Developer: Nippon Ichi
Publisher: NIS America
Release Date: November 5, 2013
ESRB: T for Teen
A download code was provided by the publisher for this review
As a big fan of turn-based Strategy-RPGs, one of my favorite things about gaming in 2013 is how the sub-genre has proven that there is an actual audience for it. Fire Emblem: Awakening hit roughly 400,000 units earlier this year, and companies like Nippon Ichi (or NIS) are able to craft a follow-up to their most highly-regarded SRPG, Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, with the recent release of Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness. Heck, even other niche subgenres, like roguelikes, have had their time to shine this year with surprise hits like Rogue Legacy.
Nippon Ichi made a bold attempt by trying to culminate the appeal of both of roguelikes and SRPGs with their newest IP: The Guided Fate Paradox. Should this curious new IP from Nippon Ichi be left in the shadow of the recent and more widely-adored older brother Disgaea D2, or does it deserve to, as the main protagonist would say: "Guide your fate to a revolution!" by playing it?
The story of The Guided Fate Paradox focuses on Renya, a normal high school student who makes it quite apparent that he has terrible luck at winning lotteries of any sort. Despite this, at a local mall he is dragged aside by a cute girl who looks like an angel (and actually is) by the name of Lilliel to participate in the â€œlottery machine of destinyâ€. The prize? Becoming â€œGod," of course, which Renya just so happens to win against all odds. Upon obtaining his new job title he is gently whisked to Celestia (the Nippon-Ichi equivalent of Heaven), and is immediately forced to deign in various work in Celestia. Even so, the grand prize of being â€œGodâ€ is anything but fun and games, as he must help fulfill the wishes of many believers at any cost through various taxing ordeals, otherwise he is threatened to be ”consumed“ for unknown reasons.
Common for NIS stuff, the narrative definitely goes into strange tangents as Renya tries to guide believers' wishes throughout the story: like viewing the tale of Cinderella through a very different perspective to even helping a weakling zombie build up their self-esteem. All are but a few tasks that the newly apprised â€œGodâ€ will tackle throughout each narrative act. Contrary to the expected Nippon Ichi silliness, though, the narrative does blend its more serious storytelling in well too as it progresses, which I frankly haven“t seen since the likes of Soul Nomad & The World Eaters.
Honestly, I usually feel like most NIS game stories tend to be obsessed with simply chasing the next over-the-top, fourth wall breaking joke, especially recent Disgaea stuff, and Guided Fate tones it down by having a more focused narrative. There is narrative intrigue that is built up throughout and it utilizes some surprisingly dark themes, but is also rather aware to not take itself too seriously with its frequent uses of humor. While I don“t think it quite hits the narrative strides of something like Soul Nomad does in the long-run, since it falls on some narrative tropes and feels rather bloated with exposition at times, but it“s still a refreshing change in tone from more recent Nippon-Ichi RPGs.
Despite having quite a different setting and overall tone, the gameplay of The Guided Fate Paradox is very much a spiritual successor to Z.H.P: Unlosing Ranger VS Darkdeath Evilman (yes, that is the real name) on the PSP, but it expands Z.H.P.'s gameplay structure quite a bit. Much like that game, the best way to describe The Guided Fate Paradox's gameplay is that of a roguelike with the mindset and strategic options of a turn-based SRPG.
Admittedly, I'm generally not enamored by roguelikes nowadays, mainly because there often is no sense of persistence and a simple RNG (random number generator) formula can make whatever endeavors you attempted to achieve a waste of time or pretty much outright impossible. The Guided Fate Paradox fixes both of those personal complaints with its gameplay structure but also brings the improvisation that many roguelikes have with their gameplay.
To train the fledgling deity, Renya is put to the test in the "Fate Revolution Circuit", a highly-advanced piece of machinery that streamlines the wish-granting procedure while also making him stronger in the process. By going through various procedurally generated dungeons and destroying aberrations (monsters), Renya works step by step to guide the believer's wish. While the dungeons themselves are randomly created, they all have a different theme for each narrative chapter: like one where Renya must traverse via a raft and manipulate water levels to move on, to even a scrolling stage that is being devoured by fog, which hurts the player but also strengthens monsters if they touch it, encouraging them to be mobile but also being aggressive when killing foes.
If there is one thing I really respect about this game, it's how much it tries to change things up with its gameplay and mechanics: like boss encounters with unique strategies to creative battle scenarios. For example, one early game fight has Renya essentially participate in a large scale tower-defense battle: firing cannons to hit enemies from afar, knocking down ladders, or personally dealing with enemies, to push-back an onslaught of enemy forces. Did I mention this is just a one-time thing?
Of course, Renya is anything but an invincible deity right from the get-go, and because of this he must get stronger through the use of the Fate Revolution Circuit. Also, in true roguelike fashion, Renya starts every dungeon at level one, and if he dies he loses all of the items he had on him as well as half of his money. Fret not though, like I mentioned, there is consistent progress here much like in Z.H.P, or a more recent and much more loose comparison, Rogue Legacy. Even though the consequences of dying are sort of brutal, no effort when dungeon-crawling is wasted because everything contributes to Renya getting stronger. Whether or not Renya successfully completes a dungeon, miserably dies, or wisely escapes uses an "Exit" item when overwhelmed, Renya gets an increase to his "total level" which raises all of his base stats based on how much progress he made.
