Given such a ghostly title, you'd expect squads of shimmering spirits and imposing armies of the undead to loom ominously over Spectral Force 3. It's true that this strategic role-playing game features fluttering birdmen, bony grave escapees, and magic-wielding vampires--not to mention purring catwomen, ninjas, and matronly goblins hungry for an afternoon snack. But rather than go hog wild with this campy crowd, developer Idea Factory has created an immediately forgettable experience. Spectral Force 3 plays decently enough--as it should, given that it cribs from decades-old games that have already perfected and reperfected the turn-based formula. But for a game featuring a sasquatch militia, it has no personality, and the practically nonexistent story and weak character development will disappoint even the most stalwart genre enthusiasts.
This looks much more dramatic than it actually is.
This lack of character means that the game relies purely on its gameplay for entertainment value, and it partially succeeds, thanks to battles that last just the right length, and an eclectic assortment of units you can recruit to your posse of ragtag mercenaries. As you progress through the game, you will add more and more characters to your list of available party members. In turn, you gain some strategic flexibility, thanks to an assortment of gladiators and gunners you can mess around with on the battlefields. The constants are main character Begina and the cowardly healer Diaz, and several missions require you to protect one or both of these party members to achieve victory. In fact, you'll spend a lot of time protecting Diaz in most scenarios, not just because he is your main healer, but because he can utilize magic squares on the gameplay grid called geomancy lines. When he stands in these squares, the party receives a particular enhancement (say, a hit point boost after every turn), and Diaz can unleash a helpful area attack.
Regardless of the mission objectives, most battles play out in more or less the same way. You plant your selected party on the gameplay grid and take turns moving about and bashing on your AI-controlled enemies. Granted, there are some variants on the usual recipe. By landing successful standard attacks (of which there are light, medium, and heavy variants), you fill the friend gauge. As this gauge fills, you can then string attacks together in one of two ways. With an assist attack, you can land additional blows using nearby party members; with the teamwork command, you can grant an entire additional turn to another character. These mechanics aren't groundbreaking, but they're the key to surviving the hardest missions, some of which can feel incredibly difficult. That isn't to say that Spectral Force 3 is, overall, a punishing game. However, in the midst of the easier tasks, you will encounter some difficult story missions that may have you reexamining your strategies and equipping your characters in a variety of ways.
There are other considerations as well, such as Diaz's healing ability, which is freely usable without depleting any kind of mana gauge. On the other hand, he cannot heal himself with his standard spell, so you need to equip him and other characters accordingly. There are no potions in Spectral Force 3, so you'll rely on a number of equipped items to enhance your party's built-in skills. These run the gamut from additional spells to stat buffs, though you must first create and equip the necessary items to use these abilities. This means a visit to a smith (easily done via the game menus), who will then form the items you find on the battlefield into the necessary object.