By Drew D. / March 4th, 2022
|Developer||Hit-Point Co., Ltd.|
|Release Date||December 2nd, 2021 (PC)|
|Platform||PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox Series X|S, Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo Switch, Mobile|
After having reviewed several of KEMCO’s JRPGs, I’ve noticed consistencies regarding most of the releases I’ve played. Strong visuals, from its art to its sprite work, and solid, if at times unduly, familiar combat mechanics. Then there’s a story or set of characters that show great potential, yet through lack of depth or narrative shortcomings, never quite reach their full potential. And repeated missteps, including overused or downright vexing gameplay practices. The outcomes typically result in a satisfactory, yet unextraordinary, overall experience. The pieces are consistently there for something brilliant, and so there’s always hope for a title which can right the wrongs and put all those pieces together. Justice Chronicles is my most recent foray into KEMCO’s continued releases, and I’m once again hoping for a title that leaves a genuine lasting impression, and which can stand out within the JRPG genre.
Justice Chronicles tells the story of an impending all-out war between two societies, the Earth-Surface kingdom of Illumica, and Laft, the Earth-Depths. Illumica concludes that Laft is to blame for a sharp rise in monster activity and the resultant upset of peace in their kingdom, and so plans for war are underway. A scouting party of High-Beast Knights, individuals capable of partnering with and fighting alongside a High-Beast companion, are preliminarily sent to Laft, including our hero, Kline. Kline is kindhearted, if simpleminded, and when he sees a group of Laft citizens, including the young Battle Maiden, Alia, being attacked by a rival clan and a supernatural force, he does not hesitate to intervene. Though he manages to separate himself and Alia from the attacking dark entity, Alia is gravely wounded. He then meets Rooselevy, a Guardian and a similar entity to a High Beast, who offers to save Alia in exchange for a partnership of sorts with Kline. Kline accepts, and soon he and a recovered Alia take their first steps in revealing a dark plot, not by Laft, but by a far more sinister antagonist whose influences reach far wider and deeper than any could imagine.
Justice Chronicles features an overall amusing story, as it possesses enough hints of conflict and mystery to carry the game, with a few twists along the way. And, similar to other KEMCO titles, the story has the makings of something more. However, the potential for anything memorable is either squandered just as soon as it’s presented or never given any proper depth and detail. This, I feel, is due in part to how the story unveils itself. It struggles to establish a coherent flow, for it’s presented more like a collection of subsequent events loosely tied together by sudden, and many times overly convenient, occurrences. For example, Kline finds himself on death’s doorstep, then a pink-haired witch, whom we only see once previously, shows up, half heals him, and also provides the next task for the plot to move forward. There is no build-up, detail, or depth in between. We, the players, are just moved along from one event or request to the next.
Another issue with the story is its pacing, in regards to how conflict, twists, and plot details are presented or resolved. Referring to the above example, once the fetch quest for Kline is finished, and after an explanation, everyone just moves on from it to the next event. The main character was near death, due to his contract with his Guardian Beast, but it’s flatly explained away and resolved, just like that. It’s blunt, curt, and lacks any kind of depth or development, nor any hints at lingering fear, conflict, or buildup for something greater later on. Another example are the revelations around mid-game regarding the Beast Knights and the Sect, their priest counterparts. This revelation should have been built up to make for a major impact, as it pertains to the main antagonist. What should have been a hard-hitting reveal is instead a batch of details and emotionless exposition that’s unloaded before moving on. And this, unfortunately, is the norm. What should be big, poignant moments of conflict, plot twist, betrayal, and grand revelation, are all just as soon resolved, reducing them to brief, passive moments in the plot. Those moments are all there; they’re curious, enticing, and very nearly immersive. Yet, it all amounts to a story effort that only manages to take us on an interest-piquing journey, one full of unrealized potential.
