Your Weekly Kusoge
Idea Factory's reputation is starting to become well known, and since this column already covered one IF game it may seem like bullying to highlight another one. However, Spectral Force Genesis is on its own unsalvageable level of trash even when compared to other IF games.
As the name suggests, Spectral Force Genesis is a new beginning for the long-running Spectral Force series, which began in the PSOne days, even though most of their titles were not localized. Over a hundred years have passed since the Seven Years War concluded in Spectral Souls: Resurrection of Ethereal Empires with the human and demon armies signing a peace treaty forming the Republic of Neverland, and the future is looking grim. The Republic's power is now weakening, with the continent splintering under the flags of forty armies declaring independence and each vying for domination. Even the heavens themselves have fallen into chaos, and the leaders overthrown.
Some of the storylines for the nations have potential, such as the prominently featured Cygnus of the Unicorn Flag who is manipulating the young Neu into impersonating Neverland heroine Hiro to rally the people into supporting his revenge against the Neverland Republic. But despite the setup, the storyline for a single country is stretched thin and consists of brief cutscenes after conquering a certain number of countries and some pre-battle conversations that occur when certain combinations of characters are pitted against one another. Furthermore, in order to get a good ending you are required to have recruited a certain combination of generals before you conquer the last rival nation. Naturally, figuring out the web of character relationships that are needed for the good endings or pre-battle conversations isn't documented in the game itself and will likely involve a lot of trial and error or a guide.
Receiving a localization from Ignition did little to help matters, as it is generally a sloppy mess with terrible grammar and numerous typos, and no attempts to keep character names and terminology consistent with what was already established in previously translated titles (which is confusing enough already as there are at least five companies that have tried their hand localizing Idea Factory games -- NISA, Atlus, Aksys, YUKES, and Ignition). Which is on top of the interface already being a complete mess with countries being referred to both by the army name and the capital name, proper names that contain acronyms, and even the menu options being abbreviated since no effort was put into making it even a bit more readable.
The gameplay is an attempt to simplify a politics heavy nation building simulation/strategy game to make it more accessible to a wider audience, but instead of making it easier to understand Idea Factory only succeeded in dumbing it down and making it boring and tedious than anything else. The player actions in the simulation phases are broken down into five categories: finance, personnel, construction, politics, and battle. Financial phases let you collect money by taxing your people or trading between the four types of resources, as well as drafting soldiers to fill out your army. Personnel phases let you assign generals or recruit new ones. Construction phases let you rebuild a city's fortification or improve a country in order to get more revenue out of it. Political phases let you form alliances with other nations or persuade enemy generals to join you (You can also persuade enemy leaders to join you as vassal states; this is not advised because it all but guarantees that you get the bad ending. You have to conquer all 40 nations to get a normal or good ending, and for whatever reason vassal states don't count towards the total.
Further complicating things is that there is no way to double cross and attack vassal states like regular allies and conquer them, so you have no other options but to wait for the slim chance that they declare independence so you can crush them under your heel). Battle phases are self explanatory. The problem is that each month is randomly assigned a phase at the start of the year, and in each month you can only perform the specific actions belonging to that phase which kills all the strategy and decision making involved.
Battles between armies are nearly unplayable. Generals have one of three properties (attack, defense, or magic) which interact with one another in a rock/paper/scissors triangle, and soldiers are more effective on certain types of terrain. Three generals and their platoons on both sides are pitted together in real time, and moving them is a simple matter of using the touch screen. However units follows the lines you draw a bit too closely, individual soldiers aren't shown on the touchscreen minimap, and the pathfinding is terrible meaning that soldiers near the edges of platoons will often bump against one another and cause both platoons to come to a dead stop. Generals can use super moves when their special meters fill, but since the game doesn't pause and there's an unreasonably long delay for the menu to pop up it's more likely that the general will get wiped out in the time it takes to select them, select the attack to use, and select the target than turning the tide of a losing battle. The notable exception is healing spells, and battles often boil down to which side has a general with a level 1 healing special it can spam to keep itself alive until the other side is wiped out. If you're attacking a nation and win, then it goes into a siege battle mode, though it's simply doing hp damage to the fortification proportional to the number of surviving soldiers attacking the walls.
While conquering all the nations seems an easy task at first since money and soldiers are abundant and a few choice alliances would let you pick off weak countries on the other side of the map, it rapidly becomes a sisyphean punishment. About the time you reach the halfway point in conquering the continent, the remaining nations have dug in deep within their walls and breaching their fortifications is mostly a matter of being lucky enough to be assigned two or three battle phases in a year without finance or construction phases in between them so the opposing side can't repair the damage you do to the walls or recruit new soldiers so you can just keep sieging the walls directly. And as already mentioned, trying to take a shortcut and save dozens of turns by resolving situations through diplomacy instead of fighting only locks you into a bad ending.
Randomness rears its ugly head in other places too, besides its heavy influence on your schedule for the year and thus the pace of your war machine. Defeated nations cough up items that can be used to develop their stats or learn new skills; there is no other form of growth or customization in the game. And the results are all random. It might be fine for stat ups, but you have no controls over the result of reclassing a general's type, learning new skills, or changing the type of soldiers in the platoon.
The final straw is that Idea Factory thinks the game is riveting enough that you'll want to play through it 40 times to fill out the event gallery. It's enough of an ordeal just finishing it a single time, finishing it 40 times would be enough to push anyone's sanity and patience to the breaking point.