Review by The_Mana_Legend
"The Best Game No One Played"
Do you want a real RPG?
Do you want a difficult, strategic, gameplay-driven epic?
Did you hate Final Fantasy XIII?
Chances are if you answered yes to one of these questions, the last two RPGs you have played are more than likely either Mass Effect 2 or Final Fantasy XIII. Mass Effect 2, a glorified action game, was extremely light on the RPG mechanics and took more from Gears of War than the actual genre it is supposed to be stemming from. Final Fantasy XIII is similar, passing up typical RPG traits such as exploration and deep statistical character development for a more action-oriented and linear approach. This might be great for some, but for those looking for deep RPG mechanics, lots of exploration, and very deep character customization, those two titles failed on every front.
In comes Resonance of Fate, tri-Ace's latest project, and fourth title in the last 2 years. While tri-Ace's recent games have all had their degrees of excellence (Infinite Undiscovery's uniqueness, Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume's writing, Star Ocean: The Last Hope's battle system), all of them have failed to live up to the company's otherwise near perfect reputation of delivering quality titles. Gone are the days of Star Ocean: The Second Story, and even though it has only been four years, the quality drop since their masterpiece Valkyrie Profile: Silmeria is most obvious. That is, until now.
The first part of Resonance of Fate anyone will notice is the setting, which is tri-Ace's second foray into a post-apocalyptic humanity. Unlike Star Ocean: The Last Hope however, the heroes of Resonance of Fate stay on Earth, with all of mankind living upon an enormous and gravity defying tower by the name of Basel. Basel, just like any decently run society based around class, separates its floors by the amount of money and power that person has. As is typical with this sort of society, the higher up the tower you go, the higher up in class its gets. The higher classes not only have the luxury of power and money, but they also have the safest neighborhood is. Conversely, the lower you go, the more dangerous it gets, with death running rampant throughout the streets.
The three main characters are a trio of mercenaries continuously hired by the upper class to do their dirty work, which usually involves minuscule tasks that are, for some reason, very important to the rich person giving the order. One such example has our group of heroes trudging their way through a dungeon of explosives and chainsaw wielding monsters. Why? For the sole reason that the person that hired you wants to find a perfect mannequin for his next work of art and had heard rumors of such perfection lying deep within the area. While it may seem like a waste of time at first, it actually adds to the satire that tri-Ace is trying to push; the rich have way too much time on their hands and are often very weird (and in some cases, mentally challenged). It is amusing and adds a nice sense of reality when you watch the normal nature of the middle and lower classes. In the end, you end up almost feeling uncomfortable to visit upper classes, as it is so different and severed from the reality that we know.
There is a story behind all of these tasks that Vashyron, Leanne, and Zephyr have to go through, though it is not what is most prominent. Rather than a constant stream of thirty minute dialog that tri-Ace has so fondly loved since the 90s, we instead are treated to the occasional five minute cutscene of interactions between the three heroes. Each cutscene represents either humor or something deeper and more philosophical, even delving into a conversation of the existence of God. It adds a nice slice of life to an otherwise over the top game. Instead of trying to force character development down your throat like most Japanese RPGs, tri-Ace instead plays the characters as normal and puts them in everyday conversations. Because of this, we grow to care about the characters far more than the inane JRPG character stereotypes that are not in any way believable.
Of course, with this being a tri-Ace title, the story and characters are mostly backdrops for what tri-Ace does best, which is gameplay. Taking a few ideas from the battle system of Valkyrie Profile: Silmeria and mixing them with guild missions and, to a lesser extent, the living world of Radiata Stories, tri-Ace has created a hybrid of many of their previous games all rolled into one. Except this time, we have guns, and a lot of them. The battle system is akin to Valkyrie Profile: Silmeria in the fact that it is a mix of real-time and turn-based. You can move whenever you would like, but when you move, so does the enemy. Conversely, when you stop, so does the enemy. When your characters begin to move, a meter depicting the amount of time they have left begins to count down. When this hits zero, their turn is over and the next one's begins.
