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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Resonance of Fate

Here we have one of the latest JRPGs brought to you by the creators of Star Ocean and Valkyrie Profile! Will this game achieve the same success as the other games by Tri Ace? We shall see as we follow the team of Vashyron, Zephyr, and Leanne as they attempt to make a living on the steampunk world of Basel. Here is Resonance of Fate!

Title: Resonance of Fate
Publisher: Sega
Developer: Tri-Ace
Genre: RPG
Rating: T
Systems: 360, PS3

Resonance of Fate is a steampunk-themed RPG that attempts to tell a story to question beliefs, and brings about a new twist on the RPG battle system. Coming from the developers of the acclaimed Star Ocean and Valkyrie Profile series of games, Tri-Ace brings introduces a new world in Resonance of Fate. The game itself is pretty straightforward in terms of storyline, but in terms of battles and weapons, the game is strictly ranged attacks and cinematic-style fighting.

The game itself takes place in a steampunk future where the humanity of the past has corrupted the planet so badly that everyone is forced to live on a giant tower known as Basel. The tower stretches from below the ground in the mines and slums, to the heavens in an area known as Chandelier, named so due to how it appears in the night sky up above the rest of Basel. As guessed, the higher up one goes, the nicer the areas tend to be. The world is run by the religious figures known as Cardinals, who are the spiritual and governmental leaders of the society. Basel itself is actually considered to be a living deity, as it becomes apparent that the lives of the humans are tied in to the clockwork functions of the structure itself and the mines of quartz found below. There are three main characters in the player’s party. First we have the leader Vashyron, a longtime Hunter known for his effectiveness in getting the job done, as well as his philosophical and laid back attitude. Zephyr is the 2nd character in the party. A child of a troubled past, who constantly comments about how he hates being alive, Vashyron has taken Zephyr in and has trained him to be a Hunter. The third member of the party is the young woman Leanne, who in the game’s starting cutscene was rescued from an apparent suicide by Zephyr, and has since joined up with him and Vash. The game follows the party’s adventures performing tasks for various clients ranging from Cardinals to those dwelling on the lower levels, while gradually revealing the inner workings behind the scenes of Basel and the religious structure thereof.

The weapon system found in RoF consists of guns, grenades, and more guns. The weapons are customizable utilizing various attachments found throughout the game world, ranging from chests in dungeons, to monster drops, to quest rewards, to shop purchases. The attachments never visually appear in the weapon design models the characters hold, but what makes this interesting is that the player can make some Frankensteinian combinations for the guns itself. If it is a legal attachment that fits in the blueprint and isn’t impeding on any other parts, it can be allowed. This could easily lead to weapons with multiple barrels, scopes, and stocks pointing every which way and the combination would still check out ok in terms of use. Near the end of the game, the stat boosts tend to be all that matters, so this ends up being rather entertaining when creative minds get to run wild with the part designs. Leveling up in this game is also tied to the weapons. The PC’s levels are determined by the combined levels of the three weapons (handguns, SMGs, and grenades), and the player gains exp for a character through damage dealt with the given weapon on the enemy’s flesh. The max level for any one weapon is 100, so the characters can achieve a max level of 300. Exp can be affected via overworld effects by connecting terminals together using energy shards which some enemies drop over the course of the game. So, using the right combination of effects, leveling weapon skill (and leveling players) can be sped up via creative energy tile combinations.

The most intriguing part of the game itself, however, is the battle system itself. It is actually a combination of real-time combat, and a turn-based system, as the Player Characters get to make an action whenever their turn comes up, while the enemies work on an attack gauge which increases whenever the PC’s move or make a time-consuming action such as aiming and firing the gun. Otherwise, as long as the PCs don’t move or make an attack, the battle is essentially paused, which is an improvement over most real-time fighting systems, while the innovative minds have a wide window to tactically demolish their opponents depending on setting an order of actions, a nice improvement over many turn-based systems. Attacks are done by charging the weapon, which could be considered the “aiming” of the weapon. The longer its charged, the more power the weapon will have, and the more chances special effects for the weapon will occur (such as armor penetration, full scratch damage, etc). The battle begins with the characters in the party at the entrance to the battle area, with numerous enemies strewn about the battlefield. The player also has numerous shards on the bottom of the screen called Bezel shards. These are useful in allowing a PC to survive in battle, as well as in performing “Hero Attacks” which will be explained later. The shards also “shatter” once a PC receives their full HP worth of scratch damage, sending pieces of the shards allover the place. Losing all shards results in a “Critical Condition” which is a very disadvantageous position. When in this condition, Hero attacks are deactivated, and normal attacks are sporadic, and allow the enemy to charge their attacks faster. The scattered shards can also heal enemies if they run and pick them up, so this is not a situation anyone wants to be stuck in. Normally, PCs take all damage as scratch damage as long as they have some shards left over. In CC, this is where the scratch damage turns lethal. CC ends once the player obtains a full, highlighted Bezel Shard, which is done via obtaining the needed number of shards from the ground, as well as effectively eliminating an enemy’s shield or the enemy itself. Oh yes, the player loses the battle if any one character faces. The battle itself is mostly fought over the actual area’s landscape rather than a random flat area while in dungeons, though the overworld random battles are fought in a randomly generated urban landscape with the design depending on the floor level.

