Sunday, July 15, 2018

Resonance of Fate

Resonance of Fate Cover Art.jpg

Developer tri-Ace is known for its roleplaying games blurring the line among various subgenres, such as the Star Ocean and Valkyrie Profile series, published under the Enix, eventually Square-Enix, banner. In between console generations, they commenced development of a new title under the codename “Project Cobra,” the result published in 2010 under the name End of Eternity in Japan, and Resonance of Fate in the rest of the world, although surprisingly, Sega published the title instead of Square-Enix. The combat system contains many interesting ideas, but do they follow through in harmony?

Although many have heralded the battle system to be “innovative,” it’s actually an amalgamation of elements filched from previous roleplaying games, although the overworld system of connected hexes is somewhat unique, with special consumables necessary to further exploration among the world’s various layers. Colored hexes can hook up to terminals that provide effect to the areas they overlap (in addition to unveiling story destinations), although said terminals require a certain number of hexes of the base color to take effect. This somewhat parallels the area-of-effect system of tactical RPGs such as the Disgaea franchise, with terminals potentially becoming a decider in late-game combat.

Battles themselves are randomly-encountered on the overworld and in areas outside the hex-based “dungeons,” although each room in said dungeons contains fixed enemy fights for the most part. Terminals and an accessory can potentially nullify random encounters, and possibly allow for stress-free travel throughout the game. The fights themselves really blur the line among turn-based, action, and tactical roleplaying games, the player equipping the three playable protagonists with various firearms, an ammo case, a grenade box, and an item box, for use in combat, gamers able to mix-and-match combinations of these in most instances however they please.

Fights occur in an arena-like area on the overworld or in a dungeon’s chambers, the player moving around one ally at a time while targeting an enemy with their weapons. If the player desires to attack an enemy, they must “charge” their weapon at least one round, with greater effects the higher the charge and a protagonist’s proficiencies with the current weapon type, the three increasing levels, max HP, and capacity points allowing for higher-level equipment and guns with more accessories. Since grenades come in scarce supply early in the game, players might want to hold off on increasing their level for the three characters until they become readily available for purchase in the base town’s shop.

Enemies can interrupt a character’s charge, effectively wasting the player’s time, and while the player can see the charge gauges of enemies in front of them, they’re pretty much completely blind to foes elsewhere, and if the player reaches their maximum charge without manual execution, they’ve also wasted their time, and while an accessory can deter it, certain accessories become far more critical to success in battle. Before attacking foes with handguns and grenades, it’s critical to soften them up first with machinegun fire before executing “direct” damage using one of the other two weapon types, enemy and player character shields gradually recovering.

A major safeguard to success in combat is the Bezel system, with the player having a certain number of Bezels that each character can consume to run in a straight line across the battlefield while being immune to damage, able to charge up their weapons even more greatly, and able to jump in an arc that terminates at the endpoint decided before performing one of these Hero actions, and is in fact necessary to avoid obstacles that otherwise cut short their run. The player collects Bezel shards from story battles, sometimes from tough encounters indicated by glowing red hexes on the overworld, or as special rewards from opening hexes, four of these granting an additional Bezel.

If a character’s Hero action’s path crosses the invisible line created by his or her two other allies, then the player will gain a Resonance Point, which they can use to run in a triangle in whatever order the player decides while charging and being able to unleash their weapons simultaneously until they reach the end of their paths. However, if the player has a Resonance Point and manually moves a character, they will lose all they have acquired (players able to accumulate more if they perform more Hero actions that cross the lines creates by the two other characters).

If the player loses all Bezels due to performing too many Hero actions or losing them due to enemies fully “scratching” one of the protagonist’s HP gauges, the battle goes into critical state, where the player’s characters become significantly weaker, and they receive a Game Over if one loses all their health. However, the player can restart the battle with the stats they had when commencing it initially for a cost of some money or retry the battle with Bezels fully restored for an even greater cost, which is actually pretty much necessary to succeeding in an early story mission where the player has to protect a statue from enemy onslaughts from a dungeon’s start to finish.