During the actually turn of one of your characters, several instances can take place. You can either attack from a stationary position or initiate a hero action. A hero action is a line one of the heroes runs across (or jumps across) that puts them in an invincible state while attacking the enemies. The closer you get to the enemy, the faster a meter around the reticule begins to charge. At one charge, you can initiate your attack, but it will not do much other than at the beginning of the game. However, as you progress through the game, your character's skill in that certain weapon (Handgun, Machine Gun, or Grenade) levels up, adding a charge for each level. For example, if you are at level 10 with the Handgun, you will have 10 charges. Each new charge adds greater strength to skills, so racking up the chargers when attacking greatly benefits you.
Hero actions might seem broken at first, but tri-Ace balances this out with the Hero Gauge. The Hero Gauge is a meter that represents, in basic terms, how many hero actions you can do. When this runs out, you go into Critical Condition, with disallows Hero Actions and causes the characters to lose the ability of Scratch Damage (more on this later), as well as many other damning factors. But fear not, as defeating an enemy or breaking off parts recharges the gauge, which plays a huge part in success, especially during boss battles.
There is more to defeating an enemy than just taking away HP. In Resonance of Fate, there are two different kinds of damage: Scratch Damage, and Direct Damage. Scratch Damage (caused by Machine Guns) cannot kill an enemy and recovers over time, but it greatly diminishes the enemy's defense. Direct Damage (using Pistols and Grenades) is what incurs the real damage, but without Scratch Damage, its effectiveness is greatly reduced. Therefore, it is important to have a balance between doing Scratch Damage and Direct Damage, or else you will not find success.
There are many other factors to take into account as well. Shooting an enemy up into the air and juggling them will bring up a circular meter that has an arrow swirling around it. Matching the arrow up with the right portion of the circle will grant the player a bonus hit, which not only does a lot of damage, but also rewards the player with a copious amount of items. But if you fail on matching the arrow up, a bonus hit does not occur. However, the more you shoot the enemy into the air, the more the meter increases, heightening your chances. Not only this, but if you jump while the enemy is in the arrow and you attack, you have a chance to sustain a Smackdown, which smashes the enemy against the ground, dealing more damage and also rewarding many items.
Even more features are within the battle system, all of which play an important role. There are elemental attacks, different ammo that is more or less effective on different enemies, lead assaults, and much more. One specific feature is the Tri-Attack system, which is the "ultimate attack" of sorts in Resonance of Fate. Tri-Attacks consume Resonance Points, which are acquired by placing a Hero Action line across another character's Hero Action line, and running across it. Once a Resonance Point is earned, a Tri-Attack can be initiated if the player wishes. During this Tri-Attack, all three characters run in a triangle formation (which is determined by what position they are on the map at that point), all attacking the enemy at the same time. You cannot do this all of the time however, as merely moving your character or attacking take up a Resonance Point. So a lot of planning has to go into a Tri-Attack, as one false step (literally) can ruin the entire plan.
Getting used to the battle system is hugely important to Resonance of Fate. If you do not know what you are doing, then you will die. A lot. But if you die during battle, you are given the option to retry for a small fee, which makes it a lot easier than reloading from a certain save point, which there are very few of. And unfortunately, Resonance of Fate also follows the recent trend of RPGs where there is an automatic Game Over if your main characters die. What makes it more difficult however is that all three characters are considered main characters, so if any one of them dies, it's Game Over. This adds a lot of needless frustration, but at the same time it adds a sense of satisfaction when you barely scrape by a difficult situation.
Outside of battle is just as unique as it is when you are in it. There are towns, of which you shop and get missions, but what you'll spend most of your time in out of battle is the world map. The world map is laid out in several different hexagons call Hexes. These Hexes are locked off at first, but using Energy Hexes gathered from enemies, you can unlock them. Beneath these Hexes lie the occasional treasure chest, and in some cases, different locations such as terminals or towns themselves. There are a lot of Hexes to unlock on each level and will take hours to explore and unlock everything. What's more are the Terminals in the world map, which each have their own effect. However, to unlock these Terminals, you must erect a Hex Station of the color of your choice. Once this is erected, you must place that color of your choice down upon the World Map, and once there are enough Hexes laid down, the Terminal will officially effect those certain colored Hexes in that area. It might seem confusing, but spending time and Hexes on Terminals can have huge bonuses in the long run, especially when you are grinding or looting.
