I've reviewed a lot of games for GamingExcellence. I've reviewed long games, short games, fun games, crap games, complex games, simple games, and pretty much everything in between.
But I've never reviewed anything quite like this. Hell, in the thousands of games I've played in the past twenty years, I've never even played anything quite like this. Resonance of Fate is a shockingly original JRPG title that is just the exact tonic the stagnating genre needed. Going up against Final Fantasy XIII and its "sit-back-and-watch-while-the-game-plays-itself" mechanics, Resonance of Fate goes in the opposite direction, providing a fresh take on the genre, provided you're willing to put in the effort.
The only portion of the game that feels been there, done that before is the presentation and plot. An unspecified time in the future, humanity has polluted the planet to such a point where the entire human race was on the verge of dying out. Only through a hasty construction of a atmosphere processing tower called Basel, were the last shreds of humanity able to settle again and live out their lives in relative peace. However, the machinery that runs the tower is beginning to fail, causing violence and monsters to begin infesting the massive tower.
If you're going to play RoF, forget everything I just told you about the plot, because for the first half of the game it's entirely irrelevant. You play as a band of twenty-something mercenaries named Vashyron, Zephyr, and Leanne. The first half of the game has you doing odd jobs and quests that have nearly zero impact on the main plotline, and rather getting to know the characters. The storytelling runs from Japanese quirk and crushing heavy handedness, and everything in between. It's awkward, and the plot will not be the reason you keep playing the game.
Once you get to the meat of the gameplay, you'll quickly realise that all the conventions of the JRPG genre have been turned on their ear, and it all begins with an insanely in depth combat system that will have newbs running to their mommies and will challenge even the most stringent JRPG fan. Trust me when I say that the tutorial is a must, as the game throws the entirety of the battle system at your feet right off the bat and its sink or swim from there. Even the tutorial on its own takes more than an hour to complete, and it'll be several hours more until you have any sort of comfort level with the mechanics.
Trying to describe this system with any sort of simple clarity is probably the biggest challenge I've ever faced as a game reviewer. The system is a mixture between real time and turn based, with a closer leaning to the real time end of the spectrum. All the battles are fought with guns, grenades, and modern weaponry. Your enemies are constantly taking their turns while you take yours. You can select any character at any time, allowing you to really strategize and place your characters anywhere along the battlefield, whether behind cover, over top of crates, or close up to deal more damage quickly. Each turn allows you to run around the field while a time gauge drains.
There are two different kinds of damage to be dealt to your enemies in the game, direct and scratch damage. Handguns deal direct damage, which is actual permanent damage to the target. Scratch damage is done via machine guns and is generally more powerful than direct, but heals over time. The key to success is to deal enough scratch damage and then convert that scratch damage to actual damage with a few well placed handgun shots.
If that description alone didn't make your brain explode, then just wait, because the grey matter is really about to hit the flowery wall paper. In order to attack, you have to charge your attacks. The closer you are to your enemy, the faster your attack will charge, making you choose between being wide open and being able to attack quickly, or being safer on the opposite end of the map and attacking slower. The higher your character's level, the more times you can charge your attack in a single turn, causing more damage and adding special attack perks.
Beyond the charging, you have to keep your eye on the hero gauge on the bottom of the screen as well. This doubles as your ability to use special attacks and represents your health levels. As long as you have at least one block of the gauge full, all damage inflicted on you is dealt as scratch damage. If enough scratch damage is dealt to bring your HP to zero, you lose one of the gems which shatters and scatters across the battlefield. Gems are regained by defeating enemies or taking out their shields and body parts. If your hero gauge drains completely, you might as well restart the game, because your characters will move and attack slower, won't be able to use hero actions, take direct damage, and the game over screen kicks on once any one of your characters bites the dust.
