Friday, January 20, 2012

Resonance of Fate - Part 1

"Resonance of Fate" is easily in the running for one of the most difficult RPGs I've ever played.  You can tell this is an RPG for the hard-core only just by the first hour.  Because during that first hour, unlike every RPG made since roughly 1996, there is no tutorial of any kind.  You're just thrown straight into a deeply confusing and complicated battle system unlike any other game ever made.  The developers just assume you know what to do immediately.

I'm not sure what kind of creature has innate skills in "Resonance of Fate" - they're probably more machine than man - but I know for sure I am not a member of that superior race.  I'm up to the fifth section of this game, and I have spent every one of the chapters desperately trying to keep up with one of the most unforgiving games I've ever played.  Most RPGs, let's be honest, are very easy and you'd consider a boss "hard" if it manages to beat you once.  That's part of their appeal, to me at least, they're very low intensity experiences.  "Resonance of Fate" isn't a game that spends twenty-five hours teaching its players how to play, its a game where you will be thrown straight in the maelstrom and desperately find a way to hold on.  And that's the easiest part, it only gets more difficult from there.  As deep as I am in this game, which is sadly maybe only a quarter of the way through, I have no illusions of dominance.  If I actually am able to beat this game, it will be an achievement beyond achievements, because this is the hardest RPG I've ever played*.

Perhaps because of that immense difficulty, I am fully addicted to this game.  But I actually don't think its the mind-breaking toughness.  Its that "Resonance of Fate" is cool.  Its a cool game.  All three of your characters are gunslingin' badasses that perform ridiculous John Woo-style leaps that spray bullets all over their enemies.  Its a strategic game as well, allowing almost real time free movement to place your characters and take down your enemies.  The characters aren't bad, the gameplay is really good, its just really hard.  Really really hard.

What's immediately going to make or break your experience playing "Resonance of Fate" is your ability to learn how to play it.  Unfortunately, this game has no tutorial, and it really needs one.  There is a short intro level where you wander around a bit, that level doesn't actually teach you how to play the game, that comes from a series of rather uninformative text screens and a manual.  Now, I don't know about anybody else, but I really can't learn how to play a game just by reading text on a screen, I'm going to need to see a visual demonstration.  So if you really want to learn how to play this game, go find a Let's Play on Youtube and watch how the experts do it.

I'll try to give a brief rundown here, because all reviews need a gameplay explanation.  Unfortunatley, that's going to take some paragraphs to do:

At its core "Resonance of Fate" took the traditional RPG style and immediately decided it was going to try something totally different.  Instead of swords, you fight with guns.  In fact, I don't think a single character has a sword in this whole game.  There also is no magic, no Limit Breaks, no Summons, and no special skills.  What you do have is super fast flipping gun action.  Tri-Ace seems to have watched the cutscenes from "Dirge of Cerberus" realized like I did six years ago that the game was smelly ass but the cutscenes were awesome, and then made a game around that idea.  Or you want a comparison to a better game, its kinda like "Valkyria Chronicles".  So you can rush an opponent and fire something like one hundred bullets into them in the span of one attack.  Instead of turns, everything seems to happen in semi-real time, and you can automatically switch between character's turns.  If you want, one guy can shoot three times in a row before your other heroes do anything.

Tri-Ace, however, are obsessed with complexity for complexity's sake**.  For reasons that are entirely unclear to me, there are two different ways to attack.  You either do regular damage with handguns, or "scratch damage" with a machine gun.  Basically regular attacks suck, and you'll do piddling ammounts of damage unless you lower the enemy defenses.  So first you have to have your machine gunner run in, blast the enemy with huge scratch attacks, which will turn their HP bars blue.  Then the handgun user can fire one bullet and take them out.  Now this might sound like an utterly stupid idea that needlessly complicates battles are already going to be very difficult to follow, but it does have a benefit.  Because of the scratch damage system, your main characters cannot be harmed directly until their shields fully drop.  So if you play well (or even play mediocre) you can easily finish entire dungeons without a single point lost of HP.  However, when your shields do drop, that's just about death.  Unless you're lucky, you're finished.  You can also use items, and explosives, that's the entirety of your battle options.  Its simple, but cool.

