Spectral Souls – Resurrection of the Ethereal Empires

Posted by Dan Mousavi On January - 26 - 2011

Tactical RPG is usually a niche genre that rarely gets mentioned in the western gaming media. But the japanese developer Hyperdevbox decided to take the gamble to bring this genre to our beloved Android plattform and to the rest of the world and while doing that they delivered us the biggest Android game that we have seen yet in every way (size, playtime, artwork, soundtrack, you name it). This is a highly upgraded port of a full PS 2 game, and since it is the first of it’s kind, this may be the first Android game that really needs a review to help you decide, if you want to fetch over the relative high price of roughly 10,50€.

Let’s make one thing clear, I don’t like to review games before I have completed them, but this is impossible here. Based on the walkthrough from Gamefaqs, where the author has put in over 250 hours and still hasn’t seen everything (it should take upwards of 75 hours for a single playthrough and there are 3 main endings and variations of them), I will write this “review” on my initial impression after the first few hours of gameplay.

At the first start the game needs to download 1,5 GB on your SD Card ( the app itself will take up only 5.4 MB on the device or 3.3 MB if you move it to SD), so you should make sure beforehand to have enough space. While the download runs, you can play Pong, but it’s more of a screensaver, since it starts playing by itself if you don’t do anything and it is way too difficult. After this minimalistic download screen you are greeted with a intro video that has an original soundtrack, but is mostly just panning and scaling the artwork in front of nice backgrounds. Videos are the only things that are upscaled and look worse than the rest of the game, but they still look better then the upscaled “oldschool” mobile sprites for games with 176208 resolution, that are used in some popular games.

But as soon as the title screen pops up, you see what you are paying for. The background screen is very crisp and looks just great in 480800, the detail doesn’t translate well in our gameplay video. But let’s start the game and see, if the game itself received similar treatment.

I haven’t played the PSP version and need to rely on videos for this, but it looks like they didn’t just upgrade the artworks, but redid the ingame textures and sprites as well, they are just too detailed for a PS2 or PSP resolution. If you loved 2D games in the 90’s you will absolutely love the isometric chibi look.

So the game looks great and by the way also sounds great, the music tracks are your typical RPG orchestral background tracks, but they are well composed and have a lot of variety with 52 individual tracks and while this is typical for a 2006 console game, it is very special on a mobile plattform, that has to fight with memory limitations.

But when the game starts a lot of mobile gamers will feel overwhelmed, if they have never played a similar game like Final Fantasy Tactics on a console or PC. The game tries to teach you the basics through short dialogues in-game and has a extra tutorial option in the main menu, but if you have never played a JSRPG, you will need to play the tutorial option in the main menu first, before you start the game.

The story of the game revolves around three armies in the second Neverland war. I guess the first war happened in the original Spectral Souls for PS2, this game is the second installment in the series. In the beginning you follow the Neverland Army (the demons) and the reformed Simba Empire (humans) and later a third party comes up that consist of both humans and demons, called the Rozess Liberation Army. While each army has their own ending, you won’t play one exclusively.

In the beginning, you will need to play a couple of easy missions first before you land on the map and can choose which of the armies you want to play. Sometimes you need to advance another army before the story continues with a new historical battle. Depending on wich side you tackle the historical battles and in how many turns you achieve victory the story continues.

The gameplay is typical for a deep JSRPG, but since most mobile gamers won’t know what I mean by that I’ll try to describe it a little deeper. You can probably best imagine the gameplay as a form of chess, where every character has a turn each round, where he can do specific actions. To do these actions you have action points (AP) and the more action points you use, the longer it will take until this character can move again. When you reach an enemy there are several ways to fight him and this is where Spectral Souls odd hold and charge mechanics will come in play. In the beginning you can choose between several different attacks, for example there could be a list with two identical attacks listed and two identical slice moves listed. While this may seem like a bug in the beginning, it’ll make sense, when you start using the hold or charge abilities. If you hold moves, you can combine different attacks to create new ones, for example if I hold two attacks, a triple attack will happen, that deals over 50% more damage as two individual attacks. The same goes for magic, if you combine different spells and find a new combination, it will be way more powerful. Then there are also charge moves, which is essentially the same thing, except with multiple characters. If one character charges an attack on an enemy and another character executes the same attack on the same enemy, a huge attack will happen. But if the charging character is hit befire the second character can do his move, the round is wasted.

While this system will make the first few fights very easy, the game will get more difficult later in the game with additions like chained battles, where a character, that is lost in a match will not be available in the battle that immediately follows and so on. You will spend most of your time fighting, besides a few towns there isn’t much exploration that people may expect when they hear RPG in a game description, it is all about the individual battles and how you tackle them.

So is this game worth buying, even at that high price point for a mobile game? That depends completely on what kind of gamer you are. Personally I love japanese games and I regularly spend up to 100€ for console import games like Cave shooters on 360, I also had a Neo Geo and bought games that you can beat under an hour that have cost me a fortune. Games are always worth what the developers ask for it, the question is what is it worth to you?
That said, this is a niche title for a niche audience, if you are not into long dialogues and round based combat, it will be hard for you to pay the asking price. But if you are one of the millions of people that always tell me Final Fantasy Tactics is “the best game of all time”, you know, the kind of gamers who bought a new Handheld just to play a remake and then another new device for the sequel, then I could imagine that this game could even tip you to Android instead of iOS, because as far as I know there is no JSRPG title that could hold a candle against Spectral Souls in the app store. That’s why I hope that this game will make Hyperdevbox some money, because they went and made something, no other developer dared to do until now, throw some real cash behind a console game and improve it tremendously in every possible way. If you check PSP Reviews of the game, don’t listen to any of the mentioned technical problems, like long loading times, because they all have been fixed. Even my rule of thumb was followed, that every game that is this long needs a way to deactivate music and leave SFX, so I can play my own music through multitasking. There are also 7 save slots and one autosave, so multiple users on one device shouldn’t be a problem.

The game performed extremely well on the Nexus One without any hiccups, there are just some minor slowdowns when you combine attacks and the whole screen starts to explode, but these won’t bother anyone. According to the developer the game even works on a G1, but will have more slowdowns there.

If you really want bigger and better mobile games instead of just little timewasters, this is your chance to proof it. I am pretty sure a lot of developers will keep a close eye on the sales of this game, because if Hyperdevbox can get decent sales with this title, others might follow suit and release full games at a reasonable retail price instead of giving us dumbed down versions at 0.99 cents for mobiles. And if you want to compare it to other high profile games like Dungeon Defenders, just don’t. This game works on nearly all Android devices and is better in every way as the console version, which is something very few mobile games could claim before. So it comes down to a matter of taste and in my opinion Spectral Souls is something special that warrants the high price point. I would prefer a polished game like this for 10€ every day over our previous prestige title Dungeon Defenders at 2,99€, because it performs well and has the polished feeling of a console retail title, whereas until now, the best we got were straight Arcade ports.

Spectral Souls is available on the Android Market for 1200 Yen, which is roughly 10,50€
Market Link