Atlus is taking a plunge into Xbox 360 publishing with three titles this summer. All of them are strategy RPGs from different brands with different settings. Spectral Force 3 takes veteran tacticians to familiar territory with swords and elves. Operation Darkness looks at World War II if it had vampires and werewolves. Zoids Assault is an alternative look at the toy franchise. In our Xbox 360 strategy RPG roundtable the team at Atlus answers questions on all three of the games starting with Spectral Force 3.
Spectral Force 3 looks more like a traditional strategy RPG. What makes it stand out?
Clayton Chan, Editor of Spectral Force 3: There are a lot of little refinements Spectral Force 3 makes to the standard strategy RPG. In terms of visuals, the thing that stands out the most is that you’re taking direct control of the character when you’re moving around on the grid. It’s not like you plot a point for them to go to, hit confirm, and they go on their merry way. You’re choosing the path they take around the on the map, and I feel that’s a bit more immersive for a player.
On a game mechanics level, I think the biggest wrinkle in Spectral Force 3’s gameplay is the radial command menu on the bottom right of the screen. When your character first begins their turn, the face buttons on the controller will correspond to a certain set of actions. Once you’ve decided to start your attack, those face buttons will correspond to a different set of actions. This allows the player to have a variety of actions at their fingertips, without having to search through a bunch of menus with greyed out, inaccessible commands.
The game world is a bit different, as well. Instead of playing a hero-to-be, or a leader of a kingdom, you’re just part of a band of mercenaries. You can choose to work exclusively for one nation, effectively leading them to victory. You can also choose to work for a number of nations, building up your stockpile of gold and increasing your roster of soldiers. All the while, there are goals that your party specifically wants to achieve. So, it’s an interesting little dynamic. Do you choose to ignore the chaos that’s engulfing the world around you, or do you decide to throw yourself into it?
Now that I think about it there hasn't been much revealed about Spectral Force 3. Who are the heroes? What's going on in Neverland?
CC: The “heroes” are the Norius Mercenaries, a small unit that begins the game fighting for the Army of Flauster. At the start of the game, your squad consists of the leader, Judo, two veterans Dragan and Cassius, the protagonist Begina, and his best friend Diaz. The game takes place after the Overlord Janus was slain by the Three Heroes. His death creates a power vacuum in Neverland, and this spawns the Neverland War.
Operation Darkness storyline is quite different from Spectral Force 3. Tell us again… how do werewolves fit into World War II?
Jason Ruper, Editor of Operation Darkness: According to the game’s lore, the werewolf and vampire clans have been at war for centuries. Traditionally, the two sides fought in the shadows and stayed out of the affairs of humans, but recently, the vampires began allying themselves with Nazi Germany. (Obviously, you’ll have to play the game to learn the reasons behind this.)
Consequently, the werewolves were forced to ally with the Allies, specifically the British. The werewolves in your party are from a Scottish clan of werewolves, and only Churchill and a few higher-ups know they even exist. Your squad’s main objective is to stop the Nazis and their undead allies, and you’re the only ones who can stand a chance against them.
I played Operation Darkness and noticed most of the time I was using ranged attacks. How should players adjust their standard walk and whack tactics?
JR: The size of the maps and the sheer volume of enemy forces can make traversing the entire map difficult and very dangerous at times. The game’s Cover System, however, provides an innovative new way to engage the enemy. Instead of moving and attacking with each character, you can set up ambushes and support attacks using this system, and ultimately, you’ll find there’s almost no limit to the number of attacks a character can make during his or her turn. Successfully employing these commands requires some thought and preparation, but it can mean the difference between victory and defeat.
Without going into too much detail, I’ll briefly highlight two of the moves: Cover Ambush and Cover Attack. Cover Ambush allows one of your characters to automatically fire at any enemy who moves within range. The strength of the shot is reduced, but it does allow your characters to fire way more than just once per turn. Cover Attack is similar. When you select this command, a character will automatically fire at any enemy which another ally fires at, and this time, the strength of the shot is not reduced. Learning to use these two commands in conjunction with each other can be deadly on the battlefield!
Do enemies try to move out of projectile paths and seek cover? Do they react to players doing the same thing?
JR: Models on the map will automatically duck when there is an obstacle or some form of shelter nearby. Because you are using ranged weapons and the maps are so large, it’s crucial you pay attention to what is (and what isn’t) protecting your men from enemy fire. The enemy A.I. tries to seek similar shelter.
How do you deal with backstabbing allied forces in the online mode?
JR: Backstabbing is, of course, one potential annoyance that can happen in almost any game played online. It’s certainly not in the spirit of the game nor of how Allied forces might have acted during WWII, but Operation Darkness does not remove this. After all, you have to admit, sometimes it is fun to ignore the enemy units and have an all-out ally-versus-ally grudge match (so long as both sides are aware that this mini-feud is going on)! Hopefully, players will find the rewards and the investment of their own time worthwhile enough to play responsibly.
Nevertheless, the online mode does allow you to select which types of players can join your games. So if you want to play with just your friends, whom you trust, then you can do that. And if you’d rather play with random players, then that option is also available to you.
Can you explain how characters can be customized and how they gain new skills?
