Review by HailToTheGun
"Resonance of Fate is a worthy addition to the tri-Ace brand and a welcoming breath of fresh air for jaded players."
A Slice of Life With Spunk
The future of Earth is a bleak and crowded one; in a time distant from now, the planet's terrain becomes ravaged by environmental changes that render it inhospitable. Poisonous layers of gas spread across the land, nearly wiping out all of humanity. Those whom survived constructed a massive tower - Basel - to serve as the dwelling place of mankind; the tower doubled as a purifier both for its own inhabitants but also for the surrounding land, and hopefully the rest of the world. Civilization was now centered around this tower, with the upper-class dwelling in lavish estates at the uppermost level and the middle and lower classes designated to the center and base, respectively. For years, the tower served its purpose well until one day, the purifier began to malfunction.
That is the premise of Resonance of Fate, and while it seems a simple tale up front, the approach to it is a rather unique experience in the game itself. When one normally plays an RPG, you'd expect a grand and upfront story after two or three hours, roughly. Not so in this. Resonance of Fate takes pride in focusing more on the actual characters than it does the events at large. You will get traces of the larger story in the background through cut scenes and other various dialogue, but for the most part, this is a game about the three protagonists, their relationship with each other, and how each of them is affected by the sometimes random and sometimes planned happenings of Basel.
Hero Actions and Tri-Attacks To Your Heart's Content
If you ask anyone to tell you what the most memorable aspect of Resonance of Fate is, you're likely to get the same response from them all: the combat. This is without a doubt one of the most complex, addictive, and rewarding mechanics of combat seen in an RPG in the last few years. Quite simply it's an evolution of the combat from Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria (also made by tri-Ace), but the more you begin to delve into all of the grand and minute details it has, you'll see how different of a beast it really is. It's a shame that the combat is so absolutely exhilarating and yet the tutorial through which you're meant to learn all of the basics is not. It's rather poorly handled and doesn't do a sufficient job of explaining everything to you as it should, given how complex and intricate the battles can get. And that's disappointing because for at least the first hour or so, you'll likely have to figure out a lot of things on your own - and there's a lot to figure out. But guaranteed, once you've mastered the ways of the tri-Attack and know how to properly refill the Hero Gauge, you can expect a feeling quite unlike anything else.
So let's start with the basics. You have three characters to control in combat, which you can move individually and in real-time. This handles quite similarly to Valkyria Chronicles. However, you can also perform something called a Hero Action which sends your character on a pre-determined path that allows him or her to perform all of the high octane and stylish moves you may have seen from gameplay videos. During this Hero Action, your character is invulnerable to damage (as opposed to being susceptible when you move in real time), and you may ask, "Well if I'm invulnerable, why not just use this all the time?" That's where the complexity begins. There is a bar at the bottom of the screen called the Hero Gauge. Every Hero Action removes one gem from that gauge, and if the entire bar is depleted, all of your characters enter a critical condition where their defense is drastically reduced, their combat abilities are severely limited, and the bar itself may shatter. You can restore gems to the bar by killing enemies and destroy sections of their body armor, but I'll leave that for you to figure out. It's a rewarding and certainly difficult experience at times and one you'll want to master as quickly as possible. If one character dies, it's an automatic game over.
The other important factor to battles is something called a tri-Attack. When you perform a Hero Action that crosses between the line of sight of two other characters, you will gain one Resonance Point. You can get as many points as you want, but a minimum of one is needed to at least perform the move. What a tri-Attack entails is a powerful simultaneous attack in which all three characters will move and exchange positions, attacking all the while. With one point, characters will move one space: A will move to B, B to C, and C to A. With more points, you will extend the length of the tri-Attack, and thereby the extent of its effectiveness. However, if you do any action except crossing between two characters, you will lose whatever Resonance points you have accumulated. So make use of them as often as possible.
There's so much more to the combat that I've yet to even scratch the surface of (Scratch Damage, Bonus Shots, Smackdowns, Airbornes, Status Effects, etc.), but it is something one really needs to experience for his or herself to really appreciate just how much depth tri-Ace put into it. Battles are very difficult at times, and rightfully so. A game with this unique a combat system should not be wasted on trivial fights. Finding yourself low on bezel gems and almost depleted of your Hero Gauge, only to have it nearly or entirely restored based on built-up actions and a well-placed shot is so rewarding the first time it happens to you. And the beauty of it is, it stays rewarding each and every time after that.
A Little Sims in my RPG
Resonance of Fate does more than just revolutionize the combat of its genre, it takes something that's quite rare for a Japanese RPG and allows the player to customize his or her characters' appearance to great lengths. These are purely aesthetic manipulations, as well. No costume change bears any affect on battle except how your characters appear in them. All changes will be retained in cut scenes as well (except for certain scenes where a character's outfit changes because it pertains to that scene), making for some very appreciated continuity. You can also change their hair and eye color, add accessories, or swap their outfit template between two different sets. Set A looks more like rugged wear fit for battle, while Set B appears the more casual clothing. You can't mix clothing from Set A with B, or vice versa, but play around with this until you find a combination you enjoy. You're likely to spend more time with it than you think.
Another bit of customization comes from the characters' weapons. While there isn't a large variety of weapon types (Handguns, Submachine Guns, Throwing Weapons - that's it), the extent to which you can customize both types of guns is absolutely insane and will possibly make any gun aficionado outraged. You can access to a Tinkerer in the game and through him can craft various attachments to place to your guns. Finding the best way to load your weapon up with the most ridiculous looking scopes and barrels facing the most absurd directions is important, and although these changes will not appear in battle - unlike the attire - their effects will. Characters can use any type of weapon, as well, so no one person is designated as the handgun user. With each weapon type also comes passive skills that characters can learn to improve his or her effectiveness with that weapon. Weapons level individually based on accumulated damage done, and the character's level is the sum of all three weapon types. Long story short, the max level of the game is 300 - 100 levels for each weapon.
