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Game Over Online ~ Septerra Core

GameOver Game Reviews - Septerra Core (c) Monolith, Reviewed by - Pseudo Nim

Game & Publisher Septerra Core (c) Monolith
System Requirements Pentium 200, 32MB Ram, 4x CD-ROM
Overall Rating 94%
Date Published Tuesday, October 26th, 1999 at 08:53 PM

Divider Left By: Pseudo Nim Divider Right

The legacy of Septerra Core is marked by numerous pitfalls and disastrous events. It is a game that was originally conceived quite some time ago by a group of talented folks at Valkyrie Studios. The game had promise, the team was energetic and full of hopes, and thus, development started. However, the publisher that was originally going to publish the game, Viacom, left the gaming arena and left Septerra Core hanging - and the folks at Valkyrie, in a respectable feat of dedication, bought the rights to the game and continued development in their own backyard (quite literally so). Fortunately, European distribution rights were eventually picked up by Topware Interactive, and, soon enough, US rights were picked up by none other than one of the most respectable gaming companies in my book these days - Monolith, “The Shogo people” as I call them.

One would think that a game that’s been in development for two years is bound to look dated, or in some way cede to the more impressive games of the present day. It is, unfortunately, the case with many games - whether they come out looking bland and unimpressive [Tiberian Sun] or downright old [Anachronox, judging from people’s reaction to the E3 demo]. On the positive side, this is absolutely not the case with Septerra Core: everything about it feels new, refreshing, and, as the hip word in management goes, “innovative.” Granted, it’s somewhat easier to compete in the RPG scene, since the last good game was Baldur’s Gate, but there’s still got to be something to keep the player entertained.

Septerra Core is a anime-style game, with console elements, and similarities to the likes of Chronotrigger and Final Fantasy, though the line is drawn there. The interface is significantly more intuitive than Final Fantasy’s (which isn’t all that hard, I imagine), and the story is much deeper and more elaborate.

In the ancient past, the Creator brought forth the shining jewels of the universe and all their secrets. One such jewel was the world of Septerra - its secret hidden deep within its Core. There were seven distinct layers of continents, also known as the World Shells, that orbited the planet. And the Core... the Core is an immense biocomputer that regulates the movement of the Shells.

Many ancient legends speak of this world, and they tell of how the Creator designed the world such that Man could inherit His power one day, when He was gone. He created two keys, which would unlock the secret of the Gift of the Creator, and grant access to the Kingdom of Heaven.

Then he who the Creator and his angels could not destroy appeared. His name was Gemma, and he was a demon who lusted after God's power. He stormed the world of Septerra Core, and captured the Keys, thus intending to take over the Kingdom, and inherit all the power. In utter sorrow and desperation, He Whose Name Shall Not Be Spoken send his only begotten son, Marduk, to Septerra - and, saddened, forever left the affairs of men.

After a battle that raged for a hundred days, and a hundred nights, Marduk destroyed Gemma, and repossessed the stolen keys. 'The world is not yet ready for such power,' he said to the mortals, and hid the relics so that none could gain them. He said though, that one day, many moons from then, when the world was again in great danger, there will be one who will unlock the power of the Keys, and will save the world from destruction.

Much time has passed since then... and Marduk's prophecy is upon us. Welcome to Septerra Core - a world in which laws of nature to work in ways not common to humans. Where continents orbit the planet. Where the World Shells create unique ecosystems, and Bio Engineering has induced a variety of societal changes. Where living battleships float overhead, and Junk Pirates roam the darkness. A world whose very heart is the Core, a living computer that quietly overlooks the fruits of its master's creation.

There lives a society of the Chosen on the Outer Shell Layer. They deem themselves masters, lead an extravagant lifestyle, consume massive amounts of energy and dump crap on the layers below. [Hmm, I just snapped out of the epic language that I was trying to stick to, but this I couldn't resist. Back to it...]. They have discovered the Keys, and believe all the answers to the mysteries they have uncovered over time lie in the depths of the Core. And thus they decided to descend to the lower levels.

