Anyone who has followed the torrid development history of Septerra Core knows that this is labor of love for its creators at Valkyrie Studios. What started as an epic role-playing game (RPG) aspiring to the grandeur of Final Fantasy VII, almost became vaporware when its initial publisher, Viacom New Media, went under. Luckily for Valkyrie Studios, TopWare Interactive and Monolith Productions stepped in and bailed out the fledgling project. Septerra Core's technological underpinnings may have suffered from its numerous delays and setbacks, but I'm happy to report that while the final product comes to us with signs of wear, its heart and soul is still fully intact.

As I had implied, Septerra Core feels technologically dated. Pre-rendered 3D backgrounds were all the rage years ago when Final Fantasy VII and Resident Evil first came on the scene, but that was then and this is now. PC Hardware capabilities have increased so dramatically in the last couple of years that Septerra Core's background visuals, while showing some signs of brilliance here and there, seemed mostly static and behind the times. Matters only worsen when one closely examines issues like the characters stilted sprite-based animations (aforementioned) and the games overall style, which recklessly borrows from Squaresoft's games and Japanese animation. The final results from this mix of elements is rather unpolished.

The unpolished qualities of the game also extend, albeit minimally, into the gameplay. Creating a console-style RPG on the PC is largely uncharted territory for strictly PC developers and, at times in Septerra Core, it really shows. I was often required to find locations without being given some semblance of where to look, which led to plenty of confused wandering on my part. On a few occasions, I would enter an 'area of interest', but it was not at all apparent whether the location was relevant to the goals at hand or if it would be of relevance later. An even worse possibility was that some of these locations were thrown in simply to confuse me. Lastly, many of the puzzles were often bogged down by strange and absurd solutions that seemed not at all natural or rationale. One example, where I had to shoot a box full of explosives in order to stop a slippery bounty hunter while in the midst of combat took me by surprise, to say the least.

Yet even with the passé visuals and somewhat quirky gameplay, there are some incredible positives to Septerra Corethat has me singing its praises. First, I really liked the battle system and I believe Dale understated it by describing as "pretty standard." Non-random attack occurrences in RPGs of this sort are a fairly new innovation that we've only begun to see in recent games like Grandia. Anyone whose ever played numerous RPGs knows how annoying the random attacks can be. So I was very appreciative of Septerra Core's utilization of the non-random format. Another great thing about the battle system is the charging endurance bar that allows for varying degrees of attacks from each character. This, in my opinion, is a stroke of genius and something that I've never quite experienced in this all too familiar genre. This feature, along with the ability to strike multiple targets (that are either aligned or grouped closely) with certain weapons, and a unique magic system that required interesting combinations, really added a dimension of strategy that kept me glued to the game. In most RPGs, hundreds of involuntary battles usually took their toll on me mentally and I usually ended up mindlessly button-mashing my way through most of them. But that was not the case with Septerra Core. My level of interest remained intact from the first battle I fought to the last and I think this is was due to the unique qualities of Septerra Core's battle system.

The second thing I really enjoyed about Septerra Core was the story and characters that encompass the game. The overall plotting was a little too complicated and dense early on as result of the developers trying to pile on too much too soon. Thankfully, as the game progresses, story elements pan themselves out better and things become clearer. I was glad that the final execution in gameplay didn't ruin what was otherwise a very intriguing and well thought out story. Septerra Core successfully presents itself as a world steeped in legend and rich with culture. Even better than the story backdrop are the main characters that populate Septerra Core. Wonderfully motivated with distinct personalities, characters in Septerra Core are vibrant and dynamically play off one another. It's interesting thing to note how the relationships of the characters spill into the gameplay. Pair up two conflicting characters in your party who have issues with one and expect in-fighting to occur while in combat! Lastly, Dale may be right that the dubbing, as far as lip-synching, is off but he failed to stress that all of the voice actors give a more than competent performance and every single character in the game (even the insignificant non-playing ones) is given a voice and uses it 100% of the time. This is quite an accomplishment if you ask me.

So in spite of some of its major flaws, what ultimately saves Septerra Core from mediocrity is the feeling that the developers at Valkyrie Studios suffered and labored "for the love of the game (or videogame, rather)." Septerra Core stands as a testament to that kind of love and I only hope that this game will bring them financial success so that we can see them produce a sequel without all of the struggles they had to endure for this one. Maybe then, well see an Septerra Core game that isn't riddled with as many negatives as positives and then maybe well play a game deserving of the highest accolades this industry can bestow. As it stands, Septerra Core has some serious issues, but it was still a pleasure to play. Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Chi Kong Lui
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