End of Eternity Hands On Impressions
Getting to know the latest battle system from the makers of Star Ocean.
I'm pretty certain I'm one of the first English speakers to have written about End of Eternity (I live next the porn shop that sells a certain Japanese magazine early). I have to admit, though, that I was initially baffled at how to describe the game's battle system, as it just didn't make much sense to me.
But now that I've played it through a Tokyo Game Show demo, I think I've at last gotten the point. The TGS demo was battle heavy, consisting of a five minute battle tutorial video, then five battle sequences, including a giant boss fight. There wasn't any of that story stuff that you usually see in RPG demos.
Here's how the game's "t-A-B" ("tri-Attack Battle") battle system works based off my eight fights (I played the demo twice, once on the PS3 and once on the 360 -- I died during the 360 play test, which is why my total is missing two battles).
Your party of three (consisting in the demo of Zaphyr, Vashyron and Reanbell) are placed in a large room with your foes. This is the battle field, and it houses obstacles, item boxes, and elevated areas. It's not like your typical RPG battlefield in that you can freely move your character around on it like in an action game.
You take control of one character from your party at a time, but can freely switch off between characters whenever you want by using the L1 and R1 triggers. Your character has his sights set on one enemy at a time. This target can also be changed, via the D-pad.
To attack your foes, you make use of two basic attack options.
As you run about the battle field, you can press the attack button to make use of your currently selected weapon. In each character's turn, you can only execute one such attack. However, you're free to run around, select weapons and use items as much as you want until the character's timer runs out.
Rather than actually making your character attack, the attack button brings up a circular charge timer. You have to press attack again to execute the attack. Letting this timer fill up multiple times gets you a more powerful attack. However, as you wait for the gauge to fill, you leave yourself open to attack by enemies, which cancels your attack. In End of Eternity, enemies don't have their own turn or anything. They move about and attack in real time, although they'll for some reason only strike the character you're currently controlling.
The more enjoyable way to attack is to use something called an "Invincible Action Attack." To use this, you press the X button. This brings up a line indicating the path your character will take as he runs through the battlefield for an upcoming attack sequence. Before pressing X a second time to make the character start his run, you can rotate the line, selecting the path that takes you where you want to go or past the enemies you want to kill. Proximity plays a role in the battle system, as being close to an enemy makes your attack gauge charge faster.
Start up the attack, and your character will start running down the selected path. You still have to input commands to actually attack, though. Unlike standard attacks, though, you can perform multiple attacks during your attack run. You can also jump and execute midair attacks.
The Invincible Action Attacks are so named because your character is invincible during their course. You can't use these limitlessly, though. At the bottom of the battle system screenshots, you can see a line of hexagons. This is your party's common IS Gauge. Each time you use an Invincible Action Attack, the gauge depletes by one. Lose the entire gauge, and your characters will start running around in fear, unable to attack. I presume you can fix this state with items.
Your characters freak out during this state because they've become susceptible to something called Direct Damage. Normally, your characters are susceptible only to small amounts of "Scratch Damage." This type of damage is indicated by a blue number when the character gets hit. Direct Damage is much greater than Scratch Damage and is indicated by a red number.
Enemies also have the same damage system in place. You can tell when your attacks are being particularly effective based off the color of the resulting damage.
Keeping your IS Gauge up isn't all that hard. Each time you kill an enemy, you get one slot back. For the most part, I was able to play the demo without worrying about the gauge depleting, as by properly using the Invincible Action Attacks, I killed enemies fast enough that the gauge stayed full most of the time.
The Invincible Action Attacks are where the game's combat really shines. When you start the attack, the hard rock background music comes to life, and the camera angles become more cinematic. Execute jumps -- your character actually performs flips like a gymnast -- and you might think you're watching an action game. All those crazy camera angels and movie-like motions you've seen in the various trailers and screenshots were from the Invincible Action Attacks.
You won't feel like you're playing an action game, though. Despite the direct controls and button presses, EoE's combat feels less action oriented than the Tales or Star Ocean games. I usually have a hard time following what's going on in those titles, but not so in EoE. The game seems to have enough real time in it to make the battles look like a movie, but enough command based in it to give you time to strategize.
I found that it was best to use a mix of standard attacks and Invincible Action Attacks. Reanbelle had access to grenades, which I would use to deal lots of Direct Damage from a safe distance before sending one of other two running in for a closer kill. I'm not sure if this is the recommended way to play, but it did get me through the demo.
You can take the cinematics to new heights by using something called "Resonance Attacks." These are performed by rotating your paths around so that the paths for multiple characters cross. Your characters team up for a series of attacks.
Once you've cleared the enemies in one room, you're free to run around the room, collecting any remaining items or just taking breather. You can progress to the next room when you're ready to go. You can also backtrack between the rooms.
The demo had four such rooms against standard enemy groups followed by a battle with a giant boss and a few minions. The boss battle really showed the cinematic nature of the game and even appeared to draw some crowds around my play kiosk.
I'm not sure if the game will have this same style of room to room progression throughout. Past magazine updates indicated that there are two different types of progression depending on where you are in the game's world.
Regardless of what holds the individual battles together, the few battles I fought in the TGS demo sold me on End of Eternity. And that's even ignoring what will presumably one of the main components of the game: its story. Those who cleared the demo were given a brief glimpse at the story via a short cinema scene featuring the three characters.
I look forward to seeing more of those characters and exploring the End of Eternity battle system more closely this Winter.
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