Androgynous teenagers with gravity-defying hair wandering a mysterious world armed only with cranky comebacks and improbably large weapons? Yes, everything you either love or hate about Japanese RPGs is waiting for you in a convenient Flash package in Ge.ne.sis, a turn-based tactical RPG by An Lieu.
You begin as Neraine, a short-tempered Singaporean girl who provides the lion's share of the crankiness for the game, but you'll soon add more members to your party. Movement and interaction with the world is done through [WASD] or [arrow] keys, with the mouse used to cycle through dialogue and to allocate points when your characters level up. In battle, everything is done with the mouse, and you'll be spending a fair amount of time on these tactics-styled battle screens. In a semi-top down view, you direct your characters to move, attack, and use abilities, keeping an eye on the energy pool, since that's what you need to use the most powerful abilities (with some characters, any ability at all).
Ge.ne.sis has a good difficulty curve, not throwing everything at you at once, but introducing different elements steadily. Before the long you have an array of different options and strategies to try in battle. The game shines when it allows you to indulge your inner Machiavelli—Do you try to keep all your guys alive and slowly wear the other side down? Do you send some people out in a suicidal blaze of glory? Will you keep your tarots (the game's version of summons) on the field as fighters, or soulburst them for other advantages? As the game continues, you increasingly come up against bosses where only one approach will work. Since the game also keeps you on rails for the plot, this can leave you feeling a bit hemmed-in.
Japanese-style RPGs sink or swim on the strength of their stories. The script here is fun, if a little stilted and awkward in syntax in places. Nothing a JRPG fan isn't used to. If you can manage to suspend your disbelief enough to deal with not only the impossible, but also the improbable (an English boy named Gelyan? GELYAN?), then Ge.ne.sis provides the requisite world-shaking mystery involving your plucky adventurers and a few side quests along the way.
Analysis: The artwork in Ge.ne.sis is bright, colorful, and detailed, and the flatness seems to give the world the appearance of paper puppets in a toy theater. The music provides the proper mood, whether whimsical exploration, the heat of battle, or dramatic revelations, but the tunes can get a bit repetitive, and unfortunately there aren't separate controls for music and sound effects.
A word of advice to save you some of my pain: always try to go back to the last save point you used between battles. There are several places where you cannot save for a few battles, and if you get drawn into another fight and then are called away from your game, you can lose a lot of progress. Missing a save point, therefore, can mean that you lose four or five battles worth of progress if, say, your browser crashes or you have to get up and make yourself a sandwich.
This brings up an interesting point: why do game developers still cling to save points? In casual games in particular, the ability to pick up and put down a game at a moment's notice is a high point of appeal, especially for people who might be gaming during a break. Also, Ge.ne.sis only allows three slots to save. Now really, why don't you leave it up to me to decide how much of the cache on my machine I'm willing to devote to save files? Particularly in a game like this, where you may decide later that you want to try a totally different distribution of attribute points, having only three slots is really not enough.
Despite its few technical hiccups, Ge.ne.sis is a great looking and smooth playing browser-based strategy RPG. Save often, admire the scenery, and pretend everyone on your block has a name like Gelyan and you'll do just fine! And if you're in the mood for a little help, be sure to take advantage of the excellent strategy guide.