E3: Hoshigami: Ruining Blue Earth impressions

[05.21.01] » Atlus' FFT lookalike shows its true colors.

   Hoshigami: Ruining Blue Earth, may still be stuck under the long shadow of Final Fantasy Tactics, but early impressions at the Atlus booth at E3 show Maxfive's strategy RPG should easily be able to stand on it's own merits.

   The first portion of the game was fully translated, and playable from the prologue. The story begins with mercenaries Fazz and Leimrey in Aus, the capital city of Nightweld. Reuperl, the leader of royal guards, sends for the two without explanation. It seems the bordering Valaimian Empire is planning an invasion and Nightweld lacks the manpower to protect the border. The first strike in the invasion is about to occur at the ancient city Lar Dellue, but a reserve force is needed to protect the Tower of Wind. Despite a few reservations, Fazz and his forces agree to defend the tower. After bidding goodbye to his hometown sweetheart Tinn, Fazz is free to head to the Tower of Wind or train at the Tower of Trial. As with most strategy games, movement from place to place is accomplished by picking a destination from an overhead map.

   It's difficult to get a firm grip on a deep strategy game like Hoshigami in the limited time one has at E3, but the few missions we played offered a promising glimpse of the game's unique take on the strategy formula. One pleasant change is that you actually place your seven troops on the battle map before combat, rather than on a separate screen. Enemies are even visible during this initial set-up. On the whole, the interface seems to be addressing some of the problems of past strategy games. For instance, a line of character portraits at the top of the screen is always present to help players keep track of the turn order.

   Hoshigami's major innovation is the Ready for Action Point (RAP) system. Characters begin their turns with an empty RAP gauge. Any action - attacking, moving, casting a spell, etc. - fills a certain amount of the gauge. When the meter is full no more actions can be taken, but any combination of actions can used to fill the meter. For example, it's possible to move, attack, and move again, or attack several times without ever moving. If characters have part of their gauge left at the end of the turn, the remainder can be used for defense or to ready a Session Attack.

   The Session system is Hoshigami's other new gameplay conceit. Any time a character attacks, the player is presented with a timed gauge. Depending on which attack mode you choose, pressing the X button at the correct time will result in a critical hit or a Shot. A successful shot knocks the victim back and, if he comes in range of another character set to Session mode, that character will also execute a Shot knocking the unlucky enemy back once again. We didn't really have the time to explore the system much, but the rolling demo shown in Atlus' booth gave a glimpse of kind of massive attack combos it will allow. One impressive session attack showed an enemy character knocked like a pinball between five or six attackers.

   Graphically, Hoshigami looks about as good as one could expect from a PSX strategy game. The battle maps are large and varied and the spells and effects are crisp and colorful. It's easy to see where the misconception that Maxfive was made up of ex-FFT team members comes from; the battle scenes bear a strong graphical resemblance to that game, but the large, distinctive character art used throughout Hoshigami gives the game its own unique personality. Couple that with the innovative gameplay offered in the new systems and a superior translation and Hoshigami may manage to be the best strategy RPG released this year on any platform.

   Atlus is currently hard at work translating the game while Maxfive is finishing up the programming. The publisher is aiming for a simultaneous release of the game in Japan and the US sometime this fall. Look for more on Hoshigami as we get closer to that date.

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