As for its cast, each character has a distinct personality that manages to stand out and individualize them, and for this, I’m impressed. Although their personalities may fall into familiar types, there’s enough within their thoughts, banter, and actions that their individuality is made clear, making for a more memorable cast. Regarding these familiar character types, Kline is very much like Goku from the Dragon Ball franchise, given his simple-mindedness, his over-willingness to always step in and help, and his tendency to ignore risks. Alia is resolute, yet still a teenage girl who can be rough around the edges and a bit innocent with her growing affections. Familiar, yes, yet their personalities do shine through, as there is plenty in the way of interaction. Interactions like the others teasing Alia for her attention towards Kline, or Alia and the others calling out Kline for his lack of caution, as well as his obsession with meal time. Lastly, I am particularly impressed with Fred’s character, who must speak his mind through his High Beast. Fred speaking through an interpreter is a clever idea, as I tended to focus even more on his dialogue and his portrait art to grasp his emotions. Overall, each character is distinct and are given those opportunities for their individual personalities to shine.
Having said all of that, the narrative takes away from these character developing efforts, among other things. Dialogues can be explanatory at times, especially when covering major plot points, and so some of that personality is lost. Had they been presented more as a discussion; shorter lines, questions, interruptions; it would have provided even more opportunity for the characters’ uniqueness to show. Also, regarding narrative, everyone is written in the same exact style, using identical slang like “wanna,” “gonna,” and “yeah.” It makes older characters, as well as the more regal authoritative characters, sound completely off and it breaks immersion. Concerning the main cast, the portrait art definitely helps distinguish exactly who is speaking during the less personal conversations, but this single style of speaking is ultimately unavoidable as you read. It takes minimal effort to alter a character’s diction and sentence structure, and goes a long way to further individualize them. Here, they all speak with the same voice; zero differentiation. Pair this with my previous complaint of how major story points are dumped on you in exposition, and you have a narrative effort that leaves me frustrated.
Leaving its writing behind, Justice Chronicles possesses an adequate gameplay effort, utilizing many commonplace JRPG mechanics. Starting with its strengths, gameplay sports a combat mechanic that is solid and easy to navigate. Combat is your traditional random encounter turn-based affair, in which attacks, magic spells, skills, and items are all selected through menu choices. There are several characters to choose for your three-person team, and each character has their particular strengths and unique skills, so trying different combinations may yield surprising results. Each character can also partner with a Guardian or High Beast, who can grant stat boosts, heal, or attack, and can easily turn the tide of any battle. Regarding magic, any character can equip Meteorites, items that allow the use of particular magic spells; elemental, healing, or stat based; and skill proficiency can be increased through repeated use. With the number of team, Beast, and magic combinations, gameplay gains quite a bit of variety.
Outside of combat, there’s a crafting system which allows for the upgrade of weapons and armor with materials found throughout the adventure. Nothing revolutionary, yet easy to master, crafting becomes a necessity, especially for mid-boss and boss encounters. Also, the game features Help menus which explain nearly every aspect of play, as well as story recaps to keep players informed. Lastly, navigating through every aspect of gameplay is easy, as the designs are clean, clear, and simple to understand.
Unfortunately, there are several flaws in gameplay, which will disrupt both play flow and overall immersion, and I found that many of these shortcomings are quality of life related. Firstly, gameplay possesses an aggravatingly high encounter rate. You cannot go more than ten steps before having an encounter. It completely discourages exploration and slows play. Also, it causes combat to lose its appeal outside of those more intense mid-boss and boss battles. The fast-battle option helps, but is not a fix, nor is the item that temporarily stops all encounters. Retreating is an unreliable option, especially with its chance of failing which occurred too often for me, and even against far weaker foes. Another experience issue is not having any kind of progress indication for spell and skill proficiency, which is unfortunate. As I mentioned, using skills and spells improve proficiency, in turn increasing their power. A visual or numerical indication would have helped, and its absence feels like a lack of developer foresight.
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