The weapon fighting is based on two types of damage; scratch and lethal. Sub machineguns deliver massive amounts of non-lethal scratch damage which recovers over time, while Handguns deliver the permanent, lethal damage. The gimmick here is that handguns, while the normal lethal damage done is rather weak alone, it has the effect of turning the current scratch damage on a target into lethal, permanent damage. Once an enemy has received enough lethal damage to cover their HP, they are defeated. As the player progresses in the game, enemies come about with higher HP pools, stronger weapons, and external shields. The shields cover certain portions of the body, and must be destroyed if any attack, from that specific angle, wants to deal any damage to the enemy itself. This is when the utilization of a Hero attack comes in handy. Hero attacks are essentially special moves where an individual character can deliver a stream of repeated attacks along a set path of movement, aswellas performing some very cinematic jumps if so desired. Jumping does shorten the time in the Hero attack, but can also effectively bypass shields by hitting all angles on the enemy. The character cannot be damaged during the attack, but these attacks allow the enemies to charge their attack gauges and deliver their attack at the end of the path. Every Hero attack requires one Bezel shard, so the trick is to know when to attack with a Hero attack, or hang back and conserve shards. There is one additional attack called a “Tri Attack” which can be done depending on if the player has accumulated Resonance, which is obtained via a Hero Attack path crossing in between the other two players. A Tri Attack has all three players run a triangular pattern, all having their charge gauges going, and deliver what is effectively three separate hero attacks at once, for the cost of only one Bezel. Utilizing these techniques intelligently, players can easily take down numerous tough foes, but beware of falling into Critical Condition. Battles can range from laughingly easy to impossible depending on the enemy getting in a lucky hit knocking the team into CC. So, for the most part, the battle system is definitely the highlight of this game.

Now, while the battle system itself is pretty well done, there are some major issues in the game which hold it back from becoming one of the better RPGs on the market. Aside from the overall bland and predictable storyline, the game itself is an immense grind. The enemies eventually wind down into just variations of the same enemy with just a different color scheme, and the hit detection itself can be somewhat clunky at times. Many missions are just there to be tedious and time consuming, as many enemies rarely put up a fight depending on the level and styles of attacks. In fact, one set of missions at the end of the game have PCs that should be in the mid 70s/80s level facing off against a giant crowd of level 16-30 enemies. Simply there to be a time sink rather than pose any real challenge. Also, during Hero Attacks, if a PC runs into a wall, the side of a ramp, a chest, or even a heavy enemy, they fall down. Not only does this stop the Hero attack and waste a shard, but it also allows the enemies to all charge up their attack gauge and fire a salvo at whomever they are aiming at, effectively turning a very powerful attack for the player, into an incredibly painful situation against them. So, plan attacks carefully, and make sure the path is clear, either by aiming correctly, or jumping high enough to avoid the obstacle.

All in all, Resonance of Fate offers a very interesting twist on the usual tried and true methods of battling and weapon upgrading systems found in most conventional JRPGs. However, that fact, as well as having a couple somewhat deep characters, is rather overshadowed by the predictably bland storylines, the tedious grinding aspect of the game. Overall, a decent game to play if there is an itch for something different, but it lacks true staying power.

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Well then, now let’s get to some numbers!

Storyline: 7/10 – Overall, the story itself was rather predictable and clich√©, but it wasn’t the worst story in the world. Honestly, the worst part about it was how it was told. It required a lot of reading between the lines to actually figure out what was going on, but once it was figured out, the story itself wasn’t too bad. Nothing ever really was said too explicitly until the end chapters of the game, which isn’t always a bad thing, but with a game that doesn’t really draw anyone in, some things need to be established beforehand. So, the story itself, while clich√©, wasn’t bad, but the way it was told needs some work.

Graphics: 8.25/10 – Being steampunk, the setting and characters ranged from black and brown in most of the lower levels of Basel, to bright brown, blue, and white in the upper levels. So, while they weren’t the most visually appealing, it suited the setting decently enough. The drawback, there were many times where the enemies simply blended completely into the backgrounds, as well as the battle area itself. Dirt-colored monsters fighting in a industrial dirt-covered arena… Not very appealing, especially when that’s a good 85% of the game. However, the cinematic style was very well done. The intro movies, and the chapter cutscenes were all very well done and there is a few bonus points for being able to pull this off with in-game images. Seeing my characters in their customized outfits still in them during the cinematic definitely hit a good note.

Controls: 8.75/10 – They weren’t too bad, though it took some time to truly get used to them. Click to start charge, click again to fire, one button to activate Hero attacks, etc etc. Nothing too complex, but not something one really could just pick up and play without having to dig through the manual and spending time harnessing the nuances.

Sound & Music: 8.25/10 – The intro music and the overworld music were done well, but other than that, the music was pretty run of the mill. Simple beats and techno for the battles over and over again did ruin the music a bit, and with the limited score, there were a lot of repeats… especially considering the massive amount of battles in the game due to the grind. But, most of the music did suit the specific areas and time of day, so can’t really fault it too much.

Replayability: 6/10 – While there are achievements in the game, all but one or two can be done during one playthrough. The game does offer a hardcore mode as a replay for the game, for those wanting to go through all of the game again with harder enemies, but other than that and Neverland (aka, the long dungeon with strong rewards and even stronger enemies), there isn’t much else to this game that one can get with more than one playthrough.

Overall: 38.25/50 = 76.5/100 = C/C+
Reccomendation: Rental. If you have a friend who has the game, borrow it from them and give it a try. However, unless it is on sale or in a discount bin, I cannot fully recommend it as a full purchase. That being said, the game is still worth a look, and the battle system is one of the better ones I have seen in an RPG once I got used to the nuances. Also, some of the characters are done well (Vashyron and Leanne specifically), and the customizable outfits are a nice touch. So, give it a rent, beat it, then move on to the next game.

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