Life in a gyroscope was never this fun.
In the beginning, the Creator made the heavens and the earth. Eventually, he got bored and created this really screwed up planet called Septerra. It is composed of seven shells, each with its own continents, and each rotating around a common axis or "spine". Geez, Creator, what were you thinking? Nonetheless, this weird planet is the setting for Septerra Core, a great game, which is about as close as you can get to Final Fantasy for the PC (Well, except for Final Fantasy).
You play Maya, a young junker (not junkie) from the second-to-outermost shell. After a complex series of events (which include smuggling, false identification, and a large robot dog), Maya is charged with the task of stopping the Chosen, a race of egotistical megalomaniacs. Her quest carries her through the seven shells, major wars, cities aplenty, and a brothel or two.
The graphics are all pre-rendered 3D. Although this may make it sound sort of old (What? No real 3D graphics?), they do it really well and you won't need a 3D card. You can tell how much work went into designing the backgrounds. Every detail is accounted for, such as the beer-bottles and newspapers strewn about in the slums of Shell 6. There are lots of cool lighting effects, from lasers to lamp lights, which really give a feeling of realism (despite the spaceships and magic spells). Where the graphics really shine is in the battles. Realistic explosions and cool looking spells really make this game look great (even if it is 2D).
Sound is masterfully done, with full orchestral music combined with great sound effects. The battle music varies, from a battle marches to an adventure-sounding melody. All of the sound, whether a simple sword swipe or a nuclear bomb attack, is full and resonant.
Of course, since this is an RPG, I'm sure you're all wondering how the battle system is. Well, never fear, the system in Septerra Core is well implemented. It has enough complexity to keep it interesting, but simple enough to keep it from becoming confusing. Battles are fought in the same screen you walk around in, like in Chrono Trigger. During a battle, each of your three characters has a power meter, similar to that in the Final Fantasy series. The difference is that your meter has three stages. The stage at which you attack determines its power. This adds quite a bit of strategy to the battle. Do you hit with a barrage of quick weak attacks, or wait for the heavy blow? You also have special skills which use some magic power, like a healing ability or a sense ability.
The magic system is equally interesting. First, all of your magic points (or core energy) are combined for your whole party. This makes it easier to keep track of magic, but is less realistic. When your power meter reaches the first stage, you're able to cast any magic, as long as you have the appropriate number of magic points. The cool part is that you can combine your magics to create new effects. For example, if you cast barrier and earth at the same time on one of your party members, you get a barrier which is very strong against earth attacks.
All of these things are mixed into an intuitive interface. Basically, you select a character, and tell it who to kill. If you're casting a spell, you drag cards over to your characters, then tell it who to kill. Simple, huh?
I was also impressed with the creativity of the story. First off, the fact that the world wasn't your standard planet was very cool. It's nice to see new things to play around with. Secondly, there are lots of little plot twists (again, like the Final Fantasy series) which keep the story interesting. I'd explain more of the plot, but I don't want to give anything away.
Of course, every game must have its negative points, however, there are no glaring problems with Septerra Core. I was a little annoyed that you couldn't see all of your possessions at once, since they're automatically put in the appropriate category. While this makes organizing a cinch, if you pick something up, you don't necessarily know where it will go. This forces you to search a bit for anything you grab. Other than that and a few obscure puzzles, there's not much I can say against this game.
In the end, Septerra Core is a very strong offering in the RPG arena. If you're not the diehard RPGer who lives for Bauldur's Gate ("AD&D is the only RPG!"), or if you ever enjoyed one of the Final Fantasy series (I know some of you Bauldur's Gaters like it. Come on, admit it!), then pick this one up right away. There are seven whole worlds waiting for you..