As I’m sure you know by now – or at least you should do if you’ve paid any attention to the Xbox Store in recent months – KEMCO specialise in retro-styled JRPGS with a good storyline, a great 16-bit look that wouldn’t be out of place on a Super Nintendo, and more turn-based battles than you can shake a scimitar at. But does Seek Hearts bring anything new to the party?
Well, the answer to the rhetorical question I asked in the introduction is no, not really. There’s a bit of a change in the story this time around, as instead of a human trying to gather a group of companions in order to save the world, in Seek Hearts you play the part of a robot; an automaton. There is a whole backstory about the world being created by great fairies, and where the robots and the factories that built them came from, but for fear of spoilers I’ll not go deep into the story being told. There is a clumsy sub-plot too, and this takes a ham-fisted attempt at addressing racism, but it’s so obvious and blunt I found it hard to take seriously.
The rest of Seek Hearts however plays out almost exactly the same as every other KEMCO game I’ve ever witnessed, as you are given a series of tasks to achieve, a smattering of companions to recruit and a world map to explore. And the latter comes pretty easily too, as there are both a boat and an airship to find and unlock, with you given the opportunity to stumble upon many varied random battles as you go. The baddies that you fight here are all recycled from the rest of the KEMCO games, apart from the bosses that are related to the robot-based storyline. Luckily, as in most KEMCO titles, the storyline, while cliched, is strong enough to keep you playing long enough just to see what happens next. Why is Izen – your character – different from the other robots? What are the Great Fairies up to? You’ll find out the answer to these, and more, as you play through the tale.
As per usual the graphics on display are charming, complete with anime styled characters, as well as the exposition being shown via the medium of static character portraits with subtitles. This works very well, as it has since the dawn of time, and complementing it is some stirring music, especially the battle scores. With the full gamut of swooshes and sword swishes, it’s all very much business as usual with Seek Hearts on Xbox One.
Sadly, the list of complaints found in this latest KEMCO effort is pretty much the same as everything that has gone before it too. The controls are extremely basic this time around, with diagonal movement impossible. This makes traversing some dungeons unbelievably frustrating, as there are usually at least a couple of diagonal corridors; it’s a case of “down, left, down, left, down” and so on, instead of actioning a nice smooth diagonal line. Getting hung up on corners and finding difficulty in lining up small gaps with the characters are almost minor by this stage, but once more they are present. There’s also a weird effect in the battle screen inside Seek Hearts, where the main character stays stationary, but the foreground of the screen scrolls slowly from left to right. The effect makes me a little nauseous if I’m being honest, and is pretty unpleasant to look at.
In conclusion then and Seek Hearts on Xbox One is the usual KEMCO JRPG affair with a bit of a twist. If you like this sort of thing – and I have to say, I do – it’s worth a playthrough or two to see what the world has to offer. Narrative is always strong in KEMCO games, and this is no different, except it is unfortunately accompanied with more than the usual amount of control issues. And because of that, even though there is some worth here, Seek Hearts isn’t the strongest experience on offer.