The idea of waging war on humans and demons alike sounds very promising to us. Uppity monsters think they can rule the human race forever, so we revolt and smash their oppressive ways. Then they fight back, and now we've got major problems, with splintering factions all vying for their own ends. Throw in an arsenal of weapons, monsters and battlegrounds and you've got the recipe for a handheld war we could get behind.
Until we have to wait 10-20 seconds for a new area to load. Or small bits of loading for every. Single. Action. You. Take. Imagine the most crushingly monotonous amount of waiting possible, then multiply it by a factor of ridiculous. We even charted one loading period to 38 seconds. What PSP-breaking scenario required such a tremendous effort of disc access? Entering a new chapter of the story - that's it. Once there, it's more waiting for little anime people to talk, talk talk until you can finally fight. Where you'll just wait some more, killing any sense of momentum that you thought was there.
But, to be fair, Spectral Souls is a totally decent game. As with any grid-and-turn-based RPG, it's the battle system that makes or breaks the fun (atrocious loading notwithstanding), and what's here could hold together any other title. All the moves in Souls require Action Points, with powerful techniques sucking up more points than others. The more points you have left over at the end of a character's turn, the faster his turn comes the next time around.
Souls also incorporates an action timeline to determine who's attacking and in what order - think Grandia III or Atelier Iris 2. So, figuring out which attacks to pull off before the enemy gets a chance to fight back is crucial. Combining normal strategy elements from the Disgaea series with such a sweat-inducing aspect makes this battle system one of the coolest we've seen in a while.
Except, of course, we can barely stand to play for more than one battle at a time. You won't care that crucial battles during the game can affect the whole plotline for three separate armies, or that each of these armies has its own set of missions, troops and quirks that make replaying Souls an attractive option. No, you won't care at all, because you will spend more time waiting for stuff to load than anything else.
Spectral Souls is a true sob story. There's a perfectly serviceable game here, buried underneath one crucial problem. Everything you strategy RPG fans love is present - combo attacks, crisp artwork and a fairly decent soundtrack make it extremely tough to hate. But here we are, refusing to put the time in. So far, publisher NIS hasn't done too well on the PSP, but its PS2 entries are hot stuff - so go play Disgaea 2 instead.