The first time you fall in battle you will assume it's a fluke. How could a normal, low-level enemy triumph over your team of gun-toting heroes? The second time you fall, you will grit your teeth, wipe your brow, and rush right back into the fray. The third time, you will realize that rushing into battle is a fool's folly, but even with careful planning and well-executed shooting, you will find the life sapped from your protagonists' bodies. But when you finally are victorious in that fourth battle, exploiting your enemies' weaknesses while keeping yourself out of harm's way, the spoils of war will be so much more than the gold, weapons, and other assorted loot you greedily swipe from your downed opponents. The real reward comes from knowing you overcame the punishing obstacles that stood in your path by learning and adapting to your enemies' attacks. Resonance of Fate is an unforgiving adventure, but its tactical combat is so fluid and engaging that you will be sucked into this world until you finally destroy the last enemy who stands in your path.
Climate once again reveals itself as man's greatest enemy. In the distant future, violent weather patterns have destroyed the human race's opportunity to live on the soil of the earth. The solution? Erect a giant tower in the sky, above all the churning chaos down below, and give up any chance to ever again smell the flowers and sit beneath a tree. Sacrificing nature to continue to live may sound like a fair trade, but the resulting society is ravaged by monsters, poverty, and cardinals who posit that killing god is the only way to be truly free. The story in Resonance of Fate is told in a drawn-out, stilted way that only reveals its agenda dozens of hours into your quest. You control a party of three adventurers, and instead of striving to save the world as is typical in the genre, you partake in a series of seemingly unrelated jobs for various townsfolk. Delivering presents, retrieving a long-lost ring, and finding a bottle of well-aged wine may sound like insulting duties for heroes, but these odd tasks do add up to something tangible.
What makes this story engaging even before your ultimate goal becomes clear is that the characters are well-developed and easy to relate to. Vashyron is the leader of your party. His sarcastic quips make him the go-to source for levity, but his motivating force is choice. He is a strong believer in letting people carve their own path through life, and his reluctance to intervene allows the others characters to grow. Zephyr is not happy being the innocent bystander. He is sullen and angry in the face of adversity but does not rest until things are put back correctly. The last member of your party is Leanne. She starts the game as an impressionable wallflower but exhibits an uncanny maturity when her terrible secret comes to light. Resonance deals with weighty issues, but many of the cutscenes have a comical, lighthearted tone. The most memorable of these cinemas is one in which Vashyron is so overcome by the beauty of his employer that he cannot keep his dancing desires bottled up. This mix of silly and serious helps keep things interesting, and the solid voice acting and believable dialogue mask the story's exceedingly slow pace.
The story may be doled out in bite-size chunks to keep you hungry, but the combat is not nearly so stingy. Every facet of this complicated battle system is available from the very beginning, and the perfunctory tutorial is little help in piecing together the esoteric mechanics you need to succeed. It takes an hour or more to come to grips with the basics, and you will still be discovering tricks and strategies dozens of hours into your journey. Resonance does not spend time holding your hand by offering up sacrificial lambs, either. From the feisty first battle until the harrowing boss fight at the end of the adventure, the game pushes your limits and challenges your skills in every fight. This sink-or-swim approach presents a steep learning curve, but if you stick with this game past the rocky beginning, you will find a deeply satisfying experience.
The combat is centered on movement and positioning, forcing you to analyze the various pieces of cover, explosive barrels, and other obstacles littering the battlefield as you try to outmaneuver your enemies before they get the jump on you. The mix of real-time and turn-based combat gives you plenty of time to plan your attack, but once the action begins, you need to slam on buttons and make pinpoint adjustments that make this feel as intense and exhilarating as an action game. The key components of this fantastic system are hero moves. These allow you to set up waypoints in the arena, and once you begin your move, you character runs along a preset line while you jump and fire in real time. Hero moves are the most effective way to take down an enemy, but you can only pull off this fancy technique a limited number of times. If you do it too often, you enter a state of panic in which your attacks are weaker and your defenses are lower, all but guaranteeing you will end up on the losing side.
The challenge comes from figuring out the ideal way to move around the arena to have the best chance of unleashing mayhem while staying just out of reach to avoid a retaliatory blow. Your foes cannot run and jump like you can, but they have a variety of deadly attacks that make it imperative that you hide behind cover or position yourself high above them so they cannot strike you. All too often, you find yourself greatly outnumbered. Taking on three grass yetis is difficult enough, but when they team up with five deadly guards from the cardinal's personal entourage, your odds of victory are skewing dangerously close to insurmountable. The trick is figuring out how to separate your opponents into manageable groups, forcing you to continually move around the arena so you avoid taking big damage while still dishing out enough of your own. To help even the odds a bit, you have a cache of grenades as well as a bevy of elemental bullets to play with. Losing can be frustrating, but all of your problems fade away when you light that insufferable yeti on fire with a Molotov cocktail.
