J-RPG's are an odd thing, you have the Final Fantasy series and you have the company Tri-Ace, who have recently teamed up with SEGA and produced a really solid roleplaying game known as Resonance of Fate. This is a game that rewards those who spend time to work out its many nuances but punishes the player harder than any Final Fantasy could do, right from the start with a tricky battle system that's certainly not for novice gamers.
RoF has a pretty decent plot; one that I'm actually not going to say a whole lot about since I don't feel putting story spoilers in a review is a good idea. I'd rather people actually take the time to play the game. Suffice it to say that it unfolds like a typical J-RPG with lots of twists and turns with some interesting moments and puts you in the shoes of 3 unlikely heroes who also seem to be friends. There's a mix of cut-scenes and some in-game text to give you an idea of what's going on.
RoF is an RPG, so there's the usual menu screens, equipment and character screens. However, this is gun based combat and cinematic action rather than swords and sorcery, it's a delightfully refreshing modern steampunk city that you must explore and makes a change from a dragon guarding a 10foot room with a single treasure chest in it. You can switch out your character that you're exploring the environment with and find loot in various shiny places. You can shop and buy new clothes with tonnes of customisation options that are reflected in every cut-scene, so you always get the look that you want. When you're in a zone the camera is locked to a particular angle and the whole experience feels suddenly very retro in that respect.
You have stores when you can buy weapons, break down items and tinker to make more items and weapons. The enemies in the battle map drop loot that you can often combine to make things like scopes, extra range sights and magazines etc. The weapon customisation is a mini-game where you match parts to the right symbol and watch your weapon's weight counter; you can't just bolt on everything but the kitchen sink to a gun. You can follow the main quest from your quest log and pick up side missions from the local guild, these are often simple side jobs that reward you with money (rubies) and sometimes unique gun parts, since you can only save at your home base and energy stations (we'll come to those later) along with chapter ends, it's a great idea to finish all side missions before you advance a chapter, since you cannot go back.
The word map is pretty unique; it's a giant city with hexagons that represent the areas that you can explore. Some of these areas are dangerous and day/night passes when you're on the world map, giving you a chance for random encounters depending on the hexagon you're on. You can find energy hexagons that allow you to repair the various routes and uncover new items as you do so; you play another mini-game puzzle that has you rotating patterns of these hexagons to slot them into the right place. Once you have a valid location you can stamp down the tiles and open a new route. There are also coloured versions that only work in areas with those colours. You get these things from monsters most of the time or rewards from side missions.
Eventually you're going to hit a battle and it is wise to have gone through the very expansive tutorial beforehand. This is a ruthless game and it's possible to lose even the first fight if you're not careful, die and it's either game over or if you have the money, for a fee, you can retry. It would be hard to explain every nuance of the combat system in the review but I'll give you an idea of the basics. Firstly let's talk damage, there are two kinds of damage you can dish out and take in RoF, blue - scratch damage and red - direct damage. Now scratch damage won't kill you but can be converted to direct damage if you're hit by a weapon that dishes out direct damage. So for example, if you have shot a dude for 25 scratch and another team member shoots them for 10 direct, that's 35 direct damage.
You have a plethora of pistols, machine guns and grenades to play with. You dish out scratch with smg's and direct with pistols for example. There are bevels that run across the bottom of the screen and these represent your Hero Actions, we'll talk more about those later on. You have a health bar and a charge gauge, your charge appears when you begin an attack action by pressing the A button on a target. It circles around the cursor until you can attack; pressing A again starts the attack. You can have numerous attacks based on the level you are with the equipped weapon. One guy had 4 attacks for instance and could charge up to 4 times before unleashing the fury.
This game is all about stylish attacks though and to do this you need to make a Hero Action, you press the X button and a line appears, you can move that line around and when you press the X button again your character runs the length of the line based on obstacles and so on, so make sure you have a clear path since you don't want to smack into your buddies or a wall. You can press A to attack based on your charges (your weapon charges faster the closer you are) or X to leap in the air, doing things like actions though, drains a bevel from your meter. Lose all of those and you'll hit a Critical State where you're in deep trouble, all damage becomes direct and you can die in seconds, your shots are inaccurate and recovering from this state is hard even in the early stages.
If your 3 characters cross each other's path during a battle and perform no other action, they begin to create a resonance. Pressing Y consumes this resonance and they can make a tri-attack, where they basically have up to their weapon's shots and a timer to complete their attacks, leading to a massive hurt on their chosen targets. There's more to it than this but you can play the tutorial to get the full grasp of the systems in play.
They work well enough apart from the targeting which is abysmal. It's very hard to get the target that you're after and often involves spinning the camera out of shot and hoping it tags the leader. If you kill the leader of a group it ends the battle right there.
The battle system is deep, it's tricky and it's rewarding for those players who bother to get the best out of it. As you fight, you gain XP in your chosen weapon, get enough and it levels up along with a bunch of stats. This replaces the traditional level up systems and works pretty well.
RoF is a typical J-RPG, the women are pretty, the men are pretty, the boys are pretty, and the old people look...well...wise and old. The graphics reflect this and they're decent enough, there's no pop-in or texture errors, they look crisp and the steampunk nature of the adventure is brought to life nicely with the gorgeously animated backgrounds as you explore the various locations of the city. The use of light and shadow is good, day and night cycles affect the locations and the graphics change accordingly.
RoF has some pretty good animations, the characters leap, and slide, run, jump and move around convincingly. It makes the whole battle system very cinematic and action orientated.
The physics in the game does what it's meant to do, it provides some rag doll for the bad guys as they take your hits and that's about it.
The AI will punish you if you make mistakes, they seem to be able to hit you at times even when out of range and apart from that it's pretty much par for the course.
It's decent enough with some nice ambient sounds when exploring and some typical battle sounds, it does a good job and that's all it has to do. No sound bugs were present at the time of review.
RoF has a nice score and it suits the game well enough, it evokes the right emotions at the right times and matches the on-screen action during battles decently.
Nolan North lends his dulcet tones to a typical J-RPG moody character in this game, along with other voice actors. The spoken dialogue is performed decently but you get the feeling that it's just another paycheck at the end of the day. The script is typical for a J-RPG and what appears as clever storytelling to some falls flat to others, it's not bad but it doesn't really engage compared to other games.
RoF will reward those people who dig deep enough into their reserves to continue after they lose battle after battle. It will delight people looking for something a bit different from Final Fantasy or Star Ocean, it will certainly push the unique button in terms of the battle system's approach to gun based combat and does a good enough job of being a fun game until it becomes frustrating near the start. Bottom line, if you're not into these but you want to try it, rent it. Buy it if you're a Tri-Ace fan and want to see what they're up to.