Game Review: Resonance of Fate – Ready, Aim…!
A complete review of tri-Ace’s unsung JRPG
Final Fantasy XIII. You either loved it, or you hated it. Many were put off by the overly dramatic characters, linear pathing, lacklustre story and thirty hour long tutorial for a battle system that just wasn’t fun. Given that it was the most awaited JRPG in recent years, saying XIII was a let down for some fans of the genre is an understatement.
Not one week later, however, another JRPG came out. One that hadn’t been whored on the media for three years, and subsequently slipped under the radar of most gamers. What was this game? Why should we have noticed it? And what did it offer those that found XIII not to their taste? Allow me to elaborate…
What Is Resonance of Fate?
Resonance of Fate was first brought to my attention last year, and I was instantly intrigued. Made by tri-Ace, the people behind the Star Ocean and Valkyrie Profile games (both series I have enjoyed), it was developed/published alongside Sega in the same manner as Valkyria Chronicles (yet another much loved game). In Japan, the game is actually called “End of Eternity”, which refers to one of Isaac Asimov’s more famous books of the same name. Strange. Why the hell did they change it for us Westerners? It made much more sense as it was.
The setting is Earth in the distant future. Mankind has nearly been driven to extinction, after a mysterious poisonous gas began to filter through the planet’s surface. To survive, they built this:
This structure, called “Basel”, became the starting point for humanities rebuilding efforts, as people began to settle in it and around the base. The highest classes live at the top, in a ring-shaped city nicknamed “Chandelier” for its golden glow at night. Everyone else lives down below, but are welcome to visit the top if they have the correct pass.
It’s a grim and dirty future, harbouring an underworld as dark as the Chandelier is bright. And this is where the games focus lies.
Game Plot – “Just Like One of My Animes!”
The story starts with three cutscenes. Two you can watch from the main menu and act as preludes, the third is the game’s introduction.
The first deals with a fight between one of our future protagonists, Vashyron, and an enemy who defines the phrase “moved with unnatural speed”. This guy is fast, and the cinematic is pretty awesome. In fact, I feel like sharing:
The second deals with the leader of Basel, or rather its “Pope”, discovering what kind of God his religion actually worships: a great machine called “Zenith” that seems to have control over life and death itself. The third is the game’s proper introduction, showing our female protagonist, Leanne, walking out onto a beam high up in Chandelier. With a few mournful words, she steps forward, and starts to plummet to her death. Far below, our third protagonist, Zephyr, sees her, and swings on in for a rescue. Unfortunately his trusty rescue wire snaps, and they both begin free fall down to the bottom of Basel. This scene is quite beautiful; the two of them gliding hand in hand through the starry night.
And then bam! Suddenly it’s a year and a half later, and all three characters are together in a house. So the story begins.
The next sixteen chapters see Resonance of Fate’s story unravel, slowly and enigmatically, like a cleverly written anime. Conspiracy and drama lurks within Basel, and the deeper our three heroes dig, the uglier and more complex it gets. People who are used to their tales being spelled out to them may struggle to follow its deeper intricacies, but all the hints are there. It just takes more focus and a moderate level of thinking to understand.
Admittedly, it can be a little too vague at times. Explaining it just a touch more may have made it more accessible to people, though any gaps in one’s understanding can be easily filled by a quick flick through the Wiki. As it stands it’s a very unique and thoughtful story, that feels rewarding for those that pursue it.
Towns and World Map – Oh How We’ve Missed You
So other then a more complex story, what else does Resonance have to offer those who disliked XIII? Well, first starters, a world map! Hooray!
The world of Basel is designed like any good JRPG. You start in your home base, situated in a town. You’re close to shops, rest spots and plenty of talkative NPC’s. Sounding good yet? You can run around, exploring, talking, taking side missions and buying goods, clothes or weapon enhancements. When you finally decide that you are ready to continue, you simply go to the edge of town and exit to the world map.
The map in Resonance is not like others ones. Here’s a picture:
The different levels of Basel are made up of hexagons, most of which are aren’t powered, and you therefore are not allowed to move onto them. To unlock them, you must collect “hexes” from enemies, which come in various shapes like a jigsaw puzzle. Once applied, that map section opens up, and you (the little pen shaped object in the centre of the screen), can move along it. Each hex has a description, like the one you see at the bottom of the picture, telling you whether it’s safe to move there or whether you have a chance of encountering an enemy.
The map is also filled with optional cities, houses or dungeons to explore (once you’ve powered up their hexes). At first, however, you’re limited to a certain kind of puzzle-hex shape, which is the games way of keeping you from accessing parts you’re not yet ready for. As the game progresses, more levels of Basel become available to explore, accessible through a series of elevators. Of course, this means more hexes of varying colours and shapes are needed to continue, and eventually you’ll be able to power up an entire level. Your reward for doing so is the ability to instantly teleport back to your homebase. When you’re four or five levels down and low on items, this can be a lot more preferable then riding all those elevators.
