I’m not the biggest fan of most strategy RPGs, but there are some that I have truly enjoyed. Shining Force, Dragon Force, Dark Wizard: these are all games that I truly found entertaining and well-made. So I come to every SRPG hoping to find something good and, while I am usually disappointed, every now and then I find a diamond in the rough. Spectral Force 3 is not that diamond, however, and might better be described as a chunk of iron; at first, it seems useless and hard, but if you hammer it out a bit, there’s some value to it. Read on.
This will be short, folks; the story in Spectral Force 3 is not particularly good. The New Overlord Army was defeated by three heroes, and now the land once united is broken into various kingdoms that are battling each other. Thanks to the ongoing nature of these conflicts, mercenary groups are in high demand. As the game begins, your band of killers-for-hire, the Norius Mercenaries, wind up on the run after the King of Flauster is killed by the Overlord Army (not to be confused with the New Overlord Army… it’s complicated). Anyway, your leader Judo is killed, and with his dying breath, he puts you, Beginna, in command of the group. From there on, you must gather members and keep the operation afloat.
Eventually, you get embroiled in the life of a youth who is being constantly followed by destructive fiends, and you’ll need to solve that mystery, while at the same time (possibly) helping one kingdom or another take over the world.
The first problem is that the story doesn’t present itself well. You get new bits of story after certain battles, and when those are unlocked seemed dependent on how many missions you completed. In addition, most of the dialogue is pretty lackluster, with only the character of Dragan being at all entertaining. I think the game tried to do too much; it should have focused on either the fiend aspect or the conquer the world one, but the split made the plot lose focus, especially if you’ve gone a few hours between pieces of it, thanks to having to fight multiple battles that usually have no story significance whatsoever.
On the bright side, the translation is decent, which is something I usually expect from Atlus anyway. Still, you can only do so much with what you’re given.
The gameplay is probably the best part of the game, but it’s not great, sadly. As a mercenary group, you take missions from whatever kingdom is offering them, and those involve tactical battles. Each character has 7AP a turn, with which to move, attack, cast spells, use skills, etc. Each attack can either be light, medium, or heavy, and uses 1, 2, or 3 AP respectively. In addition, some attacks can launch an enemy, down them, or push them away. Learning the distances, apportioning your AP, and knowing when to use assists from other characters (read: as often as you can) is key to doing things right. Non-healing magic is, for the most part, useless, unless you focus on giving the character ridiculous amounts of SP, which likely means you’ve gained everything else. Even then, you have to build up that SP in battle, as all characters start with 0, and build up the reserve by performing actions/being attacked.
To fight battles, there is a Work system. Work is divided into “Find Work” which basically means doing non-story based fights, or “Missions” where you progress the story and gain new characters. Work pays better than Missions, generally, and you’re going to need tons of money for upgrading weapons and buying armor, techniques, emblems, and accessories. Unfortunately, you’ll also need the right materials for any of these, and you collect these materials by going out of your way in battle to open chests and break boxes. This was, by far, the most annoying part of SF3’s gameplay, and after a certain point I just didn’t bother farming for the materials, as the contents of boxes and chests were completely random.
Honestly, though, I enjoyed the battle system once I got used to it. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but it does require you to use strategy in every battle or else you will wind up losing folks, even against scrub mobs. The reason is that you can only have 6 characters in battle, and two are always the main character and the support guy, Diaz. Fortunately, aside from a poor ranking at the end of battle, there is no penalty for members dieing (they come right back the next battle). That’s something I appreciate, and it makes dieing a lot less severe.
There is no excuse for the graphics in Spectral Force 3. That was the first thing I thought when I saw the in-battle graphics. For a game that came out in 2006, it should not have had early PS2 graphics. The models are ugly as sin, as is the landscape. On top of that, the same maps are repeated with enough frequency to make me get bored, and the variety of terrain is lackluster. All the anime-style character portraits are generic as hell, and the spell effects are of poor quality. Overall, the graphics were the worst thing about Spectral Force 3, and I’d like an apology from Idea Factory for this one.
The music in this game is completely mediocre. Generic battle music suffuses everything, and most of it is completely throwaway pap. Strangely enough, the music does something I haven’t seen a game’s music do since the days of the Sega CD; it fades out at the end rather than loop properly. This is ridiculous in this day and age, and I don’t know whether to laugh or be appalled. At least the voice acting was decent, although they didn’t have much to work with, script-wise. That, and Cassius’s VA is just… wrong for his part.
Usually I don’t have much to say about controls in SRPGs, but this game requires a special mention. While it uses the buttons of the 360 controller well, I have a feeling the developers thought that their demographic for this game was spastic pre-teens with ADHD and an addiction to speed, because the buttons were not meant to be pressed more than once every 5 seconds. I was constantly wondering, did I really press A or is my controller busted? Well, my controller was working fine, but the delay between the game recognizing button presses was a bit annoying. Aside from that, though, control was okay.
If you really enjoy SRPGs and don’t have anything on your plate at the moment, Spectral Force 3 is a decent buy. It’s not a game you will complete quickly, though, and with the ability to help any of the nations rule the world, lots of characters to miss picking up, and plenty of ways to customize them, there is plenty of replay value. Whether you’ll want to replay this game or not is another question, but it’s not completely hideous. Caveat emptor.