Trinity Universe is one of those games. The kind where the few good aspects the game has to offer are far outweighed by the negatives, leading to a forgettable experience. First and foremost Trinity Universe is a fan-targeted game. You’ll see a couple of familiar faces from both the Disgaea and Atelier franchises, and the gameplay style, dungeon-crawling and dialogue is obviously aimed at fans of these games. Hardcore enthusiasts will enjoy the familiar humour, characters and style. It’s definitely a light-hearted game and never takes itself seriously. That being said, anyone else is likely to find, at best, a mediocre dungeon crawler coupled with forgettable characters and a story that insults your intelligence.
The story and gameplay are divided into two separate segments. When you begin the game you can choose to play as Kanata- the Demon Dog King, or Rizelea- the Valkyrie. The former is a slightly easier experience where you level up faster and enemies have less health, but both storylines cross over with each other as the game progresses. The setting for Trinity Universe is the Netheruniverse, a place where objects and locations from many different dimensions drift. Kanata’s story initially focuses on him escaping his fate of turning into a gem. This is part of a ritual that stops all the floating Netheruniverse objects from crashing into his home of Empyria. Not surprisingly, Kanata doesn’t want to become a jewel, so runs away with the help of his vassal Tsubaki. Rizelea, on the other hand, sets out on an independent mission to keep peace and order in the universe alongside the dark hero Lucius. This puts her at odds with Kanata because if he turns into a gem, peace will be restored. The story doesn’t develop much more than this as the game progresses and yes, it is as stupid as it sounds. The motivation for most of Kanata’s story, for example, is simply because he feels like having an adventure. As Tsubaki herself says, “This plot is an unfocused mess.”
The characters only guide this abysmal story into even more shallow waters. Fans of the series will see five familiar characters: Etna, Flonne, and the Prinnies, from Disgaea; and Pamela and Violet from Atelier. They play the same roles as they do in their original games so fans are sure to be pleased. Unfortunately, the script and dialogue used throughout often feels like it was written by a hormone-charged teenage boy. This is especially apparently in the jokes. The first few times, some of the humour is funny, but when you continue to hear jokes about Etna’s flat chest, Kanata’s dog ears, or how Prinnies explode when you throw them for the one millionth time, you’ll just be shaking your head with a sigh. Added to this are paragraphs upon paragraphs of useless text, meaningless sentences and just all-around bad writing. There’s also an excessive amount of low-level swearing that just seems out of place.
Adding insult to injury is the voice acting. At best, it barely manages to reach mediocrity. There is no character that stands out as being voiced well, but a few do manage to scrape by as bearable. One or two, however, are absolutely atrocious, including some of the worst voice acting I have ever heard. This dubious title is taken by Pamela. Each time I hear her voice I literally want to claw my ears off. Not the best feeling when you’re trying to enjoy a game. The background music has similar issues, but starts off on a high note. The opening song when you begin the game is fast-paced, bright and bubbly. It’s disappointing that they reuse this song so often that you will quickly tire of it. Likewise, the music used in dungeons is constantly reused and, even then, is not all that good to begin with. Sound effects are equally lackluster, particularly in battle, and are extremely underwhelming.
Gameplay primarily centers on dungeon crawling and item synthesizing. From the get-go you’ll be delving deeply into varied dungeons to complete a specific goal or to find hidden treasure to use in creating new equipment. All of these dungeons and locations are visited by selecting them from a menu. A little bit of exploration to find them would have been nice. As new objects drift in and out of the Netheruniverse you’ll find new dungeons and events available to you. There are quite a number of dungeons to explore and all feel substantially unique from one another, graphically. It’s just unfortunate that they all have similar layouts, leading to each one feeling like a bit of a grind. You’ll visit most of these throughout the story, which is broken down into chapters that usually compromise of a few cutscenes (called events) followed by a specific dungeon. In these dungeons, you can make use of a search function by pressing square. This draws magical lines to hidden treasure nearby, but can only be used a limited amount of times per dungeon. Each time you visit a location, the treasures are randomly generated so having to relocate them each time can actually be quite fun. Ultimately, in each dungeon, your goal is to destroy the gravity core. Doing this forces the dungeon to float away from Empyria so it won’t crash onto the land. After fighting your way to the core, activating it gives you a short time limit to escape back to the exit. During this period some extra rare items appear, but if you don’t get out in time you’ll suffer a penalty. This is actually quite fun and deciding whether to search one last room for treasure whilst keeping an eye on the clock can be exciting.
