In hindsight, I have a love-hate relationship with Resonance of Fate. The system of combat that tri-Ace uses to drive their latest RPG is surprisingly intuitive and exciting but extremely complex, and I don’t think I’ve died so many times in combat since Ninja Gaiden II. If you can manage to stick with it, you may find the enticing formula to your liking.
The far future of Resonance of Fate is not a cheerful one. Violent weather and poisonous gases spread across Earth and caused the near extinction of mankind. In response, human civilization rebuilt around Basel, an environmental purifier, surviving and even thriving to a point in the sky, far above the deadly toxins. So many years later, people have forgotten the purpose of their aerial civilization, and society has been segmented into an almost feudalistic hierarchy with parts of Basel overrun with monsters.
In the midst of this, our heroes are a trio of mercenaries with different backgrounds: Vashyron, Zephyr, and Leanne. They get caught up in a conspiracy involving an assassinated prelate, and set off to discover the history and secrets of Basel. The character ensemble is surprisingly relatable due to everyone being more morally complex than plucky JRPG-hero-versus-evil-death-god.
This is very much a hierarchical world and it opens up the floor for characters to debate motives and ideas. Themes are explored including blind faith, consequentialism, preservation, and societal status. There are some moments of goofy comic relief mixed into the serious storyline, and while some players may find this schizophrenic I enjoyed the fact that Resonance of Fate doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Unfortunately, these themes aren’t explored or debated nearly as much as they should have been early in the story. There are long stretches of time where the plot goes virtually nowhere. You spend a perplexing amount of time doing odd jobs that have very little if any connection to the main story. It takes a solid twelve hours for the story to even get going, and even then the narrative gets side-tracked with trivial mercenary work.
Combat feels very experimental, with mixed results. The system is built around shooting and blends real time and turn based battles. You fight on a traditional battlefield, but you pick predetermined paths for your character to move on. During said character’s turn you have the ability to attack targets with machineguns, pistols, and grenades. It works both ways, since enemies can move and attack as well. There are a lot of factors to consider that will often dictate the fight and a single misstep could result in a game over screen. There are two types of damage to work with, as well as special grenades and bullets with different elements types that are effective against different bosses.
This is only scratching the surface, as the complexity of the overall system defies a simple explanation. Once you have the essentials down the strategy and complexity involved makes fights surprisingly engrossing. The spectacles never get old and it’s gratifying to see Resonance of Fate reward you for careful decisions and good planning rather than just level grinding. You’ll often need to fight overwhelming odds and utilize every piece of cover, every explosive barrel, and every trick you have to come out victorious.
On the other hand, Resonance of Fate simply throws too much at you too quickly. Even by reading tutorials it took me several hours to really have the basics of combat down, and several more before I actually felt comfortable with fighting mechanics. Tutorials are unclear and will rarely give you any help. Bosses feature difficulty even beyond normal enemies, so be warned: You’re going to die. A lot. As spectacular as the boss fights are, six or seven deaths will have you two steps away from launching your controller through the screen.
In fairness, tri-Ace seems to acknowledge that the staggering complexity of the combat system amounts to a much harder game. You can restart any fight if you die, and additionally you can quicksave during a fight and come back to it later. The battle system also never introduces any new elements beyond what you have access to at the start. Normally this might be a problem but considering the amount of material you have to work with at the beginning, it means you won’t be playing catch-up throughout the entire game. Only half of it.
Believe it or not, if you stick with the love-hate combat it really does become exciting and stylish, and learning the intricacies of it gave me more of an appreciation for how intuitive the real time and turn based blend is. The system itself is challenging but rewarding and is applicable to a lot of side missions you’ll do. This is also a drawback that a lot of JRPGs suffer from. You need to spend the first dozen or so hours just learning how Resonance of Fate operates and even then bosses will continue to pummel you into the dirt.
Whether or not you enjoy Resonance of Fate hinges entirely upon your enjoyment of the combat, because in traditional RPG fashion you’ll be doing a lot of t. The game is broken up into chapters with several sub-missions, one of which enhances the main story and the others of which are side quests. You don’t need to do the side quests, but doing so will make the difficult fights more manageable, and they usually tie back to the combat. Remember that “tossing presents to kids” mission? You do so in the same style as the combat.
The world map takes the form of Basel, which makes for some interesting exploration. The map itself is bland, but is reminiscent of a board game as you move along hexagonal tiles. Basel is becoming decrepit after years of abuse and you won’t be able to access a lot of areas until first finding energy hexes, which can be found through battles or story events. The blandness also sets the tone for the game’s technology. Different towns and environments of Basel seem designed around the idea of decaying technology, but the color palette is consistently brown and gray and there’s nothing very memorable to see.
I admire the spirit behind Resonance of Fate, since studios should always strive to try different things. Different doesn’t always mean better, and Resonance of Fate struggles with its own complexity. It’s certainly very stylish and strategic with a lot of really clever elements that factor into combat, and if you take enough time to get used to the system you might enjoy it. Despite this the difficulty and time commitment give it little more than hardcore JRPG niche appeal. This is definitely a “rent first” game.
Character models and clothing are detailed, but environments are bland, static, and generally not that creative.
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The actual combat can a blast to partake it, but the learning curve is steep and the difficulty spikes are brutal.
Voice acting is impressive for the entire character ensemble, and part of what makes combat fun is the impeccable bullet noises.
Provided you can grit your teeth and endure the punishing difficulty, there’s a full 60 plus hours of content here.
Resonance of Fate is ambitious and has an exciting combat system, but you’ll need to immerse yourself in the game for a long time to master the steep learning and difficulty curves.