Dealspwn Rating: 8/10
Developer: Nude Maker
Infinite Space topped the Japanese software charts when it was released last year, and it's plain to see why. The box art proudly displays a skeletally-thin, spiky haired youthful androgynous protagonist surrounded by a bevy of beautiful women, whilst promising a story based around an orphan's search for the truth surrounding his parents' deaths. So far, so clichéd... right? Dead wrong. It's about time that Infinite Space landed on European shores, because it's the most refreshing RPG experience of the year so far.
Nude Maker's space-based RPG doesn't conform to standard Japanese RPG contrivances. The storyline is more akin to a top tier sci-fi series, with a whole bunch of intricate standalone plotlines that slowly start to twist into a single glorious arc. More impressively, each of the characters (of which there are over 200) are believable, flawed human beings that don't shy away from making some seriously nasty decisions.
Yuri, the aforementioned protagonist, may look like the standard angsty, ineffectual Japanese archetype... but he's got more in common with Mass Effect's Commander Shepherd than Tidus or Squall. Within a couple of hours, he matures into a capable, ruthless starship captain that will literally do anything to finish his mission. He's complex, interesting and badass.
But that's enough about the setting. Infinite Space isn't just an RPG set in space: it's a Space RPG. Instead of controlling your characters directly, you're charged with building and pimping out a fleet of awesome spaceships and leading them into battle. The fleet customisation is easily the highlight of the game, featuring over 100 different vessels including slow battleships, nippy little cruisers and vulnerable fighter carriers. Whilst you start with a tatty little bucket of bolts, you'll soon command a fearsome array of capital ships that can decimate an enemy fleet with a single salvo.
Each ship can be equipped with dozens of upgrade modules that affect their performance in myriad different ways- from fire control rooms, science labs and even onboard shops to boost morale on long journeys. Equipping these modules is a fun little minigame in and of itself, resembling a cross between Diablo's inventory system and Tetris. Each module has a distinct shape, and fitting them all into the limited space provided by each ship's floorplan is a challenging experience that forces you to carefully weigh up your options. Do you sacrifice a cargo hold for an extra briefing room...or try to fit them both in with some careful juggling?
An RPG lives or dies on the strength of its combat system, and Infinite Space doesn't disappoint. Upon engaging an enemy fleet, you'll be whisked to the bridge of your flagship to direct the action. Battles occur in real time, with the ability to manoeuvre your fleet backwards and forwards in relation to your foe. Your ships function as a single unit and share a constantly-charging Command Bar that functions much like the Active Time Battle system from Final Fantasy 4. The higher the command bar, the greater the range of tactical options open to you.
In fact, the sheer range of combat tactics and steep learning curve will be a dealbreaker for casual gamers. Whilst your fleets start with a normal attack, heavy attack and dodge move (that can nullify enemy barrages), Infinite Space soon throws fighter squadrons, anti-air tactics and special attacks into the mix... that aren't adequately explained by the tutorials. The fact that the enemy can use all of these techniques soon forces players to perfectly time attacks, ducking in and out of weapons range while watching for the subtle telltale signs of a breach in defences. It's mentally exhausting, and even the slightest hesitation can lead to a fighter squadron slipping behind your lines and taking out your flagship (an instant game over). I'd go into more detail- but suffice to say, SEGA's had to release a free online guide to explain the subtleties of the combat. Space battles are deep and rewarding, but expect to lose a few fights before becoming an effective starship captain.
Whilst most of your battles are fought in in the wild black yonder, the storyline occasionally forces players to take on key foes in melee combat... which is unfortunately the weakest aspect of the game. Melee battles are essentially glorified games of rock/paper/scissors, and are governed simply by chance and the quantity of cannon fodder you can commit. Most annoyingly, it's game over if you lose a single engagement- and it's always galling to win a succession of difficult space battles only to start over thanks to making the wrong random decision in a forced melee fight. Not only that, but the graphical quality of these engagements would be deeply embarrassing on the Game Boy Colour.
Arguably the greatest problems with Infinite Space stem from its uneven difficulty curve and cumbersome exploration mechanics. The story tends to throw massive pitched battles at the player without prior warning- save dilligently and be sure to grind copiously. The huge array of subquests are also difficult to find, since you've essentially got to stop back at every planet once in a while and go through an unwieldy series of menus to locate them. Story objectives are also extremely vague, requiring players to remember even tiny details thanks to the lack of an objective menu. Only the hardcore need apply.
- Strong characters and storyline
- Huge galaxy wating to be explored
- Fleet customisation and combat is deep, rewarding and fun
- Melee minigame is horrible
- Insufficient tutorials and steep difficulty curve
- Vague story mission objectives
The Short Version: Infinite Space is a hardcore RPG for a hardcore audience. A few poor design choices hamper the experience from time to time, but faithful players will find their patience rewarded by dozens of hours of addictive gameplay. A must for sci-fi fans.