Resonance Fate (or End of Eternity) is a JRPG developed by tri-Ace and published by Sega for the PS3 and Xbox 360 in 2010. It received a re-release for PC (which I hear has a nasty sound bug) and PS4 as well in 2018. The game's setting is Basel tower, a giant structure meant to protect people from the lethal pollution that has overtaken the planet. To do so, the tower's core system, Zenith, make people immune to the pollution at the cost of controlling their life spans and by extension, their destiny. The story follows a trio of people who make do by undertaking various odd-jobs across the tower by shooting an unreasonable amount of bullets while jumping stylishly through the air.
Resonance of Fate is unique in many ways, starting with its story. It's very episodic, often just dealing with the job of the day and some really kooky character interactions. Our main cast of Vashyron, Zephyr and Leanne have excellent chemistry, as they are this weird mix of a makeshift family and business partners that leaves room for both some heartwarming moments and dumb shenanigans, frying pan-based comedy bits included. And...that's about what I get out of the story stuff.
See, most chapters are very light on story material and the game makes no attempt to ease you into the world. That spiel in the opening paragrap about the setting? That stuff is incredibly vague in the actual game, since there is no proper exposition to begin with and the game loves giving you out-of-context dialogues between characters (that do not get named for ages) which you have to piece together into a story instead. It's very "in the moment", as the focus is on the lives of our three main characters almost exclusively, most of which involve getting food on the table and not exploring the setting to its fullest. I respect the decision, as it gives RoF a very unique flair. But when I read the plot summary on Wikipedia and can't recognize half of the plot points described there, something went wrong.
RoF is really dedicated to its chosen setting of Basel, so close to every environment in the whole game is a a half-ruined industrial area full of grey and more grey. It's not ugly per se, but areas are not very distinct, and with the limitations of the dungeon design, most places are very flat to boot. Doing anything to break the environmental monotony would undermine the major theme of humanity being bound to a machine, so understand why the game is like this, but they could have at least provided slightly more variation in lighting and assets.
Still, it's not all a wash, as the soundtrack provided by Motoi Sakuraba (Star Ocean, Valkyrie Profile, Eternal Sonata) is great. Not only is it a very large OST, it also focuses on drums, guitars and synth sounds, making it very unique for the genre. The music really gives the combat that extra punch, especially when you screw up. That's not to say that the more relaxed overworld music is any worse, of course. Those tracks are really good too.
I still remember getting into a random battle when first playing the game before getting to the tutorial and having absolutely no idea what to do, only winning after pressing buttons randomly. That's because the combat system of RoF has no equal anywhere. It may be based on the combat system in Valkyrie Profile 2, but it is a few magnitudes crazier.
To start with, it's essentially both a turn-based game and an action RPG at the same time. Every action you take gives enemies the chance to act as well, but if you stand still nothing happens. And while every party member has distinct turns (for reasons I'll go into later) with limited time to act, you can actually skip turns for little cost in case you really want one character to act a lot. And what a show they put on!
For this game, tri-Ace wanted to get away from standard fantasy RPG tropes, so instead of swords and magic, you use guns and explosives to get through battles. But this is goes beyond aesthetics, as you can't simply pick a target to shoot and kill. It works like this: Machine guns are several magnitudes stronger than handguns or explosives and your main source of damage. But they only deal blue "Scratch Damage", which can't kill anything. But, if you hit a scratched enemy with HP damage from either handguns or grenades, all scratch damage will be converted to HP damage. If they are fully scratched, they'll die instantly. But the less you manage to scratch an enemy, the faster they can regenerate the scratch damage, so you are encouraged to focus on one enemy at a time.
This is further evident with how you actually shoot, as you charge a meter for every level you have in that weapon type. Levels are gained by dealing damage, not killing enemies, so you can totally level up in the middle of battle. Every level of charge increases the effectiveness of the shot at the cost of not shooting as many bullets, which usually isn't a huge loss. The more you charge, the higher the chance of you triggering the weapon type's support abilities. But even if you aren't so lucky, you'll always augment the weapon's natural property. Machine guns deal more damage, grenades have a higher chance of knockback and handguns have a higher chance of stunning enemies and breaking their HP gauges.
That last propery relates to another important aspect of the combat system, namely the Hero Gauge. The Hero Gauge consists of a collection of Bezels, which are just red crystals you get as you collect Bezel shards throughout the game. You can spend a Bezel to trigger a Hero Action, which is the best and most important part of combat. A Hero Action lets you pick a line to run across the battlefield, which is also when you can jump to get around obstacles and look especially stylish. But the important part of running or jumping like this is that you get an extended amount of time to act without the enemy being able to counter. This way, you can rack up multiple shots and maneuver across the battlefield with ease.
