Please lose and never find.
First, I must empathize with the developers, not for what I’m about to say for
the next ten to every paragraph, but for having to deal with the words “Infinite Undiscovery” on a daily basis for the last however many (undiscovered?) years. Before popping the disc into the tray, I lounged back on my couch and took a few minutes to think about what this pretentiously gobbledygook title actually meant, but all that came out was blood, a few tears, and a reason to kill. I think it means “a perpetual state of ignorance and lack of mental faculty such that all memory gradually becomes lost”; either that, or just “forgets a lot”. And if so, then I have had a case of “Infinite Undiscovery” all my life, and I am sure as hell not… umm… wait… where was I… crap.
[image1]As if by a self-prophetic twist of irony, Infinite Undiscovery is exactly what its title suggests: an innovative but utterly confusing mess. Plopping my fingers through scene after scene, battle after battle, I couldn’t keep from thinking whether this JRPG was truly made by Square Enix and tri-Ace of Final Fantasy and Star Ocean fame. The lack of gameplay polish – a quality I don’t associate with these two developers – is everywhere, in plain sight, and dare I say, infinite. This doesn’t mean that the story isn’t epic, that the soundtrack isn’t beautiful, that the character models aren’t well-crafted, or that the environments aren’t vast, imaginative, and natural-looking, but there’s only so much that high concepts and production values can cover up.
The world of Infinite Undiscovery has been thrown into disarray by the Order of Chains, a nefarious group of quasi-intellectual demonically-aligned
Sephiroths humans who have chained the mystical moon to the earth. Though the moon grants magic-enchanting lunaglyphs to certain blessed humans, the chains channeled with the power of the moon have turned the area around them into breeding grounds for monsters and into a center of natural and unnatural destruction. This calls forth the Liberator Sigmund, the only person capable of destroying the chains, and his cliché motley crew of mercenaries (can developers please stop turning 10-year-old boy-girl twins into warriors) to find and destroy them one by one.
But in a case of mistaken identity, a soft-spoken flute-playing
wuss lad named Capell is thrown into a prison for appearing like Sigmund, a coincidence that also fools the pushy love interest fiery archer Aya into saving him. Not soon after escaping from the prison guards, Aya finds the real Sigmund and drags Capell into joining the ragtag band of adventurers. Thus begins, yet again, your quest of turning a lethargic, scaredy-cat, semi-emo, prepubescent teenager into a heroic hero of heroism.
Despite the numerous similarities to the long line of past JRPG stories, the premise could have served as the foundation for a classic journey if given enough time and effort, but instead, it becomes the chipping block for how not to execute a story. Just the dialogue (which you can’t even read without an HDTV) in the first scene with Aya and Capell at the prison reveals the flakiness of the voice acting. Not only are there long, dead pauses between each line, perhaps due to the translation from Japanese, but the tonal inflections and emotional delivery lack any sense of flow. Every verbal expression becomes slow, over-exaggerated, or abrupt (or all three), making every scene off-tone, off-pitch, and just not believable.
[image2]Even if you can tolerate the voice-overs, you have to put with a plot covered in a laundry list of annoyances. The game doesn’t ease into the relationships between Capell and the other characters, with the exception of Aya. Right after the prison sequence, it just hits you with nearly every main character you’re going to recruit, and expects that you’ll empathize with them simply because they are in your party. But there are too many characters and not enough well-delivered scenes, so that when a plot twist does come around, you couldn’t possibly care.
It also doesn’t help that Capell, who unfortunately is the only character you can control, still acts like a wimp even after you’ve made him slaughter two hundred armored soldiers. He actually makes Tidus look okay.
The status menu screen even goes so far as to tell you the “traits” of each character. It might seem interesting to read what the characters are like, but that’s just lazy storytelling. You don’t open a book and find a sheet with the personality diamonds for each character. (That’s what SparkNotes is for.) NPCs also shouldn’t be labeled with their personalities like “Arrogant Aristos” or “Well-mannered Girl”. Traits are supposed to be revealed through dialogue, through battle animations, through angle and shot, through anything other than a PowerPoint presentation.
