Resonance of Fate is set in the distant future, when Earth is a wasteland. Most of mankind lives in a giant tower, which is controlled by machines and is divided into levels. The higher you live on the tower, the more respected and rich you are, with the lower levels being dirtier and more dangerous. The story focuses on a trio of mercenaries for hire: Leanne, Vashyron and Zephyr. The trio takes on missions for the rich, everything from hunting down terrorists to finding rare wines. When the city-governing machines begin to break down, the trio is thrown into the middle of a mess that threatens all mankind, forcing them confront the pasts they thought they had left behind.
Resonance of Fate is a unique JRPG in many ways, but perhaps the most shocking to longtime fans of the genre will be its extremely light plot that almost feels like an afterthought. You get an extremely brief cut scene at the start of each chapter, and perhaps a handful more before you reach the end. The scenes are almost shockingly brief, although they never feel like they lack in information. A large portion of the game is spent watching the three main characters go on seemingly unimportant missions for wacky employers, giving the game an almost "Cowboy Bebop" sort of feel. It's surprisingly refreshing, but anyone who expects a plot-heavy experience may be in for a surprise. The characters are unusually enjoyable, helped in part by somewhat solid dialogue writing and good voice acting.
The combat system in Resonance of Fate is almost comically complex. When you finally understand everything, it all makes some sense, but trying to explain it can be rather mind-numbing. To begin with, Resonance of Fate is clearly an evolution of the combat system introduced in Valkyrie Profile: Silmeria, with a bit of Valkyria Chronicles thrown in for good measure. The combat is semi-real time. You and the enemies are placed onto a hex-shaped battlefield, and you can move any of the three characters at will. The game is effectively paused until you begin moving your characters, at which point the enemies will also start to move and take action.
Characters can move around freely as long as they have action bars, but their turn ends as soon as the action bar runs out. Each of your three characters is a gun user, so combat plays out a bit unusually. You can charge your attack to increase its effectiveness, with your maximum charge determined by your character's level. The higher your level, the more skills that your characters will get. Each skill is tied to a certain level of charge, and the more you charge your attack, the more skills you can use. These skills can increase your attack damage, allow your bullets to penetrate multiple enemies, or various other effects.
You must be cautious about how you move and attack because each action you take also gives the enemy the chance to take action. Moving around wildly lets enemies charge their attacks. If the enemy is targeting your character, he can attack as soon as he's done charging. An attack can not only interrupt your actions, but also waste your action points. If the enemy is targeting one of the other characters, he'll unleash his action at the end of your action; this allows you a chance to interrupt an enemy's attack, if you're clever. Of course, it makes the most sense to not allow the enemy to charge up a powerful attack in the first place.
One of the most unusual mechanics involves how damage is taken and given. To begin with, almost every enemy is made up of multiple body parts, but if you destroy the "center" body part, it will kill the enemy. The vulnerable area is surrounded by other parts, which function like armor. That might seem complex enough, but there's more. Resonance of Fate runs on action movie physics not just in its visuals, but in the gameplay as well. There are three kinds of weapons: machine guns, pistols and throwing weapons. Machine guns deal scratch damage, which is almost like regular damage and fills up the enemy's HP bar, but it isn't permanent so enemies recover from it over time. It's impossible to deal a finishing blow with scratch damage. In comparison, handguns deal direct damage to opponents and actively deplete their HP bar. In addition, any direct damage done to an opponent's body part will also make any scratch damage permanent. Throwing weapons, such as grenades, can do either depending on the grenade you're using. The key is that you must balance the two. Machine guns deal substantially more damage than pistols do, while pistols can make that damage "real." As if that weren't confusing enough, handguns also can perform a gauge break, which adds a breaking point to the enemy's HP bar. Broken enemies will be stunned and unable to counterattack, but more importantly, they make it easier to earn bezels.
Bezels are perhaps the most important resource you have, and they have various defensive and offensive uses. They are small, yellowish orbs that are located on the bottom of the screen in the hero gauge, and you can only hold a certain amount of bezels at a time. To earn a bezel, you must kill an enemy, break one of their body parts, or lower the HP of an enemy's body part below the breaking point. Defensively, they function as a sort of HP bar for your characters. Like any good action movie hero, your characters never take anything more than scratch damage, so they can recover it naturally or use healing items, so it's never considered permanent. However, if a character's entire HP bar is depleted, you will lose 1 bezel for every 1,000 HP that character had. To make matters worse, these bezels will shatter, and you can't recover these bezels unless you collect the shattered pieces around the battlefield. An enemy can also pick up the pieces, which will recover his HP and make it impossible to recover the bezel shard unless you kill him. This isn't something you want to happen.
If you should lose all your bezels, things take a turn for the worst. You go into critical condition, and suddenly everything is less cheerful. Your characters stop being action heroes and start being regular people. They don't fire their guns John Woo-style or run quickly and shrug off damage; instead, they'll run slowly, cower behind cover, and fire their guns slowly and realistically. They will also take greater direct damage. If any of your characters loses all of his HP while in critical condition, the game is over. The only way to overcome this is by earning a bezel, which puts your character back into action hero mode.
