I finally picked up Resonance of Fate yesterday, after finally showing up in person after two days of Gamestop employees telling me over the phone that no, they don't have "Residence of Faith" in stock. Were I more paranoid I'd think they were disdainful of this heretic who is playing a JRPG that is not Final Fantasy 13.
This is a pretty good game. If you pick it up I'd recommend you head to the arena (just leave the first city and you'll see it on the map) and run the tutorials as the combat system is really interesting, and really unintuitive. More on that later.
I love the setting. The screenshots may make it seem like the usual technofantasy Final Fantasy sort of world but it's not. It's more about a clockwork world where people are living on the machinery and seem to have very little understanding of where it came from and how it works, and even less hope for the future since the machine is not perfect and is expected to fail some day.
Or so I gather. The game has not been very forthcoming with information on its strange world. I haven't found any codex/journal entries to explain things and there's almost no exposition. I'm glad they spared me the stilted dialog ("As you know, Zephyr, our society is a hereditary oligarchy organized by altitude...") but I want to know more. Even the opening cutscene was incredibly confusing (very minor spoilers from first 5 minutes of the game):
It opens with a young woman climbing onto a ledge to jump to her death when Zephyr swings in Tarzan-style and grabs her out of the air. Then the "vine" snaps and the two begin to plummet through open air, since all this takes place up on a really tall tower. The girl seems surprised to be alive and Zephyr lets her know that they're about to die. And... that's the end of the cutscene. It skips to a little over a year later. Zephyr seems just fine. The girl, who is apparently named Leanne, does as well except that her hair has inexplicably changed color and the only reason you know it's the same person is that someone mentions it in another cutscene (I think it's the second or third mission, so still extremely early).
I imagine they'll explain what happened eventually but for the time being it distances me from the characters since clearly something pretty major must have happened, yet I haven't been informed.
One thing that really surprised me was the level of character customization. So far it's mostly just texture swaps and accessories, which is till enough to totally change the feel of each character. I've even found colored contact lenses for Leanne: one for the left eye and one for the right eye, which can be equipped together or separately. There's a shop to buy new clothing but it's extremely expensive, like 2 to 3 times more expensive than the best weapon mods I can buy right now. It's unusual to give the player so much control over the visual design of characters in a character-driven game.
Then there's the weapon modification system. It's pretty ridiculous. You get a grid with a fixed and arbitrary size, the same for each weapon. In this grid is the general shape of the gun in question, which fills a certain number and configuration of squares and has certain socket points. Then you get weapon modifications, like sights, ammo magazines, barrel extensions and the like that also have their own dimensions and sockets. Attach a magazine to the handle or under the barrel, a barrel extension to the muzzle and a sight to the top. So far so good. Except the game doesn't seem to care how you'd actually USE the damn thing. Right now I have an M1911 with a front sight mount and a rear sight mount. Attached to each are what look like red dot sights with mounting brackets, except the brackets can't overlap the gun itself so what I've got are two ridiculously tall sights, one looking directly into the other. Mounted to the TOP of each is an ACOG scope; again, one looks directly into the other. So my pistol has 4 sights, and all of them grant their full bonuses. Thankfully, this monstrous sight-scaffolding doesn't appear on the in-game 3D model. I'm left wishing they'd skipped the visual aspect of the mod system entirely since the only way to make a gun that looks even remotely realistic is to customize it sub-optimally.
Now, the combat system is really where the game shines except it doesn't make a whole lot of sense. First off, there are two kinds of damage. Grenades and pistols do "direct damage," which takes off a relatively small amount of an enemy's health permanently. Machine guns (visually, SMGs) do "scratch damage," which takes off huge amounts of health, but only temporarily. You can't kill enemies with scratch damage and they recover from it over time, which means that if you fire a submachine gun into an enemy's face, it cannot kill them, ever. However, if they take any sort of direct damage before they've healed, it'll turn all that scratch damage into permanent, direct damage. So the strategy of choice is to have one guy blast away with an SMG till the enemy has a full health meter of scratch damage, then have someone with a pistol kill them in a single shot. Ideally, you do this with these "hero action" things.
Basically, that lets you set a destination point your character will run towards while shooting. The music swells and they go all John Woo, attacking multiple times, even multiple targets if you like. They can jump in the air dramatically to get over obstacles and shoot down at enemies as well, which is important because obstacles will normally stop them dead and some enemies are much better protected from certain angles than others. It's kind of like an evolution of the TRPG mainstay of attacking an opponent's rear for extra damage. Enemies have "parts" with different durabilities, strengths, weaknesses, etc.
Given all that it seems like the ideal strategy is to have your machine gunner run through and cause a lot of scratch damage to a lot of enemies, then have someone with a pistol follow and finish each target off. That does work rather well, except that these hero actions take up what the game calls, "bezels." These little pips can be restored by killing enemies and the like. Except that your characters take scratch damage from all attacks and if they're reduced to 100% scratch damage, you lose one bezel charge to restore their health. Lose all your bezel charges and your characters enter a "critical" mode, where they hilariously tremble and run about in exaggerated ways as if panicking.
Then they get slaughtered.
While panicking, their accuracy is dramatically reduced. Their aiming and firing speeds are reduced. Their damage is reduced. If they're attacked they take permanent (well, till you can stop and recover) damage and a bezel shatters into four pieces that are scattered around the immediate area. If an enemy gets to one of these pieces before you do, they are healed. This makes it extremely difficult to kill an enemy to regain a bezel charge, and if you don't have any remaining bezels intact you CANNOT get out of this critical panic mode. So basically, if it happens you're well and goodly f***ed. It's a very harsh penalty for a system that's otherwise quite forgiving and it quickly teaches you to be careful when spending those bezel charges. Hero actions can do a ton of damage very quickly but do too many and you can easily lose the fight.
It's the kind of thing you really need to play around with to understand. It's very unique and quite a bit of fun, and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to anyone looking for something fresh and new, if not a bit obtuse.
That's my take from about 5 hours of play and I haven't even scratched the surface. The world map is unlike any I've ever seen before, but it's a little confusing and not very interesting to describe.