The future Earth is a bit of a mess in Resonance of Fate. Some sort of environmental disaster has befallen the planet and poisoned the atmosphere, although exactly what isn’t specified. It could have been a suitcase nuke, an experiment by a ruthless corporation, or a global curry eating contest. The important thing is, humanity now lives in a giant multiple-levelled life support tower called Basel, which keeps the air pure and the remnants of the race alive.
The rest of the plot, like the initial premise, is pretty sketchy. Cut scenes come and go, and often after watching them the player is none the wiser about what they mean, or where the story is headed. This is partly because the game’s trying to be deliberately enigmatic, and introduce the characters and their machinations in a subtle manner. However, it means that you’re often pretty clueless as to who’s who and what’s what. Not to mention why the Hell you’ve just fought through a tough dungeon for an hour to place a rose on a statue in a graveyard, look around wistfully and then leave. No explanation is offered by the game, at any rate.
What you do know is that you’re a party of three hunters in a mechanical steampunk themed world; mercenaries for hire who belong to a guild which gives out quests to satiate your desire for cash and notoriety. The quests are, once again, a bit strange: fancy looking for some bloke’s father’s fountain pen? No, we didn’t either. But then, this is a Japanese RPG, which explains a lot of these tangents. And the characters with big doe eyes and tiny slender noses.
Resonance of Fate can be broadly divided into three sections: the world map, the towns and the fights. The towns are where you pick up quests, yak to largely pointless NPCs and buy weapon and equipment upgrades. These cities can be visited from the hex-based world map, which also contains power stations, combat arenas, dungeons and other points of interest. At the start of the game, most of the hexes on the map are blacked out and you can’t move through them until they’ve been powered up with energy hexes. These are given as quest rewards, or found in the pockets of monsters after you’ve beaten the snot out of them.
And it’s really the combat that is the hub of Resonance. A real-time and turn-based hybrid is employed, as is increasingly the fashion these days. You can take as long as you want to plan your party’s actions, as nothing happens until you start moving. Then as you run, aim and fire, the monsters are doing the same, simultaneously. Strategic nuances such as making use of cover in the environment and detonating fuel barrels to catch enemies in the blast must also be considered, but the most important tactical decision is when to use your special moves.
These specials send a character hurtling off on a pre-set movement path, as you press buttons to get them to leap over obstacles, and fire off their guns multiple times (preferably letting their weapons charge up for maximum effect). This really brings a flavour of action to the combat, as you thunder across the battlefield, somersaulting through the air while peppering an opponent with hollow-point rounds from dual sub-machineguns, causing immense damage. And immense satisfaction. You can even juggle opponents in the air with bursts of gunfire.
But all isn’t well in Resonance’s bouts of ballet and bullets. The fights, while enticing to begin with, soon get a bit repetitive when you face the same monsters over and over (particularly in the random encounters sprung on the party when exploring the main map). And the difficulty balance is rather out of whack, too.
You’ll face a number of trivially easy engagements, before running up against a brick wall of three mega-spider-robots and a pack of rabid dogs. We had to tackle one boss fight about fifteen times before we finally won through, and luck was certainly an element in the final victory. Fortunately, you can try again after a defeat, although it costs your party some money to resurrect in order to prevent death from having no sting whatsoever.
This definitely isn’t a game for newcomers to RPGs, for several reasons: the obtuse plot and its lack of direction, those really tough combats, and the fact that some of the fighting moves are really quite tricky to pull off. The triple attack, which involves all three of your characters having a pop at an enemy simultaneously, is an absolute pain to execute. In fact, the only thing you’re likely to execute is yourself. We couldn’t even do the tri-attack in the tutorial until we looked up step-by-step instructions on the Internet. The in-game help is woeful when it comes to explaining some concepts.
Even if you can cope with these issues, there are other weights attached to Resonance of Fate’s limbs, holding it back. The quests, as well as being strange, are often rather dull and basic, suffering from a lack of imagination that also encroaches on the environments. Many locations look quite similar, with murky, dark and low resolution graphics that really don’t inspire.