Resonance of Fate - a gem that deserves a second chance
I have heard plenty of people call Resonance of Fate weird. Maybe they mean weird for that tendency of JRPGs towards the outrageously fantastical, or how, even among games notorious for contrived plots, Resonance of Fate stands out as a particularly contorted example of the form.
I offer another possible definition, though. Resonance of Fate is weird for a JRPG because while it has all the elements that should make it a reliably familiar experience, it twists them and adds a lot to the pretty fixed idea of what a Japanese role playing game should be. It's weird in the best way possible, the very definition of offbeat.
Resonance of Fate first came out in a time when JRPGs sorely needed a breath of fresh air. Developer tri-ace had previously completed Star Ocean: The Last Hope, the fifth instalment in its long-running series, and Infinite Undiscovery, an attempt to bring JRPGs to the XBox 360 that couldn't quite decide on what kind of game it wanted to be and ultimately settled on trying to be all of them. Star Ocean didn't exactly burst with innovation, and elsewhere the likes of Keiji Inafune were saying that Japanese game developers were operating behind the times. It seemed like as good a time as ever to try something new.
I'm not really sure if the focus of Resonance of Fate lies on its story. If the key art didn't give it away - there are guns. Lots of them. Instead of using a fantasy setting that dabbles in technology whenever it seems convenient, Resonance of Fate takes place in a steampunk world. At first I wondered why such a fantastic idea went unrealised for so long, but looking at the game's colour palette, you soon get why. As everything is defined by machinery, there's a lot of dark colours and warehouse settings. Everything in Resonance of Fate is built on top of, and around - and here I sigh - the Tower of Basel. It seems to be quite a precarious construction however, as parts of it regularly need to be replaced.
Building the world map yourself is another important gameplay element. You can collect so-called energy hexes from monsters or through story progression, and you have to fit them onto the hexagonal grid that makes up the world map before you can reach most places. It may sound easy, but it isn't, as you need hexes of certain shapes and later even colours in order to progress, which can result in a good amount of fiddling.
But let's get back to the guns for a moment, because they are hard to ignore. Unlike other JRPGs, Resonance of Fate doesn't relegate guns to a weapon one party member may wield or the fun long-range weapon you ultimately forget about. Instead, they are everyone's weapon of choice. Since just spraying bullets at an enemy would be rather boring and not very JRPG, tri-ace devised "acrobatic gun combat". Characters launch themselves into the air and shoot at enemies during a number of in-air cartwheels and helixes, making Resonance of Fate a great follow-up to playing Marvel's Spider-Man. You send your heroes on a predetermined path, which means they only stop in their attack if they completed their way from the left side of the screen to the right, for example. Shooting also takes time, as you need to fill a gauge for each shot first. This becomes even more difficult once you add different obstacles - crashing into something on your path ends your round, obviously. You've got to have at least that much realism.
Resonance of Fate also works with not only one, but two different types of damage. Scratch damage only kills you or your opponent after it is converted into direct damage through the use of a different weapon. For any type of action you need a resource called Bezels. Bezels also act as protection against character death, as you can't receive direct damage as long as you still have some.
There are systems on top of systems in Resonance of Fate's combat, which is sometimes round-based, sometimes not, and has a very steep difficulty curve once it expects you to have caught up with the proceedings. It definitely puts an end to the regular criticism that JRPGs combat is too simple and too easy to complete.
Simple and easy to complete are incidentally two words no one has ever used to describe the plot of a JRPG other than perhaps Dragon Quest. This is the one tradition Resonance of Fate absolutely upholds. You don't control a sizeable party of adventurers, which has the advantage that a lot more time is invested into the relationship between the three main characters Vashyron, Zephyr, and Leanne. The actual plot, however, comes in snippets only. Resonance of Fate has a fantastic intro that immediately makes you curious, only to then have you putter about with sidequests and main missions that feel like sidequests for hours on end.
This, together with the patience you may need to have with the combat, can be so off-putting especially for impatient people (me), that this otherwise mild-mannered person would like to shake someone at tri-ace because it seems that this game is just intentionally making it harder for itself to be liked. I was rooting for you, Resonance of Fate. We were all rooting for you. Like so many JRPGs, Resonance of Fate could probably have done with at least 10 hours less, but it is still a JRPG, out to gently innovate, not outright revolutionise.
You absolutely have to stick with it though, because this is, and always has been, a worthy contender to Final Fantasy, especially Final Fantasy 13, which was released the same month as the EU version of Resonance of Fate back in 2010. There are even similar story beats to both, from humanity being controlled by a higher power to characters defying their pre-determined fate. Resonance of Fate may not tell its story with the same sort of confidence Final Fantasy does, but the characters grow on you the same way, it looked great even before its recent 4K remaster and it boasts a fantastic soundtrack to boot.
Here's hoping that remaster doesn't have the same fate as the original, and that it finds a wider audience. Resonance of Fate comes highly recommended not only to fans of JRPGs looking for something a little different, but also those looking for a story told in a serious tone with milder anime stylings. Combining the old and new, Resonance of Fate is simply not to be missed.