What we have here is yet another less than mediocre, unoriginal, outdated, and boring RPG for the PSP. The only difference this time around is that this game is published by one of the leading Strategy RPG developers in the business, Nippon Ichi. But their reputation for developing excellent Strategy RPGs apparently does not translate to their ability to find good lesser known Strategy RPGs to publish, as is evidenced by Spectral Souls. Idea Factory’s Spectral Souls is not good. In fact, it isn’t decent either. It’s missing everything a Strategy RPG should have: good character interaction, beautiful artwork, and above all else, actual strategy.
The game is set in the alternate world of Neverland, and fortunately, neither Peter Pan nor Michael Jackson are anywhere to be found. Instead of getting boys who aren’t grown up and men who like boys who aren’t grown up, we get a world in which demon overlords rule and humans have submitted to their rule. But occasionally, humans feel the need to throw violent outbursts of rebellion in an attempt to overthrow and gain back the rule they once had. Peace treaties may slow down the process of a full onslaught of war, but the fighting still continues.
Throughout the story, you are be able to choose between three different sides: The Imperial Neverland Empire (the side of the demons), the Reformed Simba Empire (the human side), and a later side that’s a combination of both who want the power divided evenly. This may sound interesting, but choosing one side after playing another in the early going can become quickly confusing, and in the end, the results feel jumbled and poorly executed.
The story itself is also completely devoid of any characters worth liking, either. They are typical character archetypes that offer little to nothing new in terms of originality. And with absolutely no character development too, the player feels no emotion for the characters, and don’t care at all what happens in the story. They’re all paper-thin likenesses of a character, offering very little in the way of development, thus hurting their likability even more.
The gameplay is also the typical Strategy RPG affair. How many AP points you use in a turn determines where that character’s turn comes up next. You move from area to area killing or avoiding whatever’s in your way. Multiple attacks can be used with each character in one turn if the Hold command or a charge potion is used. Unfortunately, there isn’t much more to it than that. The game barrages you with several tutorials that make things out to be more complicated than they actually are. And due to the game’s lack of difficulty, several of the gameplay elements are very underused, and you’ll probably forget they are even there by the time the conclusion rolls by.
The difficulty lacks a certain edge that Strategy RPGs should have. After all, the key word in the genre is strategy. But what Spectral Souls shows is how much the deficiency of strategy in an SRPG hurts. The AI merely does two things: attack, or just stand there. This becomes a constant pain when you find yourself doing nothing but attacking, and rarely healing. This also takes the fun out of the Hold feature, as using multiple attacks at once just eases up the difficulty even more, making for a façade of mindless killing. All of this is rounded out even worse by the overpowering of your characters.
But what hinders the gameplay the most is the atrocious, unacceptable load times that sever any fun that this game could have beheld. There’s seemingly no time in between loading. It is a constant assault of loading times and loud disc movements that slow the game down to the point where it’s nearly unplayable. If you’re one that cannot stand long load times, then this is the last game you’d want to pick up. There’s a loading time for everything: from basic attacks, to the changing of turns, and even the loading of the following text. No matter what you do or where you are, the game’s load times are constant.
The graphics are also the distinctive type of stuff you’d see in a Strategy RPG; from the completely generic sprite character design to the uninteresting and repetitive polygonal environments. And unfortunately, there are constant slow downs in the game itself. The game seems to be content with spending several of its moments in an unintended Matrix mode. This is unforgivable due to the fact the graphics certainly aren’t pushing the PSP’s graphical limits at all. The only good thing to be said about the graphics is that everything is smooth, and the lack of jagged edges or noticeable pixels on the screen makes the pain a bit more bearable.
Accompanying the generic graphics are the equally generic sound and music. The music is nothing arresting, and it is constantly cyclical and banal. And while it doesn’t cause you to eat your own ears, you’ll still want to keep the volume down to avoid the blasting MIDI mayhem. The sound is also just as repetitive and the lack of any voice acting also makes the game feel even more obsolete. Each sound effect relays bings and beeps from speaker to speaker that feels like something you’d hear more than ten years ago.
All of this adds up to one of the worst RPG experiences on the PSP, and one of the worst RPGs of the past few years. The terrible story, bland battle system, and the atrocious load times and slow down makes this Strategy RPG unbearable. And because of this, Spectral Souls is like eating your grandmother’s fruitcake. It looks appetizing on the outside, but as you put it into your mouth, it’s stale and hard to swallow. And after you finally swallow it, you quickly forget about it, and it comes out the other side as just a bunch of crap. Spectral Souls is definitely one to pass on.