JR: In addition to their special attacks, weaponry, and transformation abilities, your characters also learn passive skills. These will give stat buffs, give you the chance to make killing blows, allow you to auto-use a recovery item, etc. You can only equip five of these at a time, however. As you gain EXP, the skills you have equipped also gain EXP, and they will eventually level up. At the office, we often argue about different skill combinations and which one is the best…
Are there any changes between the US version and Japanese version of Operation Darkness?
JR: Aside from a few fixed bug issues and the new English dialogue, we are proud to present the same game that Japanese gamers enjoyed.
Why didn't Operation Darkness have the Japanese voice track?
Aram Jabbari, Public Relations at Atlus: We make efforts to retain the original Japanese voice track in all of our projects, but in this particular instance, a combination of factors made it something we could not include. One significant consideration was the scope of the changes to the game script in the localization process. Beyond a certain point, it becomes incredibly difficult to include the original Japanese voiceover with consideration to the English subtitling matching. Hopefully this is a feature we can offer in future titles, as we are fully aware of the interest in and appreciation for its inclusion.
I never thought Atlus would take care of a Zoids game. What made Zoids Assault a game worthy of the Atlus logo?
Clayton Chan, Project Lead of Zoids Assault: I think mainly what drew people to this title was that it was a pretty fun strategy game, it looked nice, and that it was a pretty solid, challenging game. We weren’t really thinking of the game as a “Zoids” title, we saw the potential in it as a solid strategy-RPG on a system that didn’t have any strategy-RPGs on it.
Is Zoids Assault a localized version of Zoids Alternative?
CC: Essentially, yes. We talked to TakaraTomy and were able to make some changes to the game system. If you’re familiar with the story of Zoids Alternative, the Mace Squad you take control of initially didn’t have any names. We felt that created a disconnect between the player and his digital comrades, so, with Japan’s blessing, we gave them names that Japan approved. Zoids Alternative also had passwords that would unlock items for the Japanese Zoids cellphone games. Obviously, we don’t have the cellphone games here, so we built a password system into the Zoids Assault website. If you input the passwords you earn in-game on the Zoids site, you’ll unlock more story information from the game and other cool little tidbits.
Jason Ruper, Editor of Zoids Assault: Since the game was intended to be a grittier, more grownup reimagining of the Zoids property, the name “Alternative” fits nicely with the Japanese release. However, because Zoids has received so little exposure here in America, it was decided that a name change was necessary. After all, as far as most Americans are concerned, there’s very little for this game to be an “alternative” to!
How does Zoids Assault connect with the existing Zoids mythology?
CC: As far as I know, it’s completely separate. That’s partially why they gave it the “Alternative” title in Japan.
What's the combat system like?
CC: It’s a strategy RPG that is heavily dependent on your small band of units working together. You’re pretty much going to be outnumbered at every turn, so figuring out how to optimally employ the Scan Gauge and the EMP system are going to be key to your survival. Your characters are going to be behind enemy lines for the majority of the game, so the developers went to great lengths to make you feel as if you were facing pretty long odds.
I saw there was downloadable content for Zoids Alternative on the Xbox Live Marketplace. Will Atlus distribute the same content in North America?
CC: Yes and no. You’ll be able to download the content that Japan had, but we’re not going to break it up the way they did. In addition, TakaraTomy was nice enough to provide 3 exclusive new skins for North America. You’ll be able to deck all your Zoids out in the newest colors: Hazard, Elite, and Hot Rod.
As if that wasn’t enough new content, North American gamers will be getting an additional 4 in-game skins: Showtime, Checkmate, Illusion, and Motley Blue. Some of our players wanted the ability to customize their Zoids' looks so they could immediately locate them on the battlefield and that is going to be a lot easier in the North American release of the game.
(You will have to wait a tad bit longer for all this, though, as the game’s release has been pushed back two weeks to September 9th. Sorry!)
At the moment Atlus is the source for strategy RPGs on the Xbox 360. Have you thought about localizing other Idea Factory games like Absolute: Blazing Infinity or Diario: Rebirth Moon Legend?
Bill Alexander, Director of Production at Atlus: Unfortunately, we are not at liberty to reveal information about our evaluation process or what titles are under consideration, because there are so many factors involved. For now, we hope fans are happy with the three strategy titles that we've announced–games that we gave our full effort and attention in localizing.
The support Atlus is giving for the Xbox 360 is great, but I think the number of Xbox 360 owners who bought the console for strategy RPGs or maybe even RPGs in general aren't the majority. How does Atlus plan to convert existing Xbox 360 owners who bought the console for Halo, Guitar Hero, Grand Theft Auto or Gears of War to say Spectral Force 3?
AJ: This of course is one of the larger challenges we face in bringing strategy RPGs to a platform that seems to have a smaller presence for the genre. Still, we are confident that fans of good storytelling, deep strategy gameplay, and some very intriguing premises will support our 360 lineup. It remains to be seen how many first-person shooter fans will take the chance with a strategy game, but it is one of the longest running genres in gaming, with one of the more ardent fan bases; we’re not worried about our games finding the right audience.
Images courtesy of Atlus.