Late to the Party: Infinite Space

Games get released, games get reviewed. It’s the circle of life that keeps gaming journalism breathing. When it comes to reviews, timeliness is usually everything. You want to get your opinion out before anyone else because really, promptness alone will earn you some readers. That said, when the dust of the review storm clears there’s often still plenty of relevant commentary to be shared. In short, it’s better late than never.

This Week: Infinite Space

I grew up a Star Wars geek, so as you can imagine I spent many a starry night gazing up at the sky wondering at the grand adventures that might be waiting out there… for someone else of course. I’m The collective space program of the entire human race still hasn’t gotten to the point of being an affordable tourist attraction. That said, with games like Infinite Space out there, I suppose I’ll make do.

Infinite Space, put shortly, is the best JRPG I’ve played that wasn’t on the SNES. Contrasting this however, I should say right away that it’s also a game with some big flaws that do drag on the experience. That the game manages to be so good despite its problems is something I have to credit to its writers for. It’s the rare JRPG that avoids the most annoying tropes of the genre. There is relatively little in the way of pointless quirk and the main character isn’t a sulking emo kid.

You begin as a rather standard seeming teenager that desperately wants to explore the stars. Unfortunately, the local dictator has banned his people from space travel. Yuri, as he is called, is too stubborn to give up however. He sends out a request for a launcher, an established spacer that for a fee helps get newcomers started, and is soon whisked into an adventure that will span years and a large portion of the known universe. This of course involves several heapings of war, political intrigue, religious speculation and evil empires that need to be brought down for the good of the galaxy. It rarely breaks new ground, but it is thoroughly engaging. My playthrough lasted me nigh seventy hours and I was interested up to the very end.

Yuri as a protagonist is actually quite refreshing. He isn’t a cocksure braggart or a shy little mouse. He strikes a balance, being something of a cross between Han Solo and Luke Skywalker. He’s an idealist and initially naïve, but still has something of a “damn the torpedoes” attitude that often sees him jumping into and starting trouble throughout the game. He is a personality that is believable as being a force in the universe and moreover, he’s just likeable. The same can be said of the rest of the cast. Though they range from flamboyant to understated, they are all well-written and subtle enough that they don’t come off as annoying.

This isn’t to say the writing is without flaws. While the majority of the game is utterly enthralling it eventually caves into that most clichéd of tropes: the bad guy isn’t really the bad guy, there’s another ultimate evil behind everything. Infinite Space isn’t the worst use of this plot device. The ending does work but it feels a rushed as a result of this twist and isn’t as satisfying as it could have been. It goes out on a fizzle instead of a bang.

The gameplay ranges from brilliant to unbalanced. When the game first began I fell in love with it. Ship customization is addictive and battle is a tense game of cat and mouse as you and your opponent’s fleets duke it out. You need to try and get in your attacks while staying out of your enemies range. It’s difficult and victory feels rewarding.

Then the game introduces fighter combat and all the strategy and suspense of the earlier chapters is erased. When deployed in enough numbers they can cause more damage than your average battleship. Moreover, they freeze the enemy’s ships in place. This means you can just move your fleet out of range and wait until your fighters wear their ships down one at a time. Fighters makes the game so easy that many fans of the game actually consider it cheating to use them. I just consider it a design flaw. I should be able to use every weapon a game gives me without it breaking the combat. This isn’t the case with Infinite Space, and unless you’re one of the dedicated few that will swear them off to make it more difficult it’s a noticeable problem.

The thing that drags the game down the most is how obscure it can be at times. There are more than a half dozen points I can recall where I had no idea what to do or where to go. The game literally doesn’t tell you and just expects you to figure it out for yourself. This wouldn’t so bad if the in game universe weren’t so huge. At most given points during the game there can be at least a few dozen and as many as a few hundred waypoints and planets dotting the landscape. Any one of these might house a plot point and you’ll have no way of knowing where to go unless you check them all one by one. My gratitude to the devoted individuals who produced the various walkthroughs that saved me hours of frustration.

Even with these problems Infinite Space is still one of the most engrossing games I’ve played in a long time. I work during the week, and with my time more limited I haven’t had as much patient for lengthy epics. That said, I stuck with it and seventy hours later I feel satisfied in a way that a game hasn’t done in a long time. Infinite Space isn’t perfect. What it is however is ambitious and above all else, worth dealing with the flaws. If you’re looking for a good DS RPG and are willing to step outside the established properties, give Infinite Space a go.

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