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GAF plays Unlimted Saga! ( $6 at Gamestop_

Yaweee

Member
Feb 3, 2008
10,596
0
0
Are you ready to play one of the most challenging and maligned RPGs of the last decade?




“As far as UNLIMITED: SaGa is concerned, we said let's tackle the basics of game design once again. We didn't try to emphasize the realistic details, but rather symbolize, and cut out the parts we didn't need. We thought, let's dare to do a "not express" thing and we calmly sticked to that route.”
Akitoshi Kawazu, RPGFan Interview (2003)

“Hard-core hobbyists may appreciate the title's extreme challenge level, esoteric presentation, and pioneering play mechanics. On the other hand, confusing campaigns and a mind-boggling mission structure guarantee casual enthusiasts just won't get the picture.” - G4

“Let's not kid ourselves - Unlimited Saga is overly deep and complicated to a fault. It's as if Square was trying to make a complex game but failed to add some serious polish or just cut out the excess.” – Into Liquid Sky


“Graphics aside, battling with the Unlimited Saga system is clunky and completely unintuitive. The battle engine features an insane potluck of disparate elements, almost as if Square-Enix took all of the purged leftovers from ten or fifteen other games and smashed the scraps together to create the unholy videogame sausage that it is.” – GameCritics

“There's a lot of game to be had if you can get past the game's quirks.” GameShark

“I've never had less fun playing a videogame.” – GameNow

----------------------------

There’s never been a game quite like Unlimited Saga. From the complete abandonment of standard RPG mechanics the absolutely astonishing soundtrack, US will leave you completely complexed for many, many hours. Most people that play the game seem to despise it with every fiber of their being.

However, unlike other games that are considered total and utter horseshit by their lack of difficulty, overly long cutscenes, or simplistic gameplay, Unlimited Saga is maligned because it barely makes any damn sense. While it is undoubtedly an RPG, everything is so far from the norm that it's like learning the genre all over again.

Overall, the game is structured more like Saga Frontier 1 than any of the other Saga games. Though having played any of the other games will be useful in understanding LP and Sparking, it isn’t necessary—you’ll be completely lost the first few hours regardless of your prior experience.

Like Saga Frontier, each playthrough is only 7-20 hours long, with each of the characters having a different story and game structure.

From easiest to hardest…

Laura- A retired pirate is grieving the loss of her husband when she saves a prince from a group of bandits. Together, they must recover treasures from across the world so he can reclaim his throne. Her game is s

Judy- A young witch must reunite her family. She has a pretty straightforward game structure, though most of her party members are magic users.

Ventus- A courier searches for his brother’s killer. His progression is linked to completing courier missions.

Ruby- A fake fortuneteller starts getting visions of the end of the world. Her quest is the only one that requires visiting all seven wonders.

Kurt- A noble’s son goes on a journey after equipping a cursed gauntlet. Throughout his game, he will randomly be sucked in

Armic- He’s a dim-witted badger or something. His boss fights aren’t that hard, but instead of progressing by completing missions, Armic’s story advances as you collect resources for a rain ceremony. His last boss is only unlocked after fully completing the list, which can be a bit of a pain.

Mythe- A playboy inventor becomes obsessed with a girl in the photograph, and sets off to find the truth behind the ancient picture. His last boss sequence is far and away the hardest of all the characters.

GAMEPLAY:

I had a lot written here, but I think it is best people try to figure things out on their own before looking for help. In summary, LP matters instead of HP, maps are like a board game, you only gain HP and stats after successfully completing a mission, optional missions have turn limits, it uses the sparking system of SaGa fame, and there are a whole bunch of abilities only usable on the map screen to aid exploration.

HP/LP: Though the basics may be familiar to anybody that has played the other SaGa games, you no longer get knocked down or removed from combat when you’re out of HP. Instead, HP acts more like a Stamina that used to perform attacks, and acts as a shield for your HP. A character is dead only when their LP reaches zero.




‘Board’ Map System: Instead of free exploration, maps are laid out like a board-game, with your party represented by a playing piece. There are numerous map abilities to utilize.






Level Grid: Each time you complete a mission, each character must pick one skill tile to place on their grid, replacing one if it is already filled. What tiles you equip and where you place them determine your stats, what map abilities they can use, and the layout of your combat reel.



Combat Reels: After you select what weapon to attack with, the level of that attack is determined by a combat reel. It isn't at all random, though, is very responsive, and the tiles are laid out in a natural progression pyramid towards higher levels (assuming that you have those skills already).

