I got it earlier today and have had some time to dig in.
Why it seems polished
My very first impression is that's there is lots of polish over everything. Every environment has a lot of incidental detail to it that you can explore that kinds of adds to the setting. You never seem to just go to a place and go into rooms that look like other rooms. Sound design is surprising, as they use the Wii remote for lots of cool sound things, some of them really liable to give you a shock when all of a sudden and it's been so quiet. One of my favorites is that one of the enemies are the ghosts of children with half their bodies missing and when you hit them, they scream out little children's games and jeers dialogue. Also, when you interact with something in the environment the Wiimote will give a slight vibration to let you know. Voice acting is impressive and the actors really deliver a lot of emotion and weight to their lines.
Even the options menu looks gorgeous, with little hand-drawn silhouettes of things on a faded parchment for the background. The in-game menus show the same attention to detail. It's a very interesting art style that reminds of 50s style advertisements with their saturated color, but faded in time. There is plenty of optional stuff to interact with and the game has a quick, snappy pace. There is lots of storyline and stuff related to it you can explore, but no long cutscenes, at least so far.
Paragraph by paragraph description of the starting story, gameplay sections, tutorials and cutscenes
So after you click start, the first thing you're greeted with is this wavering blue miasma that looks like a bubble floating around the screen. It gradually opens up and becomes clearer, showing a cloudy daytime sky. You can hear something being scraped or somebody digging. Seto, the main character, explains that he lived with an old man whose name he never knew until this summer when he died and now he's completely alone. The beautiful scenery transitions into a whole bunch of black and white scattery lines that is a little startling.
When it clears, Seto is in an observatory next to a telescope at night. The moonlight is shining a bit into the room through a mostly closed observatory dome. Seto remarks that if he opened up the dome he could see better. There's a little tutorial screen teaching you that if you hold B and wave the Wii remote you can look around in first person. There is a green marker that shows where you are pointing the Wiimote at all times. If you can interact with something it flashes. These are another cute detail because they have little funny remarks written around the screenshots.
You open the observatory door by doing this. And now you can explore the observatory, a little more fully, but not entirely because there is a library that is darker and needs a light to see in. So you're off to find one. As you explore, you can see how Seto and the old man used to live at this place. There's an age/height chart where the old man tracked Seto's growth on the wall, you can see where Seto drew pictures of people's faces as a kid, there's a moon chart on one wall, when you examine the television, Seto remarks that it's a mysterious object that looks like a mirror. It really seems like a game that will reward thorough and slow-paced exploration with lots of story detail.
When you climb up the observatory, you can walk on the huge telescope to get to where there's little bed in the rafters. Here you'll find your first and weakest of the flashlights. The game tells you how to control it (simply swing the Wiimote round to look where you want) and adds that if there is an item in the environment, fireflies will be flying around it, so to keep a look out.
With the flashlight you can go explore the library. Just as you're about to find something near one of the desks a weird, metallic voice shouts out something like, "What a pain. I thought he'd finally died, but it looks like there's still life left here." The game explains attacking (very Zelda-like, right down to the "eh, AH, EIY!" sound effects for the three hit combo) and a weird stone mask with blood dripping out of its eyes and some jelly like substance on the back floats toward you. You can see your hit points on the left and its on the right. About seven whacks later, it disappears, and Seto's like, "What the hell?"
Going back to what's on the desk. It's actually a lamentful letter from the old man. It seems he was a pessimist and never really saw the point in living. He feels there was nothing he could do to atone (for what?) and apologizes to Seto for not really being much of a person. He says if you head east, you'll see a large red tower. It's possible that someone else is alive there and encourages Seto to head to the tower. He also leaves behind a blue stone. As Seto reads the letter and hears the old man confess his regrets and apologize to him, his voice starts to waver with emotion and eventually it trails off until its replaced by what can be presumed to be the old man. For just fifteen minutes into the game, it's very powerful.
Then the opening video plays. It uses the full version of the vocal song heard in the trailers and it is impossible to describe in words how remarkable it is. It's mysterious, forelorn, desperate, bright and vivid.
Underneath the foreground of a streetlight overgrown with leaves and vegetation, he walks past a street. Further on there's a long, yellow bus sunk into a tall ocean of brilliant green grass and buildings pecked with moss and holes. He drinks some tap water that's barely trickling out of a fawcet and then after a few sips the water fawcet spurts out nothing but black, gooey guck. The scenes play on, showing normal city scenery and then slowly aging it until it looks like now, with the usual parts of our life rotting, falling apart, vegetation overcoming everything.
As Seto walks, he looks up at the moon. The screen switches to the girl in the red tower looking at a cat's eye. There any number of switches between the two perspectives, establishing that they are connected somehow. As the scenes continue, day slides into sunset and that into night. It's all very well linked to the lyrics as well. Last, a sole purple firefly rests on the girl's shoulder as she sleeps and we see Seto appear in a city nearer to the tower, with a host of purple fireflies around him.
