Resonance of Fate is a quirky game, but a good one. The big draw is the combat system, which is active and engaging, while having a lot of subtle depths that are rewarding to master. There is an emphasis on terrain and positioning, and on coordination between party members, that adds a lot, and that is often absent from traditional JRPGs. A core combat mechanic requires that the player soften up an enemy with one weapon, and then kill it with a second, which forces constant teamwork and forethought. One might think that this would slow combat down, but actually since normal enemies can be killed in two attacks, and even a lot of bosses will go down in three or four, things keep moving along at a good clip.
Lots more after the jump:
There are a few unfortunate quirks, especially in the presentation of the combat. The precise destination-point of a plotted movement-plan is often critical, but the camera is pulled too far back to be able to pick it precisely. Little mistakes here often lead attacks being completely wasted because the character stumbled and colliding with an enemy or little piece of geometry. Selecting a new target during an attack-move action is awkward, and has to be done in realtime, which is particularly rough since it often becomes important later in the game to quickly finish off one weakened enemy, and then, in the same action, charge up an attack so as to stun a second, dangerous one. And the action-meter, the count-down timer that governs how long the player has to make an attack, needs to be more prominent, rather than stuck in the lower-right corner behind the character-status display. Attacks charge up at an exponential rate, so there’s a strong incentive to try to wait until the last moment to trigger them, and it was really frustrating to find I’d waited just a hair too long.
Combat also gets a bit repetitive. Missions often involve repeatedly playing minor permutations on what is the same fight against the same enemies. The optional Arena is particularly egregious – fifty levels each composed of the same fight repeated ten times – but it’s a problem throughout the game. There could be half as many encounters per mission and I would have still felt satisfied.
The leveling system pretty fantastic. It’s a stripped-down learn-by-doing system where characters gain experience points based on the amount of damage they do. Characters are frequently gaining levels, and while the individual level-ups aren’t all that meaningful, there is a feeling of constant improvement. Specialization is rewarded, but it doesn’t feel like generalization is punished. Over-levelling requires a large time expenditure, since the experience points required to level up will gradually outpace the hit-points of the enemies available in any given chapter. At the same time, it’s easy to pick up some levels if a character falls behind via the benefits of stronger weapons, later enemies with more hit-points, and piggybacking on the skills of better-developed characters. It’s a smart way of managing and scaling party-strength, that achieves by indirect means the same result as the system exemplary system of Lost Odyssey.
Difficulty feels just right, except in the first quarter of the game. There’s a quirk where the meter that powers attacks needs to be constantly recharged by killing enemies. Running out of this gauge is disastrous. The party not only loses access to most of its offensive power, but also loses its health regeneration, and with it, most of its survivability. But this meter is at its shortest early on, when it will only power three attacks (later on it will power a dozen or more). So there is little margin for error at exactly the wrong time – just as I was trying to figure out this unusual and nuanced combat system. As I said, though, once I got past this initial hump (and a particularly egregious escort mission in Chapter 4 of 16) I didn’t experience any other difficulty spikes, but I was still consistently challenged.
The flow of the gameplay is also really well-managed, with several smart details. The game can be suspended at any time, and fights that go wrong can be restarted for a nominal fee. These should both be mandatory features in any game that spaces out or otherwise limits saving in order to increase difficulty. Side-quests are accessed through a central hub, and the game throws up a warning if the player is going to progress the main plot to the point where one of the quests will expire. Alternately, it’s possible to progress through the story quite quickly by ignoring these side-quests, if one prefers.
I’ve gone all this time without mentioning the narrative, and that’s because both the story and storytelling are pretty awful. (As is often the case, the opening cut-scenes are telling indicators.) There’s an over-reliance on flashbacks and cuts to the villain’s perspective, and there’s an almost pathological reluctance to use characters’ names (they aren’t in the subtitles, either) or specify when a scene takes place, which makes it particularly hard to track what’s going on. The game should be praised for making the lines of combat that are spouted at the start and end of combat varied and relevant to the story and situations at hand, but I missed out on a lot of it since it wasn’t subtitled.
That all said, the lead characters are well-defined, well-acted and pleasant to spend time with. And while the serious scenes tend to fall flat, the game frequently chooses to go a light-hearted, irreverent route, meeting with some success: It’s also very refreshing to play a JRPG with a Fable-like level of costume selection, where choices are reflected not just in combat, but in cut-scenes too. It’s one of these small details that added nothing to gameplay, but contributed so much to my feeling of investment in the game. It would be hilarious if the gun-customization system was also implemented visually in combat, but I suspect that would prove…impractical.
One last point: poison damage in the game is utterly terrifying. It’s quite possibly the most punishing, hardest to manage status effect I’ve ever seen. The damage inflicted by the poison, as well as any pre-existing damage, and damage taken while in the poisoned status cannot be healed, except via resting (which can’t be done while in a dungeon) or by using a healing item of which there are only a finite number available within the game. This dramatically increases the chance of a combat going horribly wrong (though thank goodness for those retries). There are even a handful of encounters where the game will more or less automatically poison two-thirds of the party right of the bat, ensuring that every player of Resonance of Fate will have to confront this terror at some point.