You are allowed 5 actions per turn, divided among as many of your seven party members as you wish, with all going to one or two characters if you wish. Only those you select will be on the field that turn, while the others stay back and regenerate HP.
You can execute the commands in any order, and you can do them one-by-one or in a combo, in which case you get to do all of the reels at the same time. Combos increase both HP and LP damage.





Map Reels: My least favorite part of the game. Similar to the combat reels for traps and opening chests, except harder, and sometimes the game obviously destines you to winning or losing (critical failure? I don't know).

Item Fusion: Like in most SaGa games, weapons have durability, which can be regenerated by smithing another material back into it. However, the material of the weapon and the additive may react to make a new piece of equipment.

The more I think about it, the more I come to realize that Unlimited Saga is a reimagining of computer RPGs. Undoubtedly based on P&P RPGs, US goes off in a completely different direction than the Ultima series went (and everything they inspire).

And that barely even scratches the surface.





------
VIDEOS

Opening Movie
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vxqEP2jjulE

The Map ‘Board’
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JPSiQZCi_mc&NR=1

Spells
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=23-IIgU4Nmc&feature=related

Best Basic Battle Theme Ever!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5GiiRHu4cyw

Some dude playing that awesome battle theme on his violin!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UnQJXFQ1ddo

Early Boss Battle (fixed) --- Great Music
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8uYXC5_6_Nk


Superior US box art confirmed!



-----------------

What can I say? I really like this game. I beat it with four characters and got stuck at the lost boss with the other three. I'm going for a fifth completion as I type this. There's a lot of depth to get lost in, and the soundtrack is amazing. Go out and buy the game. You'll need the support group that will gather at this thread.
 

Tarazet

Member
Dec 13, 2004
23,037
1
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36
Along with Lunar: Dragon Song, one of the worst RPGs ever made. I got to the point of understanding it, but there is just no getting to the point of liking it unless you are determined to the point of delirium.
 

batbeg

Member
Dec 2, 2007
13,074
0
835
Tulsa, OK
sonarrat said:
Along with Lunar: Dragon Song, one of the worst RPGs ever made. I got to the point of understanding it, but there is just no getting to the point of liking it unless you are determined to the point of delirium.
Is it really that bad? I always see it for like £5 and consider buying it... it can't be as bad as Dragon Song though, can it?
 

Yaweee

Member
Feb 3, 2008
10,596
0
0
batbeg said:
Is it really that bad? I always see it for like £5 and consider buying it... it can't be as bad as Dragon Song though, can it?
I think the game is extremely interesting, albeit frustrating while you are figuring things out. Look at the videos on Youtube, and read into the many, many, many different gameplay mechanics. The battle system and leveling systems are both completely unique to this game, as far as I can tell, and there's nothing out there that's quite like the map system, either. I hear it is like Romancing Saga 2 in a way, but that is the one game in the series that I've never played.
 

chicken_ramen

Member
Jul 7, 2007
780
0
0
Shimabara, Japan
"Unholy videogame sausage" is the best description for Unlimited Saga I've ever heard.

I've never finished a playthrough... but I've always wanted to. I just come unstuck somewhere along the way and stop playing the game for a few years until I've forgotten just how dull both dull and weird it could be. I'm about at that point again, so I might give it a go. That opening cut scene though is so good, its criminal. Why can't a game look like that?
 

schild

Member
Feb 5, 2006
912
0
0
This is the only game in the history of videogames I forced a store to let me return. It went back an hour after I bought it. They asked if it didn't work, I told them "yea, it doesn't work, there's no game on the disc."

...

Somehow, they thought that was a good reason. They asked if I wanted another copy. I said "No, I just want my money back, I don't trust any of those copies."

I'm not proud of myself in any way. But the game is that un-fun.
 

Yoshichan

And they made him a Lord of Cinder. Not for virtue, but for might. Such is a lord, I suppose. But here I ask. Do we have a sodding chance?
Sep 1, 2006
58,596
27
1,455
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Brandon F said:
I thought GAF was playing MGS4?
Don't forget, it's a PS3-exclusive :)
 

Mejilan

Running off of Custom Firmware
Jun 9, 2004
38,485
0
0
40
NJ, USA
sonarrat said:
Along with Lunar: Dragon Song, one of the worst RPGs ever made. I got to the point of understanding it, but there is just no getting to the point of liking it unless you are determined to the point of delirium.
Except unlike Lunar: DS, Unlimited SaGa has brilliant music. That said, Lunar's music might not be up to snuff, but it's inherently more playable than the total fucking mess that is SaGa.
 

