tri-Ace are one of the most venerable creators of Japanese role-playing games, having franchises like Star Ocean and Valkyrie Profile under their belt. But despite being around for over 15 years, Resonance of Fate (called End of Eternity in Japan), marks a landmark for them - it's the first time they've worked with a publisher other than Square Enix. This time they're working with Sega and they hope to produce a game that's like no other, an objective they certainly accomplished.
Resonance of Fate takes place on Earth, but it's vastly different from the world we currently inhabit. Poisonous gasses have made dwelling on the surface almost impossible, so Basel, a giant vertical structure, was created. As with everything, the upper classes dwell near the top in Chandelier, and the level of poverty increases as the structure is descended.
Players take control of Vashyron, Zephyr and Leanne, who actually make for quite a likeable cast. There is definitely a good dynamic between the three of them and cutscenes throughout the game will definitely invoke some kind of positive reaction, generally along the lines of smirking. There's something to be said about having strong characters with a lot of personality and while they're all different, they meld together well. The story on the other hand, is a bit disjointed. It generally takes place at the start/end of a chapter, with a brief cutscene when they arrive at objectives. It really takes a long time to get started and at the end, players may be left with more questions than answers.
The battle system also poses a similar scenario, initially prompting more questions than answers. It can seem incredibly daunting to begin with, purely because it's such a departure from what's become the norm in this style of game. It doesn't help that the tutorial offered isn't great either, but the same goes for the in-game manual in general. In a nutshell, battles are in semi-realtime, meaning that when a player is performing an action the opposition is free to do the same. However, when a player stops, everything else stops. There are three types of weapon: handgun, machinegun and throwing. Players can hold two weapons at a time, later on duel-wielding guns, but initially they must be content with holding one gun and either a grenade box (throwing), curative, or ammo modifications.
Here's where things start to get unconventional though. Machineguns deal 'scratch damage', which means that they can't actually hurt or kill an enemy - they just do potential damage. This damage can then be realised by hitting the enemy with a handgun bullet, or a thrown item, like a grenade. This alone makes the game rather tactical, as handguns on their own do minimal damage, so a combination of weapons must be used to be effective in combat. Then comes the way damage is actually dealt. Charging weapons is essential to dealing maximum amounts of damage, as with every successful charge, the damage modifier increases. Gaining higher weapon levels makes for higher charges, and more damage. It's a slightly strange system, because it means that characters at the base level can essentially do the same damage as those of a much higher level if they both charge the same amount of time. This then leads onto something else slightly unconventional, the way levelling works and how characters are affected in combat.
A character's level is determined by the level of their weaponry, i.e. Level 5 Handgun, Level 5 Machinegun, Level 4 Thrown would make a character Level 14. Increasing level only actually improves a character's health though, and potential damage with a weapon. Gaining certain weapon levels can also grant special abilities depending on the amount of charges. This isn't all too bad though, and once players become familiar with the levelling process, and how to use the weaponry, the combat will probably become a bit less cumbersome. However, where the game baffles is with how the characters take damage.
Characters have a bezel meter, which can be used to perform 'Hero Actions', invincible runs across the map with multiple turns, or it works as a back-up health meter. If a player takes so much scratch damage that they have exceeded their HP, a bezel is taken away from the meter - performing a 'Hero Action' also results in the same fate. However, when all bezels are depleted, the characters enter into a state of panic, which is just annoying. The bezel meter gets shattered and pieces are strewn across the map. Players must them pick the pieces up, while running around in a frenzy, before the opposition can. Every time they get hit, another bezel will shatter, so if an enemy has a move which hits multiple times, then multiple bezels shatter. The only way to get out of this is to gain a bezel back, which can be done by killing enemies or destroying enemy body parts amongst others. Doing so when in critical condition is almost near impossible though, so once this mode is entered it's basically game over. Which asks the question, why have such a mode in the game if 75 percent of the time it's not possible to recover from it? Perhaps to reinforce the degree of failure and get players to think about a better strategy.
It's certainly nice to see tri-Ace go away from the conventions with regards to how systems typically work, although in some ways this game is a throw-back to some of the original JRPG titles. However, it can make for exceedingly frustrating gameplay. Often players will find their charges interrupted by enemy attacks, which means their turn is essentially wasted, as not only do they lose time for their charge, but they lose time when they're stumbling from being hit. There also seems to be a heavy reliance on items and accessories for some segments of the game, and the difficulty of enemies can be incredibly punishing for those who don't want to invest hours of grinding.
Graphically, the game looks pretty decent, although at times it looks like the game's colour budget was cut. Quite a lot of the game looks very de-saturated, which can make walking around towns seem a bit surreal. The same can't be said for the world map though, which is all about using different combinations of hexes to progress and open up new places, many of which are blocked by coloured hexes. It does a good job of limiting progression, while also leaving it up to players at the same time. It can be a bit confusing to start off with though, and some things aren't explained overly well, but once players get the hang of its slightly odd nature, they'll find it quite accommodating. The voice acting is also enjoyable to listen to and players will instantly recognise Nolan North as the voice of Vashyron. They will probably also recognise the composition of one Motoi Sakuraba, which perfectly underscores the game.
For those who want to invest the time, Resonance of Fate has plenty to offer. While there aren't a huge array of guns featured in the game, there is a ton of customisation - some of which borderlines on the ridiculous. For example, it's possible to give a machinegun four barrels, and three sights. As such, it's not overly surprisingly that modifications don't get displayed in actual combat, as they'd probably look rather... odd. Customisation doesn't stop there though, as all the characters can have their outfits completely changed. Zephyr can even sport some lovely Sega merchandise, which certainly provides some nice fan service.
If all that wasn't enough, the game is definitely one of the longer JRPGs out there, and as with other tri-Ace titles, the fun doesn't stop after one completion. There's a New Game+ option, and up to ten other difficulty levels for those who don't think the game is already challenging enough. The health of enemies and the damage they do incrementally increases with each difficulty level, so it definitely makes for some fun times - especially with the bosses.
Resonance of Fate is a game that tries to step away from many JRPG conventions, and in some ways it succeeds. It offers an innovative combat system, a novel world map and a new take on an old levelling system. However, the innovative combat can also be extremely frustrating and the level of grinding required causes the game to become quite monotonous - mainly because it means the story gets really segmented. The cast are great, the music is great, but the systems implemented in the game are really hit or miss.