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Brilliant space opera Persona-ish tactical RPG !

  • Hasvers
  • 07/10/2011 03:54 PM
  • 1747 views
(07/31 update : This review spans episodes 0 to 2)

Disclaimer : this whole review may sound somewhat fanboyish, but honestly, this is one of the very best amateur RPGs I played in a long time, maybe since the likes of The Way (and just like that other series, it's really hard to wait inbetween episodes ...)
In fact, there seems to be a number of excellent under- or un-reviewed projects on this site, and this is one of them (I guess I should also review bad games from times to times, if only for my credibility as a critic, but it pains me to see such great games go almost unnoticed).

This is clearly not your average RM game : how often do you stumble upon a full-original, 12 hours long, sci-fi strategic RPG around here ? From the first screen, where you're asked to define the personality of your protagonist along three axes (which has a real influence on the dialogues throughout the game), to the hard-sciencey post-utopian space opera (!) setting which is progressively revealed in a variety of interesting ways, to the mission-oriented structure of the game and the TRPG-inspired exploration and battle mechanics ... everything is, if not radically new, at least markedly unusual, and yet very well executed. I kept discovering new things to like, and really, I think it has what every amateur game should strive for : a unique touch, something that sets it apart, without compromising the quality and level of polish that is found in more classical games.

The only thing it might be lacking yet to ravish my heart is a powerful narrative : there is a main storyline, but it unfolds very progressively, and our sense of purpose is somewhat diffuse. Some things start becoming more precise during Episode 2, but each new segment of the storyline seems to add many more questions than answers, as different mysteries .


Gameplay : 4.5 / 5

The gameplay may be this game's strongest point, although it shines on other levels too. IMTS is basically divided into two phases, which feel like a mix of the Persona games and Final Fantasy Tactics : on one side, the normal RPG exploration, essentially located on the main spaceship, which mostly involves social interaction between your characters ; on the other, the missions in outer space, where you explore a map with predefined paths, ennemies and events at special nodes, tactical RPG-like.

The space missions are very interesting, as they come with many kinds of objectives, secondary goals, and a balance between exhaustive exploration and speed is encouraged by the fact that the rewards are higher when a mission is completed in less than a certain number of moves on the map. Moreover, outside the story-driven missions, there are some bounty hunts with special rules and goals, and the possibility to explore random spots at will for grinding and profit (although grinding is never necessary at the normal difficulty level ; careful planning is enough to face all the challenges you will meet).

Yet, even the "usual" exploration phase is interesting, as many dialogues change inbetween missions, new treasures can be found, and most importantly you can interact with the main characters in multiple answer dialogues, in order to gain (or lose) their trust. As mentioned before, this is where the writing shines, and it extremely satisfying to see relationships develop between the protagonist and her/his companions, more or less easily depending on the personality traits you chose at the beginning. On a few occasions, you will be asked to make some important choices which affect these personality traits as well as later events.

Finally, the tactical battle system is really great. The mechanics will be rather familiar to those who played The Reconstruction (though not identical, and in my opinion easier to handle), but quite original for anyone else : movement and weapon range exist as in typical TRPGs, but are more restricted as the terrain is somewhat chessboard-like (quite small and each ship is on a single line). There are some interesting new mechanics (such as extending the territory you control). The rest relies on a system of affinities and three different "HP/MP" bars, which may seem a bit overwhelming at first but become natural very fast, especially as the damage, hit% and efficiency of attacks are displayed before launching them.

A great feature is the possibility to choose the intelligence rating of the enemies and thus the difficulty level of the battles. The description of the normal level states "challenging but fair", which is quite accurate in my experience : the game wasn't easy, but never frustrating, and careful thinking was always the key to success.

Most of this strategic planning involves the weapon crafting system, which is a bit overwhelming at first as there's a lot of things to take into account, but ends up quite enjoyable, especially as it completely removes the need for levelling (which is almost absent from this game - the "Ranks" you gain with exp seem to weigh much less than your choices in armament in the efficiency of the characters). There's even a little spin on this crafting system : you may create or acquire blueprints which dispense of the use of materials, and may be printed to a .txt file to share with other players.

Overall, an excellent, original and very deep gameplay ! Also, don't panic : the number of options and things to consider may seem huge, but they're introduced progressively enough, and in less than one hour these seemingly cluttered battle screens and stat sheets will hold (almost) no secret to you.


Writing : 4.5 / 5

The writing is remarkable as well, in many respects.
The (11 with 3 optional) characters are interesting and convincing, and I found myself liking some of them a lot. There's a real incentive to get to know them other than just gaining their trust, although it's quite fun to try and guess which answer would please them (especially as their personalities are consistent yet never one-dimensional, and some choices are quite subtle).
Moreover, the player-defined personality for the protagonist seems to have real consequences on her/his expression and the available choices during these dialogues, and that's a big plus.

