Gameplay in many aspects follows the traditional Square RPG model similar to the better known Final Fantasy series, it also had an innovative magic system, where spells are freely constructed according to words written out by the player.
The gameplay is divided into three main areas: the overworld map, the towns and dungeons, and battles. When in the overworld map, the player directs their characters to different locations in the game. Towns contain the prerequisite shops and villagers who offer information, while dungeons are mazelike affairs where random enemy encounters may occur. These battles may also strike on the overworld map and follow a typical RPG pattern: the player makes choices for their characters (such as whether to fight, cast a magic spell, or run away), and then the enemy takes a turn. This pattern repeats until the characters on one side all run out of hit points and die, similar to the typical Final Fantasy JRPG style.
The game’s most innovative feature is its magic system. Whereas most console RPGs give the player access to a limited number of precreated spells, here it allows the player nearly total creative freedom. The player can enter various “words of power” (called kotodama) into their grimoire. Every one will have some effect, although most are not useful. There is an underlying framework to the system, however, which is based on the gameworld’s elements.
A complete mantra generally consists of a prefix, elemental core, and suffix, although the core alone is enough to produce an effect. There are eight elements (plus healing), and of these, six are arranged in mutually antagonistic pairings: fire vs. water, wind vs. electricity, and light vs dark. The remaining two offensive elements, earth and void, have no strengths or weaknesses. Since spells are formed from letters, there are specific patterns corresponding to each element. Certain spells that use the root word tou for example, will produce lightning-based attacks, while those containing aqu will create water-based effects.
Additionally, there are prefixes and suffixes that can be added onto the base elements to change their attributes. Most of these influence the base power and cost to use the spell, but others add abnormal status effects (for example, poisoning the target) or change the mantra’s range so that it only targets a single enemy instead of multiple ones or vice versa. Prefixes and suffixes with similar effects can be used in tandem to produce amplified effects.
Other mantras consist of unique words that create certain effects and skip the naming system entirely. Many of these strange words are learned from in-game characters or by reading books. For example, geo is an earth-related mantra, and kingcoast is a water spell. Adding prefixes or suffixes to these usually makes something completely different (and sometimes useless). This use of spelled-out mantras allows the player to learn magic from even their enemies. When an enemy uses magic, the player has but to write down the spells used and then to enter them into his or her own grimoire after the battle in order to have access to them. Some of these enemy spells are extremely powerful, although many are not as cost-efficient as the basic spells. Some are more space-efficient versions of regular spells.
The plot incorporates elements from Indian religions, centrally the concept of the wheel of time – every 4000 years the world is destroyed and recreated by a Rudra – the name taken from an aspect of the Hindu god of destruction, Shiva. With several races of beings already eradicated and replaced, the story takes place during the final 15 days before humans are scheduled to be wiped out as well.
The story is divided into three major scenarios, each with a different main character: the soldier Sion, the priestess Riza, and the archaeologist Surlent. As the player enters new areas and accomplishes different tasks, the human race’s final 15 days slowly ebb away in a predetermined day/night cycle. The player is free to play the scenarios in any order, and may even leave one storyline to follow that of another character for a time. The actions of the characters in one location and time may have an effect on the others, as well, both in the general story and in gameplay. For example, if one group of characters leaves a sacred relic somewhere, another character may come and find it on a later day in their own part of the game. After successfully completing all three scenarios, players must take on a fourth, featuring the roving thief Dune and the heroes from the previous three chapters in their final confrontation with the game’s major villains.