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April 11, 2010
Resonance of Fate - PS3 Review
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Resonance of Fate is out now on PS3.
It's a shame that with the massive hype surrounding Final Fantasy XIII's launch earlier in 2010, it pretty much overshadowed most other RPG releases for the year. Take Resonance of Fate for instance; a title which I'd heard next to nothing about prior to having it land on my doorstep – and I'm an JRPG geek at the best of times. And being the geek that I am, I wasn't alone in being disappointed with how Final Fantasy XIII fell short in what was expected by fans; the linearity wasn't well received at all. So, while Square-Enix is down and looking to possibly lose their expected RPG-of-the-year crown, does Resonance of Fate have what it takes to step up to the plate? In this reviewer's eyes, thankfully it does.

Resonance of Fate is set many years into the future on earth, where poisonous gases have spread across the world, forcing mankind to build upwards. The result is Basel, a monstrous tower with a poison 'cleanser' built into the base, which also has several massive levels at varying levels along the height of the tower; with upper class towns and locations at the peak, leading to lower class slums towards the base. As the screenshots show, Basel has quite a gritty industrial steampunk city-in-the-sky feel to it; many of the locations look like they're straight out of somewhere like Rapture (sans the water of course). Giant spinning cogs are commonplace, together with glowing neon shining through a smoggy haze.

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City and world detail is quite superb.
Partly due to the poisonous gases, monsters and bandits roam the areas between towns, so mercenaries or 'hunters' as they are known are required to run errands for the people of Basel, in the form of missions. This is where your party enter into the story; Zephyr, Vashyron and Leanne are three young hunters who reside together and make a living performing these missions. The story opens with Zephyr swinging in Tarzan-style to save Leanne from plunging to her death; not only saving her live, but also beginning a (somewhat predictable) love connection to flow alongside the main storyline.

While Resonance of Fate's story may sound simple enough, actually getting the story from the game itself is a far more painstaking task. While other RPG's tend to have an overarching theme of world destruction or some supreme lord about to launch war on your home town, there's very little sense of urgency, or even an overarching big-picture task at hand; it's just three friends, going about their (relatively-unrelated) daily missions as hunters. But… while this may seem like a bad thing, it actually isn't. When I was 20 hours in, and asked by a friend what the story was like, I literally had no clue; but it didn't matter, because I'd built a connection with the characters and was quite happy running errands for the people of Basel, playing out the role of Zephyr, Vashyron and Leanne. Because that's what role-playing games are about… right?

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Targeting enemies in this epic JRPG...
Rather than navigating a world map, Resonance of Fate has you traversing around various levels of Basel, each of which are divided up into little hexagonal tiles (hexes) in a honeycomb-like arrangement. Scattered among which are towns, lifts (to other levels) and terminal hexes (which improve fight statistics, such as encounter rate, item drop rate, etc). As you progress through the game, particularly through random battles, you collect little interlocking hex tiles which you can use to unlock portions of the hex grid (like a Tetris jigsaw). While this 'world map' may not offer exploration in the strictest sense, unlocking all of the pieces and uncovering what's beneath all the tiles will offer a similar sense of achievement (and take a fair while too); plus there are bonuses for opening up entire levels of Basel.

Within towns, Resonance of Fate is the first RPG we've played in a long while which supports active day-night cycles; this in turn affects both townspeople behaviour and enemy conditions. Many missions can only be performed at a certain time of day (when someone's shop is open/closed for instance), and night time tends to bring out the bandits in certain backstreets and alleyways, upping enemy encounters. It's quite a pretty transformation that towns go through from day to night and back again; and it's obvious that the effort behind the visual artwork has been there from the start – it isn't at all like night-time was just an afterthought.

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Shopping at the Resonance of Fate Boutique!
Fights in Resonance of Fate come in the form of both random encounters on the hex grid, as well as boss encounters at key points in the story missions. Combat is real-time turn based, where each turn each of your players get the opportunity to move and attack, as does the enemy; producing the artsy-angled battle screenshots you see here. Making Resonance of Fate stand out from the RPG crowd is having scratch damage (special damage caused by machine gun fire), as well as physical damage ('conventional' damage caused by handguns, depleting their energy). Scratch damage accumulates quickly, and shades a part of the enemy's energy bar blue (and slowly disappears if left long enough); scratch damage must then be followed up by physical damage, which will convert any existing scratch damage to physical damage. Sound complicated? It actually isn't, but it just means you have to balance your combinations between handguns and machine guns.

