Innocent Saga: Gin-Ao no Sora e - Staff Retroview  

What Color Is the Sky In Your World?
by Michael Baker

Softbank 002SH (cell phone)
Less than 20 Hours
+ Good setting.
+ Character writing is solid.
+ Good amount of DLC.
- Too much graphics recycling.
- Could have been expanded a lot more than it was.
Click here for scoring definitions 

   A few months back, while waiting for my girlfriend to finish her shopping, I decided to browse through the downloadable games menu of my Softbank cell phone. Kemco was having a special Golden Week campaign, and so I was able to get Innocent Saga: Gin-Ao no Sora e (In Search of a Silver-Blue Sky) for free. I messed around with it until my girlfriend was finished, saved, and went on to more important matters. This set the tone for my relationship with this game over the next few months. Whenever I was stuck sitting around with nothing better to do, and had a decent amount of juice in my phone's battery, I'd boot it up and mess around with it some more. That's how it took me three months to beat a 10-hour game.

   The game opens on a bleak note. It's the far future, generations after a terrible war left cities in ruins and the sky a dull, leaden grey. The remnants of humanity are ruled over by the Association, a cabal more interested in control than in improving the quality of life. The game's heroine, Sui, was an Associate. For reasons unknown to her, the higher-ups in the Association have ordered her execution. The second major character, Ren, holds Sui accountable for a personal tragedy, but is unfortunate enough to confront her while Association thugs are hot on her trail. In the ensuing confusion, he finds himself added to the bounty list. The third and final party member, Sora the android, appears not long after as the two reluctant partners look for leverage in an abandoned Association factory.

   The plot of Innocent Saga tries hard, but it becomes a victim of the game's length. There are only a handful of towns and levels, and only five real characters outside of the party roster. That's just not a lot to work with. The writers did a good job with the dialogue, at least, and the three main characters develop a good balance of personalities and a group dynamic that's interesting (if not always fair to Ren).

Caption Bad doggies!

   Battles in this game are designed with cell phones in mind. Characters move automatically across the battlefield in a manner vaguely reminiscent of Star Ocean, but slower. From the battle menu, the player can choose special skills, enemy targets, or items to use, after which the character will move accordingly to get into an effective range. This gives it a dynamic feel without forcing a difficult control scheme upon the player, which is always a possible issue with cell phone titles.

   Each of the three characters represents a key combat paradigm: Heavy, Shooter, and Specialist. Sui is the front-line combatant, wielding a variety of blades and support skills to toughen herself up. Ren can use pistols and rifles, deal out status attacks via special bullets, and focus his aim to increase his critical hit rate. Sora is the group healer, and is the only one of the three to use energy-based weapons exclusively. She is also the only one to start with five disc slots, which is important. All weapons allow for a certain number of skill discs to be slotted in. Each disc contains just one skill, and by the end of the game each character will have more discs than slots. It's up to the player to decide what to equip, though some skills are simple upgrades.

   The game fails in the graphics department, unfortunately. Not because the character portraits are bad, because they aren't. Not because the spritework is sub-par, because it would have looked decent on the SNES. The issue lies in the graphics recycling. Innocent Saga has four basic environments (outdoors, town, factory, office) that are reused extensively. It can be difficult to figure out which way one is going, as landmarks or other distinctive bits of scenery are largely absent. Likewise, there are ten generic enemy sprites that are pallet-swapped to provide the bulk of the game's eighty-some enemies, including all but six of is bosses. Combat skills all use the same set of CG flashes, only in different colors.

Caption A fateful encounter.

   In comparison, the music is decent, even over cell phone speakers. While each track has a basic theme that it repeats frequently, variations in the tune keep it from getting stale too quickly. Like the sprites, the music was definitely done by someone with a fondness for the SNES era, and in short bursts it works well.

   The development team, World Wide Software, took advantage of the cell phone platform by providing several opportunities for optional downloadable content. Each instance of DLC costs 105 yen, and runs the gamut of possibilities. It includes access to quality weapons at key points in the game, membership to the black market in the final town, and also two of the game's three optional dungeons (the third of which is actually post-game content).

   All in all, I would never call Innocent Saga a bad game, just one that was unfortunately limited in many areas. World Wide Software and Kemco have presented us with the bare bones of what could be an excellent RPG, were it fleshed out properly. As it stands, however, it's merely a nice way to pass the time when there's nothing better to do.

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