A Colorful Name For a Drab Title
Spectral Force 3 is a strategy role-playing game developed by Idea Factory and published by Atlus. It is hard to believe this game was brought out in 2008 (2006 in Japan) because it is so behind the curve in every aspect that games that came ten years before this game not only look better but play better. The game doesn’t try to innovate or bring many new ideas to the table and it doesn’t even try to rip off concepts from better games which is a problem because even if it did rip off other games it would be a lot more fun than this seriously weak effort. If this is the third game in the series I would hate to imagine what the other two games were like.
Spectral Force 3 takes place in Neverland in Magic Era 996. All ten nations are engaged in a war and you control a band of mercenaries who help out these various armies. Because you are mercenaries you have no allegiance to either side so you can help out whoever you’d like. The story seems to try to be a lot deeper than the game tries to convey but it is not very deep or engaging. Most of the game is spent going from random battle to random battle with some story interspersed in the middle of it. For a 100 hour RPG there is probably twenty minutes worth of story and character development. By the time you get to the end of the game and see the ending you will undoubtedly be underwhelmed and wish you somehow had those 100 hours of your life back.
The story isn’t the only thing lacking here, the presentation has some serious issues. The game starts off on a high note. The player is greeted with an anime intro with an upbeat J-Pop song. The character design and art style is pretty unique but when you start the game all of that goes out the window. The game’s story is presented by having a portrait of a character on screen in front of a static background with a dialogue box in the foreground with what is being said. As the conversation carries on the portrait of the character changes depending on who is speaking. For the most part the portrait stays the same. I can only recall one time when a character’s portrait changed to convey the emotion and that was at the very end. The game is also menu driven so don’t expect an over-world map or anything resembling an RPG in the last ten years. The menu presents you with 6 options. Find Work: Here you will do various missions for the armies to gain their friendship and to also overthrow the other factions. Mission: This is where most of the story based missions are, you do these occasionally after you do enough find work missions to progress the story. EQ. Room: You equip your characters with equipment here (obviously). Smithy: Here you can upgrade your weapons and buy armor and accessories for your characters. Each character has a unique weapon and you upgrade it unlike other RPGs where you buy more powerful weapons. The only noticeable thing about upgrading is that the damage your weapon deals increases. The final two menu options are Data, where you save and load, and Converse, where you sometimes have the choice with talking with some characters. The conversations aren’t that interesting although you do have to converse sometimes to open up various battles.
The main bulk of the game is spent on the battlefield. This would be great if the game was fun but this is not the case. There are a couple of concepts this game introduces that I suppose are unique to this game. One is the friend gauge. As the battle goes on and the more hits you strike the enemy with the more this gauge goes up, when you get a full bar you can perform an “assist” where an ally in the vicinity can deal an extra strike to an enemy. If you have two bars you can do “teamwork” where an ally essentially gets a second turn to move and attack. The other concept is the “battle formation” the more teamwork and assists you do the more the BF gauge goes up allowing you to unleash a more powerful BF attack. A BF attack is basically all your allies teaming up to attack one enemy. They deal out a lot of damage and are pretty helpful to use on the bosses. The battle system rates you at the end of each battle so doing assists and teamwork attacks help you build high combos to give you better ratings for your missions. So why isn’t the battle system fun? Well for starters there are only a handful of maps. There are a couple of desert maps, a couple of snow maps, a couple of forest maps, a couple of mountain maps but for the most part you will be seeing the same map a lot. For a strategy RPG there seem to be a lot of restrictions and the enemies seem to be unbalanced most of the time. Also for a SRPG there doesn’t seem to be a lot of strategy involved. The AI mainly targets your weakest character and all gang up on that character. This is regardless of if another ally is one hit away from dying, the AI will focus on beating up that weak character. Most of the battles involve shielding your weak characters from the AI or baiting the AI into pursuing your weak characters and defeating them that way. As for the restrictions you’re only allowed 6 characters per battle. Although the game has 40 playable characters in it you’ll find that many of the “classes” are the same. There is little reason to use them other than you have to use some characters to recruit more characters. Although you can equip other characters with a healing spell there is really only one true magic user in the game, Diaz. He is the main healer and has the most powerful magic spells in the game. If Diaz is defeated you can’t heal as efficiently, you can no longer use the friend gauge or BF or boost points on the battlefield. The AI doesn’t have any characters like Diaz but they can also have more than 6 characters, and more can appear in the middle of the battle. For the player once that party member is defeated there is no way to bring them back. The AI seems to get a lot of magic points, called SP in this game, and they will just stack powerful special attacks over and over on your weakest character. It’s not fun it is annoying. The game does have a new game+ option that allows you to replay the game again with the same items you had but it is pretty much pointless other than to recruit 3 other characters you couldn’t get on your first play-through. Your level and weapon level reset so even if you wanted to use those items you would be out of luck because you can’t wear high level armor at a lower level. For the most part players won’t want to play this game once much less twice.
I mentioned the anime intro and interesting art style earlier. This is about the best the game gets in terms of graphics. The hand drawn portraits are by far the most interesting thing in the game. The character model that corresponds to the portrait is a total letdown. You can really only see the models in great detail if you go to the character’s page and look at the model. Otherwise you’ll really never see much of it because the perspective of the game is very high up. From special magic effects to poor textures nothing will really wow you here. The game doesn’t look good at all. PS2 RPGs looked better than this, heck PSX RPGs looked better than this. The menus aren’t much more fun to look at either and you’ll see them a lot.
Finally rounding out this game is the sound. This game does have voice acting this is a surprise judging from the rest of the game. The voice acting is pretty decent I must say. The game has quite a few voices in it and they’re all acted well. The voice acting is one of the only things that kept me interested throughout the game. As for the rest of the sound it is horrible. The music is some sort of goofy midi songs they aren’t catchy and are in fact quite annoying. The fact that the battles are quite long you might want to listen to something else while you play. The sound effects aren’t much better. The footsteps sound like some cartoony clunky noise while the sound of the attacks hitting other characters sound about as goofy. You could seriously come up with better sound effects on your own.
Spectral Force 3 is a very disappointing game and I went in with no expectations. It has very little going right for it. The best parts of the game are the intro, the voice acting, and I will say the full color instruction book is a nice touch. Other than that Spectral Force 3 is a lesson in tedium. Only play this game if you’re desperate for an RPG or have serious patience.