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Resonance of Fate (Xbox 360) artwork

Resonance of Fate (Xbox 360) review

"There's nothing quite like gradually mastering a combat system that resembled a bizarre alien language when you first encountered it."

Sometimes when I begin writing a review, I know things are going to be tough. Such is the case with Resonance of Fate. Not only are my reactions to the game conflicted, but it’s also a tough one to explain. In general terms, the title can be described as a JRPG developed by tri-Ace and released by Sega. Since it's a JRPG, it does conform to a lot of the tropes inherent to the genre, but its mechanics are handled differently than you might expect from such a recent release in the genre.

For a frame of reference, look to Final Fantasy XIII, which released around the same time. That title held players' hands to an almost-comical level. Resonance of Fate, on the other hand, drops you into its world without the coddling. If you want to learn some good battle or character customization tactics, you have three choices: trial-and-error, online text files written by other players, or an in-game arena that offers lessons on such strange concepts as hero runs and triangle attacks. You will NOT get any such help when wandering around the game's world and encountering proper battles. Outside of that specific part of the arena, you are left to sink or swim.

So, what was the purpose of that last paragraph? To not-so-subtly tell you that the art of fighting is a bit more complicated in this game than in many others of its ilk. Your party of three uses two different guns in battle. Machine guns won't actually injure opposing combatants, but will cause "scratch" damage that weakens armor, so that one handgun blast can then immediately eliminate them. Those handguns are essentially impotent by themselves, but if an enemy has been weakened by a machine gun, they will turn all that "scratch" damage into the real deal.

Meanwhile, you can customize those guns to a ludicrous extent, adding obscene numbers of scopes, barrels, grips and whatnot to improve their performance. As the game progresses and characters grow more powerful, they'll gain the ability to dual-wield, so a character can switch between hand and machine guns whenever the situation dictates. Grenades and special ammo allow you to inflict status ailments on foes, plus there are first-aid kits to heal yourself and remove ill effects.

That's just a basic overview, mind you. You also acquire Bezel shards in much the same way a person gets pieces of heart containers in a Zelda game, except here they're used to fuel something called a “hero run.” A hero run lets you repeatedly blast a foe or put all your might into charging up a very powerful shot to either completely scratch-damage a foe or to stun it and thus prevent it from unleashing a devastating attack. If you connect a couple hero runs, your third member can then initiate a triangle attack, where all three characters take turns unloading massive amounts of ammo into someone's flesh. Using a hero run expends one Bezel. Killing an enemy or destroying a piece of its armor awards you additional Bezels. If a character loses all their scratch damage, a lot of Bezels will be knocked away as punishment. And finally, if you run out of Bezels, you're pretty much screwed. You enter critical condition where all damage counts as real (instead of scratch), you're incapable of hero runs and if even one party member dies, it's "GAME OVER".

If this all sounds bizarre and complicated, welcome to the club. Resonance of Fate is very much its own entity. The more you play, though, the more intuitive everything becomes, until you find yourself instinctively knowing what enemies to target first and which ones might be most easily softened up with a couple of grenades. There's nothing quite like gradually mastering a combat system that resembled a bizarre alien language when you first encountered it.

The only real problem with all of that depth is that it means battles take a lot longer here than in many other RPGs. Hero runs require time and triangle attacks take even longer. Each fight consists of a seemingly endless string of short, interactive summon spells where you'll constantly see the same John Woo-inspired collection of jumps, rolls and dives around enemies while the protagonists fire round after round of ammo. In such a long game, this grows tiresome.

That quality of the game also calls attention to the generous helping of Ending Fatigue that it eventually serves. Resonance of Fate is told in vignette style, and divided into an intro and 16 chapters. Each revolves around one main plot mission, as well as a handful of side quests. As you advance, you also gain the ability to unlock new challenges in the arena and the occasional optional battle against tough foes scattered throughout the game's world. Without delving into many plot details (which would inevitably lead to 15 paragraphs of spoiler-heavy analysis), I can say that the various events unfold in a multi-floor world called Basil, which is the only place on the planet that has not been overcome by poisonous gas. For that reason, it also is the only place capable of supporting human life. The elite Cardinal class lives on Basil’s upper floors, while your three characters are mercenaries for hire who reside on the fourth floor. As you delve deeper, things get more rough-and-tumble, with various groups fighting to hold claim over mines.

The vignette approach to story keeps things interesting early on, and carries your trio through numerous seemingly-unconnected introductory missions, but things don’t get truly epic until the dots finally start connecting. Then, by the time you reach chapter 10 or 11, a fierce battle that you witness as the game begins finally is afforded the context that it requires to actually make sense. While a lot of characters go through moments when they are emotionally shattered, that comes across most poignantly during a memorable bridge duel in the rain. If I was to pick one moment to recommend this game upon, it would be that confrontation.

That moment is then abruptly followed by two light-hearted missions that effectively kill the mood. And then when the 14th chapter comes around to get things back on track for the conclusion, there's also a very noticeable difficulty spike that nearly killed my desire to keep playing. I suddenly had to do a lot work to progress much further into the game. The personal armies of the main adversaries at that point are far stronger and better-equipped than the thugs you've previously faced, which is perfectly logical but still frustrating when you realize you not only have no room for error in some battles, but also have to count on a bit of luck before victory is assured.

Even when I accepted that, though, I still found myself getting frustrated throughout the remainder of my time with Resonance of Fate. Compounding that ending fatigue were a few bizarre design choices. For example, you’re unable to change your equipment once you enter a dungeon. You can stand directly by the entryway and switch your equipment, add gun parts or do anything else you feel is necessary, but those options go away the second you step foot inside the mine or building. That means if you reach the end of the place and realize you forgot to equip the first aid kit, you have to backtrack to the entrance (enduring however many battles that entails) instead of using an escape hex to warp.

Resonance of Fate could have been truly great. It possesses an intriguing plot that gradually unveils itself, complete with complex adversaries whose goals are far more sympathetic than the usual "I'm conquering everything, MUA HA HA HA!!!" tripe, plus there’s an innovative combat system that affords players plenty of customization options. But, man, a couple of those late-game filler missions detract from that otherwise excellent plot and made it tough for me to maintain my interest just as the challenges grew tough enough to demand it, and the way you can't access menus inside dungeons just seems like a cheap way to add an extra touch of difficulty. Combine that with the tendency battles have to eat up time while you rely on hero runs and the game winds up merely being a solid offering, one that requires a lot of dedication if you want to ever reach the end.


overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (February 20, 2014)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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