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Japanese RPG Marathon is Underway....

It's a JRPG invasion over that both Tales of Vesperia and Infinite Undiscovery are in the house, it's been JRPG paradise for the past few days (with the occasional Ninja Gaiden II for the sake of variety) :D

[Note: Both me and Wuffy are using my gamertag : SCYTHERAGE to play Infinite Undiscovery and Tales of Vesperia respectively, so if you want to see how far we're into both games, check my 'scytherage' gamercard.]

Wuffy's been playing ToV for over 30+ hours now and she doesn't seem to be near the end yet. Of course it's better to read her impressions. I do find myself constantly impressed by the graphics of ToV whenever I look over my shoulder [as I'm typing on this computer] to see her playing the game. The one thing which sticks out for me (as what you'd call a 'bystander'; someone who just casually sees the game, since Wuffy is the one playing it), is the sheer number of voice dialogue in Tales of Vesperia. It seems to me that there's bucketloads of voiceovers in that game. I can always here some conversation going on between the characters, and it even happens after battles where the characters seem to be humoring each other with friendly banter. It sure makes the game seem like it has loads of personality.

As for Infinite Undiscovery (IU), [currently 6 hours in] after getting through that odd 'first puzzle' (see earlier posting) the game's pacing seems to be getting better now. I can definitely see more emphasis being given on action-styled gaming in IU. There are moments where the combat reminds me of Soulcalibur IV in terms of flashiness (perhaps it's because of all the nice special effects that start flying when you're fighting enemies). The controls are pretty simple....just press the A button a certain number of times and press B afterwards to finish with a special strike. There's enough variety in the combat since you can execute some interesting combinations if you time your attacks right. For instance, pressing A once then pressing B once after that, juggles your opponent/floats them in the air for a long duration, which then lets you execute another series of attacks or combinations. It makes the fighting feel very satisfying, and the game does a good job of letting you know you're playing it right (unlike Too Human, where you couldn't even tell if you're hitting something when you swing your weapon). It isn't Ninja Gaiden II in terms of complexity, but it gets the job done in delivering a good action experience.

Also, I'm not experiencing any problems with my party members so far. They seem to be managed automatically by the game itself and they haven't done anything in my game that has made things easier or more difficult for me. In general, the AI for my party generally works well; they'll heal other party members in trouble and they'll try to do combination attacks along with you to do the most damage on enemies.

There's also some nice AI going on with your enemies....for instance, there was this one moment in the game where an AI enemy soldier set off one of the castle traps, spawning a monster next to him. Instead of the AI monster attacking my party, the AI monster attacked the AI soldier that triggered the trap! Seems to me that that sort of complexity doesn't happen that often in most Japanese RPGs.

The system in IU where you have to command your AI mates to perform certain actions has not given me any kind of issues just yet. For the most part, the AI will try to do what you ask them to, but if they've been interrupted by enemy attacks, they won't be able to act as quickly. A bit of strategy seems to come into play when commanding your party; it's best to evade enemies while you're focused on issuing commands on party members.

The graphics and artwork/overall art style so far in IU is quite well done; texture work is simplistic compared to western games but it gives everything a nice, bright, clean and colorful look. I like the way they rendered the characters' faces and their facial expressions. They weren't going for all out realism (as is to be expected with most Japanese titles) but they were going for a look that is aesthetically pleasing/easy on the eyes.

The first few areas in IU still continue to provide that feeling of being lost in a wide, expansive world. Sure, there are still 'invisible walls' like every other JRPG but the game does give some incentive for going off the beaten path. You can pick up herbs or other ingredients which you can use to create special potions or other items. You can also level your characters since enemies in the world seem to respawn in certain areas. I've encountered one or two odd side-quests in the game this early on....they aren't like the epic side-quests in western RPGs, though, and they're mostly fetch-and-deliver quests. It does add a bit of longevity to the game since you'll find yourself exploring every nook and cranny trying to get the most items to help you with your long journey.

The voice acting in IU works quite well though it doesn't seem as extensive as Tales of Vesperia. I've heard more character dialogue while Wuffy was playing ToV than when I was playing IU (but then, I've only played IU for 5 hours so it could change....). I haven't met any 'annoying' characters yet in IU. I can imagine some players might not like the two 'child' characters in the game, but so far I don't get that impression at all. They're quite useful in combat with their wide range of spells.

Also, early in the game your party grows quite extensively....I like the starting plot point where....

[spoilers to follow]

your character ends up joining another party of characters who are in the middle of their quest. It seems to me in the story that the characters you meet have already been on their mission for a while now, and your character is thrown in the middle of the conflict. I found this a nice way to start the storyline. I don't know if it's original (perhaps it isn't, I'm sure...) but it's paced well enough to have kept my attention.

The character that you play as, Capell, is portrayed largely as this wimp who doesn't want to get involved in some world-saving endeavor. He may or may not be likable, depending on your disposition. There were some nice humorous moments in the beginning of the game which give the characters some degree of personality. I guess it depends on how much of a jaded gamer you are if this will be a point against the game or not.

If you read the manual, you'll find out the main characters are mostly 17 and up, so they seem like your typical teenage Japanese RPG heroes. If you crave absolute originality in your role-playing games, then maybe IU is not the game for you. But if you can manage to suspend your disbelief a bit and enjoy the other aspects of the game, like the distinctive art-style and well implemented action/combat system, then you might appreciate what IU has to offer.

[/end spoilers]

These are just some early impressions of Infinite Undiscovery so I wouldn't call this a recommendation just yet. I will say that the game has, so far, passed the 'Fun for the First 5 Minutes' test. It has managed to engross me enough to make me lose track of time.

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