Review: Spectral Souls (PSP)

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Good: Inventive battle system

Bad: Long, frequent load times

Required personality trait: Patience

A bad game usually falls into one of three categories: Shameless Cash-in, Uninspired, Unoriginal Dreck and Technical Disaster. Spectral Souls: Resurrection of the Ethereal Empires, the latest offering from Idea Factory, falls squarely in the final category.

Spectral Souls' content is original enough. It's an ambitious RPG that allows you to assume the role of one of three warring armies and you can change sides at any time to progress each story as you see fit. It's an interesting concept, seeing how a war unfolds from all three angles illustrates how each side sees their cause as just.

The battle system works like most RPGs, at least in it's initial design. The turn-based battles take place on small grid maps. Per usual, making the most of your characters skills and strategic placement are the keys to success, but what sets the combat apart here is the ability to chain attacks multiple characters onto a single enemy, resulting in huge experience bonuses. It's also possible to discover new attacks by combining certain attacks from a character or characters. It's a solid system that allows plenty of room for experimentation.

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So what makes Spectral Souls so disastrous? Well, there are a few minor complaints. The maps are too small and the combat scenarios are repetitive, with the objectives usually alternating between killing everyone and making it to Point X on a map. Also, the game's difficulty is uneven and many of the systems aren't adequately explained in either the in-game tutorials or the instruction booklet.

But those gripes aren't even a blip on the radar compared to Spectral Souls' biggest, most hair-pullingly frustrating shortcoming: long, innumerable load times. Any task, no matter how big or small is met with a load time. Access a menu? Load time. Enter a shop? Load time. Give a character an order? Load time. Even super simple actions like item descriptions or character dialog are met with the words "disc access" in the bottom right corner of the screen. It's ridiculous and it goes to ridiculous lengths.

As a result it makes everything in the game a chore. The combat could have been a blast had it been fast-paced and responsive, but instead it's clunky, slow and almost unplayable. It also deters from many of the game's other features. Why bother refining items and weapons or engaging in side quests if it just means more waiting and uncertainty?

It's inexcusable, especially given the simplistic 16-bit era visuals and sound. If Spectral Souls featured remarkable graphics, complicated physics or a sweeping, orchestral soundtrack I'd cut it some slack, but it doesn't.

On paper Spectral Souls: Resurrection of the Ethereal Empires is a solid and original RPG. A unique story, a battle system that gives players room for improvisation and experimentation and the ability to switch between any of the game's three armies at any time are all elements of potential greatness. In practice however, Spectral Souls is a disaster and like the worst disasters, it's one that could have been avoided.

Graphics: 5.5

Sound: 5.0

Gameplay: 2.0

First Play: 3.5

Replay Value: 1.5

Overall: 3.0

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