In Neverland a war has been brewing for many years between humans and demons. The Neverland army, run by demons, have been razing human tows and backing the forces into a corner. A group of humans weren’t about to take this lying down and the Reformed Simba Army was born from uprisings against the demons. In the midst of the chaos another group of humans seek to find a peaceful solution for both factions. The Rozess Liberation army is an idealistic bunch led by Meu. One war, three sides and you see them all in Spectral Souls: Resurrection of the Ethereal Empires (known as Shinki Gensou: SSII Unlimited Side in Japan).
Playing the war from all sides is one of the coolest features in Spectral Souls. You begin each battle on a world map where you select which army you want to move. In many ways it’s up to the player to decide which faction is going to go. The results of many battles don’t have major effects, but then there are historical events which change the story line depending on who you play as. Do you choose to favor the vicious Neverland army or are you rooting for the Rozess to win? Players make their choices by commanding the army they favor in historical battles.
Battling is the major element in Spectral Souls, it is a strategy RPG after all. Spectral Souls has the standard grid based combat battles with height ratios. Instead of taking turns like in most strategy RPGs there is an interesting twist with timeshift battles. Each character recovers AP (action points) as they move from the right side of the bar to the left. Once a single character’s AP is full you can move them around attack or place them in position for combination attacks. Now you can choose to totally deplete Naiz’s (commander of the Simba Army) AP completely by moving then chaining sword slashes and fire spells. If attacks are chained correctly Naiz might do different moves. For instance two slashes in a row make double slash and mixing up the fireball spell and a sword thrust turns into fire attack.
While you could spend each turn attacking it’s probably better to advantage of the charge command. The charge command stocks attacks from an ally on a targeted enemy. After a charge command is set you have to wait until one your other characters can go over and attack the particular enemy. You automatically get a ten chain bonus for a successful charge combo and have the chance of linking up attacks between two allied players. If you use your characters super skills known as inherent abilities you can make a devastating chain combo. Besides the addition of the time dynamic, Spectral Souls is fairly what you expect in a strategy RPG combat. So if you’re a genre veteran you’ll jump right into Spectral Souls with no problems.
Spectral Souls also has a synthesis system and it’s not nearly as complicated as Blade Dancer: Linage of Light. All you do is gather between two to four items and throw them together in a magical box to make a new item. It’s sort of like a more complex Horadic Cube with more recopies. Synthesis is important if you want to get powerful weapons and better items early on.
Now for the bad part, the atrocious loading times. Spectral Souls is constantly loading something. Each text box, battle animation where you’re going to move requires disc access. Sure it’s only a second or so per access, but when you count up how many times Spectral Souls is loading it makes gameplay a frustrating experience. An option to reduce to loading times is to remove all animations during battle. It makes the battles flow much, much more smoothly, but then you have to miss out on all of the polished graphics.
Spectral Souls: Resurrection of the Ethereal Empires has the foundation of a solid strategy RPG. Lots of battles and a good combat system with the twist of time goes a long way. Even the story, while it’s on the bland side, works well since you can see three perspectives on the Neverland war. If the game was just optimized better for loading times Spectral Souls could have been a big hit.
Version Covered: North America
Release Date: 09.29.06
+ Pros: Fairly deep tactical RPG combat system and the ability to see the same war from multiple sides.
– Cons: The load times make the game unbearable and the plot isn’t exactly captivating.
Overall: Spectral Souls honestly has a lot going for it for genre fans even if it isn’t a ground breaking strategy RPG. However, the constant load times sap a lot of fun out of what Spectral Souls could have been.
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