"Generation of Chaos: Pandora's Reflection is a perfectly serviceable game that didn't give me the headache I feared, but it never got my blood pumping, either."
In alchemy, the ingredients don't always match the result. The same holds true for Generation of Chaos: Pandora's Reflection, a unique collaboration between Idea Factory and Sting. These two companies are known to have a penchant for elaborate gameplay systems and, in the case of the latter, garishly extravagant presentation. Previous games in the Generation of Chaos series have been notoriously obtuse and beginner-unfriendly, and when I imagined the potential complexity that could arise from the addition of Sting's typical elements, I admit I was uneasy. Imagine my surprise, then, when the result ended up being the simplest RPG I've played in some time. In fact, it's so streamlined that it works to the game's detriment. Generation of Chaos: Pandora's Reflection is a perfectly serviceable game that didn't give me the headache I feared, but it never got my blood pumping, either.
Despite the game's colorful characters, there is little whimsy in the desolate world of Hades. A poisonous "ashen rain" plagues the skies and brings death to its people, while a religious cult divides the citizens with its political machinations. Claude, a young alchemist, wanders the land with his ill sister, Yuri, in search of a cure for her mysterious affliction. A butterfly-shaped crest on her neck saps her vitality and causes her constant pain, a miserable fate that Claude is determined to change at any cost. What begins as a quest for medicine turns into a quest for answers and justice, as the origin of Yuri's curse and the ashen rain are more closely intertwined with Claude's past than he initially lets on. It's a relatively cliché plot, but there are some decent twists to keep the player interested. The main issue lies in its delivery; the story is told via text and static character portraits between battles. There are no towns and precious little side content to flesh out the world. NPCs are occasionally scattered throughout the game's combat maps, but they never say anything of importance, instead offering lines of the "oh no, there are bad guys, please save us" variety.
The cast of characters could have been the story's saving grace, but most of them don't elevate beyond typical JRPG archetypes. Claude is the "young protagonist with a strong sense of justice," Yuri is the "frail girl with a dormant power," Dominique is the "eccentric but knowledgeable stranger," and so on. That's not to say any of them are terrible; just about everyone is likeable enough, however shallow they may be. I grew fairly attached to a couple of characters — Yuri's sweet demeanor really brought out my protective instincts, and Marlon's brash attitude elicited its fair share of smirks. They're a fine bunch, honestly, but I don't think any of them are going to stick in my memory for long.
When not advancing the story, you spend your time locked in real-time strategic combat, which feels like a mix of Growlanser and Yggdra Union. Player units are deployed from a base, and generally have to either overtake an enemy base or defeat their lead unit to claim overall victory. By seizing "unit points," small neutral towers, one can deploy additional characters to gain a tactical advantage, though this same benefit applies to crafty enemy units. Each character moves across different terrain at various speeds, so choosing the right unit for each situation is a key strategic element.
The actual fighting is done when two opposing units become close enough, initiating a one-on-one skirmish. Each unit selects which of their two or three weapons to use, which play into a rock-paper-scissors affinity system. After inputting a command, a short rhythm-based sequence appears, in which successfully timed button presses add bonus damage to attacks. It's a decent attempt to keep the player actively engaged, but the timing is incredibly easy to hit, so it doesn't take much skill to maximize damage every time. Aside from differing in raw strength, each weapon creates a differently-sized "impact circle." These circles allow nearby units on the map to join in for a cooperative attack, during which the enemy is left defenseless. If properly executed, these assaults can be devastating, and skew the balance of the game highly in the player's favor.
Finally, successful attacks create small blue gems on the battlefield. These gems, when accumulated, can be spent to summon instant-use creatures with a variety of effects, such as stunning enemy units or automatically taking enemy unit points. Strangely enough, the player has access to a summon from the very beginning of the game that completely restores the entire team's HP to max. This, combined with the relative weakness of enemy units, makes the game too easy. In fact, it's so easy and lacking in depth that it borders on uninteresting. Even the game's customization system, wherein "Alchemy Points" are spent to power up characters and their weapons, is mind-numbingly simple. I often found myself outright bored during combat, a sentiment that ended up coloring my perception of the entire game.
One important note that deserves its own paragraph: the game is completely free of load times. I, for one, was happy to wipe away my nasty memories of Generation of Chaos 4.
It wouldn't be a Sting game without a plethora of different fonts and menus plastered across the screen at any given moment. While these elements had the potential to dance in dissonance, as was the case with Gungnir and Knights in the Knightmare, I found them aesthetically pleasing. Menus are well-organized and sharp, showcasing the developer's creative flair without feeling over-the-top. Character designs are eye-catching, with bold colors and a high level of detail that draws attention to their unique characteristics. The dark world of Hades is populated by a surprisingly diverse assortment of humanoid races, including robots, lizardmen, mermaids, vampires, angels, and elves. The juxtaposition is fascinating, but because the game is almost wholly unanimated, the presentation doesn't live up to its potential.
Purists will be happy to know that the game's story segments are fully-voiced in Japanese. The voices are appropriate and match the translated dialogue well, as far as I can tell with my somewhat-limited knowledge of the language. The music is also fitting: plaintive piano and violin paint the Hades soundscape outside of battle, while battle marches and choral-led strings accompany combat. The game's intro song, "Turning Point," is a catchy guitar/synth pop tune that I wouldn't mind having in my music library. It's consistently good music, if slightly lacking in variety.
I had an enjoyable enough time playing Generation of Chaos: Pandora's Reflection, but I doubt I'll remember it in a few years. I won't be spewing a hate-filled rant about it, but I won't be fondly reminiscing about, either, which is a sorry legacy for a game. Perhaps it's as a certain rat-tailed Dragoon once said: "To be forgotten is worse than death."