ESRB rating: Teen
Release date: Available now
For whatever reason, Japanese gamers love long RPGs. Perhaps they demand that they get the most out of the Yen-equivalent of $60, but their developers can’t seem to make a game that takes less than 40 to 60 hours to finish. A fine example of this is developer tri-Ace’s 2010 epic Resonance of Fate (known as End of Eternity in Japan), a stylish RPG that throws in everything but the kitchen sink, yet suffers from a disappointing lack of gameplay variety.
Welcome to Basel, a gigantic clockwork construct built underground. Its original purpose was to rehabilitate Earth’s ecology after years of human abuse almost destroyed us. The survivors eventually built entire cities connected to Basel, and society began to rebuild itself. Not unexpectedly, the so-called elite established themselves in mansions in the top levels, known as Chandelier, while the common folk spread themselves out on the lower levels. One day, a beautiful young girl named Leanna walked out onto a high catwalk and threw herself into the void for no apparent reason. She was somehow saved from certain death by Zephyr, and later they became the teammates of a bounty hunter named Vashyron. You control these three acrobatic, gun-toting characters in a series of missions that gradually detail the slow decay of Basel and the shadowy powers behind it all.
Resonance of Fate is played from three basic perspectives. Mission distribution and inventory transactions (weapon upgrades, clothing options, etc.) take place in side-scrolling environments, where conversations with NPCs provide you with story tidbits and the occasional gameplay tip. You use an interactive map to move your squad from area to area. You are frequently attacked by groups of enemies while moving around on the map, which switches you to the third-person combat screen (strangely, these are the only times when you see all three of your squadmates at the same time; NPCs always see all of your characters, even though only one of them is displayed in the town environments). Combat is turn-based and includes a fairly deep strategic component. One of your characters carries a machine gun, which deals non-lethal but debilitating “scratch” damage, while the other two carry handguns that cause direct damage. Softening up enemies with scratch damage makes it easier to finish them off with direct damage, so you have to decide the order in which your avatars attack. You set up hero attacks by plotting a straight-line course for your fighter, who follows that course and attacks until he or she reaches the end of the line. Setting up intersecting paths (crossing the streams, as it were) creates Resonance Points, which you use to trigger the most effective tactic in the game, the Tri-Attack. A triangular path is drawn between your characters’ screen positions, and they run along the boundaries of the triangle, attacking the designated enemy all at the same time.
Combat is your primary activity in Resonance, but getting to the combat is tricky in itself. Power failures in Basel have deactivated the paths between areas on the map, which is laid out in hexagonal spaces. You have to use Energy Hexes to reactivate pathways on the map so that you can move from place to place. You have a few to get you started, but the rest are acquired in loot drops from defeated enemies or from quest rewards. Your fighters gain levels in the usual fashion, and they get stronger as they level, allowing them to carry heavier weapons; the basic firearms can be expanded with items such as scopes, handguards and larger magazines, but the character must have the physical strength to wield them. And as for the missions, campaign objectives are assigned at the beginning of each of the game’s 17 levels, with side missions available on bulletin boards in several places in Basel. Although it’s possible to get through the game just by playing the campaign missions, you make the journey much harder for yourself by skipping the side objectives, which can be very easy and fairly lucrative.
Resonance has much going for it. The graphics are clear, smooth and highly detailed, even though gray seems to be the color of choice, and you have the option of installing the entire game on the PS3 hard drive, almost completely eliminating load times. The controls are simple to learn, and there are plentiful tutorials and help files supplementing a thin but useful instruction booklet. The music score runs the gamut from delicate and soothing to dark and foreboding. The cutscene writing is surprisingly adult, with a few scenes of blatantly sexual humor tossed in to break the overall quiet and sedate mood of the game, and the cutscenes themselves are of the high-quality anime variety. There are only three to five side missions available on each level, which on the surface would seem to keep the game moving along at a fair pace, but you should still expect to log anywhere from 60 to 80 hours before reaching the end. On the other hand, the game has some nagging issues. Save locations are sparse, limited to your home base, a few disused energy stations sprinkled across the map, and special hexes that you can use to build a station. As you get deeper into the game, you get farther away from save locations, and you’re always in danger of being attacked while trying to get to one. Defeated enemies respawn in dungeon areas after you’ve cleared them and moved on, and since you don’t automatically exit a dungeon after defeating the end boss, you have to fight your way back out again unless you use an escape hex, which you might not always have in your inventory. Cutscenes are unskippable, so if you don’t save in the right spots, you could be spending a lot of time rewatching cinematics. The script contains lots of embarrassingly cheesy dialogue, especially at the end of combat sequences (“If that was wrong, I don’t wanna be right”; “Were they too weak, or were we too strong?”), and tri-Ace has even tossed in the now-ubiquitous voice of Nolan North as Vashyron to give Western gamers a sense of comfort. But the most egregious of Resonance‘s faults is the one-note combat. Setting up a tri-attack with a few hero runs works every time for the first four or five chapters. A few strategic adjustments have to be made later on, but the basic technique is almost always successful. This lack of variety seems to run counter to the rest of the game, which is a combination of lots of different ideas.
Resonance of Fate is another one of those games that you continue to play in spite of yourself. The lack of a save-anywhere feature makes it tedious and frustrating at times, and some of the writing makes you want to cringe. But the story rolls out at a slow and seductive pace through some very impressive anime cinematics, so you keep playing because you want to see how the story ends. Why did Leanna jump off of that catwalk? Who’s really pulling the strings in Basel, and for what purpose? Without this kind of narrative involvement, Resonance would be just another Japanese RPG timesink. There’s just enough enjoyment to be had to keep even the twitchiest gamer glued to their couch.