So Many Ways to Conquer the World
Spectral Force Genesis is a large-scale strategy game where you choose to control one of seven nations (out of forty total), and then battle for world domination. You rule behind a desk rather than from a throne, meaning you must laboriously complete your nation’s paperwork, collect taxes, buy and sell stocks, send out your minions for diplomacy or recruitment, and so on. Your job as the master of pencil-pushing bureaucrats is occasionally interrupted by awkward battles and bare-bones cutscenes that deliver SFG’s slim storyline.
Spectral Force Genesis actually opens with a very interesting and inspiring cinematic. The bass hammers in time to a montage of characters, some of them gothic-themed, some militant, some bestial – and none of them are silly or copied from another source. Unfortunately, the intro sequence is the best part of SFG, and once the plodding, repetitive gameplay begins, any initial excitement is soon left far behind.
Rounds are divided into months and years. Unlike a well-crafted turn-based strategy game like, for example, Sid Meier’s Civilization, where you can do anything you want within a given span of game time and you are limited only by the current situation of your nation, Spectral Force Genesis scripts what will occur during each round. January might be tax season, then during July everyone might go to war, then September might be dedicated to foreign affairs, followed by another month of combat, and so on.
Because of this, the feeling is one of constant confinement. You can’t really choose how you will rule your nation, you can only “choose” whether to deal efficiently or poorly with each round of chores brought to you in a predetermined fashion. It feels like the world has been taken over by robots, and those robots are simply executing their programming line by line.
It could be argued that player choice comes in at the very beginning, when the player is allowed to choose what nation he or she will control. Each nation does have its own particular strengths and weaknesses, thus offering a variety of playing styles. However, one single moment of allowing the player to make a choice, followed by hour after endless hour of rote behavior, does not make for an enjoyable experience. And don’t assume that you can play as one of the diplomatic powerhouses, and then work hard to beef up the military so you can attain some sort of balance, as it seems like there are hidden stats that the player is not allowed to touch. For example, when playing as the warmongering nation, it seemed like I always had an edge in combat even when I got sloppy, yet when playing as a diplomatic nation, combat remained an uphill battle no matter how favorable the circumstances were.
I was looking forward to SFG because it appeared to be one of those rare Japanese games not populated by happy, smiling, childlike characters. The feudal lords and warriors of SFG have a hint of darkness about them, and none of them really seem like traditional “good guys”; which was exactly what I wanted, as I think I’ve had my fill of Japanese games where only the bad guys are interesting while the good guys are downright silly.
Unfortunately, you’ll only be seeing those slick character designs during a few cutscenes. Most scenes only use dialogue portraits that are extremely tiny. They’re like grainy suggestions of characters that you remember liking, though you’re never sure exactly why. In combat, the interesting-looking characters are replaced by squat, super-deformed creatures, like infants in medieval armor.
Combat in Spectral Force Genesis can be considered crazily ill-conceived at best. After the laborious process of dealing with several “months” of paperwork and accounting, with nothing but the hope of oncoming battle to help power through the tedium, it is shocking to find out how sloppily the process of war is carried out. This is how it goes: During combat, three of your generals and their armies will face off against three enemy generals and their armies. Units that specialize in attack, defense, or magic add a rock/paper/scissors element to the battle.
Combat occurs quickly, so after you’ve fallen into a stupor from having to deal with your nation’s paperwork, you will have to inject some strong, black coffee directly into a vein in order to wake up for the event. There is little time for strategizing; after fumbling with one army for a while (the stylus is no help on the battlefield), the enemy will be upon you. You’ll probably want to fire off some special attacks – it doesn’t matter which ones, just do something. The battle will freeze while the sparkly special attack is going off, so you might begin to formulate a strategy while this is happening. Too late! You have already either won or lost.
Then the next month rolls around. Ah, it’s accounting season again… already?
I’m all for games that go out on a limb and try new things, but Spectral Force Genesis already feels so hackneyed and feeble in so many areas that it’s a wonder that the makers didn’t simply realize that they would have to rip off another game’s combat system in order to have a chance at playability.
The music is not necessarily bad, but it lacks personality. You’ll become quite familiar with the game’s few tracks, especially the one that plays during the months of game time spent setting tax rates, buying and selling market shares, and signing peace treaties. Why gamers weren’t given the option to choose between a few tracks seems a curious design choice; in fact, in a modern world where talented, amateur music makers clamor for attention, and anyone can find music available online that’s practically as good as the soundtracks used in big budget movies, it’s strange how game makers with small budgets can still go about showcasing mediocre music. We live in the future, and the entire world is connected – there’s no longer an excuse for using mediocre elements in any sort of artistic project!
The most solidly appealing aspect of SFG is the slow but steady conquest of the map. For gamers who like the feeling of completing a task, or even the sense of accomplishment from just crossing a finished chore off a to-do list, then SFG offers a varied and colorful to-do list of chores that require completing. But as for being a fun gaming experience, Spectral Force Genesis has little to recommend itself.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 2.9 Graphics
Dark and impressive character designs are buried by the overuse of tiny dialogue portraits and the waddling super-deformed warriors shown in combat. 2.5 Control
Simple, plodding, repetitive control scheme used during your nation’s paper-pushing mode is broken up by fast combat sequences carried out by armies that are difficult to control. You don’t touch and move your armies with the stylus so much as harpoon and then drag them, against their will, from point A to B. 2.7 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Mediocre and repetitive, but at least inoffensive for lack of glaring flaws. 2.7
SFG seems larger than it is because each campaign has its own flavor and unique perspective, but slogging uphill through one nation’s campaign is such a test of patience that it’s hard to imagine what would drive someone to willingly play through a second or third time.
2.2 Overall Rating – Poor
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.