Thereís something about the Xbox 360 that hasnít quite cornered the J-RPG market that the PS2 did, the developers seem to be a little skittish in regard to Microsoftís console. Yet weíve had the traditional types like Enchant Arms, Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey so far to choose from, more miss than hit as well. Now itís the turn for established J-RPG gurus Square-Enix (Final Fantasy) and tri-Ace (Star Ocean series) to join forces and take us on an oddly named journey we shall call:
If names like this put you off then I urge you, donít judge this particular game by the name or the book by the cover or the flower by the scent. IU is a competent game that has a few issues weíll touch on a bit later that tries to innovate combat in the J-RPG and succeeds fairly well to boot. You play the hero, Capell, who is a flutist (the flute plays an important part in the game and can be used to do various things with magical tunes) and part-time swordsman. In a ĎMan in the Iron Maskí kind of twist heís also mistaken for a local hero and imprisoned, rescued and thrown into events that seem beyond him.
He has the typical attitude of a J-RPG hero at first, sullen, annoyed by the fact that heís mistaken for this hero and definitely doesnít want anything to do with trying to free the moon from the chains that bind it to the planet, thatís right, you heard me, chains. It seems the bad guys have chained the moon to the planet and theyíre not going to let you break them without some major battles.
You wonít be alone in your quest, there are 18 characters to level up and keep track of. You only ever control Capell so itís not too bad. Thereís a unique character linking system that allows you to use some of the other characterís abilities in battle, such as Ayaís archery and other characterís magic spells. The major difference in IU compared to most J-RPGs is that itís not turn based, you battle in real time and it feels a lot like an action game compared to a J-RPG in that respect. There are combos to learn, new abilities to discover and each fight can be approached differently. You can adapt your tactics on the fly and CPU characters can be given orders via a quick press on the d-pad, simple orders that allow them to hold position or go after your target etc.
This is IUís greatest strength and probably its greatest weakness, itís possibly a little too Ďout thereí a concept for die-hard J-RPG fans yet itís simple enough to learn for new gamers and those who are looking for something a little bit different. Itís obvious that tri-Ace has thought this concept through and it feels balanced, enjoyable and there are numerous tweaks that make each fight exciting. There are some questionable choices in gameplay terms at the start where you are escaping, there are places where itís pitch-black and youíre being chased by a monster you canít defeat, being knocked to the ground and beaten senseless because you canít see where to run next.
The frame-rate can take a dip when a lot of pyrotechnics go off on screen and thereís a few times where itís been during a big important battle. There are save points and there are the typical staples of the J-RPG genre in terms of camp scenes where you have to talk to other characters during the downtime in the story. This of course leads me onto the cut-scenes and the fact that whilst several key scenes are voiced, and done so well enough that it doesnít grate on you, other scenes that are mini-vignettes and still just as important are left without any voice what-so-ever.
These silent movies push the plot along with text but Iíd have liked to have the whole thing voiced.
IU isnít a bad looking game and tri-Ace have managed to create some endearing characters, some truly nice locations and the first opening scene is definitely one for people who love to look at intricate and complex architecture. Itís not as graphically lavish as we might have expected but the animations, the design is solid and the game is visually appealing. It could have benefited from having an online or offline coop mode to extend the playability, since it comes on two discs it doesnít feel as epic as some of the offerings from the Final Fantasy giant, Square-Enix. It does however have a sense of grandeur in certain locations and thereís a real feeling of progression if you can get past the real time combat system and the lack of turn based anything in the game.
I started out fairly indifferent to IU and then gradually as time went on, I became a little fonder of it until Iíd developed a grudging respect for tri-Ace and their crazy vision for the game. It takes guts to try and change an established formula in this day and age of cookie-cutter fps, moulded rtsí and dialogue heavy turn-based rpgs. So in that respect for me, IU succeeded in providing a fun and entertaining romp through a fantasy world where I was able to adapt my combat tactics on the fly.
Iím not quite sure about the nameÖand itís not going to win any Game of the Year awards for story or originality, yet I am interested enough to see the game through to the conclusion and thatís the important thing.