Save the world, one decimated country at a time.
So... for the first few hours or so, I had NO idea what I was doing. It took some time for me to figure out just what all the little twiddly knobs did (the in-game “tutorial” doesn't really explain much), but after a bit of trial-and-error, I got the hang of it.
[image1]About the game then: Spectral Force Genesis is, from what I can gather, a mix of RoShamBo and Risk where the whole goal is to bring about world peace... by not only making peace with nearby nations, but also by wiping your enemies from the continent/planet entirely. Recruit your generals, make alliances, and do everything you can to unite the world so that peace can reign. At least, until you're bored and decide that ripping apart that neighbor's flag sounds like a good idea.
In battle, there are three types of armies: Attack, Defense, and Magic. And it's a rock-paper-scissors battle system: Attack beats Magic, Magic beats Defense, and Defense beats Attack. As you battle, the more damage you deal, the more you build an experience meter that allows you to use that army's special attacks (each army typically has three). As you defeat another country and destroy their capital, upgrades are available to your generals; you can use them up upgrade aspects that individuals might be lacking - increase their loyalty, strengthen their character, or even change their stated occupation.
Graphically, it's about as basic as I've ever seen on the DS. The world map is dropped in front of you to start, every country and dominating force marked by a flag. It's a barren sight, just a very basic outline that resembles land, covered in flags (it kinda looks like a kid stuck stickers all over it, to be honest) and surrounded by ocean. Preparing for battles is even more simplistic: It's made up entirely of text, so there are really no graphics. But when the battles get started, the DS finally gets some action with the top screen showing armies butting heads (and little tiny soldiers getting knocked off the screen as the numbers start to dwindle) and the bottom... well, little icons represent the type of army that's moving on a blank battlefield.
Calling this an RPG is really misleading. There's no grinding or leveling up, at least not in the traditional sense: Building your defenses and strengthening your armies is driven more by your bases and economic status, which basically translates to “the more people you've got and can afford, the more you can draft”, and the more you draft, the stronger you are. The grind of the game comes from dictating where your resources go, what general your troops fight under, and even who's-ranked-where in your army.
[image2]And the options of building defences and armies are only available at certain times, as the game is moved along by a calendar system. As each “month” goes by, a select grouping of options becomes available. Sometimes the only options are to battle or loot a neighboring country; other times you can collect taxes and allocate troops, and still others give the opportunity to build walls and strengthen your various economies.
So the “grind”, if we're calling it that, is tedious and deliberate... or to put it bluntly, it's boring. In the typical RPG, you're attacking, defending, maneuvering, but here you have the option to let the computer take over or swipe the DS screen in the direction of who to attack. There's little true strategy to it, since there's no way I can find to predict what enemy types you'll be fighting, and there are only a few attacks to choose from for each army (and those take time to charge up, so waiting for them is just another annoyance).
The story itself is about as bare-bones as an epic gets: end the squabbling and bring the world some semblance of peace. It only seems to kick in that there is a story every now and again, when you reach some kind of milestone (like destroying enough countries, making enough allies, etc). Otherwise you're left to your own devices, so build and build, battle after battle, just keep moving forward. A problem with this kind of openness is that there isn't any form of even vague direction, it's just... go, with the only structure being the calendar cycles.
Spectral Force Genesis is pretty deep, I suppose, but being deep to the detriment of the gameplay is never a good idea. And here is a perfect example. If you need something that can last you a long, long, long time, this will suit you, and if you've ever felt like micro-managing an empire this can suit your needs on the go. But if you're anything like I am, and you need something to do, just start looking elsewhere... unless the insomnia's back.