Alex

Member
Jun 7, 2004
15,167
0
1,495
SaGa Frontier (1) I liked, and that last remake on PS2 I liked that too. Couldn't find much fun in SF2 or Unlimited, though.
 

DarknessTear

Banned
Sep 5, 2005
10,532
0
1,230
33
Ohio
schild said:
This is the only game in the history of videogames I forced a store to let me return. It went back an hour after I bought it. They asked if it didn't work, I told them "yea, it doesn't work, there's no game on the disc."

...

Somehow, they thought that was a good reason. They asked if I wanted another copy. I said "No, I just want my money back, I don't trust any of those copies."

I'm not proud of myself in any way. But the game is that un-fun.
Well, it's not like you lied.

I bought the game, I had no idea it was a board game. As soon as I found this out when playing the game, I took it back and got Dark Cloud 2 on a whim. So, Unlimited SaGa did do something good for me I guess.

And yes, Unlimited SaGa has a brilliant soundtrack. That's why you should get it instead of the game. Support the person who actually did something worth caring about in the game.
 

·feist·

Member
Nov 26, 2006
3,551
0
0
Sorry, I'm not the type to rain on someone's love fest or go into official threads just to post negative comments in an attempt to detract from the proceedings, but this game is just horrid. Painfully so.
 

Joule

Member
Oct 4, 2007
2,432
0
0
Well I do like SaGa games and it's probably not too hard to find if I go looking around (though I haven't seen it often in Toronto) but I did just buy Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter and Radiata Stories today. I'm also still in the process of going through Saga Frontier. I'll keep a eye out for US though.
 

Speevy

Banned
Jun 26, 2004
62,864
0
0
how about gaf plays dark cloud 2? that game is now 5 years old and deserves a revisit
 

Gilgamesh

Member
Jan 13, 2007
4,658
0
0
I won't play this piece of junk, but I'll certainly listen to its wonderful soundtrack.

Wait, how about we just change the thread to "GAF Listens to Unlimited Saga's Soundtrack"?
 

zoku88

Member
Dec 25, 2006
19,497
0
0
31
Speevy said:
how about gaf plays dark cloud 2? that game is now 5 years old and deserves a revisit
How about, GAF plays Front Mission 4 ^^

(although, I just finished it for the first time today, lol)
 

batbeg

Member
Dec 2, 2007
13,074
0
835
Tulsa, OK
zoku88 said:
How about, GAF plays Front Mission 4 ^^

(although, I just finished it for the first time today, lol)
Play games released worldwide :(

I'm still pissed about the lack of an FFIX thread :mad:
 

PROOP

FREAKING OUT MAN
Jan 9, 2006
1,734
0
0
Delaware
I completed Ventus's quest, and thats it. I had fun, and the battle system was devilishly hard. Was it a good game, not really, but was it interesting and refreshing to play a game that is so cracked out, yes. That saidd, I don't have any desire to continue playing the game at all, my 15 hours (more like 40 hours because I died so many times) was more than enough.
 

zoku88

Member
Dec 25, 2006
19,497
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0
31
batbeg said:
Play games released worldwide :(

I'm still pissed about the lack of an FFIX thread :mad:
Oh yea, Yuropland only got FM3, huh?

Don't worry, only the japanese got FM5, so we all got screwed :(
 

Saint Gregory

Member
Jan 4, 2006
14,146
0
0
One of my friends mercifully hid my copy so I wouldn't torture myself with it anymore. One of the most brutal and arbitrary games I've ever played. It has a hodge-podge HP/LP system that means absolutely nothing since attacks can go right thought HP (which is supposed to be a shield) and deplete your LP and sometime you wont have any HP and attacks don't take anything off your LP (?).

Losing four hours of time spent dungeon crawling to a completely unforseen boss fight is commonplace and there's so much that's not explained to you (like the magic learning system) that you'll often find out halfway through your scenario that you've been playing it wrong.

And that's all without even mentioning the insane roulette wheel gameplay system that pops up for everything from basic battles to traps and opening chests. You have to really hate yourself to devote anytime at all to this game. The music and art is beautiful though.

*cries*
 

Baby Milo

Member
Oct 16, 2006
6,210
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ive always wanted to buy this never have though. I might pick it up this week and take part in the thread.
 

