|NINTENDO DS||Japan USA|
By Rolando . March 28, 2008 . 1:50pm
Going into Soma Bringer was a bit of a nostalgic treat for me. Even if the game's narrative devices are typical of Monolith Soft, what makes the game stand out even more is just how impressively deep and customizable the game is towards its characters. Perhaps more than just a simple action RPG, Soma Bringer can be viewed as a cross between the beloved dungeon crawling and character customization nature of Diablo and the flow of combat from Secret of Mana. You might be scratching your head and asking yourself just how can both games sum up Soma Bringer, or maybe you're just baffled at the fact that Diablo and Secret of Mana are mentioned in the same sentence; but for the many forum posters out there who've had some ample time with Soma Bringer (myself included), those two games are pretty much what Soma Bringer plays like.
The game's plot is fairly simple and a bit typical for JRPGs. As I noted in a previous post, you're prompted to select one of seven main characters and choose a class for them along with stat preparation and what not. Once you've done that, the game opens up with the character you've chosen and his/her fellow comrades exploring an unknown area in search of Visitors, evil monsters that have invaded the world of Barnea. After trekking through the prologue's area and fighting your first boss, the characters are marveled by the sudden appearance of a young girl named Idea (Edea?). The mystery surrounding Idea is part of the plot; but as is typical with most JRPGs, there's more to the plot than meets the eye.
Though the plot alone is very enjoyable and somewhat typical for a Monolith Soft game, Soma Bringer's other shining aspect is its deep gameplay mechanics. Even though you have to select a class for your character and customize him/her within the realm of that class' limitations, it's actually the customization part that adds depth to Soma Bringer. The game makes no use of the stylus whatsoever; however, the bottom screen is not only used to display a map of the area you're in but also to show what each face button does. When learning skills or spells within your character's class, you can equip four of those skills and assign them each a face button that'll allow those skills to be used it in battle. Much like From The Abyss, you can chain link your basic combos with skills to maximize damage output and add a spice of variety to combat. Though all current equipped skills are shown on one list, you can easily press R to open up a custom made list that'll allow you to use other skills you've set in place or change weapons on the fly and use skills with that weapon. Hitting L opens up another list that allows you to have quick access to items set there, making restoring health and status easy.
Though you can only control the hero you've selected, the AI controlling your partners isn't really all that bad. Your party members are good at knowing when to use a healing spell and know who and when to attack. Of course you have no direct influence on how your party members level up or equip items; but the more levels you gain, the more levels they gain which gives them the ability to access newer skills. Alternatively if you want to challenge yourself, you can easily dispose of your party members to make battles a lot more interesting or replace existing party members with newer ones; but considering some battles are a nice challenge, you might not want to do trek through the game alone.
Not to be outdone by the gameplay, Soma Bringer also allows you to increase your character's stats by the use of CP points and increase ability levels with the use of AP points. When you gain a level, you receive a decent amount of CP and AP that you can equally distribute or monopolize them all into whatever you so desire. The further you increase the level of a skill (max is 20), the more powerful that skill becomes. Depending on your current class rank, the accessibility of skills varies from weapon to weapon as does its effects. Having more skills at your disposal allows you to create much more interesting combos. You can also synthesize new items and equipment through the use of the game's synthesis shop by either purchasing synthesis material or finding them spread out throughout the game's various dungeons.
A dungeon crawling action RPG at heart, Soma Bringer leaves a lot to be experienced with friends who own the actual game which kind of adds a nice replay value to it. Though having the option to play online via WiFi would have been nice, Soma Bringer can easily be enjoyed with friends who own the cart and are willing to trek with you through the game; and when the three of you play together, you'll really have tons of fun. Finishing the game allows you to not only play through different modes, but you also unlock Idea.
Is it worth the price of admission should Nintendo of America not bother to localize it? That would depend on your idea of interaction. Though the game's a bit text heavy with its story and skill explanations, you don't have to be too proficient in the Japanese language to know how to actually play the game and know where to go next. If you've played enough RPGs in your time, knowing what to do and becoming familiar with the game's mechanics should be second nature.
Soma Bringer is to action RPGs what Lost Odyssey is to turn-based RPGs; it may do nothing new and borrow from already existing mechanics and turn it into a new experience, but it does give you a nostalgic feel of what you've played back then and remind you why you enjoy the genre.