In addition, there is also the "Divinigram", which is also used to further compound Renya's, or any of the Angels who accompany him, stats as well as making them more resilient to status ailments, strengthening parts of their body (to directly correspond with making equipment more powerful), stronger against certain foes, and more. Both the "Divinigram" and the "Burst" mechanics play off each other in an integral way.
As Renya, or his angel allies, continue to progress in dungeons, their equipment gets stronger the more often they use it, that is up until it "Bursts." The burst mechanic reverts equipment to its default stats, unless it is strengthened at the Blacksmith, so it takes longer to reach the "Burst" status, but you also receive a stat tile piece to place on the "Divinigram" based on the equipment type. The Divinigram is sort of like a much more deep/versatile version of FFX's Sphere grid, where you place down specific stat tiles, whether it be defense, attack, speed(/evasion), or hit (%), which you gain from Bursts, among a large board. To add an extra layer of depth, the player can manipulate "god energy" on the Divinigram which flows through the stat panels and can be used to boost individual attributes based on the "holy artifacts" on the the Divinigram.
It sounds really complicated, but really, it just means you should actively use different pieces of equipment until they Burst to reap new panels to further increase Renya's or the angel's stats and, can/should, organize them in a certain way so they can get even stronger beyond that. Guided Fate also eases you into these mechanics gradually, so your brain doesn't explode learning how these nuances work, or leave you to fend for yourself, as with many other NIS RPGs. In general, It's a very rewarding system that makes room for a lot of customization and makes this game quite a bit more approachable than most other NIS properties, and is much less deliberately grindy as well because of it.
If I have one real complaint towards The Guided Fate Paradox, it is probably in its replay value in comparison to other NIS properties. The title certainly has more to work towards than most RPGs in the long-run, with a few very challenging and time-consuming optional dungeons to take on and some neat Easter eggs for NIS fans to notice too, but unlike other NIS stuff it doesn't feel like you've barely scratched the surface after beating the main story. The narrative also has a pretty concrete (and admittedly, sort of underwhelming) singular ending, meaning there is no post-game (it does have new-game-plus where you maintain your progress, though), and it doesn't have divergent narrative paths as seen with titles like Soul Nomad.
Even if I enjoyed the game a lot, and will continue to chip away at the optional content, it is a little disappointing considering how I wish there was a bit more incentive to go crazy with stat grinding late-game. As I work towards it, maybe I can hope for an eventual enhanced Vita port with more post-game content, like recent Disgaea ports, considering how the game was originally intended to be released on that system?
To my surprise, the usual Tenpei Sato does not reprise his music compositional role in what seems like every NIS title; instead we get to see the work of a Japanese Gothic rock band by the name of Yosei Teikoku, which some anime fans may recognize their work when doing the first opening song for Mirai Nikki (or Future Diary). Personally, I was really caught off guard by the sheer variety and quality of the overall soundtrack, which really played on my expectations of what I“d expect it to be, even after being vaguely familiar with the band's previous work. Sure, there are some intense, J-Rock tracks for some specific battle themes but there is even more songs that very much atmospheric and complements game's heavenly, and at times hellish, setting.
Another pleasant surprise I found was with the English dub of the game, which I found myself much preferring over the Japanese counterpart. Also, to my surprise, the dub was full of voice actors I didn't recognize, considering how I'm more well-versed than I should be with them. In general, the audio design is great in The Guided Fate Paradox, especially on the musical front.
If you asked me recently about how I felt about Nippon Ichi games, I'd be hesitant to say I am a big fan their products, despite playing most of their localized properties and enjoying titles like Disgaea 4, Soul Nomad, and Z.H.P. If you asked me how I felt about the company after playing The Guided Fate Paradox, however, I would sing a very different and much more positive overall tune towards them. Guided Fate is a constantly rewarding, deep, challenging, and intriguing mix of both SRPG and roguelike elements on the PS3. Even in a year where fans of SRPGs were graced by the excellent Fire Emblem: Awakening, or that of roguelikes with Rogue Lagacy, The Guided Fate Paradox ascends above as not only my favorite NIS title, but also my personal favorite example of both SRPG and roguelike this year with its fantastic gameplay hybrid.
+ Intriguing narrative that blends humor and serious storytelling well
+ Varied dungeon design with some creative boss fights
+ Great soundtrack and solid English dub
+ Strategic and challenging gameplay that constantly encourages the player to change things up
+ Deep with RPG customization that is constantly rewarding
- Story scenes are occasionally a bit bloated with exposition with some predictable plot points
- Doesn“t quite have the replay value of other NIS SRPGs
Overall Score: 9 (out of 10)
The Guided Fate Paradox expertly blends both Strategy-RPG and roguelike into one very finely tuned algorithm that should more than satiate fans of either.