Here’s the thing: there are JRPGs and then there are…well, JRPGs. Believe it or not, the titles that fall into this category can be quite diverse in terms of style; Trinity Universe is one that places all its anime artistry directly in your face from the get-go, along with the purposely cheesy voice acting, humor, and zany overall structure and style. In other words, it’s about as Japanese as Japanese can be; this is no hybrid effort like Square-Enix’s Final Fantasy XIII , which includes various elements that could be considered distinctly Western in nature. Therefore, as is the case with most productions by NIS, Gust, and Idea Factory, this new combined effort targets the niche gaming crowd that spends many hours lost in the likes of Disgaea and Atelier . Unsurprisingly, Trinity Universe features characters from both the aforementioned series, which screams “fan service” even louder. Now, there isn’t anything necessarily wrong with this and I know the hardcore fans would be satisfied, but that doesn’t erase a few major problems.
Due to the extreme “nicheness” of this particular game, personal preference will play a larger role in determining the general appeal. Therefore, the inherent quality of the graphics aside, most will either be instantly attracted or repelled by the visuals. They’re colorful and loaded with that over-the-top anime character detailing where nobody appears to be over the age of 12, yet they’re all supposed to be around 18 or 20 years of age. That’s either your cup of tea, or it isn’t. The in-game graphics are bright and cheerful, and there’s plenty of imaginative creation involved in the depiction of both enemies and allies, but it does lack what I like to call “current-gen polish.” There’s good variety to the backgrounds and environments but a lot of the landscapes and dungeons leave a lot to be desired; it just needed another coat of gloss and veneer. Sadly, we don’t see too much of that in JRPGs nowadays, as many have noticed.
The sound is even more subjective than the graphics, as this style is unique to the anime world. See, if you go in thinking this is your standard dramatic RPG, or if you even believe for one second that these designers are taking themselves seriously, you’ll be appalled at the childishness of the entire endeavor. If, on the other hand, you know what to expect and enjoy the repetitive, cheesy innuendo in the jokes and dialogue, and you don’t have a problem with a convoluted and essentially meaningless storyline, you’ll be fine. The voice acting fits the style because the characters have to be voiced in a certain way; you will either hate it or find it amusing. The soundtrack fits as well, although we could’ve used a few more tracks for our exploring and fighting, and the sound effects are a little off-balance and in some cases, generic. But it isn’t bad; the atmosphere is always very lively and the sound typically contributes positively to the experience…again, if this is your thing. Always remember that caveat.
Although Trinity Universe steals characters from both the Disgaea and Atelier franchises, the gameplay is closer to the latter. This certainly isn’t a strategy/RPG; it’s more of a standard turn-based RPG with familiar traditional elements, which should definitely appeal to fans of PlayStation role-playing classics. At the start, you can choose to play as Kanata, the Demon Dog King, or Rizelea, the Valkyrie. Both storylines will overlap at some point in the game but you do get the benefit of different perspectives, and there are always plenty of optional dungeons to tackle. So in other words, if you get into it, this game will be well worth the price of admission; we’re talking a good 50 hours at the bare minimum. If you just steamroll your way through, you can probably complete one character’s story in under 20 hours. But where's the fun in that? Games like these are best experienced if you partake of the many options available to you; i.e., tackling optional dungeons, power-leveling characters, finding and “synthing” better equipment and items, etc.
Exploration of the Netherworld – a bizarre place in space where all sorts of random items are floating about – is very limited; you can really only select a particular item, and then choose to search, check any of the available Events, and see if it has a Dungeon. You can also visit shops and the inn but besides that, the only real exploration you’ll do is within those dungeons: this is where you run around in standard third-person view, seeking out various treasures and battling enemies in standard random encounter format. When the enemies show up, you get your old-school turn-based style that so many of us have missed. And in a nod to Disgaea , it really is pure turn-based, in that all your characters can move and act to the fullest extent of their abilities; when they’re all done, the computer will get its turn. There is some depth to the proceedings, but it’s a pretty straightforward affair throughout the adventure.
You spend AP when you execute a skill; Square is a standard Rush attack, X is a more powerful Mighty Blow attack, Triangle casts a magic spell that hits all enemies on screen, and Circle is for a special skill like Cure Star. You can also decide to skip your turn with R2 so you can save up AP for a more devastating chain of attacks the second time around; the trade off is that you leave yourself entirely susceptible during the first round. If RPG fans remember the Legaia series, where you had to select different attacks in a certain sequence in order to execute a special ability, this is similar. So five Squares or Square, X, X, Triangle will perform something extra nifty at the end of the chain; you can just check a character’s menu to see what moves are available. To complement it all is a Synthesis system akin to what we had in the Atelier games; raw materials can be fused to create one-of-a-kind weapons, items and other pieces of equipment. You find these items during certain events and in dungeons.
When exploring a dungeon, your main goal is to destroy the gravity core, so the thing (whatever it is; it could be Lumpy Milk, Candy, or something equally strange) will float out of harm’s way. Inside, though, there will be plenty of enemies to fight and if you press Square, you can execute a “Search,” which points you in the direction of treasure. After destroying the Gravity Core, you have a limited amount of time to exit the dungeon and this is when some rare items pop up, so it’s sorta like a mad dash to the exit, all the while attempting to snag some great stuff. This is all well and good, but the flaws are obvious. First of all, too much of the supposed “depth” in combat really doesn’t come to light until much later in the game, when you get four characters in a party, become much stronger, and have much better skills and equipment. And even when you do have all that, the fighting still boils down to your standard button presses and there’s a lot of repetition and grinding.
Secondly, you really have to be into this style and presentation. Personally, I have a high tolerance level for cutesy anime and even so, the incessant ADHD voiceovers started to wear on me, and as the story is so absurd, it’s hard to really care about what happens. That’s fine for Katamari Damacy but even the silliest JRPGs should have a relatively decent plot and characters. Sure, you’ve got familiar faces in Etna, Pamela, Flonne, Violet and the Prinnies, but you really won’t care unless you’re a big fan of both Disgaea and Atelier and in the end, the combat doesn’t seem all that fulfilling. However, this being said, there’s plenty of leveling up and grinding to do – which many followers of such styles will like – and there isn’t anything necessarily broken about the gameplay, control, and overall structure. I did feel as if you moved too slowly when wandering about, but most of the basic stuff is quite solid. It’s just not top-quality.
It’s always difficult to gauge a game like Trinity Universe , especially when you’re not necessarily a member of the targeted demographic. But I love my JRPGs and although this style has sort of worn thin with me, I understand those who enjoy it and for what it is, NIS America’s latest isn’t really a bad production. It’s even quite good in some respects. It’s just underwhelming.