tri-Ace are no strangers to the RPG. This Japanese game developer is renowned for producing what is considered one of the greatest RPGs on the PlayStation One: Valkyrie Profile (not to be confused with Valkyrie Chronicles). They are also known for the Star Ocean series, one that's for a long time has been trying to capture the feel of the initial release, with mixed results as seen in the most recent next-gen game. tri-Ace is trying again with this new IP, all based on gun and ranged combat; welcome to Resonance of Fate.
The guild in the city of Bassal is where the player takes his first steps, and here obtains a mission in order to fix a bridge, a structure that is down on power and as such, artificial blocking the way forward through the game. Typically for many RPGs, things start off simply, introducing the player to the some of the concepts such games often have.
The introduction to the game is an intriguing one. We're at first led to believe that a beautiful young woman is about to commit suicide, teetering out across a high and narrow metal beam, along with a haunting orchestral piece of music. As she dives to her certain death, a dashing hero jumps in to save the day, snatching her from certain doom, or has he? As the rope on which our hero arrived snaps, the pair continue to plummet to their doom, yet somehow time slows down, the scene changes, and now our characters are flying up high above the cityscape. Is it a dream or is it simply just the opening of a more intriguing tale. Let us step in to the world of Resonance of Fate.
The combat system in Resonance of Fate is certainly different, and is very confusing the first time you meet up with enemies; chances are you won't be able to work out what's going on. There is a set of tutorials in the arena that can be viewed, and it's worth taking a look here, though it's possible to come away even more bewildered at times. Many of the lessons on how to fight aren't completely clear, and the explanations at times seem somewhat different to victory conditions of each set-up, it's all very fluffy and opaque and pad-throwingly irritating. Tri-Attacks in particular are likely to cause a bit of head scratching until some trial and error sees the right combination and you then begin to understand what was meant. It's worth doing the tutorials a couple of times because once you are in the game proper, it's essential to understand at least the basics if you have any hope of making it past even the prelude.
Generic combat boils down to selecting a target, moving to a sensible distance to engage, initiating the attack charge up, then once this is full, hit the attack button to fire. Weapons come in two different varieties: machine guns, which cause scratch damage but won't knock enemies down, and handguns, which will inflict Direct Damage. Using a combination of these it's possible to turn Scratch Damage in to Direct Damage - indicated by a blue bar, but this is just but a small part of things. Positioning the character before engaging the enemy should be a chief concern, this is a massive part of winning any battle. Too far away and it'll take too long to complete a shot, too close and things get smothering. It's also possible to perform hero moves, assuming the hero meter is charged up. Here a marker can be placed within the battle area, and the character will run towards it firing at the selected enemy several times. It all feels very John Woo. Be aware though, the hero attacks use up reserves of hero power, once this is depleted the game enters a critical stage, where characters start to move in a laughably stupid way - if any character hits zero health at this point it's game over - and game over is something that pops up on screen a lot, something not helped greatly with the lack of save points.
Perhaps more traditionally, and a little bit more understandable are status ailments and elements - enemies can have elemental weaknesses against physical, fire, ice, electricity and poison. Exploiting these weaknesses with the relevant ammo makes winning in combat a little bit easier. Ailments have status effects on the party or enemies, each lasting fifteen seconds in duration; immolation deals periodic scratch damage, freezing prevents movement and oil slows movement speed and makes enemies more susceptible to fire damage. Standard RPG fare.
The environments have a very gritty look to them. There are lots of neon signs and a heavy emphasis on clockwork mechanics strewn about the place, almost steampunk in style. Everywhere you look there seems to be a cog-wheel powering some hitherto unknown machine. It's all rather mysterious, and all rather lovely at the same time - there is a definite unique feel to the game, and one that pulls you in to the story, wanting to know more about the characters and their plight.
Getting around the world map is a little different from the norm, like strategy RPGs it is hex based, but rather than explore through the landscapes of the land, a marker is moved about the place to the area wanted to be visited next. It's not an especially satisfying arrangement, and what's more, random battles will kick off here, which always seems completely out of the blue, and at times somewhat irritatingly. As discovered during the first mission played, not all areas of the map are accessible straight away, and the player must unlock map sections using different shaped hexes gained from defeating monsters, in a kind of Tetris way. Having done so, further missions become available in the new areas, and also give a new cityscape to explore in. Some areas are locked with special coloured hexes, so even power levelling isn't going to get all blocked paths unlocked. As things progress, story-based NPCs will give certain items and hexes that aid the progress of unlocking the coloured areas, and sometimes certain enemies will drop the required coloured hexes needed to move things on.
One thing that really stands out is the quality of the score that accompanies the game. The orchestral pieces are superb, something that could easily be listened to in isolation making the OST one to look out for. Here they seem to suit the drama of the game excellently, like a well worn armchair where the bum crack fits just right – there is much to like in the game, so its irksome that combat is a big brick wall.
Resonance of Fate is a difficult game to recommend, even some hardcore RPG fans will struggle to get to grips with this one. Whilst the steampunk atmosphere is really enthralling, the soundtrack delightful, the cut-scenes interesting, and complete with a level of sense of humour to the whole thing, the battle system really does have a massive and infuriating learning curve. It's a game that is going to frustrate a lot of people, particularly because the boss fights will well and truly kick your ass. Unless you're prepared to spend hours just getting the hang of how combat works, you'll be putting this game back on the shelf in no time. Make no mistake, Resonance of Fate is a hardcore game and is the polar opposite of FFXIII; there is no hand holding here at all, but for those prepared to endure the difficulties, a decent RPG lies underneath.