It has been a long while since I played a Japanese RPG that strayed from the norm. They seem to follow a deeply ingrained idea that they need to be very linear, have a turn based fighting system and an expansive gallery of characters. Surprise isn't a word you associate with JRPG's anymore. That is why Resonance of Fate managed to shock me even more.
Resonance of Fate delivers an, admittedly somewhat textbook-like, dystopian vision of the future. When the Earth has become too polluted to support mankind, the waste water treatment plant Basel was built. People have, in the hope of survival, lived their lives above and around the gigantic contraption. With a society divided in classes that makes me think of the Bourgeois and peasants, where the wealthy residents live at the top while those who do not have it as well off stay at ground level.
But let's return to the notion that the Resonance of Fate is a rather atypical Japanese RPG, and it's apparent when you take a look at the characters. You take command of three companions - and you stick with them for the entire game. The troika consists of Vashyron, Zephyr and Leanne - all young and beautiful. Sure, their personalities are quite humorous - Vashyron who is a real pervert, Zephyr is a taciturn emo boy and Leanne who tries to assert herself in the middle of a veritable swamp of testosterone.
They work as freelance mercenaries who take on various missions, often to satisfy the weird whims of the upper class. Providing a noble woman with cakes and helping a somewhat eccentric sculptor is interrupted by more down to earth missions where you restore electricity in the slums or find lost items. The assignments are divided into key tasks that carry the plot forward, and side missions that can be good to do if you want to gain a bit of extra cash and experience.
Sometimes I find myself a bit puzzled as to what the game is really about. Sure, I may get an indication that there is something wrong with Basel, but it is well concealed underneath a lot of rubble. Resonance of Fate strays from the conventional path by allowing the main story to take a back seat. Roughly four out of the sixteen chapters are used to bring the main plot forward, while the others are spent focusing on the characters in a way I don't quite get.
Exploring the map and combat are also very atypical. Tri-Ace have created something that is different, and thus somewhat difficult to grasp. The exploration is done by laying down coloured hexes, that make up various geometric shapes, in order to form a path. If you place a hexagon with the same colour as the surface underneath, the path opens up and you can travel further. You can also open up new locations in the same manner, by placing a matching colour hexagon. Hexagons are rewarded after combat, can be found in treasure chests or given as rewards by characters you come across.
On to the combat... which is extremely confusing until you come to terms with it. Your arsenal consists of guns and grenades. No problems there, the Mass Effect series manages to combine great RPG combat with gunplay. But it gets way more complex as weapons dish out various types of damage, weapons that advances your level, hero attacks, resonance points and your "new word of the day" bezels. Mastering the fighting system is extremely time consuming, and even if you will manage to get by for a while by just shooting or bombing less powerful enemies you will inevitably get spanked by a boss if you don't learn to master it. And that's simply a fact.
I will not even try to explain the fighting system in detail, but to say that the game has a 90 degree learning curve is something of an understatement. It is unnecessarily complex. It took me about 7-8 hours to begin to grasp the concept, and once I did I found it rather entertaining, action-filled and often unforgiving. The constant insult of having to pay hard earned cash to keep paying with the health and all the benefits intact I had when the combat began, had me infuriated at regular intervals.
Resonance of Fate is a true 180-degree turn from what we are accustomed to when it comes to a Japanese RPG. It takes a while to get used to, but it grows on you if you give it time. I think it is an extremely brave effort by Tri-Ace to bring something new and fresh to the genre, but at times it feels unwieldy and difficult to digest.
It's something of a double standard to complain about something I have requested for a long time - change. I'm one hundred percent in favour of change, but the changes need to feel natural and easier to grasp. Laying a puzzle in order to progress on the map isn't an innovation the genre needed, and the fighting system is a bit too much at first. Tri-Ace have done a mammoth job with Resonance of Fate and I hope they continue down the same path, although hopefully their next game is somewhat more accessible.