Speevy

Banned
Jun 26, 2004
62,864
0
0
I want to play Magna Carta: Tears of Blood. I have to see if this game is as bad as everyone says it is.
 

zoku88

Member
Dec 25, 2006
19,497
0
0
31
Speevy said:
I want to play Magna Carta: Tears of Blood. I have to see if this game is as bad as everyone says it is.
Don't do it, it's really as bad as everyone says. Please, take our word for it. :lol
 
Aug 6, 2006
13,049
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1,140
www.blackfalcongames.net
I have this. Only played it for an hour or something (I buy way too many games to actually play them all much...), but it looks fun (dungeon crawling... :))... the game is definitely different, but that's not always bad. When does it start getting really hard, though?

Losing four hours of time spent dungeon crawling to a completely unforseen boss fight is commonplace and there's so much that's not explained to you (like the magic learning system) that you'll often find out halfway through your scenario that you've been playing it wrong.
Most JRPGs do this, so that's not that much of a criticism really, except of the whole genre.

Of course, I do absolutely agree that all games should have full disclosure -- every attack should be detailed, every status effect should be displayed with the exact percentage done, every game system explained in the manual and help system -- and I find it pretty annoying really that JRPGs REALLY, REALLY love to hide most of the game system from you, but... it's how it is. This game is no different from most any other... it just uses completely new and unfamiliar systems, instead of ones that might be more familiar.

I really should play this more... but I've only had a PS2 for a couple of months, and I already have 12 games for it, including four RPGs none of which I have more than a couple of hours into, and since I got FFXII I haven't played any of the others (Unlimited SaGa, FFX-2, BoFV: Dragon Quarter). I mostly got Unlimited SaGa because 1) it was cheap, like $8 or something at Gamestop and 2) it gets criticized a lot for being weird, and I'm not really a fan of standard JRPGs but do like PC RPGs and some JRPGs (less standard, perhaps?), so I wanted to see if I'd like it...
 

Pellham

Banned
Jun 11, 2004
6,726
0
0
I have this. Haven't played it much but will get around to doing it some day. It's really one of those gems that's so bad it's great, in a bizarro way.

Like if you can say you beat it, that in itself is a huge sense of accomplishment, which is far different from sludging through a generically crappy/boring game.
 

Koshiba

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May 26, 2005
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I TRIED to like this game.. I kept playing it for a while and thinking "Uh.. is this it?" I have to say, the only gave I ever bothered trading in for whatever crap credit I got for it. :( I think I did it like the day after I got it too.
 

Victrix

*beard*
Sep 1, 2005
7,657
0
0
If (IF) this game had come with full documentation of all its ridiculous character development and combat systems, and IF you enjoyed the roulette wheel for combat for some reason, and IF you found the board game antics charming, it is theoretically possible that some people might have enjoyed the game, maybe

But it did not, and it was terrible. I went back and tried it after a few (insane) people had documented the game enough to understand how shit actually worked on at least a basic level, and it was still not much better than meh.

Shame, beautiful graphics and some nice music. The rest feels like a mechanical test for systems to put into an actual finished game.
 

davepoobond

you can't put a price on sparks
Apr 26, 2006
44,696
265
1,520
California
www.squackle.com
NOT WORTH IT

DO NOT BUY THIS GAME


DO NOT, NOT EVEN FOR 6 DOLLARS. I BOUGHT THIS GAME FOR 5 DOLLARS AND I FELT RIPPED OFF

SHITTY SHITTY SHITTY GAME


This is the only game i've ever played that i actually wanted to return, but no one would buy it.
 

Mistouze

user-friendly man-cashews
Nov 22, 2006
9,490
0
1,020
I should get my copy back from my parent's house and give it a try. But I'm playing MGS4...
 

Yaweee

Member
Feb 3, 2008
10,596
0
0
Saint Gregory said:
One of my friends mercifully hid my copy so I wouldn't torture myself with it anymore. One of the most brutal and arbitrary games I've ever played. It has a hodge-podge HP/LP system that means absolutely nothing since attacks can go right thought HP (which is supposed to be a shield) and deplete your LP and sometime you wont have any HP and attacks don't take anything off your LP (?).

Losing four hours of time spent dungeon crawling to a completely unforseen boss fight is commonplace and there's so much that's not explained to you (like the magic learning system) that you'll often find out halfway through your scenario that you've been playing it wrong.

