So, I'm sitting here, exploring a run-down village built out of massive cogs. The landscape has a distinctive bronze tint, in a mechanised world that is littered with monsters, thieves and bounty hunters. And yet my character is wearing a Hawaiian shirt and skin-coloured PVC trousers with a print of boxer shorts around the top. Fun times.
This isn't just an example of how awesome I am, of course, but an insight into the culture clash of Resonance of Fate
, SEGA and Tri-Ace's new role-playing game. The fusion of Steampunk and visual styles of the Wild West is complemented by the depth and customisation that you would expect in a classic JRPG. Hence the trousers.
Such a bold combination makes for one of the most refreshing Japanese RPGs I have seen, or played, in a long time. The setting is a future Earth, where poisonous gases have made the surface uninhabitable for the human race. Erecting a huge environmental purification tower called Basel, civilastion soon began building cities around it, with multiple levels symbolising a class divide.
A team of leather-clad bounty hunters ? Zephyr, Vashyron and Leanne ? get caught in the middle of things as a malfunction within Basel leads to a series of unfortunate events... And the rustic locale I'm standing in is known as Ebel City, which houses the group's hideout, a couple of shops (which includes the ability to dismantle weapons into parts in order to create new ones or sell them off) and the Guild on Cheyenne Street, amongs other things.
The Guild is perhaps where you'll spend the most time travelling to, as most sidequests and missions are provided to you here. Reminding me of the Hunter's Guild in another SEGA RPG, Phantasy Star Online
, you find the job that you fancy, and find the client in a specific location, where they will tell you more and offer you a reward for completion. Then it's a case of gunning up and taking to the World Map.
And the World Map is a key example of Tri-Ace's attempts to mix up the traditional JRPG formula. Instead of a 3D world where you have to spend ten years walking through nameless forests and fields to get to the nearest town, Resonance of Fate
offers a bird's eye view of the current floor, built in a honeycomb design. You open locked areas on the map by using pieces that consist of differently-arranged hexagons. By fitting in these pieces onto the World Map, you are able to explore more of the land around you.
The more of the world you unlock, the more hidden areas, towns, dungeons and treasure chests you can find, all of equal benefit. You can even find elevator shafts that take you to different floors, and satellite terminals that improve your battle situations when activated. I found it a thoroughly engaging difference to aimlessly wandering around cliché maps, and the whole puzzle element is a brief distraction from the main battle play.
Of course, moving a static cursor around a 2D field is great for World Maps, but when it comes to dungeons, it's a different story, going back into 3D and working like a expanded battlefield, progressing from one fight on the map to another until you reach your goal. Here's where the depth of the JRPG is fused with the action that many Western gamers crave.
In battle, you control three characters, switching from one to another using the L1 and R1 shoulder buttons. Each fighter has their own action gauge, which depletes as you wander around the landscape with the Left Stick. Pressing the X button will allow you to attack any nearby enemies, and clicking the Right Stick lets you lock-on to a specific target. Switching weapons is done by the L2 and R2 triggers.
Here's where it gets good. You can either run around like a lemon (which you might have to do to take cover and other things) or you can be doing what I've been doing and use Hero Actions for the majority of your battle play.
'Hero Actions' enable you to set a specific path across the battlefield, in any direction you like - once you do this, your character starts to run towards the target, and you can make him/her vault over obstacles or enemies, target different foes and shoot the crap out of them on the way. Doing this uses up Bezels, which are built up along the bottom of the screen and represent your whole party's strength, but if you perform specific attacks and collect discarded Bezels from the field, you can build them back up again.
Pressing X on an enemy shows a reticule, which clocks over every few seconds; pressing X again enables you to use a charged attack. Later in the game, you'll get to level up your weapons and make that reticule lap itself several times so you can attack multiple times in one go.
Speaking of weapons, there are three kinds: handguns, thrown weapons such as grenades, and machine-guns. Machine-guns create 'Scratch Damage', which depletes enemy shields and can potentially stun. Other weapons produce 'Direct Damage' to finish them off or just bring the heavy beatings. It takes a strategic combination of the two to beat all the kinds of baddies you'll face, and some weapons come with additional elemental damage and inflict ailments too.
The best part is in setting the enemy up for a Tri-Attack. When you perform Hero Actions, crossing paths with the other two characters will earn you these Resonance Points. Once you've placed all three characters in a way so that their positions form a triangle, you can use these points to have them all run around the enemy in a formation attack, which will let you build up colossal damage. The more Resonance Points you have, the longer your attack.
I've written this much and I've not even touched upon special scenarios such as the 'Smackdown' ? achieved by kicking an enemy up into the air with your guns, then jumping above them whilst midair and shooting them back down into the ground ? and Bonus Shots involving a 'press X at the right time' microgame. Oh wait, I just did. When you beat your enemies you collect spoils and World Map pieces so that you can unlock more of the land. And so, the journey continues...
Given that I've spent a long time just explaining some of the functions in this game shows just how deep the action can really get in Resonance of Fate
. There's a lot of discussion about how JRPGs should be made to accommodate the Western player a bit more. As a Japanophile myself, I don't particularly subscribe to that, although I do agree that developers should aim to evolve the genre a little bit in their own way. Resonance of Fate
looks set to satisfy that, without sacrificing the classic Japanese RPG traits that people like myself love so much.
Resonance of Fate
is set for an PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 release this Spring.