Be careful! While I won’t go as far as some Internet rats who seem to love to define everything into a “sucks” or “rocks” camp along the guideline of some sort of elitist timewaster’s club, the developer of these games has a very poor reputation in Japan for a good reason.
They aren’t Nippon Ichi developed games. They aren’t Gust developed games. These two are respected small time developers because their gameplay can often match the strength of their ideas.
These are developed by Idea Factory, whom (it’s whom, right?) you’ll want to be extremely cautious with.
Idea Factory pumps out games like nobody’s business and gives little consideration to how well all the mechanics and ideas they put on the assembly line actually relate into a finished product. Their games are exceedingly, almost unreasonably complex to a confusing degree, but it often doesn’t lead anywhere and simply swirls down the bathtub drainwater into a murky mess that’s about as rewarding as picking your nose with a chainsaw.
To give you an idea, on the PSOne they developed these games called I think Spectral Tower, which completely revolved around dungeon-hacking a huge (I think 10,000 floors) tower. Now, you’d think if your entire game revolved one tower, you’d make sure to build it uniquely. Nope, same floor, same enemies, over and over and over and over again, with a unique theme floor every so often that’s built with gameplay crumbs to make you think, “They thought this would be fun?”
Now, they did get better than Spectral Tower. As far as I know, most of their series fall either into the Neverland world or the Spectral world, which I believe are two entirely different mythologies and the games throw a LOT of detail about the history and such. This seems to be a relative strength for Idea Factory. Apparently the games are based on some sort of ginormous 10,000 page fantasy novel series in the designer’s head.
On the other hand, you should be wary of any company that throws out a lot of “adventure games” (aka what other countries like to call dating sims). Usually it shows a casual disregard for anything like real character development, a love of stupid cliches and a complete inability to create something resonant and immaculately considered, what would happen if you let insane Internet fanboys actually make games.
In Generations of Chaos, the idea has been usually to split the game into three types: a sim-style nation-building type that’s board-game like, an SRPG type and a conventional RPG type. All three of these types usually suffer from gameplay that feels so nonexistent you can barely remember what you just played. Its like for all the detail and stuff they throw at you, its just an overwhelming barrage of fluff that doesn’t stick. I’ve heard that the series starting getting better around the mid PS2 days, but I’d given up on it by then. It seems consensus that once it got a little better, it went downhill again.
Spectral Souls, on the other hand, isn’t that bad. I played the first one and I hear the second one is even better. The first was a by-the-book SRPG that reminds a lot of Square’s and Nippon Ichi’s efforts. On the good side, Idea Factory reined in their ambitions enough that there isn’t a billion and one meaningless gameplay systems and facets. It seems to be better tuned and balanced then their other games and the characters aren’t quite as “draw a picture, stamp in the dialogue that would fit the picture, scatter randomly across script” as other Idea Factory games. It does seem to have the needlessly large cast of other IF games, and the kind of sloppiness that can and does come with that and it by no means as polished as the others, but its nice and decent.
I hear the second game takes a Romancing Saga 2 like “change history” slant where you can manipulate three emergent powers and change the timeline of how the world turns out. It sounded like typical Idea Factory ambition met with resounding clunks, so I stayed away.
Idea Factory doesn’t make all their games badly (though almost all of them are riddled with annoying bugs that makes you wonder how it got beyond Sony’s testing), but I’ve yet to see them do anything that’s better than decent or slightly above average.
So consider yourself warned.
On the other hand, Disgaea 2 is out and its as brilliant as usual! God bless the real talents! :D