Resonance of Fate Review (PS3)

Resonance of Fate has an interesting pedigree, coming from tri-Ace, the studio behind the Star Ocean and Valkyrie Profile series of games, and though they’ve had a couple of dud games so far this generation it seems they’re finally getting to grips with the technology and making a game as good overall as its core mechanics.

You see, Star Ocean 4 and Infinite Undiscovery both had fun battle systems but suffered from rubbish plots, funky-looking visuals (in the bad way) and an absolutely terrible localization. Resonance of Fate immediately seems stronger in those areas and has arguably the most complex but rewarding and satisfying combat system tri-Ace has cooked up to date.

Shooting is the name of the game here, not slashing.
Prepare to do lots of wire-fu diving.

All the action in Resonance (known as End of Eternity in Japan) plays out with more contemporary weapons, doing away with the swords and sorcery largely in exchange for massive gun battles with characters twirling through the air like they’re in the Matrix.

The main crux of battles in Resonance of Fate is in the two types of damage you can deal to enemies – Scratch and Direct. Scratch damage hits the enemy and hurts them but doesn’t actually deplete their health – sort of like damaging their stamina. Scratch damage also regenerates over time, while Direct Damage, as you might’ve guessed, deals actual, permanent damage to the enemy.

In a way it’s kind of similar to Final Fantasy XIII’s stagger system, with the whole idea being that players will have to build up scratch damage with certain attacks and weapon types before landing a devastating Direct attack which’ll convert all that massive built-up scratch damage into a depleted HP bar.

The idea works in a similar way to the Stagger system in Final Fantasy, driving the battle system to be fast-paced and urgent as you scramble to convert that scratch damage to direct before it is recovered.

Alongside the two types of damage there’s also Hero Actions, attacks vital to survival. Hero Actions cost ‘Bezels’ to perform, and running out of Bezels cripples your team such that it’s as good as game over. Bezels can thankfully be gained in battles by damaging enemies in specific ways or defeating them, so managing your Bezels and ensuring you have enough to perform Hero Attacks and survive is another important part of battling.

Hero Attacks are actually where the Matrix comparisons really kick in, as they allow you to direct your character to a route across the battlefield which the character will then take, legging it across the battlefield, firing unrelentingly at enemies while they do. They’re a fundamental element of the gameplay, and often the key to taking down powerful enemies before they crush you.

As if that wasn’t complicated enough, the whole battle system itself follows an all-new dynamic. Known as t-A-B, the system is semi-turn based and has you control one character at a time. You’ll switch ‘turns’ between each of your party members, but enemies will attack constantly as you manoeuvre each character about the battlefield and trigger their moves.

It’s a nice idea, and positioning of enemies and allies is important, adding another new layer to the combat as even moving about has a cost on the game’s Action Point gauge. If certain conditions are met, you can even unlock the Tri-Attack, a three-pronged assault where all three characters go crazy with their trigger finger at once.

The hex-grid unlocks new areas for you to shoot dudes in.
Character designs are very traditional JRPG fare.

With all this stuff to juggle and how fast-paced it can often feel like it’s pretty easy to get overwhelmed, especially as the game progresses. It takes some time for the game to layer in every single element of combat, but once they’re all there for you the game is unrelenting in throwing difficult enemies your way that will require you to use every aspect of the complex battle system to survive – and even then it’s incredibly – sometimes frustratingly – difficult.

The other major gameplay aspect of Resonance comes in the form of weapon customization, which looks like something out of a modern FPS. There’s a positive deluge of potential combinations, allowing you to add everything to weapons – extra grips for more accuracy, scopes for better distanced attacks – tons.

All of it has an effect on gameplay, and it actually reminds me a bit of EA’s Army of Two, but without the tasteless bling. You can make some pretty badass looking weapons, and it’ll help to scratch that upgrading, levelling-up itch any RPG fans have, offering you an enormous amount of freedom to choose how your characters fight through what weaponry they use.

Resonance’s aesthetics outside of battles are as different as the battle system itself, resembling a traditional Japanese RPG in terms of its overall form but revealed to be greatly different in content once you get up-close and personal.

There’s the obvious stuff – swords and shields swapped for John Woo, Matrix-like gunplay – but then there’s the more subtle stuff, like the mysterious simplicity of how the story is delivered. Coming off the back of Final Fantasy XIII’s hours of cutscenes, Resonance is surprisingly bare, its steampunk world largely detailed in gameplay – you do a ton more playing and less watching than you did in Final Fantasy XIII.

Despite how well it was introduced, the world did little for me and really felt largely normal – merely toeing the line, and the same can be said for the story, characters and even the graphics. The world is fairly pretty and well-realized, but it really isn’t much that you haven’t seen a thousand times before.

The story is fairly standard for a Japanese RPG, and that’s where Resonance is at its most traditional. It’s solid enough, but it’s still got that cheesy anime factor, though like FFXIII that is reduced somewhat by the quality of the English voice acting. The localization is overall solid, and I never found myself particularly confused by the story.

Resonance of Fate is a really interesting title, if only because of the ways it twists the Japanese RPG traditions and truly turns them into something new, merging traditional concepts with gunplay and the pacing of an action-game. The heart of the game is its fiendishly difficult, fast-paced and fun battle system and open-ended weapon upgrading, and all that stuff is so well executed that it propels Resonance to be one of the best RPGs this generation.

There are traditional JRPG towns to explore, too.
The entire game centres on this impressive-looking place.

There’s always a flip side, though, and here it’s the difficulty and how dull and ordinary everything else feels. The difficulty and complexity is likely to turn all but the most hardcore RPG fan off despite how fun the battle system is and the game even requires a bit of grinding later on, while the story, graphics and world design really aren’t different enough to be interesting.

It’s a solid effort from tri-Ace in the end, and a marked improvement on their other titles this generation, but the solid gameplay is let down by its sometimes overwhelming difficulty and a bland story and world-design.

Best Moment: When the battle system finally clicked and I began tearing through even difficult enemies for a while... before realizing those guys were just a warm-up!