The hero gauge is also necessary to execute hero actions and tri-attacks, which are practically required to have any level of success. Hero actions allow you to set a waypoint anywhere on the field, which then allows your character to run unopposed through the enemies, causing massive damage and chaos. Here you can jump and slide around firing bullets like a John Woo ballet. Do enough damage in hero mode, and you gain resonance points, which then allow you to do tri-attacks, which have all three characters attacking a target at once, which is very useful for bosses, but require careful planning and strategic positioning, lest your characters run head first into a wall. Also, when in hero mode, you can also do special attacks like smackdowns, which I'm not even going to bother describing at this point because I imagine your drooling body is too busy windexing brain bits off your monitor.
On top of remembering all these mechanics and several others that I haven't listed, the game doesn't ease you into a comfort level either. Right from the first chapter of the game, you'll constantly find yourself constantly outnumbered, outgunned, and fighting enemies who deal far more damage than you. The game over screen will be a common sight for any player. Still, nearly every battle is winnable with careful planning, and it's incredibly satisfying to finally succeed in a tough boss battle on a fifth or sixth try. With that said, it's required to take on a lot of side quests and level grinding in order to tip the scales a little further in your favour. As complex as the battle system is, it's a lot of fun to play around with, and once you get the hang of some of the intricacies, it's fun and more involving than nearly any other recent RPG battle system I've yet encountered.
While the battles themselves are unforgiving, the retry system is not. Failing a battle only means that you pay a small fee to get a chance to try the same battle again, be it a boss or standard fight. The system is great because save points are spaced hours apart, so having nearly no penalty for failure keeps the game moving along. Fortunately, the game allows you to suspend your game at any time should the real world come calling, so the sporadic checkpoints don't even qualify as a nuisance.
The bizarre originality doesn't end at the battle system either. The world map eschews the standard fields that populate most RPGs in favour of a board game lite design. The map is made up of a collection of hexagons that must be unlocked with puzzle pieces that are acquired by doing quests and defeating enemies. It's mildly reminiscent of games like Tetris or Bejewelled, but with a set goal. Only certain pieces fit in certain parts of the map, as the piece can't go off the sides and must be adjacent to already unlocked squares. The system gains additional depth by the use of unlockable terminals which give you various perks and are joined together by hexes of the same colour. Battles are still random on the field, which are kicked on as you move your cursor around the areas. It's actually a really addictive system, and many players will find themselves obsessively opening up every available hex to move between the various levels.
Unlike most RPGs that have you equipping new armour and equipment throughout the game, RoF rarely gives you new guns, and instead gives you tons of upgrades for the weapons. The upgrades are applied over a grid, forcing players to only apply upgrades that physically fit on the grid while keeping an eye on the overall weight of the gun. If you overload your weapon, it'll automatically get unequipped.
Finally, if you find yourself overburdened with rubies, you can buy new clothes and accessories for your characters. Since nearly all the cutscenes are rendered in real time, changing their clothes is always reflected. This system really allows you to make your characters your own.
Graphically speaking, the game is rock solid. Clothes and hair flow around in real time, and the characters are well rendered. The environments typically look great, although extremely repetitive since the whole game takes place in the same steampunk tower. The animations during the battles are spectacular, especially when your characters are sliding and leaping throughout the field filleting your enemies with bullets. It's too bad the enemy designs are very repetitious as well. Overall, it's a very solid effort, but not without a few tarnishes in the silver.
Audio is mixed. I don't know who Nolan North has pictures of committing lewd acts, but it seems to be a new law in the industry that your game won't get released if he isn't voicing the main character. Voice acting in general is fine in an over enthused Japanese kind of way, but the repetitive battle cries and one liners begin to grate very quickly and never stop. Gunshots and sound effects sound great, and the score is solid but unremarkable.
Resonance of Fate is definitely not a game for everyone. What some may call insane micromanagement, others will call depth. What some would refer to as cheap and unfair challenge, others will consider challenging. Whatever camp your find yourself in, subtract or add a point to my final score respectively. If you've been looking for a unique JRPG, forget Final Fantasy XIII and give this quirky, challenging underdog a shot. You just may find yourself pulled in hook, line, and sinker, loving every moment of it.