If whispers from Japan are to be believed, 2010 will see the downfall of one major JRPG franchise and the rise of another. The fan
reaction to Final Fantasy XIII has been middling at best, and while this could partly be attributed to the anti-FF crowd groaning as loudly as possible on as many forums as possible, too many trustworthy sources have levelled the same accusations at the adventure. Linearity is supposedly the game's biggest problem, with FFXIII arguably little more than an interactive movie. You'll know for sure come next issue's review, but those same people who are criticising Square Enix's latest adventure have nothing but good things to say about its closest rival: Resonance of Fate. And on that front, at least, we know they're talking sense.
We've seen RoF in action a number of times now, but it's taken us until this hands-on session to fully grasp what Tri-Ace is doing. The game feels like a natural blend of western goodness and JRPG greatness. You control the usual ragtag of sexually indiscriminate teenage misfits faced with battling bad things, saving the world and helping some troubled townsfolk along the way through a variety of side-quests. But - shock - similarities with traditional JRPGs end soon thereafter.
The first thing that sets RoF apart from the rest is its fascination with guns. We've seen rifles in our fantasy RPGs before, but handguns and Uzis are less common sights, and you'll definitely see them here. With no reliance on melée combat, RoF pits you against your foes in wide arenas which you're free to explore to their fullest.
Each of your three characters is controlled one at a time. You can opt to either move them about in real-time, or set them a path to follow. How you move matters: enemies have different barriers for each of their four sides, so optimum shooting angles need to be considered long before setting off.
To prevent fights dragging on for hours, enemy squads follow leaders. Prioritise this target and all other foes will flee at the leader's demise. The combat is filled with small ideas like this. Propel an enemy into the air, and if you jump and fire at the right time you'll slam them back to the ground for a 'Smackdown' damage multiplier. Another more intricate system involves threading your character's run in between the stationary two. Doing so will earn you Resonance points which can then be spent on a ridiculously over-powered triple-team attack.
Our only major concern with RoF lies with the dungeons, which are easily the game's least impressive components. Enter one and you'll be warped into the battle engine. Unlike the 'overworld' there are no random battles in dungeons. Instead, enemies roam extended battlegrounds looking for action. It's possible to steam past each foe and race to the end of the dungeon as fast as the movement system will allow. Unfortunately, said movement system is incredibly cumbersome, and navigating these bland areas is genuinely frustrating. We have much preferred exploring areas as detailed as the city locations and settling for random battles instead.
Even with this major drawback weighing it down, RoF remains an exciting breakaway for the JRPG genre. Director Takayuki Suguro attributes this to his quest for worldwide appeal. "I think western audiences have never warmed to the non-progressive JRPGs in a big way," Suguro offers. "There is definitely potential for JRPGs in the western markets, but it's going to take a JRPG that evolves the formula enough to fulfil this potential.