It’s been way too long since I have written one of these entries, so I am going to attempt to make up for that by doing several of these. Perhaps one of the biggest roadblocks I’ve run into while playing video games related to anime is how standard they all feel and play. Something about the way most of these titles are developed, whether or not the games are good or bad, just feels incomplete or unpolished, and seldom feels like a legitimate gaming experience that you would get from playing Metal Gear Solid or Luigi’s Mansion. Replay value is nearly nonexistent and the gameplay, unless its frustrating, is not memorable or fulfilling. Maybe an RPG will be a nice change of pace from the more action-oriented styles, so perhaps Shaman King will ease my gripes.
Sadly, I have never gotten around to finishing the anime series, mostly due to a lot of my time and energy around the height of my anime viewing was watching Dragonball Z, Yu-Gi-Oh! and Digimon, and Yu Yu Hakusho. I like what I watched of it, but I never felt the need to be invested, and as time passed the series just fell out of my priority list. It didn’t help much that recently I’ve grown to despise shounen-styled anime that after trying to trudge my way through 175 episodes of Bleach before tapping out due to how much I grew to violently hate the show, and Katekyo Hitman Reborn, an anime that is the epitome of the word AVERAGE in every conceivable facet, the thought of going back and trying to finish the remaining 49 episodes of Shaman King doesn’t feel worth it.
I’ve played two other Shaman King Games (Sprinting Wolf and the first Master of Spirits, both produced by Konami and on the Gameboy Advance) and they were pretty damn good. Power of Spirit was literally gift-wrapped for me and I was intrigued to take a look at what this series could offer from a tactical RPG format. The previous anime RPG I played was Orphen Scion of Sorcery…..no, that’s not even a fair comparison. Orphen barely qualifies as cat litter.
STORY 7/10: I’m pretty confident that this a game exclusive story, and you know what? It’s pretty good. The pacing comes off as one of those non-canon anime movies that you don’t see much anymore, and while it may be a bit predictable, that doesn’t stop it from being enjoyable and full of heart. Yoh is preparing to train for the Shaman Tournament and looks to be at the top of his game, until Silva arrives and tells him that he will never improve until he endures a long, unskippable tutorial as to how the game plays.
I have some problems with this tutorial and I’ll get into that when I get to the gameplay. The next morning, or sometime shortly thereafter, Yoh and the gang are chatting about the tourney when we are introduced to Meril Inugami, an enigmatic, yet adorable little girl who makes the mistake of glomping Yoh right in front of Anna.
Meril’s look is absolutely precious. From the long sleeve striped shirt to the dog bone buttons on her hoodie, she fits right in with this crew. Meril’s presence, of course, is followed by a powerful group called Millennium Force.
Indeed, a threat to be reckoned with. At over 200 feet tall and travelling at speeds of 65 mph, the Millennium Force is worth the wait in line. If you’re ever in the Sandusky area, you should check out Cedar Point and….wait…I’m getting info that this roller coaster is not what awaits you, but rather Force Millenium. An easy mistake.
They’re decent villains. I would like them more if they weren’t so stock. Seriously, how many antagonistic teams of five have looked like this in anime? A foppish, persnickety leader, a token female, a blood-thirsty lunatic who likes to torture, a really small thing with freaky powers, and a giant hulking wall of meat with ridiculous proportions. At least their individual designs are bizarre and unique while at the same time sporting attire that looks similar, making them look more like a unit as opposed to a hodgepodge of whacky outfits. I’m looking at you, Bounts from that filler arc of Bleach!!! (The Cullens are NOT the worst vampires in fiction. Yeah, I said it!!)
VISUALS & ANIMATION 5.8/10: This score is gonna hurt a bit. There isn’t much to talk about that’s good in this department for several reasons. 1) There aren’t any full-motion cut scenes during the story portion of the game, so you never really get a great look at the character models. They are mostly displayed from a distance, but from what you can see, they don’t look too bad, if you don’t mind staring at the top of their heads for 94% of gameplay. The color and surrounding scenery is mostly garish and dark, not really bursting with any kind of life, and attacks that you would think should light up the screen with some visual effects ignite with the ferocity of a wet firecracker! This really would’ve been a case where utilizing cel-shading could’ve benefited greatly, because outside of still images, Power of Spirit is not an appealing game to look at. It would be a bit too harsh to say that it’s completely bad, but for Playstation 2 game, it is a little ungraceful.
