Following hot on the heels of the latest Square Enix JRPG blockbuster is Resonance of Fate, from developer tri-Ace, the talent behind Valkyrie Profile and Star Ocean. While the game’s release date was perhaps a little ill timed, we were interested to see whether Resonance of Fate could make its mark in the burgeoning next-gen JRPG market.

The game’s setting is a gloomy place; having turned Earth into a poisoned, uninhabitable hellhole, humankind’s last refuge is a towering machine-habitat known as Basel. As you’d expect, the wealthy and influential reside in Basel’s upper levels, while those further down the pecking order inhabit the lower levels. All is well… until Basel falls into disrepair, and a trio of young mercenaries (the game’s protagonists), undertake a quest or three that sees them embroiled in deeper matters. Many areas of the world map are initially inaccessible, but these are unlocked as you progress, advancing the plot - superficial though it is, and making further quests available.

With all games – and especially RPGs, it is expected there will be a learning curve to conquer; that initial, awkward period where you familiarise yourself with the controls and game mechanics. Often it is a gentle uphill trek of 15-30 minutes’ duration, but in this instance the learning curve is steep, slippery and paved with jagged rocks. We’re no RPG noobs, but we were only just coming to grips with the basics after an hour, and a gruelling, painful process it had been. This factor alone will prove a major deterrent to players wanting to just dive straight in.

A progressive onboard tutorial introduces each aspect of combat, and while the instructions are often vague and frustrating, working your way through the tutorial is essential if you want to get the most out of the game. The complex, tactics-heavy battle system is the main point of difference between Resonance of Fate and other JRPGs. A single error in judgment can see your party whipped very quickly; however you are able to restart any encounter in which you were defeated, and it doesn’t take long to reap the benefits of exploiting an enemy’s weaknesses.

Combat is essentially turn-based, but by chaining together multiple attacks – particularly the party’s three-character Tri-Attack, the momentum and excitement of true real-time combat is achieved. Prime examples are the special Hero Moves, in which the characters can send enemies airborne, perform Smackdowns, and rain devastation on them from above whilst executing a series of acrobatic feats – all shown to best effect in dramatic slow-mo. The freedom to move where you like around the combat arena is a definite selling point, and strangely enough, so is the limited selection of weaponry. In Resonance of Fate it’s all about guns, and in this case, less is more. Characters can use specialised rounds such as incendiaries, and upgrade their weapons as they progress through the game.

Visually there is extensive use of grungy, muted colours and cluttered backgrounds, which lends a dilapidated, industrial feel to the game and is in line with the game’s steam punk theme. The world map is uninspiring to look at; however everything else is of a pretty good standard. Cinematics and some of the characters’ gravity-defying combat moves are particularly stylish in execution. Resonance of Fate ships with a soundtrack CD, containing a selection of orchestral and rock compositions – great listening and a nice wee bonus for the fans. Voice talent is of a good standard, with actors delivering their lines as well as the cheesy dialogue allows.

We can recommend Resonance of Fate as a worthwhile purchase for hardcore JRPG fans in search of something a little different. Casual gamers, on the other hand, may well find the intricacies of its battle system too frustrating to persevere with… this limited appeal is why the game has only earned a 7/10 with us. However, if you are prepared to invest the time and effort required in getting acquainted, Resonance of Fate should keep you engaged for a few dozen hours.