Cosmic Alignment constitutes the character development system in E3. Depending on actions performed in combat, classified either Mental or Physical, the subject's alignment shifts accordingly. Mental classes are higher on the chart, while physical classes comprise the lower sector. Each class bestows its own benefits, which are inherited by subsequent classes. Therefore, by following certain paths through the planets and constellations, each character may acquire a unique combination of bonuses. This precarious process of balance, moving back and forth with accented strokes and tangents might resemble a "dance" of sorts, hence the Dance of the Heavens.
In keeping with the series' hallmark focus on character individuality, each individual holds the potential for a special transformation. This is known as the MAX Sequence. By engineering a specific path, any given character will undergo said transformation into their "MAX" form upon reaching one of the six terminal classes. For example, if Nevena begins by following the physical path, then mental three times and finally physical once more, she will achieve MAX status upon arrival at the Astromancer terminus. The trick is that, each time anyone's alignment shifts, either their mental or physical offset increases. This makes it more difficult to shift back in the opposite direction, and the effect is cumulative. So while the first mental transition won't present much of an issue, the final physical shift after three mental in a row will certainly prove problematic.
While E2 had days of the week for its time-based system, in keeping with E3's astronomical leanings, lunar phases are employed instead. There are eight phases, cycling between new and full, waxing and waning crescent and gibbous, first and last quarters. Female characters gain power with the waxing of the moon, while males weaken. Rarely, there are blue and blood moons. All are empowered during the blue moon, while the power balance is reversed during a blood moon (so males power up while females become weaker). However, the energy of the full blood moon is so chaotic, those under its influence are driven berserk and rendered uncontrollable. Conversely, the benevolent and harmonious blue moon confers a host of additional benefits, including increased healing and other forms of protection.
With each new moon, the astrological sign changes. As each sign has its associated Element, this replaces the fluctuating Elemental strengths by day in E2. Characters under the respective sign also experience increased performance in general.
The Compatibility Matrix
There are many dimensions to compatibility in E3. As such, a linear gauge would be insufficient. Enter the Compatibility Matrix, an enhanced graphical representation of all character relationship empowerment. The Elements series has always been about interpersonal communication at its core, so why shouldn't this be reflected in the gameplay itself? Now it is!
Generally, male and female characters power up in each other's company, unless an individual's sexual orientation creates an exception. For example, because Nevena is androphobic, having guys present will actually power her down. Furthermore, a few characters such as Eilam and Amrit are exempt from the broad gender-based bonuses by nature. But everyone has their own likes and dislikes regardless of gender, so compatibility manifests on multiple levels. As stated in her biography, Dia can't stand Amrit, so she'll be adversely affected by his presence in particular. Pictured above, we see that Nevena and Dia are mutually empowered, but this correlates only to their personal relations, independent of the gender bonus, which would therefore "stack" on top of the friendship bonus. Kevin and Eilam power up due to their friendship as well, but Kevin also powers up with any female, including Nevena, even though he personally bothers her. Those who share astrological signs or cosmic alignment will also power up together.
Before you run screaming, know that E3 extensively revamps the Attribute system. There are no more negative attributes, and the attributes themselves are based on an individual's core stats, as pictured, with a rating from 1-5 stars. This rating denotes the impact they will have on the development of party members' statistics and also the rate at which their own stats are affected by others. For instance, we see here that Lai has only one star for Defense, so she'll contribute next to nothing toward the development of the party's Defense stat, nor will she be affected much by those who have even a five-star rating for Defense. On the other hand, her high Intellect and Luck will rapidly improve with little effort.
The primary function of this system is to counter-balance the character bias that may arise as a result of lunar phases and/or compatibility. So you may want certain characters in your party due to their beneficial Attribute layouts, even if they're not the most compatible or taking advantage of the current state of the moon.
Huh? Rankings? What is this, an action game? In a further twist on the episodic structure introduced in E2, the story of E3 is divided into Chapters and, more broadly, Divisions comprised of several chapters. At the end of each chapter, you're awarded a Rank based on your progress in the pictured categories. The lower three categories penalize your rank. "Restoratives" refers to the all-powerful Pepp Pep-style cure-all (in E3's case, the Rocky Rakhan candy bar), rather than every single healing item you may use. A faster time will of course improve your rank, but so will being thorough by cataloging enemies for the encyclopedia and finding lots of treasure.
The different ranks include E, D, C, B, A, and S. Your rank will affect almost every aspect of gameplay, including the difficulty level. Having a high rank could even open up new areas, make stronger enemies appear or improve the caliber of treasure found, not to mention discounts and item availability in shops. Completing chapters with a high rank, you'll also be awarded special skills (including Combos) that cannot be obtained by other means, as well as rare items, weapons, or accessories.
With everything taken into account, Alignments, Lunar Phases, Compatibility, and personalized Attributes will radically redefine your rationale for forming a party. Rankings and plot junctures with parallel scenarios add further replay value, making for a highly individualized experience. Customization and replayability are my highest priorities from a design standpoint, and while I feel I made great strides with the new system in E2, all the more in these prospective additions to E3.