GAMEPLAY 6.4/10: This realistically is a mixed bag score for me, as I love a good tactics game and I can appreciate a good fighting game as well. Power of Spirit shows some ambition and combines a fighting game with a tactical RPG. In fairness, the fighting game portion of the engine plays like a slower, muddier version of one of the Naruto Ultimate Ninja games, and it works on that level. It handles well enough, allowing Yoh to move in three dimensions, use some basic combos as well as learn new skills as he levels up (btw, he’s the only character you’re allowed to control, which bites). The tactics half of it feels a little clunky. Back to that tutorial, Silva explains how Yoh works in battle (movement, selecting attacks, skills, items), but there are no further menus that explain how the OTHER characters function in battle!! The first time I had a second party member, I just assumed that you select that character, choose an enemy, and you go into battle with them via the fighting screen. What really happened was I selected Meril to fight Matilda and Mattie cleaned her clock in one shot!! I had no idea what happened.
So the it was the enemies’ turn to strike, and Kanna attacked ME, but before going to fight screen, a battle point counter appeared and I was given the option to select something for Meril, Spirit Unity 100% or Spirit Control (Unity allows your character to charge their Furyoku for that round if they survive and Control sends them into battle with no restrictions). Then I get the battle screen VS menu and Meril is now fighting along my side!! Ooooooh, okay, now I get it!! It turns out that if any character other than Yoh engages in a fight, it becomes a battle of attributes. If your teammate is weaker than his opponent, or has no other teammate in range to join them in battle, they will lose with no chance of saving them. To sum it up, Power of Spirit does not let fighters on the map exchange blows, like you would in Disgaea, or Final Fantasy Tactics, or Tactics Ogre, or any other tactics simulator I’ve ever played!!! This makes team party management more of a chore for all the wrong reasons, since it’s hard to gauge which characters you trust in battle, so you have to nestle them close together like Artic survivalists struggling to keep warm just to ensure your weaker party members can survive long enough to gain experience points. I wouldn’t have such a problem with this method if it wasn’t a f*cking secret! Basic rules of the game should not require me to look up FAQs to find out why I’m dying in one hit. Thanks for nothing, Silva.
This also one of the least user-friendly games I’ve played in a while. After battling, you can divide or save your strength points for later, but the kicker is that once you increase that stat, even for this session, once you hit that X button, you better make sure that’s the stat you wanted to increase, because you do not get a chance to recant that decision. Well, that might seem like a small thing to complain about, not giving me the option to be flexible with points I EARNED kind of pisses me off! Something else that kind of burns my ass is that if a character defeats some enemies, but you lose them in a fight, they don’t get the experience points from said battle before dying!! That’s bullsh*t!!
In other tactics sims, when turning the field over to your opponent, simply pressing a button (like triangle) will prompt a menu, saying “Turn End” or something, even if you’re highlighting a character. But in PoS, you have to move the cursor so it isn’t one anyone, even enemies and press X, which initiates every action in the game, and select End Turn. yeah that’s petty and all, but I pressed triangle so many times to end my turn, it was like my subconscious kept attempting it in vain, hoping it will work. Once you get the hang of it, it really isn’t so bad. In fact, some of the fights, it feels like the odds are so heavily against you that it seems nearly impossible, and this leads to some intense fights. Also important to keep Yoh alive, because if he falls, it’s Game Over. This leads you to use some crafty strategy for objective-specific fights, but those lead to spoilers, so I won’t touch on those.
ANIME RELATION 8/10: Like I said, this is a pretty good use of the central cast as well as introducing some nice game-exclusive characters. The story plays out like a short movie or a multipart filler from the TV series, which I’m in favor of. It’s not perfect, but certainly enjoyable.
IN CLOSING: While it seemed like I totally trashed this game, I was simply recalling my frustrations during gameplay. Otherwise, I had fun with the engine once I got he hang of it. The learning curve may be bit obtuse, but underneath that is a game with respectable difficulty. It took guts to try to meld a fighting game with a tactics game, and to that I give it kudos. There was certainly more attempts to make a memorable gameplaying experience, and only missed slightly off-center. At 20 chapters long, it’s a pretty short game, just enough to get your fill. I don’t think it’s as fun as Master of Spirits, but a game that just does enough right to keep from being super bland. OVERALL SCORE 7.4/10
PROS: Good voice acting (if you like the 4Kids localization), cool soundtrack
CONS: Game is not a good teacher, I can’t play as Anna again!!