It is so that your part in the chain of events starts. You are Maya, a Junk Scavenger from Shell Two, one that is located directly below the Chosen's Layer (why, oh why can you never take the role of the aristocrats and rich people in such games?!). You make your living here, looking through trash to find useful items that you could resell, and watching out for the dark ships that dash through the somber sky above.

As the Chosen and their brethren descend below, war is waged over the land. Many nations of the Lower Lands are threatened, and fear the destruction to come. As you see the immense fleets of the Chosen, you realize the danger and set out to warn the inhabitants of the Lower Lands of the impending danger, and have the word spread around. However.... soon enough you find yourself fighting your personal battle for freedom.

Thus your entry to the world of Septerra is outlined. The world is quite immense, and very well-presented. Everything is either craftily hand-drawn, or artistically rendered; and, coherent with the image of a layer that survives on mining junk, everything has a worn-out, rusty, used look - very Fallout-like. In fact, quite a number of parallels can be drawn with Fallout, which, in my book, was one of the best 3rd person RPGs of the past while, if not of all time. The worlds are radically different, with environments ranging from desert to forest, ice, water and so on and so forth. Interestingly, the game doesn’t use a 3D accelerator, yet the graphics leave nothing to be desired for - thus showing that one doesn’t -need- a 3D card to experience beautiful graphics. (Then again, Baldur’s Gate showed that, too.)

But graphics don’t make the game; plus, one can judge the graphics by the screenshots more often than not (so long as they aren’t the screenshots from the back of a retail box). Considering this is an RPG, the character development, combat system, NPC interaction and the party system are significantly more important.

To start off, the character development system isn’t anywhere nearly as complex as Baldur’s Gate or Fallout. You start off with a pre-defined distribution of experience points (similar to Cloud) and, as you gain experience levels, your character becomes better and better. You cannot specialize in any skills, such as magic, but you shouldn’t have to - there will always be someone in your party that has the right amount of skill for something you need to do. There are no special skills to be learned, either - nor are there Limit Breaks (however, as mentioned below, the levels of attack do play the same role in the long run, except are much easier to attain.)

Similar to console RPGs, during combat, you cannot distance yourself or approach an enemy for purposes of correcting your % probability to hit with respect to the distance. Generally, you execute your attack and run a certain percent chance of missing, depending on some of your attributes. The way the attacks work is, again, similar to Final Fantasy, where a charge meter increases and your ability to execute an attack depends on the state of the meter; however, contrary to Final Fantasy, there aren’t two states to it (“can attack” and “cannot attack”). There are three notches on the meter, and once it starts to charge, each notch charged represents the next level of attack: so, for example, Maya with her default weapon has a single-shot attack (at notch 1), slightly more powerful burst (two notches) and gattling attack (fully charged). Of course, as you wait for the meter to charge your enemies will attack, too, and you may have to balance sometimes between the power of an attack and the fact of effecting damage on the enemy. However, if your meter charges to, say, 2.8 notches and you use it to perform a level 2 attack, there won’t be 0.8 charge left on it - it’ll start from scratch, so proceed with caution on party members that charge rather slowly. Something I didn’t like, though, is that when combat is initiated, all parties involved jump into a more open area where combat takes place, sort of as in FF with the camera zoom - but somehow, jumping looks a hell of a lot cheesier. Fortunately, you can see the enemies before getting into a combat, too - and while you still can be taken by surprise (such as with story-based encounters), in general, you can escape before getting into a fight if your health happens to be low. On the other hand, what I rather disliked was the fact that you can’t scroll to a place, click on something and have the character run there: you have to keep clicking as the screen moves to keep your character from stopping.

The maximum party size is three, with other characters waiting in towns, inns or wherever you happen to have left them. Some characters won’t work together, however - more so, they may attack each other in combat, for reasons of their own, and as such aren’t suggested to be put together; however, there are side quests which may help reconcile some of the characters’ differences, and allow greater flexibility at making the party.

