Sequels That Should Have Been: Septerra Core

Oh poor, misunderstood Septerra Core. You don’t deserve to only be remembered as the game Steve Downes got the job for Master Chief in Halo from.

No two fanbases loathe each other as much as I imagine Japanese and Western RPG fans. It’s an East vs. West feud of rap proportions. Western RPGs love freedom, storylines derived largely from table top games, and nonlinear character development. Japanese RPGs love linearity, storylines that are half Tolkien and half Anime, and leveling systems. Western RPGs love (or loved) computers, the Japanese the SNES and the Playstation. Also, I’m pretty sure Final Fantasy killed Tim Cain in a drive by in 2005, and Bioware responded by killing the entire JRPG genre by making Western RPGs into first person shooters. Western RPGs and Japanese ones do not mix.

And then there’s Septerra Core, a PC-exclusive Western RPG that played like a Japanese RPG. Someone looking at the genres through a profoundly racial lens could call it the Great White Hope, the James Jeffries to traditional combinations’ Jack Johnson, but that doesn’t seem particularly necessary or apt since Septerra Core died a slow death on store shelves. It’s recently been rereleased on Good Old Games, where it sits comfortably aside its peers like a distinguished tenured professor at a floundering American university. It hasn’t made a difference, and it sits in the annals of gaming history alongside personal favorite Sonic: The Dark Brotherhood as an example of why Western developers should not try to make Japanese styled role playing games.

That assessment, of course, misses the best point of Septerra Core—its style, its grace, its evocative existence. In throwing the game out for its mediocre slow JRPG gameplay, gamers missed out on its contributions: its fantastic “seven world” setting, interlocking plates of world cocooning each other like a massive faberge egg. The main characters exist as Junkers, who salvage trash from another “world shell” that’s been thrown off by the wealthy, the same wealthy who, in the past, had destroyed much of the player character’s culture. That’s only covering one of the shells. Each one is phenomenally different, and the mixing of cultures is one of the things that made the game so interesting.

This is why Septerra Core desperately needs a sequel. This world didn’t deserve to die. It didn’t deserve to die, and I don’t think the Western take on the JRPG deserved to die. The original had good ideas around the bad: a card based magic system that allowed for a lot of permutations of spells, equipment choices that weren’t just “this one is obviously better, spend the money”, and a three different modes of attack system close to (but not quite) that of Chrono Cross. Battles could be tough, too, a welcome change from mashing attack endlessly. There were good ideas here, but they were profoundly slow ideas: battles took forever, you walked pretty slowly, and areas were huge. They were lovely, but they were huge.
In addition, there were Western RPG elements. Obviously, the setting wasn’t particularly Japanese, and it took a lot from Babylonian mythology of all things. The best part, though, was how conversations worked. In a game with so many party members, it was an achievement to give each of them unique voice-acted things to say at every juncture. The game was lush and lavish in its writing and voice acting in a way we still haven’t really seen in games.

A sequel would keep the JRPG trappings and those good Western ideas, but make the whole thing smoother, better paced. The world and its interesting races would be the stars, though. The story could hold the whole thing together. And a world where there are seven different races just existing parallel to one another prompts a whole lot of good story ideas. With a setting this evocative, new stories wouldn’t be hard to grasp.

Septerra Core deserves better than it got. Rather than be discarded to the ghetto of awkward genre combinations, it deserved a chance to impress with its setting, its characters, its general evocativeness. A sequel would have given it that chance.

3 Comments

  1. Dylan

    Can I just say that the Grubb/Led pseudo-romance is one of the CUTEST NPC romances I’ve ever seen? Takes notes, Bioware.

  2. Neko

    If anyone is interested, I made a fan sequel to this game. It’s called Septerra Core Dream About the Past.
    Graphics are not as good as in original game, I created 2D, but anyway, you can watch the trailer here:

    English verion should be done between December/January.

  3. Vikram

    This game definitely deserves a sequel !!