As you might expect, the sole motivation for reaching the end of this two-disc odyssey comes from the combat, and to be fair, it’s an innovative mash-up, which includes the free-roaming environments and item creation of Dragon Quest VIII and the hack’n’slash battling of Star Ocean. Without any fancy embellishments, getting through each level is simple but satisfying: You see an enemy in the distance, walk up to it, kill it with a combination of basic strikes and power moves, gain experience and loot, ask your party members for healing, create some new items by mixing some loot together, and move on to the next hapless creature.
It plays like a lighter version of a traditional MMORPG, and that what would have been enough. But then Infinite Undiscovery tosses every design wrench into the machine with the intention of being different. What comes out is a muddled jumble of slap-dash systems that tries to justify itself by adding more and more and more nonsense – covering up a pile of dirty laundry with more dirty laundry.
[image3]One source of irritation is being forced to sheathe and unsheathe your sword constantly. Why should you have to push a button to sheathe your sword to open a treasure chest, to talk to some refugee, or to run quickly? Not only should holding a one-handed sword not really hinder you too much, but sheathing and unsheathing should be done automatically, as it is done in Ocarina of Time or done minimally as in Oblivion.
On a similar note, Capell sometimes needs to whip out his flute to play a magical melody that reveals a certain treasure chest or door, but the idea is incredibly paper-thin. Just because Capell is a flutist, doesn’t mean there needs to be a flute mechanic. What ends up happening is that the game creates gratuitous, one-time reasons to use the flute like clearing magical walls and revealing incorporeal enemies. They are there for the sake of being there.
Every now and then, you’ll find a locked treasure chest that can only be opened if you “connect” to an appropriate party member. “Connecting” allows you to tell a specific character to do several specific actions, like firing an arrow at an enemy group to gain a “player advantage” battle bonus, but it’s usually more of a hassle than an asset. If the treasure chest is out on the battlefield, you need to hope that you’ve brought along a thieving character, or you’ll have to wait to change your party in the next town. If the treasure chest is actually in the town, you then have to roam around playing hide and seek for up to ten minutes just locating the thieving character, “connect”, and then walk all the way back to the chest. It would have been much easier if there was a quick-connect list to every party member instead.
In fact, just knowing the general location of where someone or some place is would have prevented hours upon hours of mindless backtracking. For instance, you’re told to go to Port Zala, because there is a chain nearby. Where’s Port Zala? No one knows, and it’s not on your map. So unless you’ve stumbled upon the port before, you have to drag your feet through every environment with a fine-tooth comb, facing respawning enemy after respawning enemy, before you trigger the next scene. This just doesn’t happen one time, but almost every time.
[image4]And the list of issues goes on and on. When you request healing from party members, since you can’t heal yourself without stopping the combat and opening the item screen in real-time, they will often needlessly use a potion. So don’t be surprised to find your stock of red berry potions be wiped out before reaching the next town. None of your party members can block, either. Capell can parry an attack, paralyzing the enemy for several seconds, but many hard-hitting spells and attacks can’t be parried. So you need healing spellcasters and high-HP characters to the party like Savio or Dominica. Unfortunately, they are classified as “secondary characters”, and for some reason, you can’t include them in your primary party.
(And don’t even try looking for a strategy guide for this Square Enix JRPG at your local GameStop. I had an employee search through their nationwide database. It. Doesn’t. Exist.)
Less is more. It’s a simple adage that usually goes ignored when a game like Infinite Undiscovery tries to be unique. Instead of concentrating on creating a clean, polished, and edited experience, everything in the pantry just gets tossed into the pot. Take away all the mind-numbingly painful design choices and there may be a game deserving of the Square Enix name here, but all the extraneous material makes that nearly impossible. A game that you will soon undiscover… infinitely.