Infinite Undiscovery: Jogging For A Long, Long TimeS

So, you know that Square Enix RPG that's coming to the Xbox 360? No, not that one. Infinite Undiscovery, which is actually being developed by Star Ocean developers Tri-Ace and published by Squeenix, looks rather like a Final Fantasy at first blush, which makes one wonder if it wasn't the backup plan in the event that Microsoft's much-prized (and Sony-disappointing) multiplatform deal with Square Enix for FFXIII didn't work out.

Nonetheless, in all of the FFXIII hysteria and hullabaloo, don't forget that Xbox 360 owners actually have more than one large-scale Square Enix RPG to look forward to.

The chill wind of neglect was blowing over the Infinite Undiscovery booth on the show floor last week, so I decided to stop in and give it a whirl.

You may recall that the original announcement of Infinite Undiscovery contained the promise that "every decision you make leads to a myriad of discoveries and affects every encounter." Lots of discoveries, huh? Possibly even infinite ones? Oh, wait, those are un-discoveries? Okay, okay, the title is somewhat confusing, but, moving on.

As I said, at first glance the game looks a little like FFXII — the bit I played featured a three-person party jogging across an expansive rolling meadow under a bright blue sky, with ruins dotted here and there, while creatures on casual strolls across the landscape could be attacked (or would attack) if the party got too close.

Unlike FFXII, though, the other two party members are largely AI-controlled, though there are specific buttons that can be used to instruct them to use specific techniques. Combat is entirely real-time, and you determine the lead player character's weapon combos through simple button combinations, rather than by choosing from a menu. At any time, you can tell your healer to heal simply by pressing Y.

My character was a handsome, sword-toting lad named Capell in the company of two beautiful brunettes — one seemed a range fighter, as I could instruct her to use an archery weapon, and the other seemed to use primarily magic-based skills. Needless to say, all of them had fabulous, gleaming hair.

It's a very appealing battle system, user-friendly, intuitive and fuss-free. It seems to follow a trend in JRPGs lately that seems to minimize menu-based combat in favor of optional AI with some control options — in other words, you can command the rest of your party if you like, but they can handle themselves well without your interference.

In fact, I enjoyed the real-time, action-style battles so much that I wish I encountered more enemies to fight. A good portion of my time with Infinite Undiscovery was spent jogging across the plain, watching my dot blip gently and slowly across the map in the upper right hand corner as I jogged, and jogged, and jogged. This gave the world a real sense of scale, but it also meant I spent a lot of time discovering nothing — undiscovering, if you will.

There were items in my environment occasionally, like a treasure chest that required I take a long detour through a largely featureless area just to descend a tall hill (my character couldn't hop down a small ledge and instead had to find a way around it). There are also occasionally herbs and plants around, that you can pick. You have to sheath your weapon using the right trigger, though, before you can pick something up.

My character had a cool ability — by holding the left trigger, he played a flute, which caused a white aura to spread about him in a narrow-radius ring. That ring, the booth staff told me, represented the range in which my character could search for special items concealed nearby him. I used the ability often as I jogged along, but I never did find anything.

I was slightly annoyed when my pretty archer couldn't shoot a nearby enemy when it seemed like he should be within range. He was in a bit of a depression in the ground, and it seemed to me they were not allowing me to engage with him because, with a ledge between him and me, he couldn't immediately fight back. Okay, fair enough, but what's the good of range fighting if you can't be at range? Archery switches to nearly a first-person view and lets the player aim the bow, which is very cool, but the aim didn't seem too precise at this stage.

Largely, though, there was a lot of jogging between fights, as I searched to try and discover more. At last I reached what looked like a castle wall with a heavy wood door in it — at which point the booth staff helpfully pointed out I'd gone all the way back to the entrance to the previous area, and couldn't re-enter.

Running and running endless miles across an expansive world has been a staple of this particular genre since the dawn of time, and perhaps I'm just terribly impatient in wishing there had been more to do in that great, big infinite area. The never-ending jog through huge environments was, in my opinion, one of the shortcomings in Twilight Princess.

Nonetheless, the quest to perfect the RPG's battle system without turning it into an action title has been a long evolution fraught at times with missteps, and it seems really worth something that Infinite Undiscovery has hit on a methodology that I found engaging, even addictive. I'm looking forward to seeing more than just a single segment of the game for a wider-lens view, especially as concerns the player-impacted environment promoted with the game.