Resonance of Fate Review
Written : Saturday, March 27, 2010
By: Alan Pettit (GT: The Pants Party)
Dubbed End of Eternity in Japan when it was released a few months ago, developer tri-Ace's newest creation is called Resonance of Fate here in the West and has finally arrived. Sadly the game is a bit of an unknown quantity around these parts. Perhaps it was SEGA's decision to publish it a scant week after the mega-giant that is Final Fantasy XIII. Perhaps people just are not that into the JRPG genre anymore, if they ever were. Whatever the reasons, if you've not heard of this or "decided to pass" then I feel you're missing out on one of the most unique and inspired additions to the RPG genre in years.
Basel, a towering mechanical world.
Set in the tower-world of Basel, Resonance of Fate takes place in a future of Earth that has been overcome with an unknown poisonous gas which has wiped out most of humanity. Since it is impossible to biologically adapt to the drastic environmental change, humanity had to mechanically adapt by creating a towering structure that aimed to purify the air. As time went on, humanity began to populate the tower, segregating into three core sections. Upper classes populate the opulent "Chandelier" high above the clouds, while middle and lower classes live further down, closer to the ground and the dangers it possesses. Basel’s tower world ultimately means that Resonance of Fate’s world map is slightly different from what we usually expect in JRPGs, adopting a hex-grid to demonstrate your progress and stopping you from getting ahead of yourself.
The protagonists in Resonance of Fate are three "Hunters" who work as their own private military firm on Basel. Any job that needs doing, so long as you're paying, they're willing. It is a small cast to be sure, but then again most of the population is dead from that pesky gas down below. Having only the three members to worry about also gives focus and allows a better connection to each of them in turn.
The story plays out less like a traditional video game and more like you might watch a season of a TV show. The cutscenes at the end of each chapter are presented in a very noir fashion, complete with drawn out trumpets and gumshoe-esque narration. While the story is a bit contrived and confusing at first due to a lack in number of these scenes, the presentation is excellent and it eventually comes around and begins to make more sense as the game focuses less on character development through comedy and more on the serious tone of the plot.
Leanne and a rose; rare spots of beauty in Basel.
Dropping the typical "knights and archers" feel of most JRPGs, Resonance of Fate instead uses a more modern, steam punk setting filled with gun play and explosions in its battle system. Killing an enemy is a multi-step process of destroying an enemy's body parts, which you start by eliminating the shield, then causing “Scratch” damage with your machine guns, before dealing “Direct” damage with the handguns and such.
Before you even enter a fight though, you'll need to carefully select who will have each type of weapon. Rather than leveling by gained experience from a defeated enemy, you instead level as a combination of damage dealt with each weapon type. Maintaining a balance between all three weapons types for all characters is a key aspect of progressing and being strong enough to face each new chapter of the game.
The battle system itself employs a mix between turn-based and live-action elements. As your turn comes up, each character will have a short length of time to perform actions. You can move about the battlefield for better shooting angles, charge (aim) your shot to increase damage and add bonus effects (stun or knock back for instance), depending on your proficiency with the equipped weapon and the length of the charge. You can also perform Hero Actions, which are scripted running sequences across a direct plotted line. These allow for multiple attacks while running past an enemy or one fully charged attack as you run right toward an enemy. If you plot a Hero Action that passes through your two allies, you will earn a Resonance Point which can be converted on your next turn into a Tri-Attack. A Tri-Attack with launch all three party members into their scripted runs in a triangle between them, allowing you to charge and attack with all of them at once. The more Resonance Points built up, the more laps they will run along the triangle and in turn the more damage can be caused.
While the battle system may sound confusing (and truthfully it is), once mastered it becomes increasingly fun as you can plot your turns and demolish enemies without them ever laying a shot on you for an extremely satisfying finish. The game's gun customization aspect can assist in this goal as well. Various attachments can be created at a Tinker or found in chests and such, which will increase things like clip size, charge speed and accuracy. Many of the top-tier items will have additional slots on them to connect even more attachments, creating crazy weapons with six barrels, ten sights and three ammo clips that look like something out of a Rob Liefeld comic book. Unfortunately the effects do not translate into battle and the guns always look the same in that respect.