Though Basel is big, and there seems like a lot to do when you first unlock everything, it’s just not quite large enough for sixteen chapters. Later missions become a touch tedious, since you’re forced to trudge back and forth through areas that you’re becoming overly familiar with. It’s bearable, however given the location is a giant clockwork tower, the environments are somewhat limited. This will be discussed more in the graphics section. Overall the layout is new and intuitive, but could have benefited more from a shorter campaign with incentive to muck around after it’s all over if you want.
Battle System – Gunplay at Its Finest
FFXIII withheld majority of the combat for the first ten hours of gameplay, instead opting to hold your hand and walk you through its every aspect at a snails pace. This made many JRPG fans – you know, the people who love the genre and have probably been playing FF games since they were kids – feel like they were part of an extremely slow “RPGs for Dummies” tutorial. A fair feeling, when the first two chapters are spent doing nothing more then pushing X to win.
Resonance, on the other hand, does the exact opposite. Every move, trick, and ability is available from the get go. If you knew what you were doing, you could dash straight out into the world and start gunning down bandits while feeling like a total pro (not a handicapped simpleton). The problem here is: the battle system is extremely complex. For someone who IS new to the RPG genre, they’d probably have no chance. This isn’t helped by the fact that the training arena, where you’re supposed to learn how to use all these skills, is translated quite poorly. Even I struggled to understand some of the more complex moves.
It’s not just awesome to watch. It’s also super fun to play. Since there’s so much involved in the combat, it’s not possible for me to explain everything in a single review. I can try to give a basic outline, but anything beyond that would take another four pages.
Battle takes place in a square area that can be bare, or littered with environmental obstacles. You have direct control over your three characters, and are free to move around as you like. When doing so, an action bar will slowly drain on the right side of the screen, over the characters name.
Every action uses up this bar, and once it has drained, or the character attacks, their move is over. When all three characters have made their moves, their turn ends, and the enemies get a chance for revenge. That’s not to say they’re standing there idly until then; enemies will move and target you while your characters are taking their turn, so careful attention needs to be paid to who they’re aiming at. If they shoot the character you’re moving, it’ll not only drain the action bar, but interrupt any attack you’re in the middle of.
Initiating a basic attack causes the camera to go into over-the-shoulder mode, and a cross hair to appear on the targeted enemy. An “aiming circle” starts to progress around the crosshair. The closer you are to your target, the faster this circle will complete (If you’re really far away, it’s possible that the action bar will drain entirely before the circle has time to end, thus wasting a turn). Once it does complete, you can hit the button to attack, hopefully before the enemy does.
Later, as your characters gain experience and become more skilled with their equipped weapon, it’s possible for this cycle to complete numerous times, upping the attack power with every revolution. But players must remember: for every second they’re aiming, that action bar is running out. Meaning that in the space of a few seconds, you must watch the action bar, watch the aiming circle, and watch that the enemy isn’t about to fire on you. Just to make a successful attack!
Sound difficult? Nah, not really. You pick it up very quickly, and it becomes an enormously immersive experience. And we haven’t even scratched the surface yet!
Speaking of scratch: onto weapon and damage types.
You have three types of weapons at your disposal that can cause two different types of damage. “Pistols” and “Throwing weapons” (grenades, Molotov’s) deal “direct damage”. This damage comes off the enemies health bar, and doesn’t heal unless they use an item. Pistols don’t have large clips though, so damage is limited to the number of bullets fired (which often isn’t many).
The third type of weapon, Machine Guns, deals a different kind of damage called “Scratch”. Scratch doesn’t cause the enemies health bar to deplete, but instead, turns the damaged portion blue. Given that machine guns hold far more bullets, they can deal quite a large amount of this scratch. However, if left unassailed, the targeted enemies will slowly begin to heal. To prevent this, a pistol user must make a successful attack, which will immediately turn all scratch into permanent, direct damage! Handy!
Learning this system in the tutorial is one thing. Putting it into action is another. It’s amazing how quickly your personal strategies and skills progress. You start by clumsily shooting an Uzi at random enemies, slowly finishing them off with pistols one by one. A few hours later: your Scratcher is doing a Hero Move down the middle of the battlefield, softening enemies left and right, while your pistol users mop them up in a single turn!
And that’s merely the beginning. You then need to learn how to best use your Hero Moves by conserving Bezels; how to launch and subsequently juggle enemies for loot; how to launch them, then jump and perform smackdowns; and of course, how to pull off the elusive “Tri Attack”. Plus no end of other tricks, like ducking in and out of cover or using environmental dangers to your advantage. Discovering and mastering all these elements might sound daunting, but trust me, it’s worth it. Playing a game that treats you like a proper gamer with the ability to think and strategize, and not some brain-dead drooler who struggles to push more then two buttons in a single fight… it’s a nice change. Conquering those ass kickingly huge bosses has never felt so rewarding.
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