Ok, this game definitely has a target demographic. For you to find this review helpful, you probably should fall into most of these categories:
-You like LONG games (50 hrs minimum)
-You like STRATEGY RPGs (moving around on squares, turn-based)
-You like JAPANESE RPGs (anime style)
-You like JAPANESE styled stories (sometimes corny, slighty perverted romance-type)
-You DONT ABSOLUTELY NEED English dialogue (its all japanese, subtitled)
-You like VARYING ENDINGS based on your decisions throughout the game
Alright. So if you satisfy 4 of those traits, you don't want to miss this game.
Before getting into the specifics of the game, I'll say that Xbox360 doesnt have enough RPGs in the first place, so if you are like me, you will feel like you HAVE to at least try it. I don't think you will be dissappointed in most cases.
It's all anime style drawings. The graphics aren't impressive. The audio isn't impressive. It's all gameplay focused, and looks like you are basically playing Final Fantasy Tactics on a nintendo DS. The 'cutscences' are basically just a visual novel. You have to read a bunch to get the story.
It is what you expect from a Japanese RPG. One defining factor, though, is that you aren't the same hero the entire game. The story spans over several generations. Each new generation present a new hero. He is NOT the same guy as the previous one. You will like some of them and you won't like others. The story is DEFINITELY good enough for most people to get over the fact that its all text instead of cutscenes.
I am the kind of guy who hates the play through a game twice. I pretty much lose enough interest to play another 40 hours if I already know the story. But there is even enough variety in this game's story for me to play again. Thats saying alot for me.
Overall, you have to like the Japanese tyle of storytelling to really get into it. As long as you aren't taking it too seriously, you will love it.
THE BATTLE SYSTEM
With enemies constantly changing from area to area, the battle system delivers the diversity necessary to play a game for 100 hours. STRATEGY is extremely important, more so than brute strength. This is a very good thing, as it eliminates the necessity to grind levels before moving on. You can grind if you want to, and end up powering through your next few enemies, but it isnt at all necessary on easy or normal difficulty. That is even more important, for reasons I will get to later.
Basically, you are on a big field of squares, where you use action points(AP) to move and attack. Each turn is divided into a movement stage and an action stage. You have to use AP to move, and to perform attack skills. The amount of AP a character has is determined by their agility, weapons, armor, *and* the location of their teammates. Each character has a unique set of "extended areas," which give them more AP if one of their teammates is located in them. It is the main reason you must strateically think out every movement you make. In addition, you can do combination attacks with the teammates that are in your extended area. These are the most important attacks, and are absolutely necessary to defeat powerful enemies. In some cases, you will have to risk recieving greater damage by turning your back on the enemy in order to link up with your teammates. All things must be considered.
Throughout the game, you will even uncover new battle formations and fields, allowing you to choose a differently-shaped 'field of squares' that best compliments your battle style.
Overall, if you appreciate the strategic elements of the battle system, and don't mind that it looks so old-school, you will never get bored with the fighting.
THE OVERALL GAME SYSTEM
Your decisions are important. Some decisions that dont seem important end up affecting you later in the game in ways you didn't expect. You can make decisions that move you between the "dark" and "light" side of the guage. Unfortunately, sometimes you cant really tell which way a decision will send you. There are even some decisions that you must make during actual battles, such as not attacking a certain person. I did not fully comprehend the consequences of alot of actions until it was too late, but that is a good sign that you have to be thinking about more than battles to get the results you want.
Your actions affect how the female characters in the game like you. This is important because at the end of every generation, you have to choose a bride to make the hero of the next generation! You will choose your bride based on her strengths and yours, and that will determin the strength of the next hero. So if you like to use physical attacks, it is better for you to do the things the more physical heroine likes. If you want a magic user, then you need to get on the good side of the more mage-like females. It is more in-depth than it seems: That bride's level of affection for you also determines how strong the next hero will be, so you can't just ride the middle fence the whole time, or your son will not be as powerful.
Each generation, you have 3 brides to choose from, leading to 3 different next-generation heroes. The bride from the 1st generation, though, also affects your options for EVERY generation after that. The variety of possible end-game heroes, therefore, is unprecedented.
Throughout the game, you collect items, weapons, armor, and even monsters that can be upgraded, augmented, and converted into new items, with which you can create more powerful ones. The amount of customization in this game is impressive.
Back to the grinding issue. Every battle and even in the story consumes "1 turn." The game keeps track of how many turns you use. If you spend a bunch of turns grinding levels, you will miss some big events, and eventually change the ending of the entire game! Getting to a certain point in the game too late may cause you to miss a new partner, or a variety of other events. If you skip too many optional battles, you will find yourself underpowered in the next boss battle, or you may miss some powerful items. You have to consider all of these things with every move you make.
The story is not presented in a very interesting way. Basically, you just move from battle to battle, with various events mixed in between.
It's a stragy game, and RPG, a great story, and partially a dating sim. None of these elements are ground-breaking in themselves. But when you combine all of them in this manner, you have something that hasn't quite been achieved before.
-Strategy based battles emphasize your decision-making instead of brute strength. (no grinding required)
-Decision system makes your decisions from every generation important for the entire game
-Immersive storyline holds the player's interest for the duration, and is interesting enough to play through multiple times
-HP is restored after battles, preventing the need to use recovery items outside of battle
-Plenty of different characters to team up with, allowing you to choose how to fight your battles
-All japanese dialogue, and no subtitles during battles. Archaic system of story-telling that you expect more on a handheld game without cutscenes.
-Sometimes hard to figure out whether your choice is going to be considered 'dark' or 'light'
-Characters have limited amount of slots to assign skills to, causing you to use the same attacks over and over again.
-Graphics and audio quality are mediocre compared to the console games of this era
-Relatively limited selection of the most powerful move combinations in battle
This is a game that requires alot of strategic thought and patience. And there is no focus on impressive visual/audio effects. You definitely have to really commit to playing it, but if you do, you WILL NOT be dissapointed. You will be immersed, challeged, and satisfied.