When you are not doing any of this, you are probably spending your time customizing your guns, and even more addicting, your actual characters. Customizing guns by adding scopes, larger magazines, different barrels, and more is very important to keeping your guns effective throughout the game. You can either buy these parts, or create them yourself by using items you pick up from breaking off enemy body parts. These parts increase everything from the speed of fire to the charge time and can be a deciding factor during close battles, so staying on top of recent gun attachments is very crucial.
The character customization is the feature that Resonance of Fate is mostly recognized for and is completely optional. This feature allows you to dress all three characters in the clothing of your choice, which is purchased from the local clothing shop or found in treasure chests. Not only that, but you can change your characters hair color, hair style, right eye color, left eye color, add countless accessories and more. It comes at a costly price though, as you may find yourself spending ungodly amounts of money just because you like the look of that piece. It is addicting however, and it is nice to see these changes of character appearance reflected in not only the cutscenes and battle, but even in the character portraits in the camp menu.
All in all, the gameplay is probably the most unique set of mechanics to come out of the JRPG genre in years. There has not been a JRPG like this and it adds a breath of fresh air to a dull and dying genre. It is a lot to take in, and you need to work at it, but once you get everything down, it is one of the most rewarding RPG experiences in a long time. Not only that, but the 10 difficulties and the New Game+ feature add a great deal of replayability that is unparalleled by most RPGs on the 360 and PS3. That, mixed with the deep gun customization, the character customization, the large amounts of exploring, and the many missions, and you can find yourself spending well over 80 hours on one playthrough. If it is one area that Resonance of Fate will be known for in the future, it is its gameplay.
While you spend your countless hours battling and exploring the world map, you will come upon many different locales that eventually all begin to look the same. The graphics do a great job of making you feel like you are part of the world, despite being underwhelming from a technical and repetitive standpoint. It is still a good looking game, and being an RPG, the graphics do not matter much, but coming from tri-Ace, a developer known for pushing a system to its limit, it is a bit of a disappointment. The characters are mostly great in design and occasionally very reminiscent of Star Ocean: The Last Hope, but as with the issues of the environments, muddy textures and the continuous use of brown and gray gets old after a while.
Accompanying the graphics is one of the most impressive soundtracks to grace the current generation of consoles. Present is the tri-Ace regular Motoi Sakuraba, who provides the battle and dungeon music, and always keeping it upbeat with an attitude. Sakuraba, known for his battle themes, creates a perfect hard rock mood and keeps away from the genre's typical obsession with making every situation epic. It is not particularly memorable, but it is lively and fits every battle absolutely perfectly. To balance the scale is the mostly unknown Kohei Tanaka, who provides a much more orchestral sound to everything outside of battle and dungeons. It is equally impressive and sounds a lot like Hitoshi Sakimoto, albeit coherent and memorable. Tanaka's work, just like Sakuraba's, does not try to go for epicness, instead trying to give a lighthearted, everyday feel to running around towns and other public places. It is a wonderful soundtrack that fits every situation that it is in and is certainly one that everyone should take a listen to.
Resonance of Fate is currently the most impressive JRPG outing this generation. The gameplay is the deepest the genre has ever gone and the sheer uniqueness of the game is one of its charms. The battle system is unparalleled in the amount of strategy you will need to use to defeat the harder foes, and despite the occasional repetition during grinding, you never feel bored with it. The graphics are a disappointment from the technical side, but bring you into the world like few can and is helped by the fantastic accompanying soundtrack of Sakuraba and Tanaka. The great main story is mostly non-existent other than a few mysterious cutscenes until around halfway through the game, but before that you are treated to wonderful character interactions and development between three very memorable characters. But just like the story, you have to stick with it. It is a tough game to learn and its complexities are seemingly endless at first, but once you learn the mechanics and get used to how the game flows, you are in for one of the most rewarding and original RPG experiences anywhere on the market. If you are in the mood for a very deep, challenging, funny, intelligent, and all around fun RPG, Resonance of Fate is one you should pick up immediately.
Gameplay - 10/10
Story/Characters - 8/10
Graphics - 7/10
Music - 9/10
Replayability - 9/10
Overall - 9/10
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 05/07/10
Game Release: Resonance of Fate (US, 03/16/10)
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