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Resonance of Fate
Graphics: 7.3
Gameplay: 8.6
Sound: 7.9
Control: 8.3
Replay Value: 8.5
Rating: 8.2

When I first heard about the concepts behind Resonance of Fate, I was excited and skeptical at the same time. The excitement was due to the difference in style; the modernized take on the standard role-playing adventure that once boasted swords and staffs and now features hi-tech weaponry. The skepticism resulted from the following sentiment: “that combat mechanic just sounds totally crazy.” Now, after playing for quite some time and finally getting a chance to wrap my mind around the intricate, challenging, turn-based/real-time hybrid system that is battling in Resonance of Fate, I’ve come to the conclusion that my skepticism was well-founded, but even so, pushing through the difficulty can be intensely rewarding. And while I’ve always been partial to the old-fashioned settings in RPGs – not so into the sci-fi environments – the highly stylized atmosphere in Tri-Ace’s latest effort is quite appealing. In the end, provided you’ve got the patience, this one is definitely worthwhile.

The graphics are an interesting mix of awesome choreography – both in the CGI and the Hero movements in combat – and a somewhat disappointing assembly of bland, stark, even fuzzy environmental design. As you might expect, the world of the distant future is inundated with fancy machinery and given the precarious situation of humanity, the adventure should certainly be painted in dark, gritty brushstrokes. But this is a little too harsh; the cold browns and grays dominate just about every area and sadly, there isn’t much diversity. In fact, I’d say the atmosphere is downright depressing and unappealing in some respects. However, that being said, the solid character detail, the aforementioned cinematography and choreography (which is almost always kick-ass), and the imaginative creation of some exotic enemies makes the game leap off the screen at certain times. If you can handle the somber look, you’ll have a blast watching the sparks fly when bullets start to rip up the battlefield.

The sound suffers from spotty voice acting and a lack of combat music variety, but at least the soundtrack works very well and the English voiceover work can actually excel in certain story scenes. The sound effects are crisp and in-your-face, which is perfect for a game that relies heavily on the intensity of battles; the comments made by your characters and the enemies are even quite welcome. The spice and flavor of the combat, thanks in part to the sound, drives this game forward. There’s also an appreciated slickness and professionalism to the music composition, which effectively accompanies our questing without lagging or letting us down. I just wanted a few more tracks for some of the battles. While the boss encounters might greet you with something new, you likely will hear the same ol’ same ol’ during your mission pursuits and random encounters. But much like the graphics, the good outweighs the bad and the positive result leaves us with a very cool – and fitting – presentation.

The first two cut-scenes in Resonance of Fate, one featuring a super-hot battle between two gun-toting dudes and the other including a young woman apparently leaping to her death, set the tone for your perilous adventure. The developers do a great job of intermingling genuine, silly humor with the ceaseless, crackling intensity that encompasses the gunplay. One minute, you might be laughing at some bizarre character antics and the next, your palms will be sweating as you desperately attempt to stay alive versus the more intimidating foes. Granted, some of the story sequences are a bit more painful than comical or engaging and the storyline isn’t quite fleshed out enough, but the intrigue generated by the gameplay should grab you. The only question is whether or not you’re willing to invest the time and patience into understanding the complex combat mechanic within. It’s never easy and the learning curve is a bit too steep even for hardened role-playing veterans, but perhaps you’re up for it.

There are random encounters along with dungeon areas where you must clear out each area while pressing forward. Once combat has been initiated, the throwdown begins and suddenly, you’re facing one of the more demanding combat systems you’ve ever experienced. You can move your characters about in real-time and this movement is absolutely crucial to your ultimate success. The closer you are to enemies, the faster you will charge an attack but of course, you’re tossing yourself into harm’s way as well. Furthermore, you’ll want to keep a close eye on how you position each of your characters; this positioning could result in a special Tri-Attack that rains death on your foes from above. In the meantime, your best friend will be the Hero maneuvers, that lets you run in a line, avoiding enemy fire while nailing the target as many times as your action bar will allow. You can leap into the air with the Square button (firing from above will hit the main body and random body parts), press X to attack once your Charge meter is full, and select special Tools (like health items and grenades).

