I felt a bit burned by Cross Edge
, so please understand that I went in to this review of Trinity Universe with a bit of cautious optimism and very low expectations. By the time I was finished with the game I can say that I was right to not expect much after Cross Edge. NIS, Gust, and Idea Factory have some great ideas on their hands but it feels like too many cooks in the kitchen who all want their idea to be the main dish of the meal. The end result is a bland mishmash of gameplay mechanics that just make the whole experience boring. Where this game does excel is in providing you with an enjoyable cast of characters and a story that contains a lot of humor that NIS is known for, and sometimes that can make up for a lot of gameplay shortcomings.
Trinity Universe tells not one but two tales, one of the Demon Dog King Kanata, and the other of the Valkyrie Rizelea and their opposing stories, where Rizelea wants Kanata to become the Demon God Gem to prevent his world of Empyria from colliding with space debris that happens to occupy the Netheruniverse. But he has the desire to live a care-free life and is the main antagonist to Rizelea's quest to restore order to the Netheruniverse. Each character will encounter a different group of allies from across the Gust and NIS roster, including characters from the Disgaea and Atelier games. Hopefully you enjoy the comedic relief of Prinnies, because they're in here too. The story itself is very light on content but loaded with moments of comedy, some of which actually elicited a chuckle or two from me and I'm pretty desensitized to the brand of humor that NIS brings to their titles. If you can't handle a lot of the anime tropes that NIS likes to use in their games though then expect to get turned off really quickly by all the over the top use of stuff like super deformed characters and saccharin soaked dialog.
NIS also makes heavy use of anime stereotypes like sweat drops over characters during their dialog pieces. These scenes look fantastic using the 'Active Animation Adventure' system (AAA for short) that has characters looking like they are constantly in motion. If you've seen games like Grim Grimoire or Odin Sphere then you have a rough idea of what's happening when you see your characters on screen. They are extremely high resolution and look great on an HDTV. The movements are subtle and the voice acting matches up to the lip-sync quite well.
It's a shame that outside of the character interactions the game looks like a late PS2 title at best and a first generation title on current hardware at worst. The character models are fairly colorful but overall look very flat, which is very strange considering the character designs are very elaborate. The dungeons have a decent amount of variety to them, but they all use the same textures, and if weren't for the provided mini-maps I could see myself getting lost very easily looking at the same generic set pieces over and over again.
You'll be doing a lot of dungeon crawling in Trinity Universe, and even by stating 'a lot' I feel like that doesn't really tell you how much you'll be exploring dungeons. Outside of character interactions all you do is dungeon crawl in hunt of items to power up your characters and defeat optional bosses. To reach these dungeons you have to wait for the gravity of Empyria to bring them in to reach. You'll see some random object fly in to the Netheruniverse or fly out at the start of every day, these objects are where the dungeons reside. There are some static dungeons too but they don't offer quite the rewards that more obscure dungeons do, some of which resemble classrooms at a Japanese high school or a pirate ship. If you happen to find a particularly good dungeon it's possible to anchor them and visit them whenever you please. Some of these visiting objects also contain stores that sell rare items and are worth keeping around.
Nothing breaks up a good dungeon crawl like random battles. Unfortunately they are quite the common occurrence in Trinity Universe, and to make things worse there are also semi-random encounters with over-powered enemies who will boot you out of the dungeon. You can tell when these enemies are coming and have a chance to run from them, provided you equipped the run magic spell (Run magic?! Seriously?!). But if you lose to these enemies expect to start your dungeon adventure over. The first time this happened I nearly rage quit on the game and was going to send Charles the disc back. But I don't think he would have liked that too much. Still, the inclusion of such a mechanic is somewhat ridiculous that a user should be punished for exploring a region they are the proper level for by attacking them with an enemy that is beyond their abilities. Most of these super-powered enemies early on can take a character down in one attack, and if its the character that had the run magic equipped you might as well just skip your turns.
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