By the way, when I mean finished, I am serious.  "Resonance of Fate" features a "Critical Mode" that occurs when you either run out of Action Charges (I'll get to that in a paragraph) or when your shields break.  In Critical Mode, you can no longer do your crazy action jumps, you just have to shot regularly.  And all your heroes move like they just shit themselves, crouching down and shaking in fear.  Now every attack does damage, you can barely move, your shots can miss, and you're basically screwed.  You might as well restart now.  You have as much chance of survival as a naked woman wandering through a maximum security prison at shower time.

Action Charges, or "Bezel Charges" to use Tri-Ace's extremely unhelpful terminology, is the way you do your crazy fake gunslinging jumps.  You use one of initially three Charges to make one of your characters perform a fast blitz on the enemy attacking numerous times and dealing high damage.  Unfortunately, you only get a small number of those attacks, and if you run out of Charges, its Critical Mode... logically followed by death.  Luckily you get Charges back by simply killing enemies or breaking off one of their body parts.  So you just need to be sure that your charge is going to work.  Action Charges are also the only way to pause battles and let you actually take note of the tactical situation.  They're also the only reliable way to move quickly and deal damage.  Yeah, regular attacks work as well, but it takes a lot of time to get those moves ready, sometimes they won't work (especially at low levels), and they don't deal very much damage.  Finding the right use of Action Charges is the only way to win.  Low level enemies can be beaten with just regular attacks, but they're in the small minority.

Other quick things to know:
  • Try to pay attention to the battle terrain.  If you can hide weakened characters behind walls, that's going to help considerably.
  • Death is not screwing around in this game.  He's serious.  If only one playable character dies, its GAME OVER.  No revives ever.
  • Luckily though, you can instantly restart any battle you lose with a small fee.  So while Death is strict
  • This game uses a "Dirge of Cerberus"-style method of customizing your guns.  You can eventually buy new guns, but before that you have to add all kinds of little scopes and grips and extra thingies.  The stores don't seem to sell anything good at all, so you need to find them in dungeons and stuff.
  • Blow up all barrels, immediately.
  • Grenades are rare, so only use them on bosses and really tough enemies.
So that took awhile to explain.  Onto other things.

The storyline of "Resonance of Fate" is very underplayed during the early chapters.  In fact, there doesn't seem to be much of a storyline at all, instead you just have three main characters doing odd-jobs and living in their steampunk world.  They're bounty hunters or something in a giant Megastructure tower that now houses all of humanity on open-air levels that are as large as an American state.  Also, God is a Computer that rules when all people live or die.  The probably corrupt Church controls the upper levels while poor people live in the Midgar Slums.  Usually the odd jobs include finding random fetch quest items, but for some reason these items are hidden deep in monster-infested dungeons and guarded by giant bosses that will make you cry.

However, there is clearly something more sinister going on, because there are repeated cutscenes to two moody Clearly Evil Dudes who are planning to overthrown the Computer God of this game.  But before any of that starts to really affect the story, we first have to have episodic Chapters of the main characters playing around and world-building.  Personally, I think this method of storytelling is pretty effective, because it allows you to get to know the characters and the strange SciFi world that they live in before shit inevitably hits the fan.  Hopefully it will all turn into a grand epic struggle for the survival of the human race.

There are three playable characters.  Only three.  However, you play the entire game as these three, so their relationship is a big part of the game.  Unfortunately, if you don't like these main characters, that means you're going to hate this game.  Its not even a "Final Fantasy X" situation where you can throw Tidus into the menu screen and never take him out.  These are your boys - and girl.  So let me break them down for ya:

Vashyron is the older male character with a ponytail.  I think he's the really main main character, because he seems to be the one in charge and he has a lot of connections with a lot people, including one of the Sinister Evil Dudes.  He's voiced by Nathan Drake, he's a pervert, he's kinda awesome all in all.  Also, inexplicably, he's an incredible artist with face paint.  Some of his lines do get annoying though, especially the bizarre "guys don't make passes for girls who kick asses".  WHAT?  Vash doesn't seem to actually be all there, inside his brain he likes to Disco Dance when he sees sexy women.

Zephyr is the closest thing to a traditional RPG hero, which makes him by far the worst character of the three.  I'm afraid he'll take center stage in the plotline, which I really don't want to happen because Zephyr is a dick.  Using "Resonance of Fate"'s extremely detailed clothing customization system, I gave Zephyr a pair of sunglasses that match his moody personality.  In an opening scene, he was a vampire and Vash killed him.  I don't know what that meant.

