Thursday, 10 November 2011

Have You Played - Resonance of Fate

This article can also be found at the Yorker.

Japanese RPGs fall into some rather typical camps. There are the menu-heavy games like Pokémon and Final Fantasy VII, slow affairs where reaction speed isn't a focus; and action RPGs like Kingdom Hearts and Monster Hunter - where high-level play is all about putting your reactions to the test.
Resonance of Fate (End of Eternity in Japan) is... neither; and that's what makes it an interesting experience - it's a game all about stylish and acrobatic gunfights that the Wachowski Brothers would approve of, but strangely the focus is on tactics and planning ahead.

The game takes place on Basel - a city within a mechanical skyscraper. Like all good stories about dystopian industrial futures, there's a stark rich/poor divide, and crime is rampant. The player is in control of three mercenaries - Vashyron, Zephyr and Leanne - completing town requests so they can get from day to day.

Beyond the initial setting concept, the plot matters very little. Developers tri-Ace (Responsible for Infinite Undiscovery and the Star Ocean series) are known for putting together visually and mechanically stunning games - but their storytelling has a lot to be desired. I've you've ever watched much animé (Or hell, if you've played a story-driven JRPG in the last decade) the roles the protagonists play is something all-too-familiar. Vashyron is the strong, responsible adult with a streak of lechery; Zephyr is filled with teenage angst and a mysterious past; Leanne is naive, demure, and still not quite sure why she puts up with the other two idiots she spends her time with.

Fortunately, Resonance quickly puts the narrative on the back-burner in favour of the gunfights. Battles are, in a word, complex. Fights deal in two kinds of damage - Scratch Damage caused by machine guns, and Direct Damage caused by handguns. Winning fights revolves around wearing down the enemy with Scratch Damage, and then sealing the deal with a Direct attack. While not too difficult of a concept, it then introduces Attack Charges, Hero Actions, Critical Conditions... at which point I was very much lost, and was relieved to find a tutorial mode hidden away.

Resonance, therefore, is like the Anti-Chess - hard to learn, but much easier to master. Once the explanations are laid out in front of you, competence soon follows, which is a great feeling - the first time you successfully take out a room full of enemies by doing an impossible leap from one side of the room to the other by flinging about 20 grenades is an incredible thrill for yourself and anyone watching.

It then becomes a game of one-upmanship - Resonance will put you up against enemies that know how to hide their weaknesses and terrain that puts you at a disadvantage, and you'll think long and hard about a method of attack that leaves your team unscathed. The battles reward spectacle - properly executing the more stylish attacks lets you keep up the flashy moves, and saves you from damage.

That's not to say the game is easy, however. Executing a manoeuvre poorly may lead to having one of your party members surrounded - and consequently riddled with bullets. Like any RPG you can flee, gain a few levels and come back, but clever use of cover will save your hide way more often than having extra health.

A game that largely survives on spectacle is something that I could be scoffed at for recommending, but Resonance of Fate puts you in control of the action, supplying a feeling more tangible than a cutscene, and a bigger sense of satisfaction when you do well. Not everyone will have the patience to learn all the ins-and-outs of the combat, but those who like fighting games or strategy games will get a kick out of this.

Resonance of Fate is available on the PS3 and 360.

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