In keeping with the game's rather unique approach, the player will traverse the world map in the form of a minigame unto itself. The tower of Basel is comprised of various hexagonal pieces, like a board game, and the player must lay down pieces he or she acquires via quests and battles to create a path to travel. There are nearly a dozen different types of pieces, and even colored ones necessary for reaching other towns, dungeons, and to get through blocked areas. All of this might seem a hassle but actually proves rather enjoyable in its own right. Trying to maximize the placement of your hexes early on is necessary when you still have a limited supply, and you'll also discover plenty of hidden items on blank hexes throughout the entire tower, so exploration will be an important part of the world map.
This is necessary because once you get inside a dungeon, the exploration is almost non-existent. Dungeons are mostly laid out in a linear fashion with some minor rooms that branch out, usually holding treasure or difficult monsters. But the dungeons themselves lack variety within their context. A dungeon on level 7 of the tower will certainly look different than one on level 10, but within that level 7 dungeon, almost every room will look familiar. This is only a minor complaint, but it's worth noting that you will not see much of a variety of locations throughout your travels in Basel.
Few of these dungeons are there simply to be explored, though, as they don't feature prominently in the game's story progression or in the side quests. And you'd do well to explore them to whatever extent they allow because you'll likely find some very valuable items in there. As just mentioned, the game has side quests in addition to the main story, and the side quests will measure how long or short the game is for you. The game is broken up into chapters, with each chapter containing one story mission and usually four or five, sometimes more, side quests. It's imperative that you complete the side quests before you proceed to the next chapter - if you so wish - because once you proceed, those side quests are no longer active. You can certainly do the main mission first, and the game always gives you the choice to proceed or not after you return to the base. Simply select "No," and you're free to do whatever you wish in the current chapter.
In your spare time, you may also want to check out the arena. This is an excellent place to train your characters in weapons that he or she may not be skilled in, thereby boosting his or her levels and HP in turn. The arena has a total of 50 ranks, but each individual rank must be completed three times before you can access the next. The game also spreads out how often you receive new ranks across the chapters. The progression is a bit tedious at times, having to fight the same group of enemies three times before you move on to the next, and this would have been a severe complaint if the combat itself were not so good. You earn money for beating ranks and battle coins, as well, which you can exchange for prizes when you've earned enough.
Lastly, the game understands that it can be difficult at times. Therefore, every battle can be restarted - for a very small fee - and allow the player another chance rather than have to walk back through an entire dungeon again. You're also able to Suspend the game anywhere on the world map or in dungeons so long as you are not currently in a battle. This will create a temporary save which you can load next time and pick up right where you left off. This is such a simple thing to include in a game that I have to wonder why more games of this type aren't doing it. Being able to put the game down almost anywhere and any time I want shows that the developers are thinking ahead.
The Sights and Sounds of Basel
Resonance of Fate is not the most impressive looking game. It has its moments of beauty, but given the circumstances of the in-game world and environment, expect to look at a lot of dreariness and gloom. The textures are also not up to high quality standards, but they are by no means terrible. The differences between both versions of the game is also negligible: The Xbox 360 version renders textures better while the PS3 versions has better lighting. It really comes down to your controller of preference, and you should not feel pressured into getting it for one console over the other.
What really shines is the game's soundtrack and voice acting. The music is an excellent blend of jazz and hard rock and reflects the setting well. Some of the more tender moments are orchestrated by a slow-tempo bass which accentuates the serenity of it, while battles are often accompanied by hard and fast sounds which seem intelligent enough to distinguish when you're in real time and when you're performing a Hero Action. However, the voice acting alone gets an A+. Featuring the familiar talents of Nolan North (Nathan Drake - Uncharted) as Vashyron, Scott Menville (Lloyd Irving - Tales of Symphonia and Robin - Teen Titans) as Zephyr, and Jessica DiCiccio (Olette - Kingdom Hearts 2) as Leanne, the characters truly seem to come alive and share a believable chemistry with each other. It's too common a trope in Japanese RPGs where you'll have a cast of misfits who seem so unlikely to be cooperating with each other, let alone getting along. Not the case here. The three protagonists are a group of friends, very close and very cooperative, and there is not a single moment in the game where I found myself in disbelief of that friendship, thanks in large part to the tremendous emphasis of the voice actors.
And The Verdict Is
Resonance of Fate is a remarkable achievement on many fronts. From its multi-genre blend of combat to its believable cast, the game shows that tradition is not necessary to make a fun game. While it fails to impress on a technical level, the sheer enjoyment cannot be disregarded. Without a doubt, Resonance of Fate is a worthy addition to the tri-Ace brand and a welcoming breath of fresh air for jaded players.
Pros: Complex and intricate combat system; excellent characters backed by terrific voice acting; a real challenge without cheap antics; some absolutely hilarious moments; tremendous lasting appeal; NG+ and plenty of difficulty levels to unlock
Cons: Slice of life progression is not for everyone; poor gameplay tutorials; less-than-impressive visuals
The Final Verdict: 8.5/10
Whether the game lasts you 30 hours if you rush the story or more than 60 if you do everything, you're likely to come back for more. And more, and more.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 04/02/10
Game Release: Resonance of Fate (US, 03/16/10)
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