Leanne is the Warner Sister.  As the token chick, Leanne has to take a lot of shit from her male partners, mostly on the points that she's not very good at fighting and she has tiny boobs.  Apparently wearing reasonable clothing*** and having a realistic body type makes you freakishly underdeveloped in RPG world.  Also, even though Leanne and the Warner Brothers say that she's a rookie at combat, she's easily as good of a fighter as the other two, and maybe only slightly more delicate.  I don't think Tri-Ace thought that all the way through.

So I just wrote something like ten novels worth of text on this game.  I'll leave it here.  "Resonance of Fate" so far has been very addictive and a lot of fun.  I'll come back to this game in a few weeks once I either get much further in it, or am eventually defeated by the game's heartless difficulty.  We'll see if the game manages to stay as good, or things will get really bad.

* In what is now second is "Final Fantasy IV DS", a game that was not content to merely be difficult, it also decided to be pure evil.  That's the RPG where your party is repeatedly destroyed by the plot for no good reason, usually right before a really difficult dungeon.  And it has random encounters with enemies that can destroy most of your party with a single attack.  Just a truly hateful game, don't ever play it.

** This was a major flaw of their other RPG, "Valkyrie Profile".  I don't think I reviewed that one, mostly because I gave up caring very very quickly.  Tri-Ace has yet to make an RPG that has really caught the imaginations of the public.

*** "Resonance of Fate" has some of the best character designs I've seen in a long time in an RPG.  For some reason that has never been adequately explained to me, RPG characters have to have ridiculous over-the-top outfits that make no sense in the real world and don't even fit the characters or the storyline.  In this game, however, the cloths the characters wear seem like something you would actually buy at a store.  There aren't fifty-five belts or chains or weird fetish gear, its simply normal cloths.  Why is that so bad?

Then the game almost seems embarrassed to not have ridiculous outfits.  So it gives you a huge clothing option, allowing you to dress the characters in any ridiculous style that you want.


  1. This game looks AWESOME!!

  2. Tri-ace have put out more RPGs than just Valkyrie Profile, my favourite of which being Star Ocean: Till the End of Time on the ps2. Apparently they even worked on FF13-2.

  3. Blue, you seem to be confused about something. You seem to think that all RPGs are like JRPGs, but this is not the case. You've mentioned hating random encounters and weird character designs, and liking character customization and having influence on the plot. Western RPGs haven't had random encounters in a long time, character designs are (usually) realistic, and character customization and influencing the plot are the norm, not the exceptions. Since you own a PS3 now, I would recommend that the next game you play is Dragon Age: Origins, a Western RPG crafted by the fine people at Bioware. The plot is similar in tone to A Song of Ice and Fire and Final Fantasy Tactics, and the gameplay is challenging and fun. Also, make your character a Mage, the magic in DA: O kicks ass.

    1. When I have I ever played a Western RPG? Considering the person I am, I think you guess that when I say "RGP", I mean "JRPG".

      Dragon Age Origins is on my list of games to play. As is Bioshock Infinite. But that's going to be awhile.

    2. Your gonna love Origins if you open your mind to the world in the game, but keep in mind that the game has similar characteristics to WoW in that it runs a trinity system, tank, healer, DPS. It's most akin to Knights of the Old Republic though but I don't know if you've played that

  4. Out of curiosity, have you played "Eternal Sonata"? It's made by Tri-Crescendo, the music department of Tri-Ace, and it's a beautiful RPG. Wonderful art style, wonderful gameplay, and a heartwarming story. I can't say it would be your absolute favourite game, but I think you would definitely get a lot of joy out of playing it. It also is one of the few games I know that can take a historical, non-fiction person (Frédéric Chopin) and make him a playable character that you care about just as much as the others. I highly recommend the game.

    1. Chopin. As in the composer?!

    2. Nope. Jeanne d'Arc did something similar to that, as I recall, in which most of the characters were major figures in the later stages of the 100 Years War.

      Right now I'm also playing a very heartwarming colorful RPG, its called "Skies of Arcadia". Review for that will come....................sometime. I'm swamped with games at the moment.

  5. Resonance of fate does have a tutorial. You just have to go to the arena. The guy at the counter on the left side of the arena is the guy to talk to.