Monday, February 15, 2010

Infinite Undiscovery - Plot and Characters

250 hours. That's how long it took to finish Infinite Undiscovery with 1000 Achievement points. That's more time than it took to finish Oblivion AND Fallout 3, two notoriously lengthy (not to mention better) games. If there was ever any doubt that Achievements are driving me to madness, Infinite Undiscovery represents indisputable evidence.

Over the course of the week I'll be putting up some posts about the game. Mostly, I'll be talking about the NUMEROUS ways that it went wrong. Bear in mind that ID was not made by some fledgling company taking their first crack at a mainstream RPG. It was developed by Tri-Ace, the company that made the much-beloved Star Ocean series and is responsible for several other under-the-radar RPG gems, plus it was published by Square-Enix, a company best known for a little series called FINAL FANTASY...perhaps you've heard of it? With that combined track record, you'd expect them to be make a great game.

ID is not a great game. It's not even a good one. As is always the case with RPGs, it starts with the story. ID takes place in the kind of fantasy setting that makes perfect sense to Final Fantasy devotees and nobody else. It's a world where people use swords and bows to fight monsters but have magical teleporters to move from one area to another. Where towns are made up of an inn, an item shop, three little houses, and a gigantic castle in which the king lives. Where three paces away from town there are dangerous monsters just hanging out waiting to attack your characters.

In this world, the moon sprinkles magical beams (which look a lot like bright yellow rain) down on the earth. The moon magic is thus transferred to the people, with the amount of power received proportional to the phase of the moon at the time of their birth. Born under a full moon? You're going to be a mighty hero. New moon? Sorry, no magic powers for you, but can we interest you in a lifetime of prejudice and servitude?

Anyway, an evil empire has risen (because all video game empires are evil) and is siphoning away the power of the moon for themselves. To do this, they have built huge CHAINS that stretch from the surface of the planet to the moon. I have no idea how the chains steal moon power (maybe they hold it in place over the evil nation?) or how they were built in the first place, but that idea is really stupid both in terms of astronomy and practicality. Plus they just look ridiculous. The main plot thread of the game follows a group led by Sigmund, the mightiest hero in the land, that is attempting to "liberate" the moon by traveling around the world and destroying the chains.

That description makes it sound like Sigmund is our main protagonist. He's not. Enter Capell, a penniless musician who was born under a new moon. Capell is utterly unremarkable except for one bizarre coincidence...he looks EXACTLY like Sigmund. As in, they could be twins. Of course, Capell is a weakling and a coward, not a great hero like Sigmund. It should come as no big surprise that mistaken identity ensues and Capell gets dragged into the conflict against his will.

At this point, I'd like to give ID some rare praise - I liked the way they handled Capell as a character. He's your standard reluctant hero, a cowering whiner with a bit of a selfish streak. But there's two reasons why he works better than most reluctant heroes. First, he has good reason to be reluctant. After all, he's a musician, not a warrior. The first time he has to use a sword to defend himself, he holds it as one might hold a snake which may or may not be poisonous. Since he was born under a new moon, he has no powers and is portrayed as weaker than most average townspeople. When he says things like "I try to avoid trouble at all times" it seems like a pretty logical position for him to take. The other reason Capell works is that his transition from weakling to warrior is slow and believable. Even well into the second disc, Capell is unsure of himself. It takes a number of traumatic experiences to really inspire him into action. I'm sure a lot of people got tired of his whimpy attitude, but I found it more realistic than "zero to hero" in a few easy cutscenes.

The big twist comes at the end of the first disc, when Sigmund falls in battle (during a very confusing cutscene) against the top bad guy from the empire . The team decides that Sigmund's death will cause people to lose hope, and they need the support of the remaining nations that oppose the empire. But hey, here's a guy that recently joined our ranks and happens to look just like that a plan formulating? Capell has to pose as Sigmund and "lead" the team while anyone is watching. Despite the fact that Capell doesn't sound or act like Sigmund in any way, their plan works perfectly and every major world leader is completely fooled into thinking that he's Sigmund. As you might guess, eventually the truth comes out and Capell is forced to put his cowardly ways behind him and step forward to be the leader he never thought blah, blah, blah. The last half of the second disc is contrived and predictable, right down to the big showdown that finishes the game. SIDE NOTE: What you might NOT expect is that the final showdown occurs on the moon, which the team travels to by JOGGING UP ONE OF THE CHAINS. Good thing they weren't too tired from their little space jaunt to fight the bad guys at the top.

So to summarize, the plot to this game is both dull and rife with cliches. The whole thing really boils down to a long hike around the world to break some chains (each with requisite dungeon and boss battle) capped off by one last boss fight in an improbable locale. By RPG standards, that's not breaking any new ground. The game could work as a character-driven meditation on Capell's "coming of age", but unfortunately that doesn't work very well either. The problem is that while Capell is a pretty well-written character, the rest of the team (and there are a LOT of them) are boring, one-dimensional caricatures masquerading as a supporting cast. You've got the bossy love interest who turns out to be a princess. The swordsman with an attitude who doesn't want to follow orders. The big muscle guy who drinks and breaks things. The annoying kids who's mother thought they'd be safer with me (no child services in this world I guess). The egg-headed mage (Rachel felt bad for him because he carried a big pack with all our gear). The token female with enormous breasts. And on and on and on. Every time you get a handle on all the characters, some more show up to join the team out of nowhere. Christ, there's a big scene near the end where everyone talks about their individual motivations to fight (because apparently we're too thick to work it out by context) and I kept thinking "Who are all these people?" A note to Tri-Ace: I'd prefer four fully developed characters to a dozen half-baked ones.

So we've got an RPG with a dumb story and bad characters. Not a rousing beginning. Next time: gameplay aggravations. Hooray!

1 comment:

  1. I am so excited for this series as I got to witness firsthand the frustration of the 250hrs and it's gonna be great to read the vented spleen!