Thought you've seen enough wacky JRPGs with too many anime stereotypes? Think again, as NIS America has brought yet another one to the Western market. Developed in collaboration by Nippon Ichi, Gust and Idea Factory, Trinity Universe is as JRPG as JRPGs get, featuring a mash-up of original characters and cameos from Nippon Ichi and Gust games, including the ever popular Etna and Prinny from Disgaea and Violet Platane from Atelier Viorate: Alchemist of Gramnad 2. However, as JRPGs begin to leave a less than pleasant taste in the mouth of gamers due to the lack of innovation, it begs the question if Trinity Universe can truly shine and stand out from the crowd.
Trinity Universe features two different scenarios, the Demon God King story or the Goddess story, to choose from. Picking Demon Dog King Kanata's - yes that does say Dog King - story will have players team up with many of Nippon Ichi's popular characters. Choosing Goddess Valkyrie Rizelea's story instead will have players running into characters from Gust games. Upon starting up the game, it's obvious from the outset that Trinity Universe isn't here to offer the next epic adventure, but, in good NIS and Gust tradition, offer a fun and comical experience that all ages can enjoy. The overarching story remains pretty much the same for both scenarios and only differs due to the perspective it is told from.
The Netheruniverse is in danger from being obliterated by space debris and objects drifting in and out of the place and, one way or another, it's up to the heroes to save the world. These space debris includes some - make that many - wacky items like rubber ducks, tamago sushi, refrigerators and even a piece of wood. The majority of story progression is done through events and conversations dubbed Active Animation Adventure. Unlike many Japanese visual novels where characters are but static illustrations, the bust portraits in Trinity Universe are actually animated and of extremely high fidelity too. Facial expressions will change according to the character's moods and exclamation effects right off a manga page are also present. Character portraits and event illustrations can be unlocked throughout the game and viewed via the Gallery option, a nice aside and welcomed feature. Unfortunately, while the artwork and illustrations are beautifully done, the 3D graphics aren't exactly the best in the industry with characters having pretty plain models and rigid animations.
In-game events can be initiated simply by bringing up the menu and different ones will be made available depending on what object has drifted into the area. In addition to events, players can also choose dungeons to explore. Some are tied to the story while others can be explored for the sake of adventure. Dungeons are relatively linear, but do offer multiple paths to separate areas. A Search spell is available for use and usually helps point out where treasures are hidden as well as hunting areas and boss events.
Battles initially seem like standard random turn-based systems that have been overused in one too many JRPGs. Thankfully, there are a couple of twists that keep Trinity Universe's from getting stale. Each character is attributed with a certain amount of action points and these determine what and how many actions can be performed within the turn; however, actions are not chosen through a menu and are instead mapped to the face buttons. There are three separate attacks: Rush, Heavy and Magic. Combining these attacks result in different combos. Combos are also affected by weapons, so keeping track of equipment also becomes key to a victorious battle. Moreover, there are up to 4 different levels of skills that can be equipped. Pressing and holding down the circle button will determine what level of skill is used.
In addition to the turn-based combo system, players can chain together attacks by performing a Fury Chain. This allows combo and stat bonuses to be carried over to the next character. The advantage here is the increased attack power as well as the saving of action points, which is necessary to perform attacks. It's worth mentioning that action points can also be saved up to three times the default by passing the character's turn. Of course, a JRPG wouldn't be complete if it didn't have special attacks. These require players to fill up a gauge in the form of beads, these specials usually require 2 or more to be performed, but once initiated they deal devastating damage to the enemy. All in all, although Trinity Universe employs a turn-based system, battles are very much about planning and strategy. Simply going in head first won't yield anything more than the Game Over screen.
One of the great aspects about Trinity Universe is how it doesn't take itself too seriously. There are no scenes of melodrama to be found here and characters even poke fun at stereotypical characteristics of JRPGs and Japanese pop culture. The chemistry between the cast of characters is yet another plus point. The dubbing does a good job of complimenting their personalities; in addition, players can also choose between the original Japanese voice acting and English dub.
Overall, Trinity Universe can be a fun adventure. It's surprisingly fun to watch the misfit cast of characters bicker with one another and the animated artwork is simply gorgeous. However, dungeon runs can get quite repetitious after a certain extent and the bland 3D visuals don't quite match the colourful illustrations of event scenes; if anything, the game could benefit from a cel-shaded style instead. The battle system, whilst turn-based, is rather different and a joy to play with once mastered. Trinity Universe certainly isn't the next epic tale of saving the world, but as Demon Dog King Kanata puts it, it's more important to have a fun adventure.