Alas, it is time once again for me to take you back to the JRPG-packed month of March 2010 for a look at the widely (at least among the genre’s fans) heralded release from tri-Ace, Resonance of Fate (RoF). You may know of the game by its Japanese release title, End of Eternity, though I still don’t know why the title had to be changed. Regardless, Resonance of Fate is certainly one of the more innovative JRPGs of late, flanked by more traditional titles such as Final Fantasy XIII. It invites players to try a unique battle system, environment, and style while maintaining many JRPG conventions such as item creation and a certain level of turn-based play. With so many new ideas packed into a game from such a respected developer, one would expect a hidden gem for the 360 that caters to both traditionalists and those looking for a change from the standard JRPG grind. Despite its ambition, however, Resonance of Fate falls short in many areas, preventing it from truly shining as a great RPG.
The world of Resonance of Fate depicts humanity living in a large, multi-layered, gear-filled mechanical city called Basel, having fled from the planet’s surface for reasons not immediately disclosed. In this world, a system known as Zenith controls the longevity of humans and is considered a god by many. The player’s party consists of a group of 3 hunters, Vashyron, Zephyr, and Leann, who take on various jobs for those willing to pay, usually the aristocratic Cardinals of Zenith. The story spends a great deal of time developing these 3 characters while providing a backdrop for what is going on among Basel’s leadership, particularly the workings of the Zenith system. It is not until fairly late in the game that any connection is made between the 3 hunters and the “main” story. In fact, the first half of the story missions seem to be mostly random errands for one Cardinal or another and have little bearing on the game’s overall plot. This is disappointing, as the plot and the unique stage on which it takes place are quite interesting, and it may have been more compelling for the players to get involved with it sooner in the game.
It is interesting to note that the three hunters you start with are the only characters playable throughout the entire course of the game. This runs counter to the typical JRPG formula of gathering allies during the journey, and comes with some pros and cons. The pro is that having only 3 protagonists allows RoF to develop each one in depth, with entire chapters devoted to the back story of a single character. The con, is that the player may get bored of using the same characters exclusively. Overall, though, I believe this change to be a good one, as it allows plot-oriented gamers greater intimacy with the characters.
Resonance of Fate’s gameplay is similarly innovative and ambitious. While the overarching structure is fairly standard, composed of 16 chapters each with a main story mission and 3-5 optional side quests, the world map is different. It’s made up of hexagons that can be unlocked by laying down various pieces acquired by defeating enemies. This is a nice, albeit small, touch as it gives the player a sense of interaction with the world, while adding a minor puzzle element. Unfortunately, the world is not particularly large, and many times you will find yourself traversing the same areas again and again, even for story missions. Luckily, travel on the world map is quick, so backtracking isn’t such a chore.
There are also a few towns throughout Basel where you can take part in “tinkering,” Resonance of Fate’s item creation system. When you defeat enemies they sometimes drop scrap which can be broken down and synthesized into items ranging from elemental-protection accessories to toxic ammunition to Molotov cocktails. As the game is set in a modern environment, all of the characters are equipped with guns, and though there are really only two varieties (handguns and machine guns), the gun customization system allows the addition of barrels, scopes, grips, magazines, and other parts which improve a gun’s performance. The customization is over the top, however, and many guns will have four or more sights and barrels. Still, customization is about as important as leveling as far as improving your party’s performance, and it’s much more fun.
Resonance of Fate’s battle system is where it most tries to distinguish itself from the pack. Battles place your party and the enemies in a battlefield outfitted with objects such as barriers to hide behind and exploding barrels. While you can move your characters around the battlefield freely, the game is pseudo-turn based, as each character can only do so much action, based on his or her gauge. Each turn a character can target an enemy and begin holding A to charge his or her weapon. As the charge level increases, so does the number of possible effects to the enemy (such as stun), though there is a limit to how much charging can be done on a turn.
Along with a host of status inflicting grenades and ammunition, the main damage system of the game involves what are known as Scratch damage and Direct damage. Machine guns deal Scratch damage, which basically weakens the enemy, acting like a sort of suppression fire. Once you’ve inflicted scratch damage, any hit of Direct damage (dealt by handguns and grenades) will not only deal its own damage, but also turn all of the accumulated Scratch damage into Direct damage. Direct damage then reduces enemy HP. This dual damage system makes battles a constant dance of changing between Scratch and Direct. In addition, you can have the characters perform “Hero Actions,” flashy attacks where the character runs and jumps across the battlefield, showering bullets onto the enemy. Many of the battles require careful positioning and strategy, as well as rationing the characters’ action gauges.
Now, there are two main problems with the game’s combat: the learning curve at the beginning and the fluctuating difficulty. While Resonance of Fate features a tutorial near the starting town, it’s little more than manual-like instructions and provides only a few weak enemies on which to practice moves. It takes quite a few battles to really get the hang of the combat system, and once you do you’ll enjoy a few chapters where you truly enjoy it before you get bored fighting the same scenarios over and over. Many battles feel very similar, with the only difference being types and levels of enemies. What’s more, battles with many enemies, even mid-level ones, can often take quite a bit longer than is enjoyable. The difficulty changes also hurt Resonance of Fate’s flow; some boss battles can be ended in just a few turns with the proper ammunition and luck, while some random side quest battles can seem endless due to the sheer number of enemies you have to face. These frequent inconsistencies in difficulty really hurt Resonance of Fate and make it hard to judge your party’s strength going from chapter to chapter.
The graphics in Resonance of Fate are nothing special, though I didn’t expect them to be at the level of, say, FFXIII. The world map and battlegrounds are fairly bland with a lot of gray, which is fitting for the game’s time period but boring to look at. Thee main characters’ models are well detailed, especially in cut scenes, yet NPC and enemy models are somewhat lacking. Some of the bosses are large and multifaceted, but too many of them appear later in side quests with palette-swaps. Overall, the graphics are about on par with many other RPG releases on the Xbox 360, though the blandness of the visuals really hurts the game’s overall style.
Resonance of Fate’s sound quality is much better than its graphical prowess, though I found it a bit subdued. The battle music is reminiscent of westerns and space cowboy anime, such as Trigun. While it’s fitting for the RoF’s gun-slinging style, it’s often a little quiet compared to the in-game sound effects and can be easily overshadowed. World map music is usually simple, soothing, ambient songs that function well as background music for the brief periods spent traveling from place to place.
The quality of the English voice acting varies greatly. The three main characters are voiced well enough and only have a few annoying, repetitious in-battle quotes. The minor characters and enemies that speak are sometimes voiced a little over dramatically, and often repeat the same lines, which can get bothersome during battle, especially when trying to enjoy the music. All in all, RoF doesn’t have the worst dub, but it doesn’t distinguish itself in any positive way.
Overall, Resonance of Fate is a good game that took many risks in order to bring some new ideas to the JRPG market, while maintaining some traditional gameplay mechanics. Some of these ideas are good in theory, but in practice end up leading to some boring and repetitive battles. Regardless, it’s a game worth trying during the RPG release dry season, and has the potential for many hours of gameplay. Depending on how many side quests you complete, the game can last anywhere from 30 to 60 hours, and with a battle arena in which to test your abilities, a difficult endgame dungeon, and second playthrough options, you can get much more than that. Give it a try if you want something different from the norm, but know that the game takes some getting used to.