Since I purchased my PSP a couple of years ago, I appointed myself the pleasant mission of tracking down and purchasing every RPG available for the system. I can honestly say that I’ve performed well, since a good 95% of all PSP RPGs are now part of my precious collection. However, some games persistently slipped under the radar because of their rarity and collateral high prices. Hexyz Force is one of them, or used to be: I had had an eye on that game for a fairly long time before I finally managed to get my hands on a copy. The said copy cost me the hefty price of $60, which was still one of the cheapest prices that I’ve encountered for a full copy of that game. Understandably, I had very high hopes for Hexyz Force. However, I was also acutely aware that my hopes could ultimately be crushed: current games may be expensive because they are excellent and/or popular, but older games are primarily expensive because of their rarity, without any guarantee of collateral goodness. Fortunately, I was not to be disappointed this time: I totally loved Hexyz Force. It may not be an instant cult classic, but it is a surprisingly excellent game in its own quiet, subdued way.
Let’s have a bit of data before I expand on that game’s tranquil goodness. Developed by Sting and released in 2009(jp) and 2010(na) for the PSP, Hexyz Force became a rarity in the West nearly as soon as appeared there. It avoided Europe entirely for no good reason and North-America was not exactly flooded with copies, which led to the current scarcity of the game. Sealed copies can sell for as much as $200; as for my own copy, it is obviously a second-hand one, albeit complete and in mint condition. At any rate, the lack of Western distribution of that game is a trifle puzzling: Hexyz Force is by no means a niche game, but rather a straightforward J-RPG that could definitely have found an eager audience in Europe. Atlus’ ways are sometimes unfathomable, indeed. That being said, let’s now move on to meatier topics and explore that game’s goodness!
Hexyz Force may appear as a fairly classic J-RPG at first sight, with its turn-based combat, cookie-cutter characters and vanilla story involving the tracking of mysterious artefacts in order to prevent an upcoming apocalypse in a world where races wage war on one another. However, there is definitely more than meets the eye in all these departments, and the game reveals some unexpected originality under its apparent layer of RPG classicism; on top of that, and to make things even better, it boasts a rare and unmistakable quality that I would love to encounter more often in RPGs—but more on that later.
For now, let’s concentrate on the others pieces of goodness, starting with the characters. They are cliché, that much is undeniable: from the strong-headed yet slightly clueless young lady to the brave and loyal knight striving for peace, without forgetting the expressionless Elf, the touchy princess and the lad who looks like a teenager but is actually several centuries old, everyone fits a J-RPG/anime trope in the book. However, Sting didn’t dive too deep in cliché territory and kept the trope factor to a minimum, preferring instead to expand the characters’ personalities through well-crafted dialogues and revelatory cutscenes. As a result, the whole crew comes across as lively and vibrant, and very much loveable. I developed an instant liking for my party and really cared for them deeply, and their ever-so-slight banality didn’t bother me one bit. There is a zesty tang of humour in their interactions, as well as a soft romance element that is handled in a pleasantly sober way (spoilers): Levant and Irene’s established relationship is comforting and heart-warming, and Cecilia and Rafael’s shy and gentle burgeoning love will make the heart of even the most hardened gamer flutter with sweet anticipation. (End of spoiler)
The storyline follows the same pattern: it is not particularly original content-wise and does not pack any soul-shattering plot twist or heart-wrenching revelations, but it is told in a very convincing and well-crafted way that makes you care for what happens next. To make things even more interesting, it unfolds through two different routes, which you both have to play in order to get the full picture story-wise. This could be a case of fake longevity, if not for the fact that the two halves of the story remain perfectly understandable per se; playing the other half only refines the narrative and adds interesting details to the already known storyline. This is more of a case of two different teams of characters aiming for the same goal, whose respective paths meet occasionally and finally converge towards the end of the game. As a matter of fact, your final party comprises all the playable characters of the game, which gives you the pleasant—and rather rare—opportunity to tailor-make your party for the last boss fight—providing that you are ready for a bit of grinding in case you choose characters that were not in your party up until then.
Let’s now explore the battle system, which is truly one of the highlights of Hexyz Force. It is fast-paced and dynamic, and can be even more so with the use of the fast-forwarding R button. (This option is truly a blessing, and I wish all RPGs could offer it.) This battle system is pleasantly easy to master yet offers some welcome depth thanks to a system of complementarity between the three attributes that infuse the various weapons of the characters. Add to this a handful of conveniently devastating special attacks that can be unleashed after you fill a special gauge and you get a fighting system that is classic yet incredibly smooth and efficient. To make things better, enemies are visible on screen and can be avoided providing that you run fast enough. However, it is not recommended to run away from encounters: Hexyz Force is one of these streamlined games in which fighting all the enemies you encounter will grant you enough XP to tackle all the challenges that come your way. In other words, no extra grinding is needed in that game—except if you change the composition of your party at the last minute, as I mentioned earlier.
Last but not least in this goodness recital is the general user-friendliness of Hexyz Force. Here is a game that seems dedicated to make your life—and your gaming—easier through the implementation of a series of clever features that are not so often encountered in classic J-RPGs. One of them is the fast-forwarding button that I mentioned above, but there is more:
—A map of the current area is displayed at all times in the upper right corner of the screen. Not only does it spare you the annoyance of losing your time exploring dead ends, but it also conveniently shows chests, enemies, save points and “Force Sites” where you can restore your HP and MP (more on that later). What more could you ask for?
—The world map allows you to travel at will between places in an instantaneous way. You don’t need to cross paths filled with monsters or to use impractical travel means to rally a given spot, which is incredibly neat. On top of that, once a place is discovered, it can be accessed at all times: no patronizing on the game’s part by preventing you from returning somewhere on the basis that the storyline doesn’t justify it. Now that is how I want my RPG to be. Freedom is mine!
—Hexyz Force has one of the best sidequest implementations that I’ve ever encountered in a J-RPG. For one thing, the sidequests are as unobtrusive as they can be, while immediately identifiable as such; there is virtually no risk of mistaking a sidequest for an essential plot point in that game. For another, they can be cleared at all times, all the more so as all locations can be accessed easily; there is no such thing as a ridiculously narrow time frame to clear a sidequest, which is an absolute blessing. They are also pleasantly logical, and it doesn’t take any twisted thinking or exhaustive FAQs to figure out the right course of action. Last but not least, the game offers a quest log that details all the sidequests you unlocked. What’s not to love, seriously?
Here ends my first survey of Hexyz Force’s placid goodness. I still have a lot to say, actually; but I am currently trying to make my posts a tad less stuffy, which means that I will take a break for the time being. My second post will cover what I consider to be Hexyz Force’s greatest quality, as well as the couple of minor flaws that I spotted during my run. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!