Sen runs parallel to Ao, except the viewpoint is shifted to the Erebonian Empire, which is going through internal conflict between the noble families that have power over the land and a revolutionary party led by the Giliath Osborne. The protagonists are members of the special class VII of Thors Military Academy, and as a part of their special training, they get to visit a different city in Erebonia each month (chapter) and carry out tasks. I expected the game to be similar to Zero/Ao where the protagonists operate from a central city and occasionally travel to smaller surrounding towns, but due to the size and diversity of the areas in Erebonia, Sen feels much more adventurous and refreshing. I’d say that Sen is more similar to Sora FC than Zero due to the larger cast of playable main characters and the variety of locations you get to visit.
While there have been people complaining about the school setting, I am very glad they went with that. Without being bound by a local job like the Zero/Ao cast, the Sen cast get to experience various places and have a much more adventurous and I daresay, youthful experience. Erebonia is made up off numerous distinct towns and is an empire with a rich background and history, making it more enjoyable to traverse than Crossbell, narrative-wise. It does the feeling of 青春～ very well, especially combined with the 3D graphics which provide a much more impressive scale of the world. Although the old engine allowed greater flexibility for action-filled character movement, the in-game textures are not the best, and the character models feel rather unpolished compared to most 3D PS3 games, it’s the scale of the environments that work in the game’s benefit. Seeing the vastness of Nord plains, the lively buildings of the capitol, and the misty yet refreshing Legram in their proper scale is wonderfully refreshing. Plus the female character models have nice legs, bonus points for character proportions.
Story-wise, Sen works similarly to Sora FC where the major conflicts gain momentum towards the end, leaving the game off at a point where one would be itching for a sequel. While Zero ends on an upbeat note before entering Ao, Sen leaves us with a strong sequel hook on the same if not greater caliber than Sora FC. However, much like Sora, even the early parts were very enjoyable, even if the main plot was still far away. It is easy to get absorbed into the world of Sen and its characters, and somehow 70 hours in my life was gone even though the game felt nowhere near as long. The indirect effect of the adventures of Estelle and co. in Sora is interesting to see, as well as the other side of the story when it comes to Crossbell’s issues and decisions. Seeing the differences in culture and values between Liberl, the modern Crossbell, and the highly traditional and military-oriented Erebonia is very satisfying, as well as seeing how the Bracer profession is so different across them.
The cast is made of a group of teenagers who, each under their own circumstances and motivations, come together under Class VII of Thors Military Academy by chance. Each character gets a decent amount of time in the spotlight, as well as still having room for further development in the sequel. The synergy of the cast and their likability is something that hasn’t changed from previous games, even with the new setting. I daresay that the school setting and kizuna events (which have been compared to Persona’s social links) even helps strengthen the sense of camaraderie amongst the characters.
Despite all my praise and enjoyment, Sen is definitely far from flawless. Graphics aside, I don’t like the revamp of the orbment system at all. The fact that arts have to be equipped through individual quartz ruins all the fun of figuring out which quartz to equip on which orbment line to generate the desired arts. Even though the link system is fun, overall I prefer the battle system in Ao no Kiseki. The main villain group that the protagonists spend most of the time chasing after is awfully uninteresting for the most part, and the game generally has too much hand-holding. Being user-friendly by warning the player at points of no return and providing reminders for what to do to advance the plot is one thing, but having exclamation marks everywhere ruins some of the more mystery-based quests such as Bleu Blanc’s item hunt. Initially, the game had long load times and bugs, but most of that has been fixed by the latest patch and it runs smoothly on the PS3.
To conclude, I’d have to say that Sen was a very satisfying (I use that term loosely, because the ending is anything but that) experience, especially for someone who has played all the games in chronological order since Sora no Kiseki FC. My favorite girl so far has been a tie between Fie and Laura, and on the male side I like the headbutting duo of Jusis and Machias. Also Elliot, he is adorable and extremely useful in battle. I like this cast a lot on a whole, and I hope Falcom will put out something like The Third again to expand on character arcs.
青春最高！I love school settings when they nail the atmosphere.