Insomnia | Reviews

Twelve ~Sengoku Fuushinden~


By Alex Kierkegaard / August 22, 2008

Note that Twelve is not an RPG -- it is a turn-based tactics game, and will therefore be reviewed as such. If this statement sounds weird to you, it'd be a good idea to read this and this.

I first discovered this Konami SRPG (the second one to come out for the PSP, after Idea Factory’s GOCIV Another Side) a few months ago through Recap, who had covered its release in his forum circa summer 2005. From screenshots it looked extremely similar to Jeanne D’Arc, which I’d been meaning to check out, so I decided to try Twelve first and find out exactly how much from it Level 5 had borrowed.

Finding a new copy of Twelve (I only buy used games as a last resort) was not easy: even my Japanese contact, who runs a game store and is pretty good at finding things, had never heard of the game, and several days of searching Yahoo Auctions did not even turn up a used one. I eventually found an Amazon Japan seller who had a single new copy, and a week later had it sitting atop my absurdly huge “to play” pile. It then sat there for several months, until I picked it up a few days ago and finally tried it out.

It was quite the disappointment, especially after the trouble I’d gone into to get it. It’s got a couple of theoretically neat ideas, but mostly doesn’t do much with them, and even when it does the whole thing is undermined by slow pacing, lacklustre mission design and a criminal lack of challenge. Most of the effort seems to have gone into the presentation instead, which is admittedly impressive in many respects: above all the extremely sharp, charmingly animated high-res sprites shown in the battle animations (think Fire Emblem HD), but also the excellent voice acting (above and beyond the norm for Japanese games, which is already high enough), of which there’s tons and tons in this game. This is supposed to be the advertised ADV (“adventure”) part, though to me this seems to be a euphemism for CTE (“cutscene”) part, since up until the point I played (six hours in) I wasn’t asked to make any choices (apart from picking the tactician before each battle, a choice which has no perceptible impact on the story apart from adding an extra few lines to the already over-indulgent dialogue scenes).

It’s what annoys me with many of these games. I mean if you are going to make me sit through hours of story scenes you might as well present them in the form of a real anime, instead of lame dialogue scenes in which I have to press a button after every fucking sentence. I guess real animation costs more -- in money -- whereas dialogue scenes cost more in patience on the part of the player, which seems to come considerably cheaper these days.

As for the system: it’s an interesting, quite unusual melange of several aspects. The role of equipment is greatly diminished, since there’s only a couple of character-specific weapons to buy per character, and a few healing, etc. items, but no armor or other equipment. Instead there are a number of spirit jewels, acquired from vanquished foes, which slot into the weapons and interact amongst themselves (each weapon can hold several of these) to provide a wide variety of stat boosts, as well as open up a limited, and rather pointless, QTE-like combo system (by performing the required button press at the right time you deal more damage). There are so-called cheer commands which basically work as buffs, and are also, according to the manual, supposed to “deepen the relationship between characters”, by increasing their friendship level. “Effectively timing the use of cheers is the key to victory”, says the manual, but I was winning battles to the point of curing my chronic insomnia before I‘d even discovered them, so perhaps it’s best to just ignore them if you want to avoid making the game unbearably easy.

That’s not the end of the system either: you also level-up weapons; there are so-called clip attacks (charging, moving, piercing, evade attacks, and others) which use up movement points and help mix things up; and there’s a noteworthy rule that says that mounted characters have excellent movement rates when moving forward, but poor rates when moving to the side or back (see screen on the left) -- quite an unusual rule this one, and one that really makes sense for small-scale engagements: I imagine turning a horse around in close-quarters combat must take some effort -- but the point is you won’t get a chance to explore most of this and figure out what works and what doesn’t, because of how easy the game is and how unimaginative its scenarios. It’s usually your dudes on one side of the map and the enemies on the other; straight-up brute strength fights with little to none of the terrain-based, strategic positioning challenges seen in a typical Fire Emblem or Shining Force.

And then on top of all that your characters are basically immortal, quicksaving is allowed during battles, and you can even retreat from a battle at will while keeping all XP and losing nothing, a feature which opens up endlessly wonderful grinding opportunities, and frees the developers from the labor of having to balance the game. Meh.

There are currently no plans to release this game outside Japan.