In an attempt to move into the modern era, the latest offering from KEMCO ditches the retro graphics and brings a fully realised 3D world to the screen, with their latest game, Sephirothic Stories.
Sadly, it doesn’t have anything to do with Sephiroth from Final Fantasy, as the Sephiroth in this game is actually a giant tree. In fact, Sephiroth is also the source of all life, as his fruit is grown in vessels and eventually implanted into people. No, it doesn’t make much sense to me either but Sephiroth has to deal with a substance called The Murk, which eventually kills him, although not until he has produced a seedling to carry on the work. With me so far? Well, it only gets weirder from here on out!
The story revolves around a young man called Harold (good strong RPG-y name if ever I heard one!) and his sister Marnie. Obviously, being fruit from a giant tree, ‘sister’ is a strong term, but their fruits were found together and so they are classed as siblings. Marnie is sick, her resistance to The Murk is low and it makes her constantly fight for her life. At the start of the game, Harold is a weakling, a coward with one useful talent: he can sense monsters if they are nearby. Obviously, the journey he undertakes from humble beginnings to hero is the backbone of the story in this game, and I have to say, weirdness not withstanding, it is fairly compelling, as you try to follow the varied twists and turns that the narrative has. There are more double crosses and revelations than you can shake a stick at in Sephirothic Stories, and the only certainty is uncertainty!
Now, as I touched on in the introduction to this review, KEMCO have decided now is the time to bring their graphical style up to date, with large, three dimensional characters wandering about the place. The monster/encounter system that has frequented their other games has been given an overhaul also; gone are the days of random encounters and all the monsters are now visible on the screen, so the choice of whether to fight them or not is up to you. Obviously, fighting is the only way to get stronger and the bosses can’t be skipped, but it’s nice to see KEMCO trying something different.
The monsters you’ll stumble upon in this title all fall into about 10 different archetypes, with different varieties being represented by slightly different colour palettes. This at least is pretty old school, but overall it kinda works, so fighting away and trying to level up isn’t too boring. The sound is the usual RPG fare, and again there is no voice acting, with the dialogue presented in text boxes. One thing I do have an issue with is that the character you control looks like a five year old toddling around the screen, rather than the handsome young man seen in the dialogue screens. But again you can get used to it.
As you explore, the locations you visit are selected from a world map screen, with no travelling required. Each area is made up of several screens, with fast travel pentacles to find and unlock to make getting around that bit easier. One word of warning though: leaving an area, then returning later, sees all the monsters respawn, so make sure you have done all you need to before advancing on. Of course, if you are grinding levels this makes your life a bit easier, but to be honest, this really isn’t required in Sephirothic Stories.
A nice addition is the presence of simple puzzles, requiring you to find boxes and move them around to open up new paths through the levels. They aren’t going to tax the old grey matter in any way, but it’s nice to see something new in these RPGs. Another nice touch is the way that the character you choose to play as affects the world around you. Harold can see monsters clearly due to his talent, Izzy can see a lot further in the dark but can’t see the monsters so well, and so on. Other characters can jump higher, or balance across tightropes to access new areas, so having the right person in charge at the right time makes all the difference.
So far so good then, and Sephirothic Stories on Xbox One seems to have the cutesy RPG characters down pat. The story is good too, if a little odd, and the general mechanics work well. You can even move in a diagonal direction this time around, a real bugbear of mine from previous KEMCO titles. However, as I’m sure no-one will be surprised to here, all in the garden is not rosy. The main problem here is the difficulty of the game, or rather the lack of it. I never died once in an entire run through, and for the majority of the fights, my guys seemed to be so overpowered that I could leave the AI to do the fighting for me, which is never normally the case. Whether the cutesy graphics are meant to signify this is for the younger RPG fan I’m not sure, but it is very easy to beat. It didn’t help that in my first visit to the in-game shop, where you can gamble in-game currency in order to get new gear, I was given an end game sword. A Sephiroth Sword +80 to be exact. This was then used to the end of the game for Harold, ending up upgraded to +220, and able to one shot pretty much every monster we came across. With a charged Fusion bar, which allows the heroes to pool their power, even the bosses went down in one attack.
Another issue is the length of the game. Even going out of my way to do as many side missions as I could, everything was done and dusted inside 10 hours, which for an RPG is just too short. And yet weirdly, the last section just feels like it is padding out to try and extend the running time somehow. It just feels like the writers had realised that they had tied themselves in knots with the strands of the narrative, and then had to bring it to an end, forgoing the fact that it should make any sense. I can’t go into details without spoiling the conclusion, but play it and you’ll see what I mean.
All in all though and Sephirothic Stories is a departure from the, let’s be honest, somewhat stale KEMCO style and should be applauded for trying something different. The cute style is appealing, the story is suitably bonkers, and the difficulty is set right for the younger gamer. It’s short, yes, and it isn’t overly challenging, but it is fun and worth a try. It’s not going to trouble the Final Fantasy experiences of this world, but for a quick diversion, you could do a lot worse.