But the Hero Gauge isn't just your super meter, it's basically the party's health bar as well. For you see, the party's health rules are slightly different. Enemies can only deal Scratch Damage (which regenerates slowly if you evade damage), but if all the health of a party member gets scratched, 1 or more Bezels in the Hero Gauge explode into pieces as a cost for restoring their health. These empty pieces can then be picked up by enemies to heal them and keep you from regaining Bezels. If you run out of Bezels completely, you're basically dead. The gauge represents how cool the party is, so once it's empty, they all freak out, level down their shooting abilities and take direct HP damage. If anyone dies during this state, it's game over (which means paying for a retry), unless you somehow manage to regain a Bezel, which is very unlikely.
To avoid that, you have to balance your Hero Action usage with the damage you're taking, as well as reclaim Bezels once you've spent a few. There are three ways to do so, one of which relates to charging handguns shots. You can kill an enemy, deal enough damage to pass the threshold of a health bar broken up into segments by handgun fire or destroy body parts. The addition of body parts add even more depth to the ordeal, as they block damage to the true health bar unless they are destroyed. This can be circumvented by jumping, since shooting in the air distributes the bullets around all angles, but if the body parts are big enough, they'll soak up enough damage to keep you from achieving a full scratch.
And don't think that's the end of it! You can also shoot enemies up into the air, at which point you can trigger a bonus shot, which showers you in bonus money items and lets you shoot at a much higher level than what you can normally. You can also slam them down to deal a bit extra damage and force out any Bezel shards they've absorbed. Not to mention how you can dual-wield and use various elemental bullets to spice things up.
As you hopefully understand now, this combat system is dense as hell, but very fulfilling to engage with. Aside from random battles in the map screen that do not scale and the very repetetive arena battles, it's always fun to figure out how best to deal with the situation. The game mixes and matches various assets (barrels, slopes, barricades) with enemies that require special strategies in order to create unique encounters that showcase just how versatile this combat system is.
Aside from how hard it is to understand, I do have some things that sorta bother me about it. For one, grenades are a bit weird as a weapon type. They're consumable, making them difficult to make heavy use of. But they're also sort of "master of none". They let you deal more HP damage than handguns, so if you burn through a lot of strong grenades, you can destroy weak enemies or at least bust through body parts. But doing that will leave you dry quickly and combining the guns isn't really that much slower. They can also be used for status effects (which can be quite potent if you like defensive play), but the elemental bullets are usually more reliable for that. I see them as a sort of last resort for when you're up against a wall, which might be the idea. But I think I could beat the game just fine without them.
The same goes for for the Tri Attack, which is a combined Hero Action between all three characters that you can only trigger by storing up Resonance points. This is done by doing a Hero Action so that you run between the other two characters. But you have to do it without skipping turns and if you break your "combo", you lose all your Resonance points. Since I'm absolutely terrible at tactical positioning in a turn-based environment, I can barely store up a decent amount of points. So there is a high skill ceiling present, but you don't really need this mechanic at all, which I suppose is a good compromise. If you had to use the Tri attack I don't think it'd enjoy the game half as much, and even without it, there's depth enough to drown even the most valiant JRPG veteran.
If the combat system or weird setting didn't catch your interest, then the absurd gun customization should. To upgrade guns, you can't just equip new parts. No, you have to slot as many parts as the game allows if you wish to stand a chance in the lategame. This includes stacking barrels and sights on top of eachother to somehow increase aiming speed and accelaration. It's a pretty satisfying system, even if it can be a bit fiddly to determine what is optimal.
But to collect parts, you need to explore Basel and this is another unique feature of RoF. The world map is divided into levels, with each level being comprised of different configurations of hexes. In order to walk on a hex, you must first unlock it by placing your own configurations of hexes. These pieces are earned in battle and are very satisfying to place down, as the challenge is to be as efficient as possible so that you don't have to go grind more pieces. And as a bonus, each floor is filled with hidden treasure chests, further rewarding the act of unlocking a whole floor.
But there are also coloured hexes to consider. The game uses these to seal areas off until the plot asks you to go there. But beyond that, you can also use them to spread the effect of support terminals to almost any other hex. This allows you to affect combat in these areas, which includes dungeons, challenge battles and even the arena. But aside from a ridiculous chain of terminals you can link to the arena, I don't see the need for this, since most support effects are pretty lackluster. Not to mention that coloured hexes are somewhat difficult to get a hold of, so experimenting with linking terminals is pretty tedious.