By David Fernandes / November 13th, 2013
The roguelike gameplay comes with how leveling and dying works. Instead of the common, “you level up and keep the improved base states that come with it” pattern, instead every time you leave the dungeons you revert back to level one, but retain all those levels in a pool called Total Level. The Total Level increases your base states very slowly. When it comes to dying, you lose not only the items you had in your pouch, but even the equipment that you have on you, and half of your total money on hand. The challenge and risk is present, but you can also leave your items in storage and save money in the bank, so it’s not all doom and gloom. And if you had enough, you can leave a dungeon with an exit item or save at the teleporter as a quick save when going to the next floor. So if you can’t just rely on base states, nor just equipment even with enhancing and synthesizing, what else is there?
Well, this is where the body modification mechanic comes into play, as well as the Holy Icons for Renya and the Angels. How you get Holy Icons and how much they provide depends solely on the type of equipment you have on when bursting them. To get equipment to burst, you simply equip and use them as you go along in dungeons, from attacking or taking hits from enemies. As the percentage goes up, the equipment’s base stats increase, but when it gets ready to burst, it instead goes into the negative area, so you lose out on the benefits. Though, doing so will not only allow you to increase the base states when upgrading, but you also get a Holy Icon out of it, with increasing total levels letting you open up more and more tiles to use on the board.
Holy Icons can be placed in the character’s body modification board near God Energy Sources. Soon you will have Icons covering the entire board, but not only are they used to increase individual stats like attack, defense, hit, and speed, but also allow you to increase the potential of equipment with the use of Holy Artifacts. Some are used to increase your equipment load or increase your total health, but some have a little more to them with the use of the Energy Sources, allowing you to control the direction the energy flow goes. For example, depending on which direction you point and the farther the length the source power line goes before it hits a Holy Artifact, the higher the percentage that can be dished out. This increases the abilities on the Head, Arms, Legs, or Misc equipment and so on. So there’s some micromanagement to be done, and it could be quite overwhelming at first. However, if you fully explore its potential, you can easily traverse most challenges, even when it seems you’re underleveled. It’s a brilliant concept that worked wonders back in Z.H.P., and with some changes in how it works here, it’s a complex system that’s easy to get into and really enjoyable to play around with.
Speaking of equipment, thankfully another thing that was taken from Z.H.P. is aesthetics of outlandish and bombastic equipment with somewhat over the top abilities. Ranging from inheriting abilities within the equipment, to dual abilities from wearing a a whole set of equipment or having similar weapons, or two of the same weapon. It’s zany and extremely funny seeing your characters covered in an army get up or Prinny outfit or a mixture of futuristic, mystic-like, medieval or any other ridiculous ideas you can think of. All have their own unique ability that are all quite useful with a good customization system that allows you to have equipment and abilities that fit your playstyle among other things.
One of the highlights is the bosses, each bringing something new to the table. One fight acts like the usual boss fare in NIS games, then the next would be a giant version of an NPC that can only be hit in certain turns while all the henchmen constantly spawning. This may at first seem gimmicky, but it keeps things fresh and adds a dynamic to the game system and builds on its strengths, making you think and act more strategically by utilizing everything you learned up until that point.
It may seem convoluted and even schizophrenic at face value with that many RPG mechanics at play, but it works surprisingly well. Even with its inherent repetitive nature, it easily avoids that pitfall thanks to its unorthodox gameplay. It’s simply addictive going back again and again to dungeons not only to grind out Total Levels, but constantly getting new outrageous equipment and better ranked gear. Bursting whatever you can to get more Holy Icons and to play around with the body modifications board can eat up hours on end.
Taking about 35 hours to complete the story, with a sizable amount of game content that spans well over 50+ hours, this game is beefy. The end game content is quite challenging, with some bosses acting as puzzles, with their own dungeons being relentless, killing those who are unprepared with ease. So the difficulty spike is there, and really adds a challenge for those wanting even more after the main plot concludes.
Yes, let us point out the obvious, the game looks like it came from the PS2 era with environments having low end textures. This is nothing new, but for some reason it doesn’t look as smooth as Diagaea 4 or D2 when you factor in the HD. It looks a bit stretched in comparison when it comes to sprites, CG, and character portraits. They’re not as crisp or well detailed as the aforementioned games, but what does surprisingly well are the animations during cutscenes. They don’t have that fade out-fade in effect, instead occurring seamlessly as they should. The sprites themselves also have a nice array of animations with exaggerated gestures during in-game cutscenes. The character portraits in the visual novel-like scenes are well drawn, colorful, with well designed characters.
The score is easily one of the best, comparable to Nippon Ichi’s other beloved titles, with each individual dungeon having its own themed tracks that fit accordingly. The boss themes are easily MP3 worthy, with vocal tracks that can get you pumped for each epic encounter by the end of each dungeon, though if you’re not a fan of J-rock, they may not be to your liking. The main theme is my personal favorite, even going toe-to-toe with one of my all-time favorite openings, Sinful Rose from Disgaea 2. Voice acting is top notch, with NIS America doing a fantastic job; expect a lot of fan favorites going into this. The game supports dual-audio, so for those who must have their Japanese voices, they’ve got this covered.
While The Guided Fate Paradox may not have taken the formula from Z.H.P. and gone to new heights, in the long run, it wouldn’t be a stretch to call this Z.H.P. 1.2. However, that would also be a disservice to this game, as I truly believe it does indeed stand on its own. It brings a new and exciting tale using the Disgaea verse and another charming cast full of well thought-out characters, with one fantastic soundtrack to boot. It never deviates in a gameplay perspective which some may find repetitive, but that’s fine for me; it works. NIS decided to stick to what was more important, and they delivered in giving a more than satisfying, unique experience with dungeon crawling/roguelike gameplay.
It may not have the same level of heart when it comes to Z.H.P.‘s hero-themed aesthetic, but one you can still appreciate it nonetheless. I can say without a doubt, this is one of the best games this year, and one of the best RPGs NIS have developed. If you’re a fan of Z.H.P., Nippon Ichi Software, or someone who wants something completely out of the ordinary, do your self a favor and check this out.
Review copy was provided by NIS America.
The Guided Fate Paradox is available now at Amazon:
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