We first heard of Infinite Space way back in May of 2008. The collaboration between developer Platinum Games and Sega was looking to become one of the more epic additions to the DS's library. Tantalizing players with the promise of hundreds of hours of ship customization and intense sci-fi story-driven combat, North Americans have anxiously awaited its arrival almost two years after its announcement. So, was it worth the wait?
Infinite Space follows the story of Yuri, a young boy from a planet whose population is forbidden from space travel. Yuri never stops gazing up at the sky, dreaming of one day venturing into the vast sea of stars in hopes of uncovering the secrets of the "Epitaph", a mysterious artifact left to him by his space-faring father. To do this, he enlists the help of a "launcher" (basically an interplanetary taxi driver) named Nia. And thus, the adventure begins...
The story is actually quite long and enjoyable. Fans of science-fiction or anime will easily get into it.
You begin the game with a single ship, Nia's; a retrofitted cargo ship called the "Daisy" (Millennium Falcon was taken). Players travel between planets and other locations by charting courses on a star map. Various events can occur during space travel, including random encounters with enemy vessels which you can choose to do battle with. Deceptively simple at first, battles become surprisingly complex as the game progresses.
Before entering battle, players must take into consideration their ships' durability (hit points) and crew's fatigue. Fatigue gradually increases as you travel, and effects how fast your Command Gauge fills during combat (more on that later). Strangely, players are forced to remember where these values stand at the time of an encounter, as the screen on which you choose whether or not to fight provides no indication on their levels. Both fatigue and durability are replenished automatically when you dock at a spaceport. Even destroyed ships will be automatically repaired at no cost; a forgiving feature when compared to the game's overall difficulty.
During battle, players control their fleet (up to five ships) as a single unit, issuing commands via the touch screen. The DS's top screen provides a view of the battlefield. Statistics on each of your ships is shown at the bottom of the top screen, including icons that show whether or not a ship's weapons are in firing range. The Battle Gauge, at the top of the touch screen, shows the distance between your fleet and your enemy's, as well as your fleet's attack range�indicated by a green bar. Even if an enemy ship is within a weapon's firing range, its accuracy will be considerably less if the ship is not within attack range as well. Players can move their fleet closer to the enemy in order to get a better shot, as well as withdraw for defensive manoeuvres.
The Command Gauge, on the left side of the touch screen, gradually fills over time, and depletes as players issue commands. There are three levels on the Command Gauge�green, yellow, and red�which allow you to Dodge, launch a Normal attack, or launch a Barrage. A Normal attack will fire a single volley from all ships whose weapons are in range. A Barrage is three volleys, but with less accuracy. If you Dodge, incoming Barrages will always miss, but you're more vulnerable to Normal attacks while doing so. More commands become available as the story advances, such as the ability to launch fighters, perform special attacks, and even board enemy ships (called Melee attacks). You can get an idea of your enemy's Command Gauge by looking at the outline of the ship your currently targeting. The colour of the outline will match the enemy's current Command Gauge level. This helps you better plan your strategy. A fleet's formation must also be taken into consideration when attacking. Ships in the back and middle rows will be much harder to hit than those in the front, so working your way towards the back of an enemy formation is usually your best bet.
Battles are satisfyingly challenging, and can occasionally be quite difficult. You'll feel a strong sense of accomplishment�as well as relief�when your fleet just manages to pull through a long, arduous fight; all the while praying you can make it to the nearest spaceport without further incident. Battles can get a little repetitive, but only rarely, so occasional tedium is easily forgiven.
You'll earn experience, money, and fame after each victory. Fame is your fleet's notoriety. The more famous you are, the more crew members there will be willing to join you. Crew members are assigned to key positions in a player's fleet to increase its stats. Having a skilled Artillery Chief, for example, will increase overall weapon accuracy. A Radar Chief increases weapon range, while a Chief Engineer increases engine output, and so on. Each person has different attributes that determine what role they're best suited for. Some even possess special skills that grant bonuses in and out of battle. Attributes and skills increase as the crew gains experience and levels up.
Players will travel to numerous planets over the course of the game, each with a spaceport orbiting it. Here, players can perform necessary tasks such as hiring crew members, building ships, and, most importantly, saving the game�something I'd recommend doing often, as the game can be quite punishing at times. Players should also get into the habit of visiting taverns regularly. Located on the surface of planets, taverns are places to gather important information, take on jobs, and are oftentimes where the story advances. Advancing the story usually involves talking to the appropriate people the appropriate number of times. It's actually a little strange, but what's annoying is the inability to fast track through conversations or skip ones you've already engaged in.
Early on, you'll be given access to the "Help" menu while docked. It contains absolutely everything a player needs to know about the game, right down to the nitty-gritties on ship customization and crew management. It's an essential tool�one that should be read through thoroughly. Admittedly, the wealth of information can be overwhelming at first. Fortunately, information is only available when it's relevant�a smart decision by the developers to prevent over complication.
Players will spend a lot of time in spaceports customizing ships and their various systems. Ships, fighters, and modules (rooms) can only be purchased after acquiring their blueprints from companies found on certain planets. Once acquired however, you can purchase any number of these at any shipyard or remodelling shop across the galaxy. Their quality level largely depends on how advanced the planet's technology is. Weapons are the exception. They don't require blueprints, and are purchased directly from remodelling shops. The weapons a ship can be outfitted with depend on its class. There are four ship classes�Battleships, Destroyers, Cruisers, and Carriers�each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Larger ships are more customizable�having more weapon slots and more room to place modules�but are also more expensive and less manoeuvrable. Large ships equipped with hangars can carry fighters and launch them into combat against enemy vessels.
Weapons come in a number of varieties and sizes. Different varieties include everything from lasers, to missiles, to plasma weapons, each designed for a specific purpose. They come in four sizes: S, M, L, and XL. Larger weapons possess higher damage and range values, but are restricted to larger ships. Weapons also come in two types: Single Attack and Multi-Attack. Single Attack weapons target a single ship, while Multi-Attack weapons target an entire fleet.
Modules are another big part of customization. They are essentially rooms you can add to your ship for stat bonuses. During purchase, players place the Tetris-like modules on a gridded cross-section of their ship, trying as best as possible to maximize the space. By default, each ship readily comes with a bridge and an engine room which must fall within specified areas on the grid. There are a wide range of modules available to improve everything from a ship's combat strength to its living conditions, the latter helping to reduce how fast the crew's fatigue rises during space travel. Taking into consideration every ship, weapon, and module (not to mention crew members) available to the player, the combinations are infinite. A fleet is truly yours in this game.
Another interesting feature in the game, found on the main menu, is the database. It logs character profiles and ship descriptions as they're encountered during the game, providing a percentage on the total number of records you've obtained. It also logs every celestial body you discover on your travels, and provides real-life examples of where such stars, nebulas, or supernovas can be observed in our own galaxy. A neat bonus.
Infinite Space offers a truly unique experience on the Nintendo DS. Deep space is home to even deeper story and gameplay. Players will happily invest hours into number-crunching customization ensuring ships achieve optimal performance during combat. This is made all the more satisfying during battle, as dramatic cut scenes play out for every action (don't worry�they can be skipped). Charming visuals and well-drawn characters add to the overall visual appeal. The game's music and sound effects are nothing special, but aren't that bad either. Players giving this game a chance will undoubtedly find themselves lost in space (in a good way).
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