This is where you get control again. You walk around a bit until you find that a place where a huge subway sign has crashed down and there's a little lake of clear blue water with many glowing lotus pads on it. As you walk, you can hear her singing and then you see the girl on top of one of the fallen signs, singing a nonsense song about the moon and light. As you walk up, Seto steps on a child's toy and the noise it makes frightens her, she falls off and hits her head on the ground. Seto walks up and touches her face, thinking she's dead and then seems shocked by what he feels. She gets up and says, "You touched me." He seems equally surprised. She runs off before he can introduce himself and he runs after her into the subway.
Then there's another gorgeous interlude where Seto seems to be describing his impressions from the future. He explains that he passed many people on his way to the red tower, but that they all passed through him like phantoms. When he touched the girl, he was very surprised, because her face was warm (similarly, she might be, as his hand would have been warm too). He explains how this left a deep impression on him, being the second person he's met in his 15 year life who is alive. All the while, this gorgeous moving painting is being displayed of her black silhouette amidst the silhouette of many lotus flowers, the bottom ripples like a lake, where the top where a burning sunset of clouds is, shimmers like heat and surreal red and purples flow through the entire thing, while the silhouette of a frog jump off the pad into a lake, just like Basho's poem. At the same time, Seto's thoughts end with a Japanese poem of his own. All the while a nice little piano ditty is playing.
And you're off to explore the subway and find the girl again.
More on the general gameplay. It's basically a combination of the slow exploration of a survival horror game with the basic Zelda mechanics and the RPG elements of a dungeon hack.
The RPG elements
You gain experience and level up in the normal way, weapons have different strengths and weaknesses, you can sell loot you find in the ruins to gain gold, but you won't know what some of it is until you appraise it by looking at it in a fireplace, which serve as the game's rest and save spots. What's cool is that a lot of these items have little stories behind them that you figure out by looking at them under firelight (the little stories are even voice-acted!) and again, it's yet another aspect that adds greatly to the atmosphere. You have limited space in your on-hand inventory and bag, and must choose what to bring with you. Just like a lot of PC RPGs or Resident Evil 4, each item has a size that is represented in square blocks and you rotate and fit them into a rectangle that will fit. This is the RPG part.
Why it feels like Zelda
There are various traps and things you have to avoid in the ruins, like crumbling floors where you have to walk slowly to avoid them breaking up on you. The various weapons and the way you fight enemies is very similar to the 3D Zelda's in complexity and aiming mode, except there's more levels of weapons and you've got a growing HP system. As well, there are ghosts and other sentient beings that encompany you as companions that can help out, like Navi or Midna. If you hold the Wii remote up near your ear while playing, the companion will give you a hint from the Wiimote speaker. The layout of the various ruins also really resembles the slightly creepy atmosphere that many 3D Zelda games can engender. As well, there's some puzzle solving and item searching involved just like a Zelda dungeon. It also uses the Zelda dynamic changing music style to great effect.
How it resembles survival horror
It resembles a survival horror game in that it's rather strict in how much the main character can do and the enemies are generally faster and better fighters than you can be. However, it's not really quite to the level of something like Silent Hill where your character clumsy, it's more that Seto is weak. That said, it's not hard either, but a great deal of the monsters can't be seen until you use your flashlight on them, so that adds some tension to the affair, especially since you can stun or slow them down with light. It's all like survival horror in the map setup, right down to how their displayed when you get them in the menu. Checking the map for places you haven't been and going to them, carefully exploring with your flashlight to find plot hints and triggers to make the game move on, or discovering event scenes. It works well with the RPG part, since you've got the basic idea of a dungeon hack's resource management of items. As well, there's thick atmosphere draped on everything so it's not like a typical random dungeon that you can just charge on through. You also get different flashlights which have different effects that you must use and this feels very survival horror-ish, especially aftering playing Zero 4. There are also several parts of the game where you have to find something going by how loud or weak the sound in the Wiimote is coming off, searching until it gets loud enough to know you're near it, kind of like the hot and cold game.
The most impressive survival horror-y element however is the graffiti on the walls. After the game was announced, Namco held a contest to write graffiti that would appear on the game's walls. There's a lot of it and it greatly adds to the atmosphere to discover and read it. Some of it is chillling, some if it is basically incomprehensible but tugs at something just beyond memory, some of it is cute and some of it is really, really memorably shocking. Either way, it's yet another great way the game builds on its world.
I'm still pretty much near the beginning of the game, but so far so very impressive. It's basically what I guess a pre-RE4 survival horror action RPG would be if it wasn't so much scary as it was atmospheric and haunting.