Characters gain experience with their equipped weapons simply by using them, with level-ups happening in the middle of battle, and the player obtaining items necessary to create more powerful goods, transparent or colored hexes, and maybe junk sellable for money. One mechanism that can significantly increase item rewards is each character’s potential to launch an enemy into the air with an attack, in which case an ally equipped with a machinegun or handgun can smack them down to the ground and rebound them while jumping if they’re at a higher altitude than the enemy, skillful gamers able to repeat this process as they please.

All in all, the battle system has some nice ideas and can be fun, with terminals for instance being exploitable to increase things like each character’s rate of leveling in places such as the arena near the hub town and the amount of time enemies float in the air after launching them, although gameplay clichés such as the aforementioned need to protect a statue during its transportation through a dungeon, not to mention several chapters where the player must fight with reduced party size, significantly harder than with the full cast of three protagonists. Most fights further tend to be a matter of downing an enemy’s shields through machinegun and then handgun fire and assaulting the enemy proper, the difficulty generally being inconsistent and more about skill than levels at times.

The game’s controls fare somewhat worse, with unskippable startup screens such as one cautioning players sensitive to blinking lights about playing the game, the player needing to sit through the voice acting during cinematic cutscenes without being able to scroll through the text, a restricted save system that commits sins such as not placing save and recovery opportunities right before bosses, the tedium of outfitting firearms with parts without an option to optimize them (and where unequipping a part forces the player to scroll back up to the list of equipped parts), and so forth. The linear structure, however, keeps players generally moving in the right direction, so interaction could have certainly been worse.

The plot is perhaps the weakest element of the game, focusing on a dystopian setting of a world consisting of several levels raised towards the heaven, with little in the way of character development and tried elements such as an antagonist with a tragic past, and the ending is a bit confusing. The translation for the cutscene dialogue is generally serviceable, but the storyline is by no means a major reason to play the game.

The voiced battle dialogue, however, is a completely different story, with disjointed lines such as “Straight to hell!” and “Bark but no bite!” among others, and generally being terrible, as seems the norm among Japanese roleplaying games, the voicework during story scenes being hit-or-miss. Composers Motoi Sakuraba and Kohei Tanaka, however, generally do a good job with the music, in spite of some musicless moments.

The visuals are fairly generic, with a seeming overuse of grayish hues and general dull colors, alongside blurry and pixilated texturing of environments, although the character and enemy models are believable and account for graphics one could consider serviceable at best.

Finally, depending upon the player’s skill and whether they devote time to sidequests such as the arena, playing time can be at least two days’ worth, although this player somewhat found himself addicted to leveling in the arena and some extra dungeons, accounting for a little under six days of playtime.

In conclusion, Resonance of Fate continues its developer’s legacy of quirky gameplay systems, given the potential to have fun with combat, although its execution feels disjointed and rough around the edges, given inconsistent difficulty and tired gameplay clichés, and the storyline certainly doesn’t provide reason enough to experience the potentially-long game, the voices in battle are horrible, and the visuals don’t really push the PlayStation 3 to their limit. The soundtrack is pretty much the high point of the game and given a minor degree of fun this player had with the game, it actually has a little lasting appeal, and might be worth it if one can find it at a low price. The mainstream gamer, however, isn’t missing much should they avoid the title.

The Good:
+Battle system can be fun with certain exploitations.
+Good soundtrack.

The Bad:
-Combat’s ideas fall flat in execution.
-Unmemorable story.
-Awful battle dialogue.
-Mediocre graphics.

The Bottom Line:
The game isn’t bad, but you aren’t really missing much.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation 3
Game Mechanics: 6/10
Controls: 4/10
Story: 3/10
Localization: 6/10
Music/Sound: 7/10
Graphics: 5/10
Lasting Appeal: 8/10
Difficulty: Schizophrenic
Playing Time: 2-6 Days

Overall: 6/10

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