To make the dungeons more varied, the game uses a time system with different times of day and days of the week. Both of these factors affect the frequency and strength of enemies you come across. Battles are almost always random and this sometimes feels out of place with the gameplay style of a dungeon-crawler. It would have been nice if you could peer down a corridor and see the enemy blocking your way. Once you do engage in a battle, you’ll be treated to a generally boring button mash that you can win with your eyes closed. There is considerable depth to the system, but it seems like the development team threw in some of these mechanics just for the sake of adding depth. Early on, it can be highly confusing. Information is given to you sparingly and it takes a few chapters until you’ll actually start to understand everything that is available to you. Even then, some of it seems just too impractical, useless or confusing to bother using. That being said, toward the end of the game fights do become more interesting once your equipment is better and you can perform more attacks per turn. Battles are a mix of turn-based and realtime. You take turns with your opponents in a traditional turn-based setting but, during your turn, you can press different buttons in real time for varied attacks. All of these attacks use up AP. Once your AP gauge runs out, your turn ends. Pressing square allows for a lower damage attack that hits more times, the X button dictates a more powerful attack that hits less frequently, and the triangle button starts a magic attack that hits all enemies for low damage. The circle button is used for specially assigned skills. These skills are one of the few opportunities to give your party members different roles in battle. Sadly, using the skills is extremely clunky. The power of the skill controls whether you can assign it to the first, second, third or fourth slot. To access anything but the first slot in battle means you have to hold down the circle button until the gauge fills and turns over to the new skill. Why they couldn’t have just made this into an easier to access menu is beyond me. You can also chain different combinations of these attacks to perform special combos. Disappointingly, there is no system that records these button combinations once you discover them so unless you’re planning to take detailed notes, you’re probably going to forget most of them.
Aiming for higher hit combos in battle builds up the image gauge. This allows you to unleash special powers, but for a large proportion of the game almost every battle is too short to build this gauge up. You also have access to a power known as the fury chain where you can give characters stat boosts or link attacks together. Unfortunately, you never know what these boosts are in advance and using it costs a lot of AP thus making it often more annoying than useful. Most of the time, your talent in battle is completely meaningless to the outcome. As long as you have decent weapons and an appropriate level you can just sit there, hit any button you want, and still win. That’s not to say all battles are easy. In fact, boss battles often have erratic difficulty. Some aren’t much harder than regular enemies, who feel like they’ve been thrown in for the sake of fleshing out a dungeon, but others can wipe the floor with you in a few hits unless you spend time grinding optional dungeons beforehand. This can be extremely frustrating. You will be grinding off enemies to level up for a substantial period of time during the course of the game.
Once you’ve conquered a dungeon, you’ll want to return to Empyria to synthesize new items. Manuals to teach new syntheses can be bought from the shop. You can then, using items you locate in dungeons, build better equipment. You will be doing this a lot as most of the best items in the game come from this system. Though, as you might expect by now, this can be clunky too. There is no way to compare your current weapons stats against those you want to synthesize or buy. This means you’re guessing most of the time to which weapon or item is better. Unless you want write down all the stats, exit the shop and check them against one another. It’s really quite ridiculous. You also can’t see what each item does unless you press square on it to jump to another menu. It just seems like lazy design on the part of the developers. That aside, finally having the right items to synthesize a great item is very fulfilling.
A new concept Trinity Universe brings in is that of managraphics. These are special enhancements for your weapons that add unique powers and also change the look of weapons and attack effects. These can be quite fun to mix and match, but it’s not always clear how one managraphic is better than or differs from another. You can have two different managraphics equipped at once and during battle you are able to switch between the two. Often they have different elemental damages and these can be swapped around in battle to your advantage, adding some much needed strategy to some of the more difficult fights.
One thing Trinity Universe does have going for it is the 2D graphics. It’s clear the development team had significant experience in this department and the characters during dialogue are drawn beautifully. Background scenery is just as stunning and is drawn with a beautiful array of bright, vibrant colours. The characters animate slightly as they talk too, breathing some extra life into each scene. Yet where the 2D graphics showcase the developer’s expertise, the 3D only displays their inexperience. Character models, especially the faces, are rough and lack detail. Animation is clunky and textures used in dungeons leave a lot to be desired. Enemy design is also lacking in quality and the same models are frequently reused. Thankfully, this is slightly made up for with well designed weapons and clothing along with varied graphical design in the dungeons, complemented by nearly nil loading time.
A playthrough of one character will most likely take you between twenty and twenty-five hours. However this could be greatly increased or decreased depending on how much time you spend in optional dungeons. If you really find yourself enjoying the dungeon crawling then you could easily sink a good one hundred hours into the game exploring them all. But unless you’re really addicted to it, you’ll find the crawling becomes a dull grind early on. On the side, you are also given access to a monster coliseum. Here you can create monsters using items you find and then fight them for rewards. It’s an interesting concept, but isn’t executed all that well. It does, however, tack on a few extra hours to the gameplay experience. There is little incentive to play the game through a second time, but at least you do have two different plots to choose from. Plus, there are a couple of different endings to achieve based on what events you view.
All-in-all Trinity Universe swims the seas of mediocrity. Whilst it’s not a bad game, it doesn’t try very hard to appeal to a large audience. The dungeon crawling has its fun moments but is, more often and than not, a grind. Battles try a few new things but are ultimately dull button-mashers and the 3D graphics are a little rough on the eyes. The voice acting is appalling and ambient music repetitive. The story is boring and the script is a joke. It never takes itself seriously, which is not always a bad thing, but can be far too silly at times. The great 2D graphics are simply not enough to save this game from fading away into oblivion. It may appeal to diehard fans, but there’s little here for anyone else to enjoy.