The game opens with a lengthy cinematic sequence setting the tone with stirring music and a mythical theme that gives way to an advanced civilization. The visuals are good and the script and voice acting impressive. It's a refreshing change to hear British accents in an RPG and for the most they are good. Some Cockernee business but thankfully nowhere near Dick Van Dyke or Luke's "Gor blimey Professur!" attempts. The main hero has a pleasing Prince of Persia style tone and delivery that works well for the setting.
After a while the team of soldiers confronts the invading Mechon army and for a moment I stared dumbly at the screen wondering why everything had stopped only to twig that this was my cue to start fighting. The mechanics of combat are initially daunting and particulary so in this first battle where pannicked running around and button mashing seemed to carry me through. Tutorials are available on the finer points of battle strategy later on but as a first battle it makes a powerful impression!
The game then starts properly one year after the battle. You're introduced to a new team mate and can start to play properly now. A helpful arrow appears to tell you where you need to go and how far away it is. A nice feature is that when you unlock a location by visiting it not only do you get experience but it's added to your map so you can warp between points to save time and aggro. This is essential as the initial area is surprisingly big!
There are no random battles. There is a thriving eco-system of monsters and animals. Some will attack you on sight or if they hear you. In the opening areas though they will leave you alone unless you attack first. Some monsters might rush to the aid of their friends too complicating your battles.
The minor beasties give you a chance to work on your battle techniques and discover the strengths and limitations. For example if you use 'backslash' then it will not be effective unless you are positioned behind the enemy, This is where you make use of your team mate to draw attacks so that you can get into position. You also get a feel for how combos work and how you can boost your team's performance and affinity even if that doesn't get formally introduced until later on in the story quests.
After exploring for an hour and beating up rabbits I took on a bat and got killed. Death in this game means returning to your last landmark but with experience and such intact. Targetting enemies will give you an indication of their level so you can decide whether it is worth picking on what appears to be a harmless bunny. At night unique versions of enemies may appear with stronger attacks but greater rewards.
On the subject of rewards there are a stack of achievements to discover. There are also collectables that are optional but can give you access to some nice kit if you take the time to complete a category. These collectables can be sold or more helpfully traded with NPC for equipment, gems and items.
When I finally decided to go to the story point I found a town populated by NPCs that could be traded with and befriended. Some would give you the option of performing sidequests. The usual staple of kill this or collect that were available but pleasingly you could complete them out in the field and not have to return to them to confirm your success!
I'm aware that some or all of these features may already exist in other games but my experience of RPGs has largely been turn-based combat so a lot of these things were new to me. I've seen a similar quest system in DQIX but not having to traipse back and forth to the NPCs made things faster and more immediate and less tedious.
The battle system is great fun and after the confusion clears up there is a lot of strategy to enjoy. Being able to revive team members and encourage them really builds a sense that this is a team rather than four people standing in a row perfomring independently. They are chatty too and the interactions between them are good.
It's really fun. The gameplay is immersive and rewarding, the story is interesting and best of all the hero is not a whiny, angst-ridden amnesiac.