The sequel to Namco's Seven: Cavalry Troop of Molmorth has been in the works for some time, but only recently has Namco begun to churn out the details. Perhaps the biggest sign that the game is progressing nicely through production is the elimination of its working title; previously shrouded by the mysterious moniker Project Venus, the title has now graduated to official status, having been dubbed Venus & Braves along the way. As previously mentioned, Namco has also made with the information, an impressive assortment of details ranging from gameplay to character bios which shed light on what is shaping up to be a very ambitious title.
Venus & Braves is at its heart a single-player RPG, but Namco has lined up some impressive multiplayer features as well. In addition to its full-fledged single player quest, Venus & Braves will allow players to face off online in the game's tactical arena. Set in the isometric view present in most tactical RPGs, these battles will be decided based largely upon a series of character attributes that cover the usual gamut, with a few notable twists. Among the ubiquitous stats are HP and Attack Power, as well as Quickness, which is effectively speed. This stat is of particular importance, given the game's turn-based battles. New stats found in Venus & Braves shed much light on how battles will play out; characters will have Attack Assistance, which measures skill at aiding a nearby ally's attack, Defense Assistance, the same thing except with protection in mind instead of offense, Recovery Power, a measure of how speedily a character heals while hiding out in the back row, and Row Recovery, an apparently latent ability to heal characters also in the back rank.
Statistics will not be the only determining factor in combat, however. Character classes will play a role as well, and as the combination statistics might suggest, it's not just what character class is used for one character that matters; it's what classes the characters use in conjunction. For example, the Ninja, a powerful offensive fighter, lacks teamwork skills, scoring low in such areas as Defense Assistance and Row Recovery. Subsequently, it's a good idea to team him up with characters more adept in these areas. Experimentation, which the online arena will be excellent for, is a good idea, as different character combinations can unlock hidden abilities.
Online play appears to be mostly conventional; players meet up in a lobby, pair off into games, and then head to fight once everything's been settled. Currently, the only available images of the system use characters from Seven, so it's difficult to gauge exactly how it's going to look; however, the basic structure, as described above, should be in place when the game is first released, and as an added bonus, Namco is promising added features for its game that it will make available for download at its site.
Seven's combat system returns in the sequel; the Rotation Battle System will be in full effect, although some tweaks and adjustments are planned. On top of a graphical improvement, the combat configuration will now consist of three ranks of four characters arranged in accord with status and role. Hand-to-hand fighters and strong defensive characters occupy the front rank, with spellcasters and support characters directly behind them, and bringing up the rear will be long-range attackers and healers who need to stay out of harm's way. Weakened characters can also fall back to the third rank for healing purposes, although the potential to deal ranged attacks exists.
The critical aspect of this system is effectively moving the characters through these ranks to maintain an efficient offensive and defensive structure. Venus & Braves will certainly provide a wide array of possible means of achieving this goal; 50 individual unit types, grouped into 17 categories, are available for use, and the expanded roster of attributes will better define the roles of each group.
Venus & Braves is set in the same world as Seven was, an unnamed fantasy plane dubbed "a place which is nowhere". There, it is the year 999, and the Well-Varius prophesies have proclaimed that a dire demonic attack will shortly befall civilization. In the small town of Barakway, few believe these apocalyptic predictions, and preparations are underway to celebrate the millenium. Not a breed to be cheated by skepticism, demons decide to ruin the party, and the first wave descend en masse into Barakway, where the hero, Blood Boall, and his bandit gang are barely able to turn back the oncoming horde. Boall is 345 years old, but doesn't look a day over 18 thanks to a mysterious "Event" that took place in the distant past, which rendered him albino and eternally youthful. Once a fearsome warrior, Boall has been softened by time, his violent nature and ambition suitably diminished to accomodate his role in life.
A different fate is in store for Blood, however; the goddess Aria arrives to proclaim the world's upcoming date with disaster, and beseeches the hero to set out on a quest to prevent this from taking place. This epic journey will take some time, but Blood Boall is immortal, so this isn't of any particular concern. His peaceful life interrupted by the destruction of Barakway, Blood Boall has adequate incentive to take off on this odyssey.
Joining Blood Boall will be the goddess Aria, who is incidentally celebrating a millenial of her own. Uniquely suited to travel with Blood by virtue of their shared immortality, Aria is also the key to the rogue's mysterious past, although she keeps this information tightly restrained. Unfortunately, she doesn't relate too well to other people, and bearing a prophesy of 999 years of fire and brimstone probably doesn't help matters much.
Rounding out the trio of main characters will be Heihei, although her role will be much less critical than Blood Boall or Aria's. With bewitching good looks and a hate-on for Blood, Heihei promises to inject some life into the game's story, as she is also quite fond of fiddling around with her surroundings for no particular reason. Given her abilities to play with space and time, this is a dangerous pastime, and her exact intentions are anybody's guess.
Seven was famous for its fantastic artwork, and Venus & Braves aims to ratchet up the level of quality here. The story will be aided by this artistic emphasis, and a rich, emotional plot, with deep relationships between characters forming over the course of events, promises to satisfy gamers looking for a fulfilling gaming experience. Battles, while not few and far between, will be divided by lengthy narratives and conversation sequences, which will be enhanced by the artistic attention to detail.
With no release date in sight yet for Japan, Venus & Braves is admittedly a longshot for North American release. The original title did not make it out of Japan, although it was released early on in the PlayStation 2's development cycle with little fanfare. It will be interesting to see how Namco deals with this title, since the PlayStation 2 has had a couple of years to strengthen its user base, which might add incentive for a North American localization. Expect RPGamer to provide you with continuing coverage of this title.