Operation Darkness was a different type of strategy RPG. Spectral Force 3 is more traditional with a fantasy setting and alternating rounds of swordplay. Spectral Force 3… wait you’re wondering what happened to the other two games? They were only released in Japan as PsOne titles. Our introduction to the Spectral series was on the PSP through Spectral Souls thanks to NIS America. Spectral Souls is more like a cousin to the Spectral Force series and you don’t need to worry about any of the other games to play Spectral Force 3. The twist is in Spectral Force 3’s fighting system where you have seven action points per turn, per character.
It takes one action point to move the minimum or maximum distance. In Spectral Force 3 you get to walk your character with the analog stick. Once you move you can select from three basic attacks: light, medium, and heavy consuming 1, 2, or 3 action points respectively. Light attacks have a higher hit percentage, but deal less damage. You can increase your accuracy by starting with a light attack and moving to a heavy attack. Out of laziness I noticed myself using the same three hit combo at beginning of the game. Move, Light, Medium, Heavy. Move, Light, Medium, Heavy. Then I discovered the special attack combo opener. Begina has a special move called Thunder Blade, which lands four hits at the cost of 100 SP. If you lead with Thunder Blade, Begina gets a sizable accuracy boost and can usually land two heavy hits in a row afterwards. However, if you want to do a heavy Thunder Blade combo you need all seven AP which means Begina can’t move.
Cassius, a warrior with a spear and long locks of hair, has a similar stationary combo where he can launch a foe into the air with his Ein Geiser technique and then juggle them three times. If you stop the combo there the enemy just falls to the ground, but if you have an ally nearby who can slam then to the ground the enemy loses some AP from his next turn. Partner attacks never consume your AP and they add to the combo meter. One early tactic is to keep Eunice, your first mage, in the middle of your tank characters like Begina just for combos. If you squeeze Diaz in the center too he can heal HP every round and restore SP to fuel Begina’s Thunder Blade combo. Diaz’s basic HP and SP restoring abilities are free to use every round, but he can’t attack unless you assign him a spell like fireball.
The AP system also allows players to distribute attacks to a number of enemies. You can kill one foe with a light attack and spend the remaining AP wailing on the next target. You have more choices in Spectral Force 3 and you’re going to need them since you’re typically outnumbered. The game places a group of five against 15 soldiers from an opposing army. Good thing the computer doesn’t rush you. Spectral Souls 3 would be impossible if all the monsters attacked in tandem. The enemies come in waves so you can hang tight and wait for each group to walk up to you or appear. This strategy works well when the goal is to clear the battlefield, but Spectral Souls 3 often throws alternate goals at players like barging through troops to touch a bridge within ten turns.
Winning battles nets players gold, but money doesn’t buy everything. You need to earn the right to purchase arms and special attack scrolls by collecting materials. Some of these consumable items are automatically given to players at the end of a battle. Other times you need to break crates and open treasure chests to find them. Apparently, crates and exploding barrels lie around in the foreboding swamps of the underworld.
I haven’t touched on the story of Spectral Force 3 yet since it isn’t the crux of the game like other strategy RPGs. At the beginning of the game Begina is the unlikely leader of the Norlus mercenaries. Judo, the pack’s leader, dies in the very first fight. Cassius and Dragan abandon Begina when they return to town leaving him with his best buddy Diaz who happens to be a cleric. The first few missions are spent hunting monsters and earning a reputation worthy of the Norlus name. Once you get your army the narrative takes a backseat. In Spectral Force 3 there isn’t an unjust king plotting to take control of the world. The entire world is at war and you get to pick a side by allying with one or many nations.
The open ended feel is a fresh idea, but I often found myself lost with all the choices at the beginning of the game. Since siding with different nations means you get different allies how would I know which is the best “choice”? Once I stopped caring about maximizing my army I repeatedly assaulted the Overworld Army. I started down a path where Flauster and the demon filled region were at war. I think it may have been more interesting to play the game where you’re truly a gun for hire helping all nations. Choosing a side instead of being forced into one makes Spectral Force 3 unique.
Images courtesy of Atlus.