In the interest of full disclosure, I really should point out that the only reason I bought Contact in the first place is because of the blurb on the back of the box making fun of Final Fantasy VII - If you're ever trying to sell a game to me, that's one of the quickest routes to my sinister black heart. Upon opening the manual, I find that, while it doesn't provide much in the way of information, it does provide a fair number of jokes at the expense of Livejournal and Myspace users, which is another point in its favour.
Contact looks like Earthbound, but plays more like a cross between Secret of Mana and an MMORPG, what with combat being that same sort of real-time-turn-based MMO business; put yourself in combat mode, walk over to a mob, and you and it autoattack each other until somebody's dead. There are various instant attacks you can perform if you have the power, but they don't necessarily fire right away. This is important largely because taking damage interrupts any action in progress, meaning that if you get hit before your spell come off, it will fizzle (but you'll still pay for it). This mechanic makes timing in combat very important, and also makes fighting multiple mobs considerably more difficult than it otherwise would be, never mind how useful damage-over-time effects become.
There's an interesting food system in play here. Terry (the hero) can buy, find, or cook a variety of different food items, which both restore health and change his stats; all food also has a time (in real time) that it takes to digest, and Terry will get its stat bonuses only until it's completely digested. Terry also can eat only so much at one time, and will have to wait until he's less full before he can eat more. The main trouble with this system is that it also includes low-cost, short-digestion-time healing potions that fairly negate any limits the digestion system would put on how much healing Terry can do in a length of time.
There's a large amount of tweaky customisation that can be done if you're a hard-core min-maxer; Terry has, to a first approximation, seven trillion different stats that all advance independently, can be modified by gear, consumables, and skills, and have impact on nearly everything that can be done. On top of the stat variation, there is a tremendous number of different weapons and items to collect, and a system of "decals" that can be used to provide further customisation. All this amounts to very little in the end, however, since the game's so easy; combat, for all its superficial depth, ends up being fairly bland and routine, and boss fights seem involving and tricky, but in reality can all be consumable-zerged due to the aforementioned healing potions.
There are a few other annoyances, most notably the rigamarole involved in saving the game. It's not that save points are exactly uncommon, mind, so much as that saving takes goddamn ages to do. The game writes a fairly large amount of data to the card, and, after the save is complete, you have to go through a "playing with the dog" routine that gets old rather early on and has highly vague and intangible effects on the game. The game also doesn't permit you to zone without saving, so you can't even minimise it to once-per-session.
So, in the end, Contact is an enjoyable, quirky little game that has quite a lot going for it, but certainly has its share of troubles as well. It's worth your time if you can tolerate its eccentricities, and, hey, it makes fun of Final Fantasy VII. That's always refreshing.
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