++Review – Guided Fate Paradox

Rogue was one of the most important video games ever created. It popularized dungeon crawling as a video game trope, and influenced games the likes of  Hack, NetHack, Diablo, Champions of Norrath, Baldur’s Gate, Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel, Torchlight, D&D: Heroes/Daggerdale, and virtually every other game in the Action sub-genre we’ve come to know (and love) as Hack n’ Slash. Make no mistake, Rogue is as important as games get.

Rogue was also a bastard of a video game. Created by Michael Toy and Glenn Wichman circa 1980 for Unix based systems, and loosely based on the fantasy settings of table-top Dungeons & Dragons, it generated dungeons procedurally, was very difficult, and instituted permanent death. You didn’t play Rogue to beat it; you played it to see how far you could get before dying and being forced to start over. Bragging rights were the spoils, and only the most devoted, and above all else LUCKY players earned them. The ‘Roguelike’ genre was born out of these principles, and remained niche in most markets, but it did find success… in Japan.

In the recent past, however, the genre has been pushing out of the Land of the Rising Sun, and has made strident in-roads here, in North America, flourishing. As a result, in addition to a pointed interest in their development (Dungeons of Dredmor, FTL: Faster Than Light, Don’t Starve, Sword of the Stars, etc.), the importation of these games is only natural. Guided Fate Paradox is one of these imports, and it stands as an excellent example of the genre’s long established tenants, as well as a perfect example of the NIS story telling conventions we’ve come to expect from the humorous developer.

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Guided Fate Paradox (PS3)
Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Publisher: NIS America
Release: 11/05/2013
MSRP: $49.99
Words: James Bacon

You are Renya. A typical 17 year old high school student. His concerns are focused where you’d expect them to be: young love, good grades, and just skirting by socially because he’s a bit awkward (who wasn’t at that age, amiright?). He’s never been all that lucky. Not that he’s necessarily unlucky, he’s just never won a prize at raffle, or scored the winning ticket for a lottery. So, it comes as a surprise to him when, after a trip to the local store secures him a raffle ticket for a lucky drawing, he wins. And big. You see, Lilliel, the girl running the raffle, isn’t human. She’s an angel. And the prize she’s looking to give away? An ascension to Godhood. That’s with a capital “G,” as in “the One and only.” Once you pull the winning golden ball out of the tumbler, she spirits you away to Celestia (yep, it’s THAT Celestia!) so you can meet your heavenly host (all of who have oddly Japanese sounding names), ascend the throne, and take your place as chief among them.

As it turns out, God has a 24/7 job requiring you to listen to, and then grant the wishes of all of creation, for the benefit of their happyness. Easy, right? I mean, you’re God. Just wave your hand, expending an infinitesimally small amount of your limitless power, and grant them all at once. And all before breakfast! Not so fast. You’re a novice God, after all, and you don’t really know what the Hell (PUNS!!!) you’re doing. On top of that, granting these wishes could have severely negative consequences (like the irrevocable re-writing of the most famous princess story the world has ever seen, Cinderella). You have to be measured with your wish-granting dispensations. Then there’s the bit about you having to be inside the Fate Revolution Circuit in order to witness the wish in the first place, and effect change. The Circuit is a huge device that actually creates a duplicate, or Copy World, of actual reality, or Original World. Changing things in the Copy World will change them in the real world, because “as above, so below,” and all that. So, you can only grant these wishes one at a time, and only as quickly as you’re able to individually resolve them… which isn’t too quick, considering Fate and the Status Quo seem to want to stop you by putting Aberrations in your way: puppy-dog ninjas tossing kunai, liches, zombies, bats, and a whole host of other oddball enemies. They’re a lot like the demons in Disgaea, but Celestia’ized.

But that’s OK, because not only do you have the assistance of your very own personal angel attendant in Lilliel (and others), you’ll also have a world of items at your disposal that grant stat boosts and, more importantly, bestow special abilities with which to dispatch your enemies. These stat boosts aren’t static, as you can take any item that’s achieved a “Divine Burst (Note: items gain levels as you defeat monsters, but they can only gain one level, or Divine Burst, at a time; meaning once you gain that level, you must upgrade the item at the blacksmith to clear experience, level it back up to one, and increase its base stat boosts)” and upgrade it. A side effect of Bursting an item is that it gives you a token to spend on the Divinigram for Body Modification.

