Story: Capell is a musician in jail because he looks too much like the rebel leader Sigmund, the man responsible for going around smashing the chains that bind the moon to the earth. When an unexpected rescue lands him in Sigmund’s group, Capell reluctantly agrees to help. No one anticipated Capell was also capable of that rarest of feats: smashing chains.
The story ranges from pretty good to downright terrible. The general setup is fine, if you ignore physics entirely, since we have the major villains chaining the moon to the earth, but this only affects things like tides when a chain is presently fastened in the water (presumably magic is able to regulate things once the chain is severed, even though the actual moon is still in the same spot).
That aside, I liked Sigmund. He’s serious, doesn’t talk much, and is so focused on smashing the chains as fast as possible that he’s willing to sacrifice more human considerations. He’s out to save the world, but recognizes (sometimes perhaps wrongly) that he can’t be everything to everyone, and often chooses to ignore smaller struggles as a result.
(As an odd aside, even by the end of the game, no one seems to have made the connection that the reason Sigmund and Capell can smash the chains is because they’re unblessed by a lunaglyph. Since the moon’s power is holding the chains in place, the unblessed can act as a kind of anti-matter to disrupt them. So technically they had a whole village of people capable of doing the job, only no one figured it out.)
On the flip side, the major plot twists won’t surprise anyone, and the harem antics are cringe-worthy (a princess tripping herself to give Capell a panty shot? REALLY?)
The story plays out in actual cutscenes, which I like. Most of the core characters have good voices, though a few (Vic’s attempted accent, more than the voice itself) aren’t as polished. And a surprising number of cutscenes are subbed as though they ought to be voiced but instead have utter silence.
I like the amount of characters. The game has three kinds of characters: melee, mages, and more of a mix. Some of the characters, however, only join as secondary, which means they won’t ever go into a party with Capell. That part was annoying. Several points in the game split the party, which is where those secondary characters can be used, but it also means if you are using them then you need to equip them.
Gameplay: Battles play out in real time on the actual maps, and this worked really well. Enemies can be surprised (or can surprise you) by hitting them when they aren’t looking, and this substantially affects what items they can drop (not fun. At ALL. Dragon Fangs can only be dropped with surprise attacks, and you’ll need a LOT of them just to learn some extra moves for various characters.) But apart from farming considerations, this was a good mechanic. Enemies spawn relatively quickly and inhabit dungeons as though they lived there, such as harpies perching on top of cliffs or pillars.
One limitation is that the only character you can control is Capell. He’s incredibly versatile to make up for it. He can melee with his sword skills, or use his flute to provide more of a support role. He also has a Connect ability that allows him to command an ally to perform specific (player-assigned) skills. I did wish that more than two skills could be assigned for use in battle. They end up being less special attacks and more finishers. The attacks can also level up, but they do so at a rate that put me in postgame dungeon without anything hitting level 3 (the max). And since nothing carries over into a new game, it’s useless to max more than one or two skills you find extremely useful (eg, Astro on Eugene or Michelle to help get surprise attacks).
Also, the menu doesn’t pause, which makes using items in battle something best left to your team.
Vermification battles are just straight up annoying, though. Capell has to play the flute to even reveal the enemy to his party, and that visibility wears off very quickly, and he has to use Symphonic Blade while connected with a teammate to be able to hit them. Except by time you’ve finally got Symphonic Blade charged up, you probably need to play the flute again (if it isn’t already dead). This can be somewhat alleviated by leveling up Symphonic Blade so its synching effects last longer, but it burns so much MP and time trying that it’s hard to bother.
The party AI is very good, though. You can’t set individual actions apart from when Capell connects to someone, but your team will behave in ways similar to their personalities and roles. Capell can issue general directives like Spread Out or Focus to further refine this.
The crafting system is both deep and for the most part accessible, thanks to the free vouchers making about half of the needed materials available from any shop (blacksmithing and some alchemy is great, cooking not so much). I wasn’t as big a fan of each item taking a set amount of real time to generate, as a good chunk of my game time was me reading a book while mashing A so Edward or Eugene could craft something I could sell at a profit. The other annoyance is that item creation can have failure rates. This is fine for things like Salamander Boots, whose materials can be bought from stores, and much less fine when crafting unique items into their ultimate forms. Basically, craft near a save point and save often if aiming for better crafts.
Speaking of saves, there aren’t many. And these are huge dungeons. I spent an hour and a half running around Luce Plains the first time because I couldn’t find the castle I was supposed to be aiming for, and the only save point in this massive map was back in the town I’d left. And there’s no quick travel, which really hurts when sidequests keep pushing you from town to town, trekking back and forth across maps. And you can only change parties in towns (WHY???) which means you’d better either really like using Komachi or say goodbye to the chests only she can reach in one-time dungeons.
It’s not any better in towns, either, since Capell is by himself while the rest of the party hangs out on their own. This is a nice touch of verisimilitude that becomes utterly aggravating when sidequests like “Connect to all your male party members and introduce them to this guard” come up, because you have to grab them one by one and run back and forth.
Overall: I beat the game in about 46 hours, which would’ve honestly been closer to 35 if I hadn’t spent so much time crafting for money so I could try to keep 99 of every material on hand. The postgame dungeon is taking me a bit longer, but mostly because of those dratted Dragon Fangs (I’m not trying to get my HP to 2 billion; I just want to learn all the available moves. Although it greatly amuses me that it is entirely possible to get so much HP the postgame boss literally can’t outdamage you equipping a 3% HP-regen accessory.)
For all the annoyances, it’s still a decent game. The story is too short to have much fluff in it, so it trucks from beginning to end. The real time, on-map combat can be a lot of fun, though don’t go into it expecting something as complicated as the Tales series. And if you’re looking for JRPGs on the Xbox 360, this one is likely worth the $10 or so it runs for these days. I would, however, HIGHLY RECOMMEND the guidebook, if only for the maps. The maps will keep you from going insane. I rate this game Recommended.