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Infinite Space: The Energizer Bunny of extraterrestrial games

If you’re a regular reader here at Faceplant then you know that I’m not particularly fond of jRPGs. In fact, I’m relatively new to the whole RPG genre. But Infinite Space for the regular old Nintendo DS intrigued me. I read about it on a news post by one Tycho Brahe early last year, and finally got around to renting it from GameFly about a month ago. As I understand it, it isn’t your typical jRPG. You’re not running through a fantasy land stabbing blobs or fighting Cthulhu. Nope. You are the 16-year-old commander of a space fleet.

It all sounds so exciting in theory. Dashing around the galaxy building up your fleet and hiring crew members. Meeting new people and having exciting adventures. I suppose it is. There are plenty of interesting characters whether it’s the clichéd big breasted space fairer lady come to take you off your silly little planet or the naval commander who points and shouts at you every time you talk to him. There are plenty of interesting random encounters as well, though the quests they offer are usually little more than simple smuggling runs.

The game’s downfall is its name sake. The game seems infinite. It just goes on and on and on. If this were say, Mass Effect, I would be delighted to have a game that lasts as long but Infinite Space is not an exciting mix of diplomacy and space battles. It’s a repetitive and tedious mix of pseudo diplomacy and space battles. In particular the space battles are a mix of a few simple commands which require appropriate timing in their execution. This in and of itself is repetitive enough to become tiresome over the length of a 60 hour or more game, but coupled with a cut scene for each firing sequence it can be down right annoying. Luckily you can skip the cut scenes, but after several instances where I skipped over the cut scene which displayed the amount of damage I inflicted I became convinced that the game penalizes you in that regard. There were several battles in which I was powerful enough to destroy a ship in one normal firing sequence but if I skipped the damage cut scene the ship was intact after two such sequences.

The cut scenes were a nuisance, but dialog problems were down right infuriating. Every single planetary system with inhabitants contains a tavern for travelers and in these taverns you meet a lot of people. You can also discuss the plot with your crew. The trouble is, you can talk to your crew at every single tavern whether the storyline has progressed or not. So if they don’t have anything new to say they repeat the previous dialog and you have to cycle through the entire conversation. It’s the old school style of printing text, pushing a button (or in this case touching the screen) to clear the page and print the next portion of the dialog, and so on. So if the discussion is particularly lengthy this can take some time. This gets annoying when one of your crew members says “So. Epitaphs eh?” then goes on a 10 page diatribe every time you go into a tavern for practically the entire duration you are in a particular corner of the galaxy.

As with many classic RPGs you usually need to be a certain level before you are capable of defeating certain enemies, which means grinding. This got more fun as the game when along and I unlocked special abilities and other tools. But early in the game I lost more battles than I won and that required starting over from the most recent save. It’s a good reason to utilize the game’s autosave feature which saves every time you leave a planet. But being a cartridge based system this just adds more time to the game.

The saving grace of the game is the same thing Tycho emphasized when he brought it up shortly after the game’s release. You need to purchase blueprints for your ships then build them and outfit them. One of my favorite parts of the game was manipulating the various upgrades in order to cram the best ones into my ships. The upgrades are modules in Tetris-esque pieces that must fit in the oddly shaped grids which are unique to each ship. It’s an odd and rewarding challenge to rearrange the modules to their optimum configuration. Especially give that the process requires use of the DS’s stylus. A peripheral that seems so out-of-place in the age of the iPhone feels completely natural in this environment.

I wanted to hurry up and finish the game in order to share it with you, but that turned the game into a chore and sapped any and all motivation I had to play it. It can be a fun game if you’re willing to take your time. It’s definitely not the sort of game I’d want to take on an extended trip somewhere. It doesn’t have a big enough draw for me to devote that kind of sequential use. It’s a far cry from a Rockstar game in that regard. Give me one of those and I’ll beat the whole game in one sitting even if I have to ignore my drunken friend bleeding to death on the floor. To be fair though, he got better.

On a side note, I hoped to show you a few screen shots but a cursory search provided little more than “fan art” of the aforementioned space fairer. Think N64 graphics on a tiny screen and that should give you a fair estimate.

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