And that's all without even mentioning the insane roulette wheel gameplay system that pops up for everything from basic battles to traps and opening chests. You have to really hate yourself to devote anytime at all to this game. The music and art is beautiful though.

*cries*
1) LP loss is based on a few conditions, each of which brings with it some probability chance of losing LP. I think they are...
-An attack bringing you down to 0 HP
-Being hit when you are at 0 HP
-The attack deals over some % of your max HP
-innate potential from certain abilities.

2) The dungeons aren't that long-- only an hour if you are genuinely running around in circles (or moving your pewter piece in circles...)

3) While the map reel for trap disarmament does have some randomness (sometimes, the game makes you destined to win or lose), the combat reel is not at all random. It isn't really any different than action timing in Mario RPG games and the such. Not only can you see where the reel is going, but it is both immediately responsive and the same freaking wheel every time, so you can get in the habit of how long to wait. Furthermore, if you have the ability tile for the equipped weapon, the reel is laid out in an extremely logical and non-punishing manner. With the numbers representing the level of attack...
1111234432111123454321111.

I don't understand why people treat the combat reel like it is random. It is one of the easiest combat-button-press systems I've seen.
 

AtomskEater

Member
Oct 6, 2007
5,255
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0
I guess I'll just get the soundtrack. Part of me wants to play this just to see if it is as unlikable as 95% of people think it is, and the other part of me knows that the first part is a dumbass and it really is that bad.
 

RickA238

Member
Dec 10, 2007
835
0
0
Trumbull, CT
I've always been very intrigued by this game and I have wanted to buy it for a while. Maybe I finally will get it and start playing it soon; I'm a little tired of the standard jrpg fare lately. US seems like a game that you can really delve into.
 

Night_Trekker

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Jan 27, 2005
17,175
2
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37
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Speevy said:
how about gaf plays dark cloud 2? that game is now 5 years old and deserves a revisit
I support this idea... but from what I can tell so far, you don't really ever beat Dark Cloud 2, unless you're going for the bare minimum.
 

RedNumberFive

Banned
Oct 6, 2006
9,556
0
0
Chicagoland
God, I wanted to like this game. Gorgeous visuals, excellent music, but no matter how much I tried to convince myself it was a good game, it was complete crap.

Also, "Hi, I'm Kurt Burgundy, let's go on an adventure together" killed it for me.
 

Takeda Kenshi

blew Staal
Feb 27, 2007
3,378
1
1,095
This game was like SaGa Frontier; at first I hated it but over time (and huge amounts of patience) I finally grew to enjoy it. Granted the game COULD have been better, but I still liked it.
 

Yaweee

Member
Feb 3, 2008
10,596
0
0
I'll add pics sometime tonight. The character design is fantastic, but the animation generally lacks through-frames.

Haunted One said:
Thread title mistakes are appropriate for this game.


GAF plays Unlimited SaGa? aw hell no!
How do I fix it? =( The thread title was something I changed at the last minute.

Takeda Kenshi said:
This game was like SaGa Frontier; at first I hated it but over time (and huge amounts of patience) I finally grew to enjoy it. Granted the game COULD have been better, but I still liked it.
Same for me, mostly. I rented SF, didn't like it, bought it a few years later and loved it.
 

Monroeski

Unconfirmed Member
Feb 14, 2008
10,173
0
810
I think I got it for only $4 or $5 at Gamestop, and I really regretted it.

I've dropped $50 on games that I only played for a couple of hours that I didn't regret as much as this one. It is really that bad.
 

kathode

Member
Aug 18, 2006
1,010
0
0
A Black Falcon said:
Only played it for an hour or something...

This game is no different from most any other... it just uses completely new and unfamiliar systems, instead of ones that might be more familiar.
Good luck with that!
 
Aug 6, 2006
13,049
4
1,140
www.blackfalcongames.net
kathode said:
Good luck with that!
Given that I like Western RPGs a lot and it's pretty obvious that like many later SaGa games Unlimited SaGa is, as the OP says, very heavily influenced by Western RPGs and pen and paper ones in particular, I think I will, actually. :)

(Played it a bit yesterday, it's definitely hard, but good so far... though I'm not having much luck getting chests open. What am I missing...)
 
Feb 28, 2008
4,166
2
925
GA,USA
I actually specifically tracked this game down at the time due to perceived Roguelike qualities in it from the reviews I'd read. Found it cheap and DO intend to give it a solid playthrough.

