East meets WestIt’s safe to say that Japanese RPGs have suffered a decline in favour in the West in recent years. Under pressure from games such as Mass Effect and Fallout, popular opinion on this side of the Earth on has tended to regard them as antiquated or stale. The challenge then, to Japanese developers attempting to broaden their appeal outside of the domestic market, is to offer something new and original while retaining the core of what the JRPG genre is. A tough challenge no doubt, but one that Tri-Ace has taken on with its latest title, Resonance of Fate. Swords are out, guns are in. Bright, whimsical clothing has been replaced by more modern, and I dare say sensible, attire. Most importantly however, the turn based battle system, so often a focal point of criticism yet somehow integral to what makes a game a JRPG, has been overhauled and blended with some Western sensibilities. Resonance of Fate is the product of cross pollination of ideas between East and West and the result is truly unique.
A recurring theme among Japanese RPGs is that of the unlikely hero; untested in combat, unprepared for the responsibility thrust upon them. Not so in Resonance of Fate. From the off, you are introduced to three hired guns, mercenaries of the guild who are cocky and aware of their aptitude for battle. However, the introduction of guns is not a license for Marcus Fenix and his troops to march into Final Fantasy. The characters in Tri Ace’s latest retain the innocent charm of Japanese adolescent leads. The story takes place, not in a vast world, but in a single city. In the wake of a global disaster, people have retreated to the tower of Basel; a bleak, dirty city where nature has no place. The plot is laid out in chapters, bite sized storylines which initially seem unconnected. Much of the first few hours will be spent scratching your head looking for context and in the end, the story is hit or miss. The real driving force in the narrative is the relationship between your party. One chapter in particular is laugh out loud funny and over all, Resonance of Fate is aided by some great voice acting headed up by one Nolan North of ‘Uncharted’ fame. The three leads never fall on the wrong side of snarky and it’s a nice change to have characters that are both likeable and genuinely funny.
One word of advice that should be heeded before broaching the world of Resonance of Fate is to read the in game manual. The battle system and world map are completely unique to the game and though initially confusing, prove to be the best reasons to play it. Unlike Final fantasy XIII, which drip fed new abilities to the player over the course of many hours, almost every mechanic in Resonance is available right from the off. However, it will take many hours to fully get to grips with them and some, such as the tri-attack are best left to the side until you have the resources to implement them effectively. Knowing when not to use an ability is as crucial as knowing when to go all out. It’s difficult to describe the flow of battle without handing over the controller. It is most certainly turn based, you have as much time as you need to plan strategy and tactics but once you press the go button, you have to rely on timing and quick thinking. Enemies are free to move and attack while you do and should they hit a character charging an attack, the charge is cancel and it’s back to square one. This can be negated by using a Hero attack, which sets the player character running across the map and allows the player to target and charge freely though at the cost of a bezel. Bezels are HP reserves and losing all of them sends the entire team into an emergency state where attacks are greatly weakened and hero attacks are no longer available. It all sounds very complicated and in truth it is but persevere and the game will reveal a battle system of great depth that is both rewarding and very fun to experiment with.
There is so much more could be said about how Resonance of Fate handles combat, but to go further would simply confuse what has already been said. It is spectacular to look at and is easily the games greatest success. Other elements however, are less successful. Apart from the overall plot, which is lacking, Basel suffers from a disappointing level of variety. The rust filled, steam punk setting is pretty certainly, but it all blends together after many hours of play. The colour palette never alters dramatically and even locations which should promise something new inevitably turn up more greys and dull reds. The over map is tiled based and pieces must be placed to advance. These hexes are picked up from slayed opponents and players are free to choose to make a beeline toward the next objective or spend tiles exploring the immediate area in search of loot. Random battles come at just the right frequency to avoid getting frustrating though exploring goes little further than the tile map, as the ‘dungeons’ in the game are simply arenas chained together. It’s an original take on a world map and the tile based mini game breaks up the flow by cleverly allowing you to progress at your own pace.
Resonance of Fate also re-examines how clothing and equipment is handled. The game allows you to dress your characters as you see fit and without concern for how it will affect their stats. Everything from boots to coats to eye colour can be customised all for the good of looking fabulous. All of the cutscenes are rendered in game so the changes you make to the characters are reflected as the story unfolds, which is nice touch. Weapons also are treated differently. It’s likely that your entire team will be using the exact same guns they started as much as 8 or 9 hours into the game. However it’s possible to customise and augment them with everything from new sights to extra capacity magazines and they have a tangible effect on the weapons. Parts can be bought, or built with scrap earned from winning battles, which fits nicely with the theme of Bazel and its ragdag aesthetic.
With Resonance of Fate, Tri-Ace has given the JRPG a shot in the arm. It implements many changes to convention but never sacrifices its core. Admittedly, some of the changes don’t quite work, a greater variety of weapons is especially needed. With a tightened plot, a more varied setting and a more interesting take on dungeons, Tri Ace has a potential classic on its hands. As it stands, they have produced a flawed gem. However, its real importance lies in its successful blend of East and West sensibilities and if this is a sign on things to come, it would be unwise to think that Japanese RPGs have no room left for innovation.