This comes to the second usage of bezels: hero actions. At any time during his turn, a character can spend a bezel to perform a hero action. This starts a slow-motion, bullet-time sequence where the character runs from one part of the battle arena to the other. During this time, his attacks will charge constantly, allowing you to perform many, many more attacks than you normally could. During a hero action, your characters are almost immune to attacks, and you can do things that you normally couldn't. You're capable of jumping into the air, which allows you to shoot enemy weak points that you couldn't hit from the ground. You can shoot enemies into the air and then hop into the air to perform a smackdown attack, which knocks enemies into the ground and causes additional items to fly out of them. Alternately, you can shoot them into the air, which triggers a special timing minigame. The more you combo the enemy into the air, the easier the minigame gets, and if you successfully complete it, you earn additional attacks. Once a hero action is over, your character is vulnerable, and if you're in the middle of a bad location when this happens, enemies can tear him apart.
Is it complex enough yet? There's more! When you start a hero action, you can select the direction in which your character runs. If you have your character run between the other two members of your party, you earn a resonance point. Every time your party members run between the other two during a hero action, they earn another point. Every time you take an action that doesn't earn another resonance point, you begin to lose them at an insane rate, and you'll probably lose all your points unless you begin a powerful tri attack. When activated, all three characters will activate a hero action at once and run in a triangle around the opponent, with each character's starting position forming one of the triangle corners. Tri attacks can easily turn the tide of battle, and repeated tri attacks can devastate foes. On the other hand, setting up tri attacks involves some forethought. You want to separate your team as much as possible, since the length of the tri attack partially depends on how far the characters are from one another, but if you keep them too far from one another, your attacks will take too long to charge.
Resonance of Fate can be an intimidating game, especially if you're coming fresh off Final Fantasy XIII. While Square Enix's latest title had what amounted to a 20-hour tutorial to hand you each mechanic piece by piece, Resonance of Fate takes the exact opposite approach. Unless you go out of your way, the game will barely tell you anything. It will give you a few lackluster tutorials on basic mechanics, but it expects you to find out almost everything else on your own. Even the optional battle tutorial leaves things to the player to discover. Considering how unusual the mechanics are, this can be pretty overwhelming at first glance, since there are so many different things to keep track of, and battles are so fast-paced that you don't have time to think once it begins. Experienced gamers should be able to adapt to the gameplay mechanics fairly quickly, but if you're looking for a light RPG, there isn't a lot here that welcomes someone looking for a casual game. Resonance of Fate is quick to punish people who ignore or forget mechanics, and even the minimum difficulty mode can hurt you badly if you don't pay attention.
Perhaps the most intimidating thing about Resonance of Fate is the difficulty level. If you do things properly, the game isn't really difficult, and you can wipe out most enemies in a couple of turns and defeat most bosses in a single attack. Experienced gamers may even find it a bit easy for their taste. However, the keyword is "properly." If you don't do things properly, battles can turn against you in a split second. Enemies can drain all your bezels in moments, or you can end up with debilitating status effects that leave you fighting a defensive battle. If you end up on the defensive in Resonance of Fate, things are going against you pretty badly, and it's likely that you'll die. This isn't too much an issue if you understand everything, but there are enough mechanics and gameplay elements to keep track of that even hardcore gamers may feel a bit overwhelmed at times. Choose the wrong direction to run, forget to change the grenades you have equipped, or accidentally jump into a barrier instead of over it, and you'll risk being plowed by your enemies in a few seconds. To make things a little nastier, Resonance of Fate has a "retry" system similar to Final Fantasy XIII with one major difference: You have to pay. You can retry just as you started the fight for a small fee, or pay a substantially greater fee to retry with all your bezels restored. The fee for a simple retry is pretty light, but it can start to add up if you can't beat a boss, and since you have to go through the combat zones prior to a boss if you want to save and try again, you may end up retrying many, many times.
Resonance of Fate doesn't quite have traditional dungeons. Every dungeon is actually a series of interconnected battle rooms. If you kill every enemy in combat, you can advance to the next room, or you can choose to avoid fights by running your guys from room to room. Some of the dungeons are a straightforward series of linear rooms, but others can have branching paths or multiple ways to travel. Some paths lead to rare and powerful items, while others are simply dead ends. Fortunately, one or two enemies may respawn if you have to go back to an earlier room, but if you've already cleared the room, it'll be empty or lightly populated when you return. This makes it worthwhile to clear out all the rooms in a dungeon, and doing so also means that your bezels are recovered before you move to a new room.
Resonance of Fate's map system is very unusual. The entire world is set up as a series of interconnected hexes. In order to travel from location to location, you make a path by using special colored hexes that you earn from defeating opponents. Using white hexes allows you to energize hexes that are touching an already energized hex, so you can walk through it and possibly find rare items. This means you have to carve out paths from area to area in order to progress. Certain areas also feature colored hexes, which you can only pass if you've found a matching colored hex. The colored hexes serve another purpose. If you find a terminal on the world map, you can energize it by connecting a certain number of colored hexes to it. Each terminal has its own requirement, but once activated, it gives you a passive bonus that range from the simple, such as increasing the damage caused by fire attacks, to the more complex, such as increasing the effect of other terminals. The bonus is granted to every hex of the same color connecting to the terminal. Clever use of these color hexes allows you to alter certain dungeons to have beneficial conditions.
