Resonance of Fate
For what it's worth, Resonance of Fate is probably one of the best looking RPGs we've seen in years
- Fantastic artwork, great soundtrack, customisable options can be found from character appearances to the world map, fresh combat system is unique and challenging
- The overall experience is hampered by uneven difficulty and punishing learning curves that will surely frustrate even dedicated RPG fans
When it comes to stylish Japanese role-playing games with extraordinarily weird battle systems, you can't go much further out into left field than developer tri-Ace. The creators of the Star Ocean and Valkyrie Profile franchises certainly aren't afraid to try new and daring things with the standard RPG formula, and it definitely shows in their latest project, Resonance of Fate. Called "End of Eternity" in Japan, this RPG has made a lot of buzz in the video game media, mostly due to a unique combat system that focuses on Matrix-like acrobatics and pistols with seemingly unlimited ammunition. But even though the promise of flashy, gun-based kung-fu looks cool on paper, it doesn't really work quite so well when the bullets actually start flying.
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Resonance of Fate takes place in the far future, where most of Earth has become ravaged by harsh environmental changes that make global warming look like a mild summer heat wave. Fortunately for humanity, they've got their wits together long enough to create Basel: a massive purification tower that cleanses the air around it, making day-to-day life possible for what's left of the human race. Being hundreds of miles high and crafted from machinery that seemingly defies the laws of mass and physics, Basel also serves as the only safe haven for the human race to rebuild, where the upper levels of the structure are reserved for the rich, and the lower regions of the tower are home to the middle class citizens, workers, and a few criminals here and there.
Much of the game's story focuses on Zephyr, Vashyron, and Leanne -- a trio of young mercenaries that make a living doing odd jobs for whoever's got the cash. Each one of these characters has a backstory that's told against the arc of a much greater conflict within the government of Basel, giving some overall insight into who the characters are, and how they came to be together. Moreover, Resonance of Fate's 30-to-50 hour story is well paced with over two-dozen chapters, and almost each one features your crew tackling an odd job for a wealthy client. As a gun for hire -- or Hunter, as the game's story dictates -- it's your job to take up work from anyone who's willing to pay the cash. Aside from the main story-related missions, you can take on optional side-quests from different NPCs that will help build your levels and line your pockets.
As a side note, the script in Resonance of Fate definitely isn't Shakespeare, but it's handled remarkably well by English voice actors that give some real life to all the characters. Heavy-handed moments are often alleviated with some light humor, and more serious parts of the plots aren't really present until the later chapters. As a result, a lot of dialogue (and the occasional sex joke from a Nolan North-voiced Vashyron) comes across better than it was probably meant to sound in the final round of localization.
Since Basel is as dangerous as it is visually stunning, you'll spend quite a bit of time in Resonance of Fate dealing with the battle system, which I found to be both impressively inventive and unnecessarily difficult. Unlike most Japanese RPGs, which would have your characters fighting 50-foot tall monsters with swords, boomerangs, and slingshots, Resonance of Fate deals exclusively with more modern and realistic weapons like handguns and grenades. On the plus side, it's a refreshing change of pace, to say the least, and it fits right in with the gritty steampunk theme of the game.
I never really got used to the "tri-Attack-Battle" system. Where most conventional RPGs focus on whittling away hit points, the t-A-B system jazzes things up a bit by assigning a specific type of damage to certain weapons. Scratch damage, which can be whittled away with sub-machine guns, serves as a buffer for actual hit points. Take away enough scratch damage, and it leaves characters open to "direct" damage, which permanently affects said hit points. Direct damage can be dished out with handguns and grenades, and the trick to combat pretty much revolves around softening enemies up with scratch damage, then finishing them off with the right amount of gunfire.
If the t-A-B system simply stopped there, that would be enough to handle, but Resonance of Fate also throws Hero Actions into the mix, which is where all the handgun kung-fu comes into play. During a Hero Action, you're given multiple opportunities to fire at an enemy in a single turn, during which you're impervious to enemy fire via diving slides and erratic aerial flips. While this sounds cool at first, it's ruined by the fact that, for much of the first 10 hours of gameplay, you can't shoot anything unless you're standing toe-to-toe with your target. And since Hero Actions consume pieces of a "Hero Gauge" that effectively houses all of your party's extra scratch damage, you're essentially risking an immediate beatdown if you don't kill off most of your enemies in a quick sweep.
In fact, Hero Actions are largely a huge gamble throughout most of your early missions that often don't pay off. Since I spent most of my playthrough heavily outgunned and outnumbered, my party was constantly wading directly into enemy fire just to create opportunities to KO random enemies. It wasn't until much later in the game, when I had a substantially beefed-up Hero Gauge to work with that it became relatively easier to refill the Hero Gauge by killing off minor enemies and dealing large chunks of damage to various dungeon bosses. But even then, Resonance of Fate occasionally threw a new barrier of frustration in my way that made my progress feel minor.
With most RPGs, even if the combat system is difficult to handle at first, you should at least feel at some point like you're getting the hang of it. Resonance of Fate never gave me that feeling, and there didn't seem an end to the painfully steep learning curve. In fact, the risk-reward dynamic of the combat system became so frustrating that I literally went through three boss battles simply letting my tank character absorb hits and spam health items while my other two characters slowly took potshots from halfway across the stage. Not only is that little more than boring turn-based fighting, it makes the over-the-top stunts of the Hero Actions a little pointless.
At the very least, the game still offers a robust customization element in the weapons system, where you can buy various attachments for your guns of choice. It's a lot like the famous briefcase system of Resident Evil 4, where aiming scopes and barrel clips can be swapped and removed to fit your gun and improve stats like your rate of fire. Although it's a small feature of a broad game, it was the only part of the combat system that didn't have me cursing through my teeth every hour.
For what it's worth, Resonance of Fate is probably one of the best looking RPGs I've seen in years. Basel's post-modern environments are stunning to look at, and it's obvious that tri-Ace really went for broke on the artwork. Backdrops of various cities are packed to the walls with details that are highlighted further by the game's internal day-and-night system. Since some parts of the game are time sensitive, I became very aware of how different everything looked when the sun went down and the lights of Basel's cities illuminated the darkness. Looking closely, I could actually see the detail etched into the game as sunshine lit up the cobblestones on the streets and bricks on various buildings, while shadows were filtered realistically through the gears and grates that lined the walls of Basel's run-down cities.
Even the character designs are impeccable, and Resonance of Fate smartly comes equipped with an addictive little costume mechanic that lets you alter your party's wardrobe on the fly. I actually had fun buying different jackets for Zephyr and other accessories for Leanne, since they would show up in the game's numerous cut-scenes. It's only worth mentioning because it really makes the main cast stand out when they're walking around in bright orange and huge bookworm glasses.
But for all of its breathtaking visuals and wonderfully deep tinkering, Resonance of Fate's combat system almost threatens to ruin an otherwise enjoyable RPG experience with schizophrenic gunplay mechanics that are nearly too demanding for their own good. Sure, if you can grind through numerous random battles without losing your patience, the experience can be rewarding when you finally succeed. But for the rest of you, I'd recommend something else if you're not ready to devote some serious study time to the hardcore, incredibly unforgiving trek through this steampunk city.
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