Fuukan no Grasesta is the latest release from Eushully, the company responsible for Kamidori Alchemy Meister and Ikusa Megami Zero. As I mentioned in my previous post, it is based in a unique fantasy world based off of the idea that a futuristic version of our world got fused with a world of demihumans and gods who granted magic in return for faith.
Fuukan no Grasesta's basic system is that of a dungeon-crawler... with a few twists. First, the party shares an HP bar, which signals the party's destruction if it hits zero. Each character currently recruited or hired has a basic HP stat that adds to the bar, with the protagonist, Judar Schwarka, having the largest (his hp is about five times the next highest character's addition). This is necessary, as the game has numerous points where Judar is the only fighter. Judar himself is a straight-out warrior/barbarian type, with the ability to wield swords, greatswords, and warhammers. His natural element is darkness, and his attacks, which range from a row to an all-enemies on a single platform attack, are generally powerful, albeit useless against some enemies (there are a LOT of dark elemental enemies out there, but it is great for wiping out regular enemies).
Active skills in this game have a certain amount of uses each, rather than the game utilizing an MP system (which would make more sense, considering that magical energy is required for all powers and special abilities in the setting). This makes traversing the dungeons a serious pain in the rear, especially since items are expensive, levels gained have little effect on stats (seriously... think maybe one stat going up by one, or three stats going up by one at the most, with Judar's HP going up every level). This isn't as much trouble as you'd think, most of the time, simply because the enemy don't have huge gaps in strength based on level either, but it also makes grinding excessively unattractive, because there are minimal returns.
When you leave the dungeon, all items found inside, save for those used to power up 'container' items (special items that can take in usables and stock them for future use without taking up space in the inventory) or weapons, or weapons that have to be assessed to find out what they are. You are given a pittance of money based on the value of what you found (seriously, it is shit money), and, if you are willing to spend what little you gained, you can get at least the most important ones (weapons and armor, usually) back... though it makes me wince every time, since money is generally scarce, no matter how far I get into this game.
Upgradable weapons and armor are usually the most valuable, and it is usually good to have weapons of multiple elements on each character so they can switch as needs must, since elemental attacks make things a lot easier at times.
Early in the game, my advice is hurry up and get your party wiped out once, use money to restart, then go back and use the Hetares Dungeon from the append to quickly level your characters up (after you hit about level 15 it slows down, and that is about the point you should stop using it to level up) and get coins that can be turned into money. Early in the game, this is pretty much the only way to keep afloat, as demands on your money are constant, and grinding in the main dungeon is generally inefficient.
Now, about allies... allies in this game are mostly recruited by hiring people you've gotten access to through the story/talking to them in the streets. The expense for them differs... and they only stay with you for a set number of days. My advice is that you keep all available hires recruited at all times to keep your hp bar up, then only deploy the ones most effective for a given dungeon in the actual battles. Having people vulnerable to the common element of a dungeon (vulnerabilities CAN be changed based on armor, but armor is much less plentiful and full of variety than weapons) in your formation is a good way to get slaughtered, and there is little point in pounding away with an element that doesn't do crap to the enemies in a particular part of the dungeon.
As you hire them over and over again and see their scenes, eventually (between chapters 4-6 for most) you'll be able to permanently recruit most of the characters, but this often requires some extremely hard battles or really persistent use of the said characters. So far, I'd say Mikuri and Aguna had the hardest recruitment issues (though Aguna was worth it, since her fire magic is powerful and her hire cost is the highest by 2X). Excel and the dwarf girl who looks nothing like a dwarf take the longest but are relatively easy to take in (though Excel's quirks are... a bit strange). The two healers of the party are Ririka and Excel, and without them you are pretty much screwed in boss battles.
Throughout the dungeon are enemies called Disasters, demons of immense power who are usually dramatically more powerful than even the bosses of the areas they are in. Since most of these have seriously badass area attacks, you'll have to pick which characters to fight them carefully and expect to lose at least once on many of them (especially since they are usually about twenty levels higher than the enemies around them and have proportionately higher stats than everything around them). On the other hand, the rewards for beating them (in items, experience, and money) are generally worth it. Until chapter 5's latest dungeon, I'd say it is barely possible for an adequately leveled party to take them down, given some luck and a good strategy. On the other hand, at that point, the most recent one I ran into was having three turns for every one of mine and was using an all-area attack on at least one of those... and healing himself from the drain effect of his passive skill. Annoying, to say the least.
It probably says everything about this game that I never really felt like I was anywhere near the head of the curve until I hit the fifth chapter, despite my experience with jrpgs and dungeon crawlers. While the system isn't as quirky as that of some of Eushully's other games, it is still nontraditional enough to through me off at times.
I'll keep comments on the story to myself until the final review, but these are my impressions of the gameplay so far.
Edit: Sorry, forgot to comment on skills... In this game, skills do not automatically level up with your experience. Rather, you have to spend money in the menu to level up the skills related to your character's use of weapons, puzzle-solving skills, and others. I suggest you max Judar's Lone Wolf skill as early as possible, as it makes him an ungodly powerhouse when forced to fight alone... when the skill doesn't bug out (which it does surprisingly frequently).