These are interesting times for the Japanese role-playing game; times of progression, growth and change. I’m of course referring to the fantastical behemoth that is Final Fantasy XIII, but while the likes of Leona Lewis might be enjoying the new accessibility of the series, what do the loyal fans that have stuck with the series since the days of the SNES think? XIII features breathtaking visuals and the most refined combat system yet to grace the series, but the outrageous linearity puts a stake through the very heart of the Final Fantasy experience. Don’t take that the wrong way, I’m actually a big fan of the game, I just pray it’s not indicative of the direction the rest of the genre is heading.
Even if Square-Enix is hell-bent on taking the genre to the mainstream, there are still plenty of developers catering to the core audience. tri-Ace is one such studio, with games such as Valkyrie Profile, Infinite Undiscovery, and more recently Star Ocean: The Last Hope as shining examples. Its latest game, Resonance of Fate, has been (perhaps rather foolishly) released in the wake of Final Fantasy’s success, and subsequently may struggle to get itself noticed. Should players find the time for it, however, Resonance of Fate offers traditional JRPG gameplay with innovation in all the right places. Final Fantasy XIII haters, this could well be the game for you.
Set on a dystopian Earth, mankind has been driven to the brink of extinction after a poisonous gas permeated the planet’s crust, killing millions. Those who managed to survive built a device known as Basel, installing it deep underground to purify the polluted soils. A civilisation formed around the base of this device, gradually extending towards the clouds where the air was pure and clean. While the rich could afford to live on the top levels of this tower, the poor were forced to live nearer the base, creating a visible hierarchy. For the diminished population of Earth, the tiered system of Basel worked, but it wasn’t long before the purifiers stopped working, and the survival of mankind was thrown into jeopardy again.
Resonance of Fate structures itself around the livelihood of three hunters; Vashyron, Zephyr, and Leanne, who are hired to make sure Basel survives. As RPGs throughout history have taught us, hunters are hired swords (or in this case, guns) that take on dangerous jobs in exchange for money and loot. Missions are advertised on a notice board in town, and if they sound interesting enough, you can go off and find the relevant person to accept the work. Within this framework, an overarching structure of chapters split up the gameplay, meaning you can choose the order you play through the game, and decide when to advance to the next chapter.
The steampunk world the characters inhabit is a joy to explore, with impressive Victorian-esque architecture, strange mechanical devices and cogs galore populating the cobbled streets. It’s certainly a refreshing aesthetic, but frugal use of colour gives the game a slightly drab feel to it. Greys and browns are in keeping with the theme, but the game world feels lifeless and dreary as a result. After a few hours with the game, this quickly becomes insignificant; the graphics are free of technical hitches, the character models are nice (if a little generic) and customisation directly affects your character's appearance in both battle and cutscenes, which is always a nice touch.
Complimenting the mature tones, Resonance of Fate replaces swords and spells with guns and bullets. Combat is the same blend of real-time and turn-based combat tri-Ace often brings to its games, a system where the focus is on action. While in control of a character, players are free to run about as they wish; some environments even have objects which can be used as cover. Holding the A button charges a circular gauge, varying in speed depending on your distance from the enemy. Once charged, pressing the button again fires your weapon at the targeted enemy. All nice and simple so far? Good, because even for the most well educated RPG player, confusion quickly escalates.
Guns come in numerous shapes and sizes, and depending on their type, two different types of damage can be dealt. While "Direct" damage reduces the HP of an enemy as one would expect, "Scratch" damage reduces a different meter, which replenishes over time. To make the most of this, one should follow up Scratch damage with a Direct attack as quickly as possible to make the injuries count. This becomes second nature after a few hours, but an altogether more interesting mechanic complicates matters further, while at the same time gives the system its unique hook.