Spectral Souls
Playstation Portable
Reviewed: 09/17/2006

Spectral Souls, a tactical RPG by Idea Factory, is the latest addition to “The Big List of Games That Could Have Been Good, but Ended up Sucking.”

Several PSP RPGs have suffered from mammoth load times. Idea Factory apparently wanted Spectral Souls to hang out with this clique, so the devs dazzled their game with all mannor of load times: the long kind, the not-as-long kind, the kind in places where one would never expect loading to happen, and the kind that makes the game’s battle music skip a few beats. The gang’s all here, and players can expect to see “Disc Access” flash onto the screen a few hundred times per play session.

Here’s how a character’s turn in battle generally goes:
-Player selects “Move”
-(1-3 seconds of loading)
-Areas where one can move become highlighted. Player moves the character.
-(1-3 seconds of loading)
-Player Selects “Skill” from the menu…
-(1-3 seconds of loading)
-Player chooses a skill and target, then confirms the action.
-(2-5 seconds of freaking loading)
-Action is performed, finally.
-(1-3 seconds of loading)
-Results are shown.

It’s a truly ridiculous process. Even the most basic skills such as “Attack” will result in the game slowing down while loading (up to five seconds of it), and as previously mentioned, may even cause the music to stop for a second. Oh, the fun doesn’t stop there! Even during dialogue, when pressing X to bring up the next line of text, even if the scene is staying the same and no characters on screen are moving, it’s common to see “Disc Access” on the screen while an empty text box sits on the screen waiting to be filled for a few seconds. As an aside, “seconds” might not sound long, but when inserted into the middle of processes that should take no time at all, those seconds grate the nerves.

Screen Shot
This skill (…loading…) took a long time (…loading…) to actually unleash due to (…loading…) annoying, frequent (…loading…) mid-battle loading times.

But load times aren’t the only thing making the game slow. For one thing, Spectral Souls suffers from a problem common in so many other crappy tactical RPGs: even easy enemies take entirely too long to kill. As if having to see “Disc Access” on the screen so often wasn’t enough of a trial on one’s patience, players will also have to fight enemies who are weak and have no chance in hell of defeating the player, yet have high amounts of HP and require some time to actually kill. Even if some more challenge and faster pace had been added, the game does suffer from a half-assed combo system (yes, there will often be load times between different hits within the same combo), and uninteresting character building.

Instead of having town “exploration” being simply menu based like most TRPGs, Idea Factory had a terrible idea to instead make the player enter an incredibly bland locale and take a sluggish, poorly controlled character into each individual shop. All this ultimately does is make shopping and character business into a chore. It’s so ridiculous, RPG Land wrote this letter to Idea Factory. If the towns had been fun to explore and there had been a bit of a point to doing so, that would have been fine, but they’re generic and they really only serve to hinder the gameplay experience.

Subtracting the loading problems and lack of flow could have worked wonders for this game, because it’s actually got a pretty cool concept going on. Players switch control among three armies (though not all are under human control at first) moving in the same timeline. Plot events may unfold differently, depending on which army has done what. That’s neat. Also to the good, the game’s story is one worth paying attention to. It won’t go down as one of the best or anything, but it’s a good one.

Screen Shot
If it weren’t for all those other games, these characters would look completely original.

The final up point would be the game’s wonderful graphics. In every environment, the characters and their surroundings look excellent. Music and sound effects in this game are not as impressive as the visuals, but are still of good report.

Spectral Souls‘ biggest killer is its frequent, ridiculous mid-battle and mid-conversation load times, yet even without those, the game is still fairly slow moving. It brings little to the tactical/strategy RPG subgenre with its army rotation, but that’s hardly worth seeing when having to deal with the game’s persistent flaws.

-Heath Hindman

Score Breakdown
Out of 10
See our Review Criteria
Gameplay Bad
Story Very Good
Graphics Excellent
Sound/Music Good
Replay Value Horrible
The Verdict: Two