Review by holyknight14

"Good ideas tainted by faulty execution"

Generation of Chaos is a long running series of tactical games for the PS2 and PSP. Despite being comprised of five unique titles and two remakes in total, only three games have been released outside of Japan. Pandora's Reflection for the PSP is the latest entry into the series. Surprisingly, GoC: PR was announced for localization shortly after its original 2012 Japanese release. Historically, Generation of Chaos has primarily been developed by Idea Factory. However, Pandora's Reflection is the first title in the series to be codeveloped by Sting and Idea Factory, known together as "Super Sting." The result is a game that incorporates many of the traditional concepts found in previous GoC titles with Sting's unique gameplay mechanics.

Story: 7/10
GoC: PR takes place in the barren world of Hades. As the name implies, the setting is dark and dismal from the onset of the game. The land is decaying and society is controlled by the few who are noticeably wealthy. This has produced a vast amount of impoverished citizens who have risen up out of desperation. Independent of any particular faction are the game's primary protagonists, Claude and Yuri. GoC: PR follows these two siblings as they travel in search of a cure for a disease that periodically causes Yuri to suffer enormous bouts of pain. This quest leads them through various parts of Hades where they meet a considerable amount of allies and enemies alike. While their journey begins as an aimless search for hope, it eventually morphs into a twisted tale full of secrets regarding the world, its current condition and the siblings themselves.

The overlying storyline is relatively interesting and has many unique elements that separates it from other JRPGs. Events unfold through a series of chapters and episodes. Each chapter covers a broad portion of the game and is split into multiple episodes. An episode covers a major event within that respective chapter. Most of the plot transpires exclusively through narration and dialogue with limited graphical expression. So, while the storyline has a lot of strength, it can also be relatively difficult to understand exactly what is happening until being told after the fact. There are also some glaring pacing issues. The first half of the game is rather slow and it's not until the second half that things begin to really get moving. Unfortunately, the final segments of the game become quite convoluted. This results in a poor, rushed conclusion to an otherwise interesting tale.

There are numerous characters that are introduced over the course of GoC: PR. The protagonists and antagonists as a whole are decent for the most part. However, some of these characters fall flat. For instance, the last two playable characters basically have one or two episodes that center on them when they join the group. After that, they chime in once or twice during each dialogue session in subsequent episodes solely to ensure that the player recognizes they are still around. A few of the villains share the same fate, but thankfully most of them are at least developed on a basic level compared to many other games out there.

Graphics: 7/10
The best visual elements of the game lie in the beautiful artwork. Every single piece used to introduce and conclude the chapters is elaborate and detailed. Similarly, the character portraits are also incredibly well drawn and the expressions, while limited, are also quite good. Standing at first place are the awesome summoning animations. GoC: PR features an extensive list of summoning spells and every single one comes complete with its own unique animation. Another highlight of the game's graphics are the icons used for equipment. There are many, many different types of weapons that the player will obtain and each one is accompanied by its own unique symbol to provide some differentiation and a sense of progression.

While there are clearly some strong graphical elements in the game, there are also numerous shortcomings as well. Dialogue sequences suffer immensely due to the absence of all but the minimum level of visual cues. There are times when action sequences are occurring during the dialogue segments, but none of it can actually be visualized unless the player has a vivid imagination. The battle maps look quite generic in general and the player typically spends an entire chapter on one or two maps that are simply shifted around a bit. Similarly, the action screen is always the same and becomes repetitive after staring at it for hours on end. It would have been interesting to vary up the rhythm sequences two or three times within the same weapon category instead of solely changing it between weapon types.

Gameplay: 7/10
GoC: PR plays quite differently compared to previous entries in the series. Most of the previous GoC games are fundamentally similar to the style of classic SRPGs. However, GoC: PR is a fast paced RTS game. Gameplay primarily involves managing units on the setup menu and then proceeding onto the battlefield. Despite being a tactical title, there is actually very little micromanagement involved. Each unit is represented by a class that defines their stats, terrain affinity and weapon types. A character can equip two or three weapons, based on their class, and a single consumable item or piece of armor. Weapons can be upgraded by spending AP earned in battle and the item slot can be swapped for spoils found after clearing a battlefield. That is the extent of the customization that exists in GoC:PR. Classes cannot be voluntarily changed, upgraded or assigned and there are no skills or abilities to be utilized.

Battles pit the protagonists against the antagonists in a cut out portion of the current storyline location. Each side is represented by one to five units from the current roster. Battlefields consist of many important objects that must either be taken over, interacted with or destroyed in order to emerge victorious. There are two bases on each map, one belonging to the player and the other to the enemy. Both sides dispatch new units onto the field through the base. In addition, there are strategy points, unit points, event points and field artillery. Taking over strategy points and unit points will increase the respective side's allowable number of units on the field and decrease the opposition's. Interacting with event points provides information and occasionally grants hidden items. Field artillery are constructs that perpetually shoot different projectiles designed to impede the opposition's movement. The objective of each battle is generally to wipe out the opposition entirely, defeat the enemy's "boss" unit or take over the enemy's base. Winning a battle will result in gaining AP for bolstering character levels and upgrading weapons and possible spoils to equip.

