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Resonance of Fate (PlayStation 3) artwork

Resonance of Fate (PlayStation 3) review


""Accept the mission for the future of Medicine! ...I kid. It's a simple job you do to while away the time". A line by a man in a lab-coat that gives the "hunter" trio another side-quest to complete. "



"Accept the mission for the future of Medicine! ...I kid. It's a simple job you do to while away the time". A line by a man in a lab-coat that gives the "hunter" trio another side-quest to complete.

Resonance of Fate is somewhat like a too smart, and too beautiful girlfriend. She can tease you too much, knowing well that even though you hate the things she tells you, you will always want her anyway. Depending on your tastes, though, she may or may not be what you were looking for in the first place.

In terms of presentation, the game sets the tone early on. The action, when it happens, is fast and eventful. With emotional roller-coasters, loud explosions - and ravenous determination to see it all to a successful and satisfying conclusion.

But perhaps your curiosity remains tickled once your breathing is under control again as well. Since there is always some mystery to the situation you arrive at. Which will easily lead you from one engagement to another, while maintaining your interest. If not from one minute to every other, then at least in anticipation for the next solid blow-out.

The question is whether or not the teasing in between will frustrate you, or make you hungrily delve into the underlying themes, and drive you to perfect your techniques. Just as whether you can bear to see it all end, when the mysteries surrounding what actually happens in the world of Basel remains as unclear after the credits as they were during the intro-sequence.

I do like a good story - but there's no denying that the final chapters of the game will probably invoke a sense of regret about the effort you've put into getting there.

But rather than console yourself on the good memories, you can then just start over and play the game again on a higher (difficulty) level. And it will still somehow be just as good every time, thanks to how expansive the world, the narrative and the battle system is.

Resonance of Fate is a "japanese role-playing game". It has the characters obstinately standing in the streets all day to update you on the latest news. It features level up mechanics that suddenly make you stronger for no apparent reason. Quests are accepted with a yes&no prompt at the screen. And damage is indicated by red flashing numbers over the enemy's head.

And yet, the game is absolutely nothing like a jrpg as well. First of all, you only have guns to fight with. And there's not a single lace or embroidery pattern in sight. The music is a beautiful and expressive theming of symphonic orchestra and electronic rock - apparently a product of a collaboration effort between Motoi Sakuraba (Star Ocean) and Kohei Tanaka (Legend of Legaia). And the themes around Basel are appropriate and always different: every place has it's own theme, that fits with the level's unique setting. (Download a sample of the soundtrack from SEGA's web here)

The fighting music is also context aware - ditching the typical never-ending stress-tunes in favour of a subtler approach: the themes ramp up during "hero-actions", and subtly tone down during the strategic planning. With the help of Motoi Sakuraba's very well done mixing, this sounds much less mechanical than it is.

And that duality between mechanical and analogue keeps being the main theme in the game, from the opening cinematic to the ending credits and in all the bits in between.

In your usual jrpg, a character will typically stand around on a street-corner, somehow just waiting to give you a quest. After that, they continue to stand there, trying to bore themselves to death. But in Basel, the self-containing mechanical sphere the game plays out in, the quest givers will insist, politely, that you go and fetch the quest on the alotted job-board before actually receiving the task: follow the rules (or something bad will happen - don't even think the thought of doing something different)! At the same time, there is some movement on the world-events as the chapters progress, just to point out how the game-mechanic wasn't chosen out of laziness.

Meanwhile the fashion conscious lady standing next to the clothing store has a small personal crisis about how she always seems to be wearing the same skirt every day. And characters will comment on how quickly the night sets - as if turning a switch! - when the stars replace the sun in the sky.

The game, in other words, does not try to explain away the game-mechanics, by smuggling in an explanation of what it's really supposed to represent. By waving a red flag that says: "game-mechanic here! Don't look too closely now!". Or somehow try to hide day and night cycles by simply not showing them at all. Instead, it makes these necessary mechanics part of the narrative. To illustrate the clockwork world's reliance on routine, and the fact that everything is controlled mechanically. And to create a believable backdrop for the characters in the mechanical spire. So it is difficult to see whether the world was invented and then adapted successfully to the rules - or whether the rules created the game-world.

This girlfriend goes both ways, it seems.

----

In the same way, you are introduced to "hero" actions as existing in the world before they are explained during the semi turn based combat. And then they are represented there by a meaningful and appropriate token within the story. Also, slicing time during the strategic phase of the fights makes, narratively speaking, perfect sense when you see it. Instead of being "just another" mechanic you need to "master", that has no connection to what's going on outside the fight. Even the saving system has these fine touches - you can "suspend" your game ("freeze it in time") from any screen except in towns and during ongoing battles. And then resume the world again when you come back.

