Monday 6 April 2015

The Awakened Fate Ultimatum Review (PS3)

Written by Natalie Houghton

The Awakened Fate Ultimatum... what a mouthful! was the first thing that came into my mind when I saw the title of this latest J-RPG from NIS. More to the point though, what does it actually mean?

That is quite hard to explain so let's start from the beginning shall we? The Awakened Fate Ultimatum is a sequel to the 2013 game The Guided Fate Paradox, more specifically it takes place a few years after the events of that game where the Angels are still engaged in their eternal fracas against the Devils who are trying to enforce their jingoistic policies and wipe out the Angel's home otherwise known as Celestia. 

You play as Shin Kamikaze, a fairly anti-social teenager who constantly questions the reason for his existence. One day whilst he was casually out for a stroll, he is accosted by a group of Devils who fly down and promptly attack him which swiftly results in his death. Instead of dying, however, he awakens in Celestia seemingly reincarnated as a God - this is all thanks to the Fate Awakening Crystal that has been implanted in his chest. The crystal which has allowed him to live has now given him new powers... the powers to influence the fate of the beings around him.

As a god, you can harness the powers of both good and evil and use them to transform Saint Seiya style into a powered up version of yourself with either dark or light attributes. This is a key battle mechanic of the game's roguelike isometric dungeon sections as each enemy you fight is either dark or light, if you use the same element as the enemy that you are fighting, you will not only do less damage but also take more damage whilst fighting them so it is imperative that you choose the opposite side - this can of course become very difficult to manage when fighting multiple enemies of different types.

Essentially the game is a visual novel with a randomly generated dungeon in every chapter. These dungeons range from between 1-15 floors of slightly hair raising combat where the penalty for death is quite severe - if you die, you lose everything, all items, weapons, shields, accessories, etc. Whilst traversing the dungeon you look down upon a chibi version of the main character who walks around the square grid that is set out, graphically it's quite simple and not very flashy yet still functional and effective at the same time. Combat is turn based, and your enemies move exactly as you do, one action per square moved. This can lead to some tricky situations so it can be said that combat is as much about tactics and ensuring that you plan your moves with precision than anything else.

In order to power yourself up, for each level you gain and for each fate related choice that you make, you'll garner points that can be used to purchase, upgrade stats and abilities for each of your forms. Weapons and other items can also be upgraded although these are created by fusing weapons together in order to create more powerful ones, it is also possible to augment them with gems that can be found scattered around the dungeons themselves.

The opening score is interesting with music from Yousei Teikoku albeit it's a bit all over the place in the beginning. The rest of the music is pleasant although not overly memorable, it's not that it's bad in any sense, there just isn't enough variety to keep it from not getting repetitive quickly - I think there are maybe 5 tracks in the whole game. The English voice acting reminds me of those old anime shows from the early 2000's where you can tell they are trying... but it just somehow doesn't sound right and seems a bit tacky and overly corny. The original Japanese voice acting is much better, with the voices seeming to marry up with the overall tone and style of the characters in a more suitable fashion.

Some of the enemies in the later dungeons have really frustrating abilities such as the ability to make you level down... thus wiping out any exp that you had gained towards the next level. They will also sneak up upon you out of nowhere, spring out of hidden traps that you accidentally stepped on and surround you. If you attempt to grind any particular level and stay there for too long then an insane overly powered beastie will spawn and lay the smack down upon you in approximately 3 seconds.
The plot gets off to a fast and tantalising start, although the characters themselves don't develop much after chapters 3-4 and as a whole, the storyline itself is quite brutal. This is a grim tale of death, dying and annihilation - clearly almost the entire cast of the game had their names written in the Death Note! Personally I feel that it had more potential for interesting character development, maybe there could have even been a smidgeon of romance thrown in?

Throughout your journey, you are accompanied by your own specially assigned Angel who has been assigned to you to oversee your development and training. Her name is Jupiel and she is generally quite strict. You are also accompanied by a scientist who goes by the name of Ariael whose task is to monitor the status of the Fate Awakening Crystal and deal with any anomalies that may arise. Most of the dialogue early on is centred around these two and how whilst even though they don't particularly get along they are forced to work together which can cause some fairly hilarious scenes sometimes. 

At various occasions throughout the game, you have to choose which side you should take for an event. Sometimes this can simply relate to which character you'd like to talk to about a particular subject, other times the decision can be much more difficult such as who lives and who dies. Sadly, it does not really seem to matter which option you pick as the result is often the same regardless of if you chose the 'Angel' or 'Devil' option which really brings the replay ability value of the game down a few notches.

During the visual novel-esque sections everything is nicely drawn as expected from Nozuki Ito (of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya / Shakugan no Shana fame), quite colourful and pleasing on the eye, the only problem is that there isn't really much in the way of animation at all, a lot of scenes are simply the camera panning across a pre-drawn background. Characters eyes and expressions change but that is about it, it would have been really nice to see a bit more animation, particularly during key plot points. Also, it was noticed that any newly introduced character without visible eyes would quickly die in the upcoming scene or chapter, this is akin to the Star Trek red shirt meme.

Overall, The Awakened Fate Ultimatum is not a bad game and if you like visual novels, dungeon crawlers or a bit of both then it is definitely worth picking up when it becomes a bit cheaper. The battle system is fairly simple yet challenging and whilst the plot starts off well, meanders around for a while and then finally comes to a conclusion, it is by no means the worst plot I have ever experienced - the only question is: when faced with the death of the two people closest to you, who will you save?

Overall 7/10

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