In addition to just moving and shooting, there are also "Hero Moves"; a limited set of extra moves your players can each perform, running and jumping in a straight line combo, whereby your player can't be hit. Perform too many of these however, and your players will get extremely weak, which is shortly followed by lights out time. However, perform enough hero moves correctly and you'll unlock the ability to perform a tri-attack; where all three characters attack simultaneously, running out the path of a triangle. Plan your fight correctly with an enemy in the middle of this triangle, and they'll get shot to bits pretty quickly, which is very convenient for boss fights!!

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Oh yar, here we have "Victory".
While the fighting system in Resonance of Fate is one of its strengths, it is also probably its biggest letdown; well, not the system itself, but the varying difficulty levels. While you'll completely trounce random encounter baddies without breaking a sweat, the boss battles will have you wincing as you die and have to restart the battle, at least a dozen times each. To compound this problem, the tutorial behind the battle system is far more confusing than it needs to be (and is pages of text rather than a monkey-see-monkey-do demonstration). So, if you give up on the tutorial, and think you're doing fine because you're trouncing the random baddies, you're in for a very rude surprise when you meet your first boss battle.

To say that Resonance of Fate is easy on the eyes is an understatement and a half; it looks great, and even better in motion without any signs of slowdown. The game's look and feel is very Japanese and overstyled – glass doesn't just break, it breaks and shatters into a million pieces, in slow motion with accented highlights and reflections. Levels are generally well-detailed, with extra additional effects (such as depth-of-field blur and extra lighting tweaks) which round off an already-pretty looking game. Outfits and accessories can be customised to an absurdly detailed level too; given the close-ups in cut-scenes and the Vogue photoshoot-style fights, the graphical effort put in by Tri-Ace doesn't go unnoticed.

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Characters are superbly modelled in ROF.
With graphics like that, surely that means less effort went into the aural experience of Resonance of Fate?? Wrong! With an emotional orchestral score throughout, which morphs to a techno-steampunk affair at the relevant times, you'd be forgiven for thinking Square Enix's Final Fantasy XIII music team was behind it. Voice acting is well done too, which is something of a surprise for JRPGs. And if you're playing and think the voice of Vash sounds familiar, that's because he's voiced by Nolan Drake. Who's he, I hear you ask? Well, check out the credits of Uncharted 1 & 2 and you'll find that he's the same voice that's responsible for Nathan Drake. With such quality in the English voice cast, it's a welcome yet surprising option to have the original Japanese audio with English subtitles; particularly handy for the Japan-philes out there.

For a game which I'd heard nothing about beforehand, and as such expected a run-of-the-mill RPG, I've been absolutely blown away by Resonance of Fate. While the story might take a long time to get going, it only takes a matter of moments before the steampunk world of Basel sucks you in; from the charm of visuals to the orchestral score. It's probably fortunate that Final Fantasy XIII has been received less-than-expected review scores, because there'll be more people after an alternative JRPG fix, as Resonance of Fate is definitely one to deliver. Regardless, Resonance of Fate is frustrating at times, brilliant at others, and engaging all the way through; something that JRPG fans would be silly to pass up.

Review By: Chris Gobbett

GRAPHICSYep, those sparkly Vogue covershoot screenshots are all in-game action!
SOUNDA brilliant score, and great acting backed with snappy one-liners.
GAMEPLAYGreat fun, but the difficulty flip-flops a little too much, and the story's a little slow.
VALUEThere's plenty of life in the main story, with up to 50+ hours if you're completing all the non-story missions.
OVERALLResonance of Fate offers more than just a run-of-the-mill JRPG, with extra features that would otherwise appear quirky or out-of-place in other RPGs; overall, an A-grade experience which will keep you busy for weeks.

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