The result of this is satisfying - because it lowers the level of abstraction needed to dive into the game. It also offers convenient and intuitive explanations. That is - if you are not put off by how the game makes fun of the window-dressing you're used to seeing in other Japanese role-playing games. Or are unable to ignore it, and see the sheer genius going on in the design underneath.

In the end, I suppose playing Resonance of Fate is a lot easier than explaining it. The difficulty of the game comes from the fact that it forces you to change strategy many times during the game, and continuously refine the way to approach each new battle. Even after many and long gaming sessions, and after you thought you had everything under control. So it's a challenge. But it's also an extremely good game.

End-note: The reason why this game does not deserve a perfect score is the way both the story, the fighting system and the interface has one notable weakness each. The story, towards the end, does not explain the motivations and reasoning of any of the characters very well. It becomes so heavy on metaphor and exposition that the guessing suddenly extends to why the main character pulls the trigger of his gun. This is not good story-board design. Even if the main story is almost taking in water on the sides from the sheer weight of the metaphors it uses - and this is successful as context. But as primary narrative driver during the final boss-encounter... not so much.

Meanwhile, the fighting system is, contrary to what you might think after a few hours, dependent on finding the weak spots of the enemies, and exploiting them. But - even when doing the Basel-equivalent of "scan", the weaknesses are not exactly obvious. Is the numbered body-parts labeled after, say, the handles on a clock? Or are they simply sectors starting from one side and over to the other? What is the difference between aiming speed and aiming acceleration? How does "softness" and "hardness" affect gauge breaks? The manual, or the in-game tutorials do not explain details like these, just as there are no hints to properly set up strategic maneuvers. You simply have to learn how to do it yourself by trial and error. And it means the initial barrier, that occurs some time after you learn the mechanics, will require a bit more imagination to overcome than perhaps was strictly necessary.

Finally, the translation. The English version has main characters voiced by famous and skilled actors such as Nolan North. And it's not bad, by any means. 'But when put beside the Japanese voice-track, it contains a lot less subtle touches and does not have the conscious direction the Japanese track has. So the English track really should be the second choice. Unfortunately, some of the dialogue in the game happens during a dungeon trek, where the Japanese voices are not texted. And this really forces you to choose the English voice-track anyway, if you want to hear all the mission-related quips.

In spite of this, Resonance of Fate is a well accomplished and playable evolution of a jrpg. In that it's still clearly a game, but at the same time survives a shameless flirting with the cinematic direction, with both style and honor intact afterwards.

Played through the game, which unlocked another difficulty level (and finally gave you some of those black energy hexes you need to unlock the deep dungeons. I haven't dared to go there yet). I took my time, without taking nearly all of the quests, or playing in the "Arena". And completed the game in about 50 hours. Remember to wait for a few seconds on the "push start" screen, after the intro, to see the second of the two introduction cinematics. It's an extremely good one, so I have no idea why they hid it like this. "Customizing" your tiny handgun with the tenth extra sub-barrel kit, along with fifteen scopes put on top of each other, is positively magical. Available for xbox360 and ps3.

Rating: 9/10

fleinn's avatar
Community review by fleinn (April 24, 2010)

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CoarseDragon posted April 27, 2010:

It felt like your review was as abstract as the game. I enjoyed reading it however. Told me most everything I needed to know about the game. I just might pick it up.
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fleinn posted April 28, 2010:

Yeah.. I just didn't know how to write this review. Looking at reviews elsewhere, no one else seems to have been completely certain either.

Specially the fighting system - it's what you will spend most of the time with after all. And it's very original and interesting, no doubt about it. But actually describing it.. :/ "yeah, and it's really good, you know. All game-y and.. good...? You know? Right..?" lol. Doesn't work.

..I was wondering about making it about "old jrpgs against new jrpgs", but I didn't in the end.

Or maybe trying to make it part of the way you move in hexes around the game, and zoom to in and out from the map overview to the small battlefields? ..didn't really work either.

So I think I ended up deliberately not describing the fighting system because of that. Very glad you got something out of this, though :D

(btw - I have not signed up on the "no feedback list". Anyone, feel free to drunkenly or soberly criticise the review as much as you'd like).
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CoarseDragon posted April 28, 2010:

Yeah, I did get something out of it. One of the main reason I come here is to get a different perspective on games from real people and to get their feedback on why they wrote what they did.

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