First Impressions: Final Fantasy Akira
Traditional RPGs seem to be growing more and more scarce as developers begin trying to liven up the standard RPG experience. There is definitely no shortage of action RPGs already available or on the way and even games that try to adhere to the typical RPG formula seem to be adopting elements of more action oriented titles. Recent examples of this trend include Fable, Sudeki, and X-men Legends. Sega seems to be acting on this trend, too with their upcoming martial arts RPG, Virtua Quest.
Virtua Quest shares one major thing with the upcoming Bioware title, Jade Empire. They are both RPGs with a focus on martial arts, with protagonists that dispatch foes using punches and kicks instead of traditional swords and sorcery. However, this is where the similarities end. While Jade Empire is set in a past replete with Chinese mysticism, Virtua Quest is set in the future in a Matrix-esque virtual world.
In Virtua Quest, players will control Sei, a young boy who is trapped in the Nexus, which appears to be a sort of Star Trek Holodeck mixed with the Internet. Sei will travel the Nexus in search of Virtua Souls, which contain the fighting essences of characters from the Virtua Fighter series. Whenever Sei encounters one of these souls, he must defeat it, and, upon victory, the character offers Sei his or her abilities. In this manner, Sei can gain the moves set from Virtua Fighters including Akira, Jeffrey, Pai Chan, and many others.
When the game releases in January, Sei will have a number of fighting move slots and he will choose which player's moves go in which slot. Moves which vary from throws to grapples to special attacks. Sei will also perform air juggles, utilizing another Matrix-esque slowing technique to attack foes floating slowly in the air from Sei's pop-up attack. Sei also has an energy wire that he can use to freeze enemies in the air, setting them up for a string of air attacks. Although the fighting has been simplified, and therefore won't be as deep as an actual Virtua Fighter game, the gameplay should be fairly entertaining and interesting.
Unlike conventional role-playing games, Sei won't have a party in the traditional sense. What he will have is a companion, a sort of floating circular bot called Bit who will aid him in battle and give advice. Bit will also have three measurable qualities that can be manipulated by feeding him different foods. These categories, consisting of courage, kindness, and intelligence, will determine what form Bit will take.
Despite the use of the Virtua Fighter characters, Virtua Quest has a decidedly cartoonish look, which seems to aim it towards the younger audience. Screenshots show that the characters and environments are bright and colorful, again seeming to aim towards a younger demographic. It seems likely that the subject matter will also be comparatively lighter, which is probably a disappointment to the fans of the Virtua universe who were looking forward to playing their favorite fighters in an RPG universe.