There's a lot of facultative exposition, which is quite present but never boring, as it is nicely disseminated among NPCs and in a variety of clever info-dumps : articles recovered from a kind of broken electronic collective consciousness, which are written in diverse styles and always very pleasant to read ; small messages found everywhere in the maps (both in space and inside the spaceships / stations) which will make you want to explore everything, and so on.

The premise is quite original, being actually a kind of "post-utopia" where you're more or less trying to rebuild a thoroughly damaged, previously "perfect and eternal" interstellar society. I won't spoil anything as it is a real pleasure to piece it together from the indications given in the dialogues and articles, but some elements of the setting are actually truly thought-provoking. It is subtly darker than it seems at first, and this impression deepens over time.

As I said before though, there's not much I can say about the actual plot, as it develops at a slow pace, but what I could see is really intriguing (and the characters, the setting and the gameplay were largely enough to keep me going anyway). Really significant events start happening during the second episode, and even then there's much that we're left pondering. I'm really looking forward to the point where all the mysteries and plot threads will start converging, because they show a lot of promise.

Presentation : 4 / 5

This game is very polished, especially its interface which is remarkably smooth. The graphics are all original, and they're uniformly good (except maybe the character arts which are not magnificent, but highly sufficient). The interiors are very nice, with lots and lots of nice little touches such as lights, or texts and graphs projected on screens, and so on. But it's in the space missions that the visuals truly shine : I have no idea how all this was drawn, but it has an awesome, somewhat Tron-esque feel to it, and the battles are just lovely from the background and interface to the spaceship sprites and animations.

The character sprites are also better than in The Reconstruction in my opinion, and the only thing in which they might be lacking is animations - there's not a lot of them, and it could help make the scenes a bit more lively. Anyway, lots and lots of work must have been put into it all, and it really shows.

Music and sounds were also great and suit the ambience well. Some of them really stand out, like Jessamine's theme which really contributes to the lovability of the character (one of my instant favourites) - it has a Cowboy Bebop-esque feel which is just perfect for her.

Considering everything is original and done by a single man, this is truly impressive !

Overall : 4.5 / 5

This game is well worth your time. Very inventive, strategic, polished, well written, largely replayable, appealing for both J- and W-RPG fans, and it may be complete someday (while being already 12 hours long - as long as many complete RM games) - what's there not to like ? Even if you're not too much into science-fiction, give it a try - neither am I, actually, yet I got really drawn into this game and its setting.

One of the little-known gems of this community, which may well become a 5 / 5 in my book upon completion.

PS : Also, if you want to know the whole series, it is suggested that you play The Reconstruction first (to which this game is a prequel), however IMTS does a better job of introducing its gameplay and setting in small (or average) chunks, and feels overall more dynamic and engaging at first, so if you didn't like The Reconstruction on first try, do give IMTS a chance, I'm quite sure you won't regret it.

Posts

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Yellow Magic
I'll never regain the bones I lost from my loneliness and sorrow
2993
Woah, this game sounds like it's right up my alley. Thanks for bringing it to light!
Someone beat me to posting a review for this game...and I am very happy about this.

Very thorough and I agree on almost every point. This game needs more exposure; even with only two episodes released (which actually amounts to at least 5+ hrs gameplay), it's truly one of the best games available on RMN.
It's unfortunate that you played this before The Reconstruction, as multiple major plot twists of that game are spoiled literally within the first hour of gameplay in IMTS.

Anyway, good review! Hopefully this will give the game more exposure. Deltree's games deserve all the publicity they can get.
Deltree
doesn't live here anymore
4556
Y'all are too kind! Really! I'm glad you liked it and your review is really well written. I am enamored, I tell you!

If you do decide to play The Reconstruction, here is a free cheat code: name your guild after the numbers from LOST (no spaces) and you'll start with a bunch of experience that will make the early game breeze by. Don't ask.
Thanks guys, and thanks to Deltree for the tip ! I may update this review when episode 2 comes out (I would gladly enroll as a tester, but I won't have time to be very exhaustive this month so I wouldn't help much, though I'll gladly play it next month). Mellytan, by all means, do not hesitate to write another review, I totally agree on the need for exposure !
cheat code


o_O What.

*scurries off to update TV Tropes page*
Deltree
doesn't live here anymore
4556
There are a few codes you can do there, but they all give the same reward (with different resultant guild names). I don't have RMXP on this computer any more and have been too lazy to get the serial replaced so I can't check what they are. I think a couple of them were the first digits of pi and Euler's number. Must have had a lot of gin that night.
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