The main part of each battle lies in skirmishes between the player's and the enemy's units. This occurs when two opposing units come into close proximity. Players must choose one weapon type to fight with based on what the enemy has selected. All weapons are effective and ineffective against other weapons, labelled as GOOD and BAD in combat. Choosing an effective weapon will increase damage dealt, decrease damage taken and cause the opposing unit to get knocked back on the map screen. Additionally, the player must undergo a rhythm sequence to determine the impact radius on the map screen. Larger impact circles will allow other friendly units to chain their attacks without any fear of a counterattack. This fundamental process becomes integral as the game progresses and battles become more challenging and stacked against the player. In addition to the benefits of clearing the field of enemies, skirmishes also yield gems that are used to conduct summonings. Summons are powerful entities that produce an array of beneficial effects for the player.

GoC: PR is generally fast paced and requires a good deal of quick thinking and on the fly reactions to the enemy's maneuvers. Unfortunately, some of the mechanics are simply not well executed in the game. Movement on the field is horrendously clunky and often times it's difficult to position units correctly without a lot of hassle. Additionally, the flow of the game can never actually be paused while moving the cursor around. This results in a significant loss of time when trying to conduct the movements of units who are on opposite sides of a map even after setting the cursor to the highest speed. The combat also becomes relatively stale as the game progresses due to the notable lack of skills or anything to fight with other than standard weapon attacks. Rhythm sequences start off remarkably slow and easy to deal with. Unfortunately, the speed increases as weapons are upgraded and eventually gets to the point of annoyance and may turn away those with slower reflexes. Finally, minimizing the micromanagement aspects of the game was a step in the right direction. However, it seems that the developers went a bit too far and the result is a system that is a bit too simplistic.

Music/Sound Effects: 8/10
One of the highlights of GoC: PR is its music. The tone of the music assists the game in delivering a grim, dark storyline. Each chapter and episode is narrated with deep, resonating sounds filling the background. This mood is even conveyed during the time spent organizing units in the setup menu. By contrast, the game also manages to shift towards a more fast paced style on the battlefield and during bouts between the player and enemies. Regrettably, the variety is a bit lacking and the same handful of songs will often be repeated for the entire duration of the game. The quality of the sound effects is also strong and occasionally acts as a substitute for the absent visual cues during dialogue sequences. GoC: PR has an immense amount of voice acting within it. Every single piece of text belonging to the narrator or a character is voiced. Some of it is a little overbearing, but for the most part the actors did a fine job.

Challenge: 7/10
I grade a game's difficulty based on how well it fits the game and whether or not it fosters enjoyment. GoC: PR starts off extremely easy as a means of slowly introducing the player to the mechanics. This process of "babying" the player essentially continues for the first few chapters of the game. However, the game's difficulty steadily rises from that point onward. Some of the battles towards the end of the game are fairly challenging and will likely give the player some trouble without becoming overly frustrating. Despite being a relatively simple game to learn, the developers managed to create challenges by stacking the odds against the player. The result often ends up making battles difficult in the beginning, but easier as the player slowly conquers the current map. Additionally, completing the game once opens up an optional Hard mode where enemies have heightened parameters and act more aggressively in battle.

Replayability: 6/10
GoC: PR is a strictly linear game for the most part. There is only one primary story path and everything within the game can be experienced in a single run through the game. Additionally, there are few ways to truly play the game differently other than dispatching different characters on subsequent playthroughs. However, the game does contain two variations of the same ending. Additionally, there is also a New Game + feature and the aforementioned optional Hard mode that are both unlocked after completing the game once. All of these elements together may provide enough reasoning to warrant a second playthrough. GoC: PR only takes around 20 to 25 hours to complete based on how many Free Battles the player decides to undertake. Thus, a second playthrough should be relatively quick if New Game + is utilized.

Final Words
At the end of the day, GoC: PR is a fun game to play with a lot of strengths and defining elements. Players looking for a fast paced and responsive RTS game will likely feel right at home with this game after getting through the easy beginning chapters. Most of the problems with this game lie within the fact that the developers didn't seem to go all the way with their ideas. This left the game feeling rough around the edges in some areas and overly simplistic in others. Despite all of that, it's clear that the GoC series as a whole is slowly, but surely, headed in the right direction. Hopefully the formula will become more refined in the future.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 02/27/13

Game Release: Generation of Chaos: Pandora's Reflection (US, 02/19/13)

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