Infinite Space is an RPG for the Nintendo DS published by SEGA. It was developed by Platinum Games, a publisher with a stellar track record if you count their Clover days as well. Here’s what you’d expect from the back of the box and preview material: Infinite Space is an RPG set in space. Over the course of the story, you interact with hundreds of characters on as many planets. There are dozens of ships that can be customized with hundreds of modules; trick out your fleet to handle a myriad of situations. Now I’ll analyze how Infinite Space lives up to these expectations.
Infinite Space shines at storytelling. The overall story isn’t going to win any prizes, but it’s presented through interactions with a very diverse cast of relatively believable characters. Sure, they padded the roster with a few dozen one-dimensional characters, but there’s a handful of main characters that actually have a decent amount of character development. The story is what kept me playing the game. 4/5 for story, since it adequately propped up what the rest of the game lacked.
The audio/visual presentation is severely lacking. Someone needs to tell developer that the DS is just not a good platform for 3D games that want detailed textures. The 2D story scenes are really well done; I think the game would have been visually stunning if they’d used sprites instead of 3D models for ships. The sound effects consist of beeps, boops, and pew pews that would have been substandard during the 16-bit era. Worse, some of them have a much louder volume than others. I think the music tracks were good, but the game was usually too busy overlaying it with radio static, beeps, and low-quality explosions for me to notice. 2/5 for graphics and sound.
(Gameplay is the most important factor, I will spend the most time discussing it.)
Everything is a nested series of menus. Rearranging ship modules is something you’ll want to do frequently; doing so is a 12-step process where 2 of the steps are “select a module” and “find somewhere to put it.” The rest of the 10 steps are generally “do something” followed by answering, “Are you sure you want to do something?” There’s no need for this continuous confirmation.
Combat is a pillar of any RPG; you usually spend most of your time in combat. Infinite Space’s combat is disappointing and shallow. You might expect several different types of weapons and armor forming a complex matrix of strengths and weaknesses (think Pokemon.) Instead, you have a choice between normal, barrage (3x normal), and dodge. Dodging nullifies the damage from barrage and causes you to take more damage from normal. Weapons and modules have a marginal impact on your damage output. The most important factor in any combat is “have you dodged yet” or “has the enemy dodged?” Later, you gain fighters and special combat abilities, but rather than adding depth these just crank down the difficulty by letting you sit out of range and whittle away at the enemy. Yawn.
The game lacks a quest log or any other mechanism to track your current goals. You’re screwed if you forget what planet you were asked to visit, particularly if you forget who told you to visit it. Occasionally the action you need to take to continue the questline is obtuse. In some cases, crew members provide hints after several failures, but this is a rarity. There’s no excuse for a lack of a quest log in a modern RPG, and hint systems can be highly rewarding.
Playing Infinite Space was a very frustrating ordeal, mostly due to game mechanics that make combat vary from “coma-inducing” to “requires you to solve a puzzle”. 1/5 for gameplay.
The opening chapters of the game ramp the difficulty quickly and ultimately punish you if you try to grind your way to success. If you buy better ships, you’ll be disappointed when the next boss fight forces you to melee. One boss fight required me to enter 2 battles without firing weapons, *then* survive the boss battle with no way to heal between any of the battles. It seems the developers realized they didn’t have a good way to increase the difficulty, so they resorted to crippling your fleet before most boss battles.
At the halfway point, this changes dramatically. After a couple of particularly epic boss battles, the difficulty plunges into easy mode. The endgame ships are at least twice as powerful as necessary to sleep through the boss fight.
In the end, the most challenging aspect of the game was deciphering how the mechanics work. The manual is so sparse that SEGA provided an auxiliary manual for download. It still leaves many gaping holes. Some of the more important ship statistics are invisible. Sometimes the description of a skill or statistic is locked until several hours into the game.
2/5 stars for providing a lopsided challenge and making the UI a big component of it.
Infinite Space has the makings of a fantastic game wrapped in the trappings of a game that was rushed out the door. The game lures you in with promises of a deeply customizable combat system, then delivers rock-paper-scissors where you can change the color of your fist. The detailed character art and likable story is sufficient motivation to motivate a veteran of console RPGs into finishing. If half the effort spent on these aspects had been spent on combat, I’d wholeheartedly recommend this game. Instead, I say it’s 2/5; a poor game propped up by a decent storyline. If you aren’t a JRPG fan, stay away.