Resonance of Fate
While I missed out on the opportunity to review Final Fantasy XIII - arguably the opening quarter's biggest role-playing release - Resonance of Fate represents the third JRPG that's dropped into my lap in 2010. It's been a trying time. In fact, it's been a veritable trudge of disappointment through the sucking, muddy depths of mediocrity. I never thought I'd say this, but I'm honestly starting to miss first-person shooters.
But wait, despite the lingering pain of White Knight Chronicles and Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers there's a chance for hope and respite in equal measure with Resonance of Fate from "renowned RPG developers" tri-Ace (Infinite Undiscovery, Star Ocean: The Last Hope). For a start, Resonance of Fate and its dystopian mechanical city of Chandelier represent a steampunk fantasy built around the unconventional gameplay draw of modern day projectile weaponry. How refreshingly simple in a genre weighed down by oversized phallic swords, flamboyant summoning, and elemental spell casting.
Actually, the last thing Resonance of Fate's gameplay can be described as is simple. It may well centre on just gunplay and curing the odd status effect, but the surrounding structure often appears bewilderingly complex and a million miles from simply pulling a trigger while occasionally distributing vials of health-restoring elixir.
My first few hours with Resonance of Fate were akin to being pushed unwittingly into a darkened room crammed with untold riches and terrible perils. Without clear direction I was forced to stumble blindly onward, grasping at fistfuls of treasure in one moment only to be knocked to the ground by terrible foes the next. Repeatedly painful physical contact soon presented a confused picture of my immediate surroundings but offered no clue as to why the room was there, what my purpose was within it, and how progress could be attained without incurring further harm. Confused, I scrambled forwards in search of answers as crippling blows rained down through the darkness. Then, as fear and frustration threatened to engulf my blunted senses, the room was bathed in a glorious light, and suddenly all seemed right with the world.
To help clarify that passage of rambling self-indulgence, to understand - and therefore enjoy - Resonance of Fate players first have to absorb and process page upon page of onscreen instruction describing the game's fiddly turn-based battle system, the confusing world map, and other vital but no less bewildering nuances. While reading and learning the most basic components shouldn't overextend most gamers, to say the more complex instructions are lost in localisation is something of an understatement. With some of the supposedly helpful explanations vague to the point of inspiring an abrupt haematoma, only patient hands-on game time is likely to deliver a true grasp of Resonance of Fate's many finer points.
The game's random and strategic battle system requires that players ready their individual party members against enemies by plotting on-screen attack lines that either flank or dissect the opposition. Once the first attack has been defined, the character launches forward, hurling hot lead, grenades, Molotov cocktails (and even dog poo) at targeted baddies until the end of his/her plotted trajectory has been reached. At this point the next party member's attack can be started/skipped or the game may even interject with A.I. attacks from one or several enemies that have adopted tactical positions during the first assault. That might sound simple enough, but each offensive flurry can be manipulated in a number of ways. For example, players can perform jumps, somersaults and pirouettes to gain obstacle clearance, and they can also choose to hold back a physical attack by allowing a tiered weapon-strength gauge to repeatedly fill until the distance between character and enemy has shortened - thus inflicting much more close-quarter damage.
Testing player approach and immersion yet further, momentum attacks in Resonance of Fate are dependant on the distribution of all-important Bezel shards, which deplete at the rate of one per attack if a character is unable to kill or significantly damage an enemy. And, once completely deprived of Bezels - either through direct usage or because strong enemy attacks have smashed them into pieces - the player's party is thrown into Critical Condition, a massively weakened state that's virtually impossible to escape from and invariably leads to a swift mauling and a stream of spewed obscenities. Is this making sense yet? It is? Let's see if we can change that.
The bread and butter of progression when entering battles is two fold: the Tri-Attack and the Battle Arena. The first is a triangular all-party attack brought into play when any two individual party attacks have crossed paths on the battlefield. The mighty Tri-Attack, which is instigated by the remaining static character, sees all party members attacking while sprinting along the three connected lines, targeting and destroying player-defined enemies and potentially refilling the Bezel shard counter in the process. Of course, enemies grow tougher over time and shards soon become an invaluable resource - even more so because they can only be attained (in quartered pieces) by defeating bosses, tackling the occasional random battle challenge, and through fortuitous treasure hunting on the world map.
If we just go back to Critical Condition for a moment, this exists as the game's not especially subtle way of informing players that their party isn't strong enough to move forward. It usually rears its ugly head during dungeons, which consist of rather bland industrial battlefields, successively more difficult battles, and the inevitable encounter with a testing boss. Yet being whipped via Critical Condition shouldn't be seen as the game merely mocking inability but rather as a painful form of encouragement regarding the application of a little studied betterment through either regular random battles on the world map or through the any-time-all-the-time Battle Arena.