience and extra levels, and pleasingly, even the healer archetypes have a number of powerful combat options. Accelate is functionally identical to FFT and its ilk in this regard, but there's an interesting twist.
Many enemies boast a tough layer of extra protection or damage resistance that needs to be temporarily 'broken,' which is where the chaining system comes into play. Units can combine multiple attacks into combos (so long as they have enough SP), sometimes combining them into entirely different abilities or triggering a visceral minute-long chain of death. Some abilities are better at breaking enemy resistance while others favour raw damage, making choosing the right order a surprisingly deep affair.
The Charge mechanic takes this concept one stage further, allowing multiple characters to sacrifice their turns in order to attack in a simultaneous, concerted chain. Doing so guarantees decisive victories and massive bonuses - not to mention fantastic animations - but charging units will flinch and disengage if struck or their target gets to take its turn before you trigger the combined attack. Clever timing and knowing when to hold back becomes the order of the day, adding a unique layer of thought-provoking tactics and versatility to an otherwise familiar setup.
I only found this out through a lot of trial and error, mind. Accelate's unintuitive interface and unhelpful tutorials make it difficult to engage with some of the more advanced concepts, though a toggled tooltip mode (select) helps to mitigate this slightly.
Outside of battles, there's a fair amount of customisation and tinkering to enjoy. Weapons can be upgraded with EP resources earned from victories or story events, combined into new items or converted into magical stat-altering clay. Party points can be used to strengthen your characters' attributes, bolstering the XP system and letting us mitigate their weaknesses. An in-game achievement system serves to award players with equippable Aliases that confer persistent benefits, brilliantly making arbitrary rewards a useful core gameplay component.
You can also optionally walk around battlefields in real time once you've completed their story event (and trigger an extra fight at will), though the three-quarter view and slippery movement makes navigation a chore. Some levels encourage you to use this system to destroy or move scenery objects, but it's best avoided when possible.
Flaws aside, Blazing Souls Accelate manages to present a strong and enjoyable SRPG. It's a crying shame, therefore, that a single nauseating design decision cripples the experience almost beyond recommendation (and belief).
New battlefields/areas, even essential story locations, can only be discovered by 'Searching' for them on the world map. You'll need to choose a team of three characters (for no good reason), and then randomly select an area on the map with a crosshair like a digital reimagining of pin the tail on the donkey. If there's anything to find, the new area will be added, but there's no guarantee that you'll uncover anything at all. Worse, on the rare occasions that you do find a new area, you'll frequently be told that your three characters' combined attribute scores aren't high enough to reveal it despite the prerequisites being a complete mystery. Vague directions from townsfolk don't yield a map marker (and are sometimes disingenuous), leading to long periods of abject confusion without any way to advance the plot.
This could have been a jolly jape as an optional extra feature, but unbelievably, every search (successful or not) consumes a large amount of a unique resource - world points - that can only be acquired through massive heinous grind. Unless you're willing to continually save and reload until you stumble across a story area's location AND the right combination of characters to find it, you'll enter a depressing deadlock within the first two hours of play; having to continuously harvest repetitive battles just to gain enough WP for another random search. And another one. And another one. Followed by a tear-blinded ragequit and a soothing half hour of Motorstorm RC or Cladun: This Is An RPG.
I'm having trouble expressing just now ridiculous the Search mechanic is without resorting to coarse language and hyperbole. Why purposefully gate off story content behind random chance? Why purposefully force players to grind in a game that lets them optionally pick their battles? Why wasn't this vomitous, reprehensible idea killed off in the brainstorming stage, with the designer responsible stripped naked and flogged through the streets of Tokyo? WHY?!
If you ever need an type example of a dealbreaker, you need look no further than Blazing Souls Accelate: a game that does so much right... and one thing horribly, painfully wrong.
- Strong, deep and versatile strategic combat
- Some interesting characters
- Attractive (if generic) sprite art
- Game-breaking random Search mechanic blocks story progression and propagates meaningless, senseless, pointless grind
- Poorly thought-out real time exploration system
- Fiddly interface and steep learning curve for advanced features
The Short Version: I wanted to fall in love with Blazing Souls Accelate... and I very nearly did. All the components of an enjoyable SRPG have been constructed and assembled well, along with refreshing characters and a versatile chain-heavy combat system.
But thanks to a shockingly inconsiderate (and purposefully-implemented) decision, progress and enjoyment soon decay into frustration and pointless grind.