A Spray-and-Pray Bullseye
Just when you thought that JRPGs have stepped on the path of streamlining out the complex gameplay that gets in the way of lavish cutscenes and ruins proper pacing, Resonance of Fate comes along to reaffirm that the genre's signature obsession with arcane battle mechanics and busywork is still alive, kicking, and most importantly, not a bad thing at all. The game combines this traditionalism with an uncommon aesthetic and fun sensibilities to provide a familiar, yet still refreshing play experience.
a convenient Tower of Babel analogue. The story follows the miscellaneous adventures of Zephyr, Vashyron, and Leanne (called Reanbell should you choose the Japanese voice option), three mercenaries living in Ebel City on Basel's fourth level.
While the main plot is threadbare and not particularly complex, it carries itself well with a lighthearted, almost self-aware tone that contrasts to its ostensibly grim premise. The lead trio are likable despite their adherence to anime stereotypes, and the excellently written localization makes choosing the English option preferable, even for purists. Nolan North's performance as Vashyron in the English dub is a particular standout.
Without much of a story to go on, the onus falls on the game's various systems to hold up the game, and they do so in what is perhaps the most deliberately complicated, unintuitive, and challenging way possible.
While Resonance of Fate's battles all involve guns, grenades and bullets, one should not expect anything approaching "realistic" firefights, or for that matter, any level of restraint. Resonance of Fate's characters wield a pistol or machine in the same fashion Devil May Cry's Dante or Final Fantasy VII's Cloud might wield a man-sized sword: wildly, flashily, and ridiculously.
The game's battles play out in pseudo-real-time. Allies and enemies move freely about the battlefield, with an "action gauge" determining their movement range. Turns end once a character begins "charging" an attack, at the end of which bullets are shot and damage is dealt. Attacks charge more quickly at closer range, though, and attack charges can " stack", to increase armor penetration, shot power, and the chance to apply status effects. Therefore, it's usually preferable in a given battle to close distance quickly and stack as many charges as possible in each attack.
That's not all, though. Preventing overzealous charges are the game's two damage types: "scratch" damage and "direct" damage. Scratch damage is dealt by machine guns, and accumulates very quickly thanks to their high firing rate. Unfortunately, scratch damage cannot actually kill an enemy, and regenerates over time. Defeating enemies requires that accumulated scratch damage be converted to direct damage, by hitting scratched-up enemies with pistol rounds or grenade blasts. Thus killing becomes two-step process, first to "soften up" enemies with machine guns, then dispatching them with pistols or grenades.
With additional considerations for flanking, range, special effects, and cover, the core experience is actually quite tactical, demanding proficiency as opposed to pure endurance. Simply grinding levels does not guarantee victory. Thankfully though, Resonance of Fate more than provides its share of customary JRPG spectacle, with its use of "Hero Actions".
When activated, Hero Actions send a character running automatically down a straight line, free to switch targets and charge attacks quickly. During the run characters jump, slide, pirouette and spin, performing acrobatic demonstrations of gunplay that would make Max Payne and John Woo blush. Characters in a hero action are also invincible, making it a useful option for closing distance quickly or escaping from danger. Plotting hero actions to run between the other two characters builds up "resonance points", which can be used to trigger "Tri-Attacks", which in turn allow all three characters to enact simultaneous hero actions, running along the lines of a triangle. A tri-attack can deal devastating amounts of damage to multiple targets and even larger bosses when triggered at the right time.
All combined together, a battle in Resonance of Fate makes demands of a diverse set of skills. Tactical planning and positioning are essential for taking down stronger enemies, shooter-born "twitch" skills can make the most of a hero action's need for real-time targeting, and the need to manage resources such as special ammunition, and the various points and gauges that regulate action add a lot of depth to the system.
The game's depth isn't limited to battle alone, though. A puzzle element is inserted into the world map, wherein "energy hexes" obtained from enemies and missions must be laid down on a grid to make them accessible (and uncover hidden clothing and items). Using special colored hexes can unlock new areas, and linking them to terminals can add blanket bonuses (or penalties) to a whole dungeon.
With nearly all of Resonance of Fate's weight placed on the scale of its mechanical complexity, its other strengths are mostly peripheral. Its character progression system is merely a sum of all a character's weapon skills (which level up with use), and in play terms the cast is only differentiated by the mix of skills that are applied to attacks while stacking charges. Weapons can be enhanced with various attachments such as scopes, sights and enlarged magazines, though the parts don't show up in-game. This is actually a benefit, since seeing a Luger-like handgun bristling with multiple scopes and handguards would look quite ridiculous.
What does show up in-game, however, is clothing. The game's clothing store is incredibly well-stocked, boasting a wide variety of outfits and color patterns (some of which were designed by actual Tokyo fashion luminaries) available for all three cast members. Any chosen accessories or outfits are worn and visible during cutscenes, right down to hair dye and color contact lenses, something quite atypical of most modern-day RPGs and sometimes hilarious. Nothing makes melodrama funnier than a shirt with a giant cheeseburger or the Sega company logo drawn on the front. Since new guns are relatively rare and character progression uncomplicated, much of the loot and customization lust is instead directed towards finding new clothing to dress up in for the next round of cutscenes or flashy battles.
In the end, Resonance of Fate is an RPG for players who prefer to learn rather than watch. Its narrative, while certainly passable and entertaining, is not the main draw. Instead, players are rewarded for mastering the game's deliberate complexities with grand spectacle and showmanship. It's a game to be studied and learned, but reciprocates by displaying some great things to watch.