Infinite Space Sets a New Standard
Every once in a while a game that I wasn’t looking forward to comes out of left field and makes me proud to be a gamer. Through some combination of low expectations on my part, compelling character-driven story, and well-crafted gameplay mechanics, Infinite Space has made its way onto my short list of “DS game of the year” nominees.
The story of Infinite Space is epic, interesting, and is completely free of the annoying cuteness that bogs down many anime space sagas. Yuri, the protagonist, grew up bound to a world ruled by a petty baron. He dreams of exploring the “sea of stars” and, once he escapes his homeworld, his journey is tempered by the fact that the galaxy is a lawless place filled with bloodthirsty pirates, corrupt law enforcers, and bottom line-oriented feudal lords. And the animated introductory sequence is an amazing, high-quality production, though it is a little confusing because it chops and mixes events from the first chapter.
The general idea that drives the game is that you get to command a fleet of ships. There is a huge variety of ships and ship modifications, so you can outfit your small fleet as you see fit. You fly from planet to planet, and from system to system, in a journey of discovery where you will face off against enemy fleets. There are a lot of interesting characters to meet, many of whom will join your fleet; half the fun is matching the various strengths and weaknesses of each character to the many positions available within your army. You aren’t immediately thrown into the role of Fleet Commander, however, as the ability to control multiple ships must be earned over time. And that’s a good thing, as Infinite Space’s unique combat system takes time (and frequent failures) to master.
Infinite Space doesn’t just have good graphics. The entire package is presented in a truly creative and professional manner. It borrows some of its look from anime, but the colors are muted, everything is cast in shadow, and the tone itself is dark without being overly morbid. The characters and their interactions are interesting, without being sentimental and embarrassingly “heartwarming” like a lot of anime and Japanese games that are, let’s face it, marketed towards children rather than adults. A mature tone makes sense, because some sequences are so difficult that I can’t imagine too many children playing Infinite Space for very long. It’s an adult game and, while it may wear an anime shell, deep down it caters to anyone who has ever watched a battle between large spaceships, just like in Star Trek, and later fantasized about sitting in the captain’s chair and spouting off some futuristic technical jargon before shouting, “All guns… FIRE!” Even random battles are spiced up with dramatic camera angles and tense, simple, expertly-delivered dialogue.
The controls make complete sense – that is, after you’ve gotten them down pat. Unfortunately, Infinite Space is so unique that, if you don’t have an instruction book, it will take some time to piece together the puzzle of which feature does what, when, and why. Thankfully, the pace is set in such a way that different aspects of gameplay are introduced slowly: first you control one small ship, then one large destroyer, then ship boarding and hand-to-hand combat is introduced, then you gain the ability to control multiple ships at once, and so on. This does not occur within the first fifteen minutes after a dense tutorial, but rather, each element is introduced through several hours of gameplay, as the story naturally allows.
The music is amazing, some of the best I’ve heard on the DS. Of special note is the battle music, a shifting piece that goes from bombastic and frenzied to low-key and tense, and creates a perfect atmosphere for facing off against an enemy fleet. Jockeying for position, trying to get off a barrage before the enemy does, drums pounding in time to the dramatic, changing camera angles, all of it adds up to an incredibly intense experience.
Infinite Space has no real online mode, but it does allow two friends to connect and play against one another using their Wi-Fi connection. While this limitation might seem puzzling, Infinite Space has such a robust single-player campaign that the lack of online playability feels like a complete non-issue.
All gems are colored by their flaws, and Infinite Space is no different. One “old school” touch is vagueness concerning where to go or who to find next. This does not happen frequently, but when it does, you’ll find yourself filled with a nostalgic sense of frustration. Also, combat can be very difficult. Even random encounters are deadly, although this can only be considered a fault if one grew up playing the kind of RPGs in which non-boss fights are all about button-mashing and repetition. The first boss of Infinite Space is a complete sadist, and the GAME OVER screen will find you again and again until the basics of combat have been mastered. Some amount of grinding is necessary, so it’s at least fortunate that Infinite Space has an interesting battle system.
Even taking the grueling difficulty level into account, Infinite Space is a must-play for any fan of RPGs who has grown tired of overly-cute standard fare.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.7 Graphics
Provides an excellent example of the capabilities of the DS. Despite limited technology, Infinite Space has a singular and unique artistic vision that puts it in a class by itself. Dark, sedate visuals, interesting character designs, and adequate 3D ship models make it easy to forgive the absurdly simplistic hand-to-hand combat graphics. 4.3 Control
The control scheme is only difficult to grasp because there are so few games similar to Infinite Space. I’m sure even Captain Kirk probably got trapped in the Enterprise’s bathroom early in his career, so once you brave those first few gameplay hurdles, you’ll find Infinite Space to be expertly and efficiently organized. 4.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
A great soundtrack with a wide emotional range. The occasional bit of voice acting is also a joy to experience. 4.5
A vast collection of ships to modify and destroy, planets to explore, an epic story to uncover, and a unique experience all around. High difficulty level means some level-grinding is required, which also pads out the already-extensive campaign. Two players can even pit their fleets against one another in the simple combat simulator.
4.7 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.