In RPGs, an omnipresent item is magic (in most, anyway); but rarely is it ever implemented in exactly the same way in two games. In Septerra Core, magic is cast using items called Fate Cards, and draws from a power called the Core Energy. As outlined in the story, the Core is the center of Septerra - and the Energy is that which is generated by the continents’ movement around it. A character can build up some Core Energy within himself, and that allows him to draw on it, for instance, to cast Fate Cards (think of the Force for a similar example). The best analogy would be with the Magic: The Gathering system, where you have to tap X mana to cast a spell, whether a summon spell, a healing spell, a fire or a wall - and many others (there are a total of 24 cards in the game). However, that’s not all - you can combine the cards, and have some affect the result of the others (such as a Black Lotus would affect a Braingeyser), creating unique combinations of spells.

I found an interesting glitch in the gameplay. When you enter a store, and you have Runner along with you, you have an option of stealing from the shopkeeper, which is fine. Say you steal once, maybe twice (if you’re lucky) or thrice (if you’re -really- lucky). In either case, after the third time or if you get caught the vendor raises his prices, whether for reasons of ‘local crime affecting profits’ or for obvious reasons, such as the one that you failed to steal and got caught. In any case, the glitch is, that not only the selling prices are raised - but the buying ones, too, which makes little sense to me: that means you can buy all you need from him, then loot him, get caught and sell off all your junk - making a profit on it. I’d imagine if crime were affecting profits vendors would try to have a larger profit marginů perhaps I’m wrong.

The difficulty of the game is, I would say, moderate. Though I suppose, as you progress along, things get much easier - similar to Fallout 2 (though not 1). It’s relatively hard at first, where you have to manage healing potions, juggle your Core Energy between healing cards and attack cards and so forth - though, as you get further, your character gets more powerful, and you at least have more maneuvering space, such as having enough Core Energy to cast both a healing and an attack card within the same fight.

All that huge storyline isn’t just written on the screen, though. There are thousands of lines of spoken dialogue in the game, and the voice acting is commendable - people sound like they look (here is a perfect example of stereotyping). When a person speaks, there’s also a talking portrait - and, while I can see an effort to lip-sync the character, it seems to me that it wasn’t done as minutely and as perfectly in Fallout. As well, a very strange glitch that occurred many times while I was playing is a character might repeat a few words, such as “You should check out the Pumping Station the Pumping Station.” In the written dialogue, though, the speech wasn’t repeated - which makes me wonder. It isn’t particularly detrimental to the game, but it is rather curious. In regards of dialogue, I noticed some grammatical mistakes, such as the now-ubiquitous confusion of “your/you’re” and ever-ubiquitous confusion of “affect/effect.” Most people would probably pay little notice to such petty details, though.

The cutscenes are beautiful. Pre-rendered, of course, they show skillful mastery of character animation and other effects, such as particle, smoke et cetera. Much of the story is told in pre-rendered cutscenes, but most of it is told in engine-rendered cinematics, a la Fallout. As well, music improves the ambience significantly, with the right amount of emotion lent to a given setting - a rapid, adrenaline-packed beat for combat scenes, or a windy, spacious swoosh when travelling in the vast reaches of the deserts.

So where does this place Septerra Core? I believe that isn’t a hard question to answer. If anything, it’s essentially the one of the very few worthy RPG to come out this year (along with Silver and Darkstone), so that alone would make it the RPG of the year in my book. But winning by elimination isn’t winning - I believe that Septerra Core belongs in the list of the better, if not best, RPGs to be done in a while. Granted, it doesn’t have the advanced character management system of Fallout and Baldur’s Gate, but AD&D isn’t the only thing out there. Final Fantasy was despised by purists for the “lack of storyline, its linearity and the lack of character development,” an assessment with which I would completely agree; yet, there was another aspect to it, one that couldn’t be described through simple qualitative words, and one that made me play it five times. I think that element may be present in Septerra Core too - thus, I believe, that any fan of the RPG genre should definitely give this one a try, if simply out of respect for Valkyrie.


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