Blending genres seems like the very best kind of unpredictable fun - and the developer in charge is often the magic ingredient. Take RPGs and gunplay: in the hands of a seasoned Western FPS team like Gearbox, you end up with the twitchy, procedurally-generated madness of Borderlands - a bubbling stew of headshots, loot drops and perks. With tri-Ace in the kitchen, however, you get Resonance of Fate: a JRPG with random battles and bizarrely satisfying turn-based shootouts.
Let's get the story out of the way quickly. Resonance of Fate takes place in a polluted future Earth in which the citizens live in towers clinging to a huge air purifier called Basel. It's a teetering world of social inequality, apparently, and things start to get really shooty when - oops - Basel starts to malfunction. That's enough of that for the time being.
It's fairly standard stuff by the sounds of it, and at first glance the game itself seems entirely traditional. A recent chance to screw around with preview code kicked us off in a town filled with various merchants and wandering NPCs, which gave way to an overworld beyond that where missions are undertaken, trails are blazed, monsters are fought, and - eventually - a dungeon is explored and a boss defeated.
A closer look, however, reveals a game that revels in unexpected design choices and clever detailing. Take the overworld itself. Resonance of Fate unfolds on a series of stacked maps clinging to that central tower, each new level of the game taking you further up into the sky. The maps themselves are built of clusters of gleaming hexes, giving the world a kind of honeycomb tactical RPG look - yet the most tactical element of the overworld appears to centre around how you progress through it.
At first, almost all of the hexes will be locked, and the only way to unlock new areas is by undertaking various missions. These, along with the game's regular random battles, reward you with differing arrangements of four-hex pieces, a little bit like tetrominoes. You can cash these in by placing them on the map, four hexes at a time, to open up the territory ahead, and the process quickly becomes fairly addictive.
The hex system means that exploration in Resonance of Fate has a pleasant puzzling component. Progress can be quite tricky at times, too, as you'll need to match your hex pieces to the overworld perfectly - with no overhanging or doubling-up.
It's with the battle system, however, that Resonance of Fate really makes its mark. Held in a familiar range of instanced mini-arenas, each random encounter pits your team of three gunfighters against a group of bizarre enemies - clown heads on springs and wobbling dartboards pad out an early tutorial section, while later on we're given a bunch of lanky golems and weird pig-headed elves to chew through.
While there are cover and movement options, don't expect a traditional third-person shooter system. Instead each team member has a number of action points, which they can use to move around, select a target and then charge and unleash a series of shots.
This is where things get complex. Different weapons have different effects on the enemies. Handguns and grenades will cause direct damage, which slowly chips away at an opponent's health, while machineguns rapidly deal out scratch damage, which races through the health bar at a much faster rate but won't actually harm the enemy unless converted into direct damage. The idea, in other words, is to get in some heavy scratch damage early on in a turn, then transform it into the direct variety with a couple of slower revolver shots before your enemy's gauge has recharged.
On top of that, once the meter along the bottom of the screen starts to fill characters can perform Hero Actions, balletic on-rails manoeuvres in which you use a cursor to draw a straight path on the map for the character to follow, and then move them along the route, shooting as you go, and pulling off elaborately beautiful moves.
Again, there's more to think about than just selecting a channel that will move you past the maximum number of enemies. By choosing a line that sends a team-member in between his two allies, you earn Resonance Points, which allow you to pull off Tri-Attacks.
Deep breath. For Tri-Attacks, the game locks down the starting positions of the three team-members and allows them to jog around from one point of the triangle to the next, pulling off massive damage as they go. It's rounders with ballistic weaponry, essentially, and setting up the perfect triangle formation for a Tri-Attack means that, when you're performing individual Hero Actions, you'll always be keeping an eye on where your team member ends up, as well as how they get there.
It sounds needlessly complicated, but the system is actually fairly easy to get to grips with once there's a controller in your hands, and it's a pleasure to explore. Flipping between team members and switching weapons and items is a seamless process, enemies have clear recharge bars that tell you how close they are to shooting back at you, and by the time the game is throwing in complications like multiple body-parts to take out, over-charge attacks, health gauge-breaking, and Smackdown aerial moves, you'll be more than ready to deal with it all.
The result, aided by some genuinely lovely animation and punchy weapon audio, is something that feels both traditional and fresh: the random battles and general structure of levelling, dungeon-crawling, and item upgrading couldn't be more familiar, but the details always have something new to show you.
Resonance of Fate is rather beautiful, too, its towns riddled with clockwork and red-brick factories, while its overworld's floating arrangements of hexes sit on huge cogs, with massive skyscrapers rising up from them. Characters can be extensively - and insanely - customised, with everything from cat-ear Alice bands to ripped-leather jeans, and the general approach to the art style seems to be mid-nineties boyband with delusions of hard rock credibility and stylings by Liberace. It's not what you'd want to wear on a night out in Colchester, but it's hilarious to mess around with all the same.
The most worrying thing about Resonance of Fate at the moment is that name - a forgettable slice of empty grandeur that may be hard to bring to mind when you're scanning store shelves for something a bit different to play. For a game as intriguing as this to disappear at retail simply because it sounds too much like a dozen other RPGs would be something of a tragedy.
Resonance of Fate is due out for PS3 and Xbox 360 this year.