One thing that does not always look the same is your characters, if you so choose to change them. Since the game is completely rendered in real-time, any wardrobe changes will be reflected in all aspects of the game from battle to story scenes. You can find or purchase new clothes, coming in two sets of what are essentially business and casual. You can add glasses, dye your hair and even wear colored contacts. This really hit me later in the game during a rather dramatic close-up of Zephyr, showcasing the one gold and one purple eye I'd given him.
Hmm... what to wear?!
While the constant rendering may be a neat aspect, it does take away from one thing that generally gives a JRPG that little bit of a punch that you might expect from its cutscenes. While the graphics are by no means poor, they also are not anything that you'd go ranting and raving to your friends about or stare at in disbelief. Despite that, the steam punk and noir feelings are indeed something that stand out on their own merit, allowing the game to still impress without all the bells and whistles. Coupling that with some excellent voice acting and the previously mentioned trumpet-laden noir soundtrack, tri-Ace have really moved the JRPG genre forward from a story-telling aspect, which is especially nice to see after their last two offerings on the 360 (Infinite Undiscovery and Star Ocean: The Last Hope) had been pretty generic overall.
The achievements in the game are not as rough as we've seen from JRPG developers in the past. While it does require two full plays of the game (though a traditional New Game + is present), and a bit of grinding to clear the bonus dungeon and arena, the list is extremely manageable with any experience in previous JRPG achievement hunting. The chapter system is also completely controllable as the game asks if you'd like to progress the story, so it is nearly impossible to miss any side-quests and other things required to complete the list unless you choose to do so. So while things are less stressful, it is still a lengthy process, easily nearing 100+ hours. Plus they used the same icon for every achievement, only color-coding them in bronze, gold and silver to match the PS3 trophy system. A very uninspired list all-around.
Aside from a steep learning curve in the battle system in Resonance of Fate and a difficulty that may be a bit high even on normal settings, the game gives plenty of new and exciting things that will keep you focused on taking each battle as it comes, conquering it and relishing the chance to do it again. An intriguing story, great characters and even better features make this a JRPG worthy of anyone's time, and hopefully it is a sign that more developers may begin to think outside the structured archetypes and create more unique settings such as Basel.
A great voice cast (Vashyron is done by the lead from Uncharted), an excellent noir soundtrack and a bevy of crisp gun blasts and explosions flesh out an overall great sounding game.
Although there is a distinct lack of that "wow factor" that you might get from a more produced game with multiple discs (Resonance ships on a single disc), the real-time rendered scenes still have a nice sheen to them. The world of Basel is all gears, earth tones and despair, though I can say it rarely looked so good.
One of the only real drawbacks in the game is a fairly complicated battle system and a natural difficulty that is produced as a byproduct. It takes a few chapters to really grasp the entire system of the battle, the gun customization, the grenades and bullets you should use. Once you learn all the tips and tricks it is smooth sailing, but some new to the grind and learning involved in an RPG might be put off.
I really can't stress how unique and exciting this game feels. A deep, complex battle system, good story, characters you actually like, fun quests and even a new take on the world map. Plus, for once, a different setting and weapons set for a genre that rarely sees any innovation. Bravo to tri-Ace and SEGA for backing them on this one, for sure.
Aside from the ability to control your game and avoid missing things, this isn't any different than other RPG slogs we've all been through before. Lots of grinding, multiple playtrhoughs and more than a hundred hours will go into a full thousand. That coupled with some ugly achievement pics and you've got an unfavorable list.
With a genre that rarely sees any sort of risks or innovation, Resonance of Fate offers both in spades and comes through with high marks at every turn. The battle system could use a bit of a softening in the early chapters, as well as the game's overall difficulty, but once mastered it becomes a lot of fun.