Next step though, actually get a PS2 and Mem Card to go along with my good sized stack of PS2 games to play for the first time....

Seeing this thread though, this will either be one of the first games I play on that future hopefuly system purchase or one of the last ones. :lol
 

Yaweee

Member
Feb 3, 2008
10,596
0
0
A Black Falcon said:
Given that I like Western RPGs a lot and it's pretty obvious that like many later SaGa games Unlimited SaGa is, as the OP says, very heavily influenced by Western RPGs and pen and paper ones in particular, I think I will, actually. :)

(Played it a bit yesterday, it's definitely hard, but good so far... though I'm not having much luck getting chests open. What am I missing...)
When you are on a map tile, the top portion of the screen displays all of the 'items' that are currently co-present, including a symbol that represents the tile itself, ladders, rocks to climb over, enemies, and chests. Press left or right on the d-pad to highlight the different things, and then select what ability you want to use. (L + R rotate between your characters). If it isn't locked, Action will work. If it is locked, smash it with punch, kick, or throw, or use Pick Lock. If it is trapped, Disarm it. If you don't know if it is locked, you can use detect trap.
 
Aug 6, 2006
13,049
4
1,140
www.blackfalcongames.net
Yaweee said:
When you are on a map tile, the top portion of the screen displays all of the 'items' that are currently co-present, including a symbol that represents the tile itself, ladders, rocks to climb over, enemies, and chests. Press left or right on the d-pad to highlight the different things, and then select what ability you want to use. (L + R rotate between your characters). If it isn't locked, Action will work. If it is locked, smash it with punch, kick, or throw, or use Pick Lock. If it is trapped, Disarm it. If you don't know if it is locked, you can use detect trap.
Ah, so you attack chests that are locked to try to open them! I was just trying to use 'action' on them and was just repeatedly told 'it is locked', and knew I was doing something wrong but not quite what... didn't think of that, should have. I'd have noticed a 'pick lock' command, but I don't have that, I believe.

And yeah, figuring out the interface takes a while. I was pretty confused at first about how to select those other things on that menu (the traps, enemies, etc)... it's not exactly intuitive.

Combat Reels: After you select what weapon to attack with, the level of that attack is determined by a combat reel. It isn't at all random, though, is very responsive, and the tiles are laid out in a natural progression pyramid towards higher levels (assuming that you have those skills already).
Are the icons all the same early on in the game, or can I just not tell the difference... well, on one reel I noticed a couple of squares that were differently colored so I assumed that they were for a different strength attack, but I didn't see numbers, just little icons of the weapon in question... are there numbers there too and I'm just not looking closely enough?

The 'did the trap hit you' reel makes sense, but I don't quite get the combat one yet.

As for whether spinners are a good gameplay mechanic... well, why not? Pen and paper games use dice for everything. This isn't much different from that, except you actually have some control. The 'boardgame' theme (in graphics and game design) is interesting.
 

Yaweee

Member
Feb 3, 2008
10,596
0
0
A Black Falcon said:
Are the icons all the same early on in the game, or can I just not tell the difference... well, on one reel I noticed a couple of squares that were differently colored so I assumed that they were for a different strength attack, but I didn't see numbers, just little icons of the weapon in question... are there numbers there too and I'm just not looking closely enough?

The 'did the trap hit you' reel makes sense, but I don't quite get the combat one yet.

As for whether spinners are a good gameplay mechanic... well, why not? Pen and paper games use dice for everything. This isn't much different from that, except you actually have some control. The 'boardgame' theme (in graphics and game design) is interesting.
Different Level Skills have different colors. I think they are...

1- Green
2 - Blue
3- Pink
4- Orange
5- Yellow


If you have the matching Weapon Tile (the leveling things) equipped, the combat reel will be laid out in a logical pyramid, like I mentioned earlier (basically, if you are using an Axe, try to have an Axe Tile). However, if you do not have the right tile, the the combat reel will be very spread out, and harder to perform higher level skills.
11111211111131111141111115- repeat.

However, you need to 'spark' the appropriate skill before it shows up, just like in any other Saga game. What that means is that whenever you are performing an attack with that type of weapon, there is a chance a lightbulb will appear. You'll then perform that skill, have it learned permanently for that character, and the appropriate symbol will appear on the reel. The odds of Sparking are determined by... I think-- a hidden exp value, stats, do you have an appropriate tile, and a hidden enemy 'toughness' variable. There are some side quests with bosses that are absolutely fantastic for sparking against.