Also available on: PS3
Genre: Role playing game
Out of braveness or stupidity, Sega opted to unleash its new Japanese role-playing game Resonance Of Fate within spitting distance of Final Fantasy XIII. The game was always going to be in the shade of Square Enix's goliath property, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. While the latest Final Fantasy stuck to very linear RPG confines, Resonance Of Fate throws the rule book out of the window with some mixed but significant results. Developed by Tri-Ace, the game features a rather dreary world and confusing story, but its combat system innovates where others flounder. What results is a lengthy campaign which really rewards those who put the effort in with a surprisingly rich gaming experience.
Somewhat unsurprisingly, the game is set in a post-apocalyptic world, which this time has been ravaged by climate change. The human race has been forced to leave the poisoned surface below and establish new communities in the sky via a giant air purifying tower called Basel. The upper classes live in comfort on the tower's upper echelons, while the rest of mankind dwells in the murkier regions below. However, further years of abuse have caused Basel to critically malfunction and so hurl humanity back into jeopardy.
Players control three main characters - a rather girly looking man called Vashyron (voiced by Nolan North), an impudent young tyke named Zephyr and a feisty blonde woman called Leanne. The trio work as 'hunters' for the aristocracy in the steampunk-style tower, performing a range of odd jobs in the treacherous world. At first the player will be doing various rather menial tasks, such as delivering a set of knives or finding a long-lost ring. However, they will also engage in some swashbuckling combat against a range of enemies and monsters using firearms and acrobatic style moves - but more on that later.
As the campaign progresses, the game's story and events come into focus, but in the early stages players will have little idea about what is going on. Nothing is really explained very well, which makes it hard to care about the characters. The dialogue and voice acting is clichéd and the humour immature, which means that there is limited substance to engage the player in the narrative. The game instead relies on players to stick with it in order to be rewarded. In a sense this is admirable, but some gamers may think that the resulting story was not entirely worth the effort. The world of Basel is also not a particularly attractive creation, with muddy brown and dank textures making everything feel rather uninspiring. However, the decent soundtrack injects a good amount of atmosphere to compensate for the dreary visuals.
During the exploration sequences, players operate on a 2D horizontal plane, which reverts to a 3D map for the strategic sections. To unlock new parts of the gaming world, players must place down energy hexes, which are earned by winning battles. The hexes can be rotated and slotted in to open up new areas and missions to tackle. Certain areas on the map can only be accessed with special coloured hexes, which are earned by completing missions for key characters. There are bonuses for placing all hexes on a map area and the mechanism offers an enjoyable puzzle challenge.
However, the biggest triumph by far about Resonance Of Fate is its turn-based combat system. Similar to Sega's Valkyria Chronicles, the game uses the same action-point gauge for moving and attacking. Each character's turn ends when the gauge depletes or they perform an action to dole out 'direct' or 'scratch' damage on an opponent. Inflicted by handguns and thrown weapons, 'direct' damage permanently drains an enemy's health, while 'scratch' attacks from machineguns inflict greater harm but the damage will be recovered over time. The game encourages players to think strategically by wearing enemies down with 'scratch' damage and then using 'direct' damage to finish them off.
Players can use standard attacks by simply locking on, charging up and then performing a standing assault. Alternatively, Hero Action allows players to plot a course through the battlefield to repeatedly attack enemies until missing a button time or colliding with an obstacle. However, Hero Action uses up bezels, which are the currency earned by inflicting massive damage on an enemy. If players use up all their bezels during a fight, then their team will be easily defeated. So, the precious Hero Actions must be carefully used at decisive moments to gain maximum value.
The battle system also enables a tri-attack, in which players can plot a course between the other two characters to earn a resonance point for launching a unified assault on their next turn. Once activated, the tri-attack sees all three players unleashing assaults at the same time to really rain down hell on their opponents. Resonance Of Fate makes no bones about throwing the player straight into the combat system with little guidance (although there is a tuition section available on the pause menu or in the Arena zone). Some players will find the heavy trial-and-error involved in the combat system frustrating, but anyone sticking with the process will find a genuine and rare sense of satisfaction upon mastering it.
Overall, Resonance Of Fate will primarily appeal to hardcore RPG fans seeking a gameplay system which genuinely tests their skills. The combat system emphasises strategic thinking and punishes gung-ho button mashing. Despite being frustrating to master, it is hugely rewarding upon getting up to speed. Tri-Ace can be admired and derided in equal measure for its rather radical departure from the RPG forumla. The story is muddled and the presentation is a little underwhelming, but the game is still a really interesting and unique proposition. Anyone left somewhat disappointed by the glossy yet linear production of Final Fantasy XIII may find what they are looking for with Resonance Of Fate.
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