This comes to one of the more potentially frustrating problems in Resonance of Fate. You need these hexes to get anywhere in the game, and since they're semi-random drops, it's possible that you may not have enough hexes to get where you need to go. This is true if you're doing the optional missions or trying to clear out all the hexes on the map for the rare treasures. Since the primary way to get hexes is by fighting, this means that you could reach a situation where you have no choice but to grind for hexes. It isn't an incredibly lengthy process, but it can be very annoying. There are other times when grinding is all but required to complete missions. You may have to repeatedly fight certain enemies to get the necessary drop, which can grow more than a little tedious.
Oddly enough, there is very little need to grind for levels because they matter very little in combat, and leveling up is very easy. Your character's level is determined by the sum total of his skill in machine guns, pistols and thrown weapons. You earn experience for one of these skills when you deal damage to an enemy using the corresponding weapon, and it levels up once you've dealt enough damage. To level up easily, all you have to do is switch the weapon the character is using. A level-5 thrown weapon is much easier to level up than a level-30 machine gun. Leveling up gives you a benefit to your hit points and the amount of weight you can carry, but your equipment is far more important.
Guns are fairly rare in the world of Resonance of Fate. They're pretty difficult to come by, and any you can find are either extremely expensive or rare prizes. You primarily power up by customizing your guns through a strange Resident Evil 4 style-inventory system. Each gun has various customization points onto which you can insert customizations. You can attach scope, longer barrels or improved magazines to the gun, but there are a few limitations. You can only attach customization parts to a corresponding part of the gun, so a barrel extension can only be attached to the barrel of a gun. The second limitation is that you have a limited amount of space in which to fit the parts. You can attach longer and longer barrel extensions to the gun, but only within the space of the weapon grid. You can turn and alter the parts somewhat to make them fit within the inventory space, but that can only do so much. Finally, your characters can only hold so much weight. Every gun and customization part adds weight, and if the gun is too heavy, the character can't use it until he levels up. It's a surprisingly in-depth system, and perhaps the only flaw is that it ends up looking ridiculously goofy. You can have a machine gun with two sniper scopes, three barrels and a drum magazine, or a pistol with a barrel that would put The Joker to shame.
Visually, Resonance of Fate is an odd game. It does a lot right, but also a fair amount wrong, although it generally comes out ahead. The environments are interesting, but like the plot, quite a few are rather bland. The characters all look pretty unique, and it is easy to recognize a character at a glance. Particularly nice is the pure amount of customization available to your main characters. You can alter everything from their outfits to their hair color, and the changes will remain in almost every cut scene. They're also surprisingly free of the usual exotic outfits that one sees in JRPGs. It's unusual to see characters in any video game, let alone a JRPG, wearing jeans and a regular t-shirt. The combat animations are stylish and interesting, and there is a surprising amount of variation, which keeps the combat energetic and fresh. Animations outside of combat tend to be stiff, leaving the characters looking like paper dolls when they're not busy shooting enemies to pieces. The lip-synching is also surprisingly bad, and a lot of the speech looks off.
The audio aspect of Resonance of Fate, however, is really worth discussing. The dub is far better than one might expect. Nolan North voices Vashyron and brings energy and humor to the role. He turns a character who could very easily be annoying into the highlight of the title. The other voice actors are of varying quality, but North's Vashyron steals the show, and almost single-handedly justifies playing the game with English voice acting, regardless of your personal preferences. It is best to keep the English dub on anyway, though, as a lot of characterization is done through quotes that occur before or after battle, and these quotes are not subtitled. Unless you're fluent in Japanese, you'll miss a good amount of the already-sparse characterization. Motoi Sakuraba's soundtrack is a joy to listen to, with a number of unique battle themes that almost always fit the situation.
If you're the kind of gamer who was frustrated with Final Fantasy XIII's linear plot or lack of towns, Resonance of Fate is the cure for your ills. It's almost the bizarro-Final Fantasy XIII, for all the good and bad that implies. The plot is extremely light, but the dialogue is generally snappy and amusing, and North's Vashyron steals the show on multiple occasions. The real star of the game is the combat system, which is complex enough to make even an experienced gamer's head spin. Once you've mastered all the mechanics, it's an extremely satisfying system that allows you to dominate opponents in all sorts of interesting ways. The game's biggest flaw is that it is extremely unfriendly toward casual players. Anything less than exploiting all the mechanics can and will probably lead players to painful and brutal deaths. The gameplay mechanics are barely taught to the player, so gamers will have to do a bit of thinking (or online research) to figure out how everything works. Resonance of Fate isn't a casual game, and it has the potential to be frustrating and grindy, especially with the extremely light story doing little to push you forward. There is a lot of exploration and side-quests to do, but only if you're willing to dedicate the time and effort to learn the mechanics and explore the world. If you're willing to overlook these potential problems, it's difficult to find a better choice than Resonance of Fate.
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