But really, that’s only the beginning. There are objects in the field, too, like bunkers to hide behind and explosive crates. There’s the careful allotment of oh, about a half-dozen different meters and statistics that will either destroy your enemies or leave you cowering and shaking in the midst of a hail of bullets. Now, you do have time to plan your attack before combat begins but once you start, your opponents will fill their own Charge gauges and attack at will, so you had best be precise and decisive. A lot of depth typically makes the experience that much more involving and rewarding if the system is entirely turn-based, but when things are happening in real-time (even if it’s quasi-real-time), you tend to get frustrated. You have to watch so many things, and it can be ridiculously annoying to lose an entire turn without executing a single action just because you got pelted with bullets and moved around a bit. You’ll learn as you go, but there’s virtually no hand-holding going on, so you really have to feel your way.

I’m not a huge fan of hand-holding tutorials but in this case, I really could’ve used some help early on. I very nearly had to stop more than a few times, just because the frustration – caused by nothing more than random encounters – was beginning to mount very quickly. And in fact, if I didn’t have to do this review, I may not have continued. But I buckled down and read that combat manual very carefully, and then just kept fighting until I finally started to get a handle on the fighting. This has caused two things to happen after many hours of playing: 1. I’m still learning new stuff, and 2. if you don’t grind, you may be sh** out of luck if you advance the story too quickly. Perhaps in a nod to old-school RPGs, grinding is almost a necessity; not only to power-up your characters but also so you can learn more and more about the intricate battle system. I’ve never really had a problem with grinding so this doesn’t bother me at all but I know some find it irritating, so this is a fair warning.

Due to the necessary grinding, the pacing is really erratic but the good news is that if you can really dive into the combat and immerse yourself in the challenge, you’ll enjoy yourself. Furthermore, the micromanagement outside of battling, while not really affecting characters like the Crystarium in Final Fantasy XIII, can have a drastic impact on your performance on the field. Customizing your weapons is essential and doing so is sort of like putting together a puzzle: the upgrades and extra pieces of equipment you can affix to your firearms are coded with a certain symbol. This symbol must match a part of the weapon; if it doesn’t match anywhere, it won’t fit on that weapon. It’s simple but still relatively interesting and it’s fun gathering up the requisite money and parts to purchase these upgrades from the town “tinkerer.” You can even dismantle unneeded equipment for valuable parts and yes, you will level up with gained experience in battle.

Exploring is a bit of a disappointment; it only involves moving a cursor around a world map divided up into hexes. But perhaps as a way of combating this very impersonal form of wandering about, we have yet another unique trait that involves the aforementioned hexes. See, some hexes aren’t passable at first and you earn Energy Hexes from battles; using these Energy Hexes will allow you to cross those previously impassable sections. However, you need to follow the rules- no part of the Energy Hex (these can come in various shapes) can be on a building or off the map, and one of the hexes must abut or overlap a previously opened hex. It sounds complicated but it really isn’t. It’s kinda cool but at the same time, it’s a little strange and can detract from the immersion and gameplay by making it feel too much like a silly puzzle game. It’s very weird to bounce between the complicated combat and maneuvering about the world map in this fashion, that’s all.

Overall, being able to explore the suspended city can be entertaining when more of the area has been opened, the storyline and character roster is decent, the presentation is slick, and the combat is extremely demanding yet still rewarding. You just need to accept the fact that Resonance of Fate will inevitably frustrate you, especially at first, and you have to resign yourself to grinding very, very often. I still think the combat is overly complicated, which causes the balance to go screwy, and I felt overmatched far too often. The feeling of satisfaction can be almost unparalleled in the RPG realm, though, and if you can stomach the learning curve, you can really indulge. The stark atmosphere lacks vibrancy and color, the voice acting bounces between mediocre and great, and the uniqueness of certain features may or may not appeal to you. For me, a once-hardcore fan of the genre, I’m likely more partial to this style than others but I still believe a turn-based mechanic would’ve allowed the obvious depth and intricacy to be more easily embraced and appreciated. So sue me.

4/20/2010   Ben Dutka