Save the world, take down an evil empire, explode something, go home!
Face it. Deep inside, you love a traditional Japanese Role Playing Game. There's no shame in admitting it. There aren't many JRPGs left, but Atlus is here to feed that craving with Hexyz Force.
[image1]Hexyz Force could be considered a by-the-numbers JRPG if you look at it from the outside. There's a predictable story set in a world called Berge: an Empire that suddenly turns power-hungry, a valiant knight, a stubborn cleric, turn-based fighting with spells, and even an annoying little furry companion that says an oh-so-cute dialogue quip every now and then.
However, things are turned a bit on their head by the way the game is actually played. There are two separate points in the story that you can pick up from and start playing, each involving a different cast of characters and a new setting. These stories eventually join together, but not before it's clear where they will end up prior to the conclusion.
Without going into much detail about the story, it involves powerful beings awakening and wielding great power in a time of crisis - like, say, an evil god resurfacing. These beings, the Hexyz, know nothing about their power until a mysterious voice tells them about the impending danger to the world. Most, if not all, of the party members you control are Hexyz (Hexyzes?) and the battle system in the game reflects that.
Battling can be compared to a game of roshambo. Each of your heroes wields a magical weapon that gives them attributes in three elements that have strengths and weaknesses in a circle of this-kills-that-but-is-killed-by-the-other-thing. Your party members all share from a pool of magic points along with their own "ragna points" meter.
[image2]Ragna points are used for every action taken in battle, like healing and attacking, while the common magic points pool called "force burst" is used for special moves. Force burst is slowly recharged in battle but the catch is that force ragna points aren't, and they have to be either gained by leveling up or charged back up in special stations that are scarce in dungeons. Combining the right spell or attack against the correct enemy weakness is key as is the timing in making that attack, which adds an interesting layer of strategy to each fight.
Fights award you with items that can be turned into new weapons and equipment, which is crucial at later stages. Characters have plenty of slots to equip these items and the game isn't shy about letting you know that you should be doing this. There are tutorials everywhere, for just about anything, in case you aren't sure. But really, this is a standard JRPG that just has different names for the essentials.
Hexyz Force is a cool game to look at. Taking a cue from the Final Fantasy DS remakes, all the characters have a "super deformed" look to them, while in rare video cutscene or dialogue portrait, they are drawn with the right proportions. Some of the character design is a bit off, especially in the case of some of the female cast members. Environments aren't as detailed as the characters, mostly because you spend the better part of the game exploring caves, dungeons, and the like.
[image3]The rare instances of voice work, mainly in cut-scenes, are mostly well-done. Special battle moves are followed by a bit of voice acting as well, which does get repetitive but nothing bad enough to mute. Sound cues help you find nooks that contain oh-so-coveted items, but the musical score is commonplace and not that memorable.
Even if it doesn't exactly break new ground in the RPG genre, Hexyz Force plays its cards right, with a solid battle system and a pace that isn't too grating for quick portable gaming sessions. You don't have to worry about grinding levels or finding hidden side-quests, nor will it take you as long as a Dragon Quest or Final Fantasy to finish one of the story arcs, but everything it does, Hexyz Force does very well in its JRPG niche.