Pick a card, any card, any card you wish...
Namco's odd little card-based RPG was at E3, but curiously, only a Japanese version was there. Considering that the game has already been released in Japan (and reviewed by us), one would have to wonder why they would show the game like it is to the non-Japanese speaking audience here in America. Well, after playing if for a while, I can say that it's pretty damn cool. The opening FMV looks extremely good. In fact, on the other side of the two playable games in Nintendo's booth, another had a video only demonstration of the opening looping continuously. The rest of the game, on the field and in battles too, look very detailed and otherwise gorgeous.
The battle system is card-based, but it plays more like a game of poker than a random crapshoot. Characters will have the ability to play multiple cards at a time. All cards have a number on them, with magic cards also having a certain element as well. Quite literally, if you play a full house, you'll usually win; in other words, if you play three straight fire magic cards all of the same number one one turn, then have your next character play two of the same number weapon cards, after the damage is tallied up after each attack (which starts to get a bit annoying), it wouldn't be out of the ordinary for the damage bonus you recieve to be boosted by 30% or more, meaning you can basically get a lot oomph out of your deck if you carefully mix them with the right element and number patterns. Deck buliding is usually most of the fun in these types of games, and this one is no execption.
This RPG is technically turn-based, but a little of it takes place in real time, too. While attacking, you can queue up cards in your attack string as you're attacking, so if a more favorable card comes up while using one, you can quickly grab that one and maybe increase your damage bonus. It works the same while you're being attacked too. If an enemy unleashs a three or four hit combo string on you, you can play a defensive card (such as a shield or some armor) to cancel it out, or even another weapon card. The same rules of poker apply while on defense as well, so if you play your cards right (pun), you might be able to survive a rather large barrage of attacks with extremely low damage.
The real time aspect also comes in to play if you take too long to play a card. If you see two cards you can play, but are caught thinking about which one you want to use, you'll usually run out of time and end your combo short. You've got to be extremely quick when making these decisions. This can pose a problem sometimes, like if you want to play a healing card, but forget to select one of your party members and heal the bad guy instead. The process of selecting your friend and getting the right card for him takes about as much time as you have to do it. This keeps the action going at a really fast pace, something that is not common for a game of this type. This should help it break out of the mold of the common card RPG game that the others before it had set.
Namco really has a lot going for it on the RPG side of things this year. This one and Tales of Symphonia are sure to bring the bucks for Namco, so we'll be looking out for both of them later this year.