It takes a long time to figure out the intricacies of battle, but Resonance is a blast even before you piece every tantalizing element together. This game simply exudes style. The cinematography used during hero actions is so over-the-top and exciting to watch that it makes battles a joy to take part in, even when you're getting beaten down by a goblin in a drum barrel for the fifth straight time. The camera pans around your character as you sprint headlong toward your enemy, setting up an angle low to the ground so you feel the pounding footsteps as you near your prey. In a flash, you begin to slide, reaching behind your back to nab your gun as you contort your body to line up a deadly blast. You can knock your enemy high into the air with a few concussive blows, and seeing him dangle above the earth as his rag-doll limbs flop pitifully around is sickly satisfying. If you decide to jump, your character performs twists and flips with ease. Once airborne, you can slam your enemy into the turf, causing him to rise and fall with such force that the screen shakes and armor sheds from his crippled body. Resonance revels in the majesty of flight and never shies away from the intense pain your bullets are capable of, making fights mimic the sadistic thrills most commonly found in pure action games.
The deeply rewarding combat and high-flying style erupt in bouts of pure awesomeness during the intense boss battles. In a game in which losing to a random foe in an ordinary encounter is an all-too-common occurrence, you can expect to have your butt handed to you again and again when you face off against gigantic beasts that tower over your heroes. You need to use every trick you have learned, and a few you may not have even realized yet, to tackle these treacherous monsters, but there is nothing quite as sweet as toppling something that has tormented you for so long. Your techniques have to be refined to perfection in these grueling duels, forcing you to make sure every grenade throw, every machine-gun blast, and every hero leap is performed with care and precision. Every one of the boss battles pushes you to the edge of your abilities before you finally take a deep breath and figure out the best way to succeed, which means that every boss battle is intensely satisfying when you finally win. Nothing in Resonance is handed to you without a fight, which makes it so much more fulfilling when you grab hold of victory with your own two hands.
Because so much of the combat is open to you from the very beginning, there is little distinction between your fights at the start of your adventure and those that happen toward the end. However, although you do not gain access to a wider variety of moves, the game still manages to stay challenging and engaging. The most noticeable change is to your available weapons. As you get deeper into your quest, you earn a variety of bullets and grenades that have a powerful impact on combat. From being able to infect a small group of masked bandits with poison to knocking them all out with an explosive blast, these small changes have a big effect on your tactics. The weapon upgrade system puts a unique spin on traditional standards. Although you do earn the occasional new gun, you spend more time enhancing your current firearm. This is done in a grid-based puzzle game and requires a fair bit of thought to maximize your bullet-spraying power. But you aren't the only one learning new tricks. Your enemies come equipped with dangerous weapons and seemingly impenetrable shields, and figuring out how to defeat them requires a good deal of strategy.
Resonance is a difficult game no matter how you tackle it, but things become much more manageable if you take your time progressing through this adventure. There are 16 chapters total, and each contains one story mission as well as a handful of optional side quests. If you rush to the next story segment, you'll find yourself underpowered and overmatched against the unrelenting forces that stand in your path. These formidable barriers can be frustrating, repeatedly punishing you for trying to progress before you have earned that honor. However, if you do the side missions first, as well as clear out danger zones and compete in arena challenges, you'll have the skills and equipment to tackle anything. Unfortunately, there is little variety among the side missions. The objectives may be different--perform a reconnaissance mission in an abandoned building or clear out the monsters roaming near the waterless bridge--but they boil down to the same combat that's in the story missions. The occasional fetch quest isn't exactly riveting either. The combat is deep enough to remain interesting throughout the adventure, but a little more variety would have gone a long way.
This lack of variety is most noticeable in the visuals. The tower of Basel, which you call home, is stark and suffocating. The view changes little from one area to the next, so you are repeatedly greeted by a bland color palette and predictable architecture in every place you visit. Without foliage or wildlife to inject some diversity, things quickly become monotonous as you trudge from one bleak zone to the next. The industrialized theme is certainly consistent, and makes sense given the tower you call home, but it does weigh on you after a few hours of traipsing through similar sections. Thankfully, the unexciting visuals do not extend to the characters or to the enemies you fight. The starring party members have distinct personalities, and you can even change their clothes to inject your own taste into the proceedings. The enemies are even more striking, taking a variety of interesting forms, which makes it fun just to gun them down. With a little more style in the environments, Resonance could have provided the visual charm to match its impressive combat, but in its current form, the dreary atmosphere is one of the few dark spots in this great adventure.
Exploration does not provide any visual treats, but it's an interesting spin-off from traditional progression. The tower of Basel is made up of 12 floors, each covered by hexagonal spaces. You earn different shapes by emerging victorious in battle and lay these twisted pieces on the floor to carve a path to your next area. The sparsely detailed overhead view gives the impression of a board game, and you need to employ a puzzle-game mind-set to effectively use your limited pieces to clear the appropriate number of tiles. It's an interesting way to open up new places to explore, and it even ties in to the combat. Each level has terminals that, once activated, provide a boost for you in battle. Getting these to function requires colored hexes that are hard to come by, so maximizing your map skills goes a long way toward achieving ultimate success on your quest. You do have to walk across the same ground over and over because you never leave this civilization-saving tower, but it's a neat mechanic nonetheless and an interesting diversion from the combat.
There is a lot of content in Resonance of Fate. It can take more than 60 hours to play through the entire adventure, and if you do every side quest along the way, you can push that number much higher. But it doesn't matter how long a game is if you aren't consistently engaged along the way. Thankfully, the exciting combat and quirky story make this game incredibly difficult to put down once you get sucked in, and there is always a new challenge waiting for you around the corner. Resonance of Fate is a challenging and deeply satisfying adventure that will keep you hooked until the very end.