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Taking a queue from the License Grid of Final Fantasy XII, the Divinigram in Guided Fate Paradox allows you to purchase upgrades with the tokens you’ve earned by placing stat boosting tiles on a table. These tokens are stat specific dependent on the type of item you burst – head items provide HIT (which influences the likelyhood of hitting your enemy), arms give STR (damage), legs are DEF (damage absorption), and misc. items grant SPEED (which influences your dodge rate, and critical hit chance) – and placing the tiles on the grid can provide other benefits, such as granting an entire category of weapons (sword, axes, etc.) a special function.

Going to the blacksmith and bursting items to spend tokens on the Divinigram is very important, as you always begin a new dungeon at level one. That’s right, every time you leave a dungeon, you lose all accumulated levels. Period. This adds incredible difficulty later in the game, when your enemies are much higher level than you, and it places incredible importance on your items and body modifications. The game does keep track of the total amount of levels you earn, and it provides bonuses via the Divinigram, increasing the potential of your tokens (at the start, tokens only give you a +1, but with a solid amount of total levels, you can boost that bonus significantly), and all of the bonuses placed in the Divinigram affect not only your base level one stats, but they also influence how big of a boost you get at level up; meaning all of the systems work in tandem to provide you with the power you’ll need to win. Which is a good thing for everyone, because not only do you not want to die, but your angel companions have an ulterior motive that depends on you becoming stronger, and it would appear as the the lowly denizens of the Netherworld (yep, it’s THAT Netherworld!) are up to no good (Dun, dun, DUUUUUUUUUUUUNN!!!).

A large part of this ‘becoming stronger’ theme is not dying. Death will destroy all of your items (except the ones you place in storage). You just lost all of your good stuff! Now, you’re starting from level one with more-than-likely completely underpowered gear. Thank God… erm… YOU that you get to keep your body modifications. Small consolation, but I’ll take what I can get. This simple item destruction mechanic places great stress on not dying, while it forces planning for your inevitable demise by storing up (preferably semi-leveled) gear to pad the soul-rending disappointment it brings. And falling to an opponent (or traps) isn’t the only way to die…

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You can also run out of energy. Everything you do costs energy. Every time you move, or use an item, or swing a weapon, there’s a clock ticking down the seconds of your life. You can replenish this energy with food you find throughout the dungeons or purchase at the general store, but if you deplete the meter entirely, it’s your health that begins to tick down to zero. And when that happens, it’s good bye, baby.

Combat is handled how I expect a Roguelike to handle it: via a move-for-move turn based system. Every time you perform a single action, be it walking into the next grid-space or punching something in the face, every enemy on the map, even the ones you can’t see… oh, I didn’t mention that? Your field of vision is limited to what’s in front of you, so GOOD LUCK… anyway, every enemy on the map gets to perform an action, too. It’s a tit-for-tat system that serves this genre faithfully, and I’d have it no other way. It makes combat intense, and forces you to count health points while planning several turns ahead to make sure you don’t lose all your stuff.

If it sounds a lot like I’ve described the PSP outting Z.H.P. Unlosing Ranger vs. Darkdeath Evilman, it’s because this is the spiritual successor. From the tokusatsu (Sentai/Power Rangers) influences, to the system mechanics, Guided Fate Paradox emulates Z.H.P. to great ends.

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Finally, Guided Fate Paradox is gorgeous in that familiar Nippon Ichi, hi-res sprite kind of way. The character designs aren’t too crazy over-the-top, but they’re clean, distinct, and drip with personality. Besides, they make up for the lack of crazy through the display of your equipment while in the Fate Revolution Circuit. Renya can have equipped, all at the same time, car pants (pants that make the bottom half of your body look like a car), bat wings, a horse mask, an evil-eye mummy-wrapped arm, and a boxing glove. Each item has a unique look, and it’s worth equipping everything at least once not only to see what it can do, but to see what it looks like, too!

The music is equally as impressive, and the voice acting (with the exception of the zombie in the second act… good LORD is it freaking bad… like, “grating on your spine with a wood file” bad) is very well done.

Verdict: 8.5 (+Good) – Though the narrative is quirky and employs the typical NIS irreverence via sexy-talk and nonsense, it’s still able to effectively and poignantly question conventional storytelling by juxtaposing tropes against the morality of this common era. The game systems are all right at home in a Roguelike outting, and the call-backs to Z.H.P. Unlosing Ranger vs. Darkdeath Evilman make this spiritual successor one to savor.