Sunday, March 24, 2013

GOT 'IM - Hexyz Force

It's been a long time since I've had a real update in this space.  This is a review of an RPG I've played on and off for about a year: the generic-but-charming Hexyz Force. 

I picked up Hexyz Force along with a few other PSP games in an Atlus PSN sale last year.  I had remembered seeing it pop up in regular releases a few years ago (I want to say 2009?  I don't really know) but didn't feel like pulling the trigger on it.  But on sale for $7.50?  Boom.  That's practically Steam numbers.  And I definitely think it was worth the price; I've been playing Hexyz Force off and on since buying it, mostly on trips out of town. 

Hexyz Force is an RPG-ass RPG.  Turn-based, swords and demons, hero with a sword trying to stop an evil empire, heroine with a staff trying to prevent a global catastrophe, cute mascot characters, beast-men characters, experience and levels, item creation systems, this RPG checks a lot of boxes on any grand list of Japanese RPG stereotypes.  And you know what?  I'm okay with that.  Hexyz Force does a few things very well, does nothing offensive to my design sensibilities, and overall delivers an experience with surprising production quality and replay value.

That was a few run-on sentences.  Damn.  So let me run it back a bit - Hexyz Force is developed by Sting Entertainment, the developers of several PSP and GBA titles that are all RPG hybrids.  Riviera (adventure game RPG), Yggdra Union (turn-based strategy RPG), and Knights in the Nightmare (real-time strategy RPG) are the three Sting titles with which I have some experience, and they're all pretty good for what they are, thrive on cutesy visual designs, can be considered occasionally weird and definitely niche.  I never finished any of them, because I generally lost interest (and in the case of Knights, it got too damn challenging).  So that's my Sting Entertainment experience in nutshell. 

However, Hexyz Force is more accessible than any of those three, and I'd say it's for the best.  It was never very challenging (especially if you level up now and then), and very much occupying RPG traditionalism.  You have a party of three characters with up to an additional six in reserve (!), but mostly just three or four.  Each character is differing in stats but limited by weapon choice, with "preferred" weapon types giving additional skills.  Characters can perform actions by spending SP to use Ragnafacts (special sacred weapons), or spending durability of Spiritfacts (regular items with a set number of uses).  Ragnafacts are where your characters will do most of their damage - you can level them up with "alternative experience points" called RP and they can't be broken or lost.  Which ones you get and in which order depend on your main character.

Right, I should probably mention that - Hexyz Force is two stories working in parallel, with two main parties of characters.  Levant is a knight of the empire of Rosenbaum who uses a powerful Ragnafact sword; Cecilia is a cleric from the Great Temple of Palfina who uses a magic Ragnafact staff.  Both characters are Hexyz, or individuals that are reincarnations of ancient heroes and can use the power of Ragnafacts.  Both stories involve the same group of villains and same overall struggle, even going through many of the same locations!  Still, the two stories have different plot devices moving the story along and will even traverse different pathways through each dungeon.  If you play the two stories back to back, you'll have two slightly different experiences.  I finished Levant's Tale and then played about an hour of Cecilia's Tale in a New Game+ feature.  Multiple completions seem to unlock more extras and optional content, which is pretty sweet.  That's pretty solid replay value.

The story itself isn't anything to write home about, but I guess it gets the job done.  Levant's Tale focuses more on his buddy Emperor Axel's sudden inclination towards world domination while Cecilia's Tale is about preventing a worldwide catastrophe by protecting six magic monoliths from being destroyed, but both stories have the same events occur in the same order and the story reaches the same conclusion.  Each chapter concludes in a "score" of sorts that changes depending on what kinds of dialog choices and weapons you use.  It's hard NOT to end up with Creation instead of Destruction unless you do so on purpose, but I guess alternate endings are yet more of that replay value. 

 Right at the end of the game Cecilia and Levant's two groups combine into a super-group, and you'll have nine available characters for the final suite of bosses.  Still, Levant's superior offense and Cecilia's unparalleled healing abilities make them the two best characters in the game by a large margin.  You'll lean on your main character plenty.  Other than those two, my favorite character to use was probably Irene, Levant's obvious love interest.  She is a capable user of healing Spiritfacts and can deal almost as much damage as Levant with her Ragnafact, which is a rapier-type weapon. 

That's enough about characters.  I mentioned that you run through different dungeon pathways?  Well, dungeons are pretty traditional, but sizeable.  Enemies are visible on the world map, and you run into them to engage in combat (like a Persona or Tales Of game).  Combat is turn-based, and mostly forgiving.  You have ample healing abilities available to you (especially if you chose Cecilia's route), including a full-heal available my spending extra RP out of battle.The game is divided into seven chapters, with each containing one or two good-sized dungeons.  I beat the game in a little under twenty hours, but I did some backtracking and sidequests.

I mentioned sidequests, but there aren't a ton of them.  You can get bonus items for special accomplishments and retread through a few dungeons for NPCs, but mostly it's the main game and that's it.   There are a massive smorgasbord of weapons, armor, and items to collect, and spending a little extra time figuring out the item fusion system turns into quite an advantage.

Visually, the game is some fairly clean polygons and character portraits, that suggest the look of a PS1 or early PS2 Tales Of game.  Bright colors and blocky character models in combat, with fair battle animations.  The audio is fine, with some mostly-forgettable tracks but surprisingly good voice acting in combat.  No major turn-offs or deal-breakers.

And that's about it with Hexyz Force.  Classic RPG that doesn't try to innovate, but has some appealing characters, decent mechanics, and good depth and replayability.  Totally a bargain for what I paid.  I know this review has sounded lukewarm at best, but I had fun playing Hexyz Force over the past year. It's like RPG comfort food, not very challenging but quite satisfying.  If anything I've said sounds like a good time, then Hexyz Force is worth at least a few minutes of EBay and Amazon searches. 

Games Beaten: 2013 Edition
1. Persona 4
2. Pokemon White Version 2
3. 10,000,000
4. Persona 4 Arena
5. Persona 3 FES: The Journey (NG+)
6. Hexyz Force

Targets: 2/13


Yup, that's a Persona 3 FES replay between my last review and this one.  Replaying Persona 3 and Persona 4 back to back has been a large proportion of my gaming time in February and March.  I'm around halfway through with Persona 4, and once I finish it I should be off this ridiculous Persona kick and able to get back to playing other games. soon as I finish these multiple Persona retrospective blog posts I'm writing.  I may have a problem....

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