Tactical RPG fans who're untempted by the PlayStation 3's upcoming Disgaea 3, or perhaps just need a game to tide them over until its release, may find what they seek in the Xbox 360's Spectral Force 3. This swords-and-sorcery tale is a straightforward tactical RPG that presents one look at how the genre adapts for the current generation of systems.
"Stylistically, Spectral Force 3 is another anime-inspired turn-based strategy RPG impressed with large numbers and screen-shaking combos."
Like other games in its series, Spectral Force 3 takes place in far-off Neverland, a realm as familiar as it is magical. Players of the PSP's Spectral Souls may remember Neverland as home to endless political bickering and wars enough to fill a series of games. Spectral Force 3 is the second of these games to be released in America. It tells the story of the Great Neverland War, which occurred fifty-seven years before the events in Spectral Souls. This conflict starts small, but eventually draws ten factions into competition for control of the continent.
Each faction bolsters its forces with wandering bands of warriors. Play centers on one of these mercenary bands and the choices that its youthful commander makes during the Neverland War. Like most turn-based strategy RPGs, there are lengthy battles that focus on the war's key points. The game contains 150 missions, many of which are at odds with each other. If the player backs one budding empire to the exclusion of its enemies, it will affect future employment opportunities. The number of factions vying for the player's patronage insures that every playthrough will be different depending on whom the player backs.
The story's progression isn't the only set of mechanics that the player has to juggle; Spectral Force 3 has 40 unique characters to recruit and train. Each character is capable of three levels of attack as well as a special attack. Flashy combos gain power as each character takes damage, standing in opposition to the conventional wisdom of keeping a high health bar at all times.
Idea Factory, the game's Japanese developer, has yet to make a large mark on the Western gaming market. It is best known for Nippon Ichi's American releases of Spectral Souls and Aedis Eclipse: Generation of Chaos, as well as Osouji Sentai Clean Keeper (the game of cleansing magical girls and bathhouses.) Tactical RPGs and anime properties are the company's hallmarks, so Spectral Force 3's individual elements should come as no surprise.
Stylistically, Spectral Force 3 is another anime-inspired, turn-based strategy RPG impressed with large numbers and screen-shaking combos. Characters move across a 3D landscape, square-by-square, in pursuit of battlefield superiority. The main characters present a mixture of technology, magic, and explosive martial arts against all comers, be they dark wizards, tentacle-beasts, or sasquatches. Animated cut scenes advance the plot, backed with English dubbing throughout the game.
Spectral Force 3 will have bypassed its two-year anniversary as of its May 27, 2008 North American release. Will Xbox 360 gamers find the game dated, or will they just be glad to finally have a tactical RPG of their very own?