Developer: Idea Factory/Sting
Publisher: NIS America
Platform: PSP (PSN)
Release Date: February 19th, 2013
A download code was supplied by the publisher for this review
Sometimes it's surprising what games manage to make it out of Japan and onto our shores. Having been released in Japan in June of last year, a few months after the release of the PlayStation Vita, Generation of Chaos: Pandora's Reflection seemed to have little hope of coming to the Western world. However, a year after the release of Sony's new handheld, RPG fans have received a new game to enjoy on their "outdated" and new hardware alike. The result between a collaboration between Idea Factory and Sting, Pandora's Reflection might surprise genre newcomers and veterans alike.
Pandora's Reflection paints a very grim and dark world for the player. The world of Hades is strife with pain and corruption. A strange ashen rain poisons the land and its people alike, claiming many lives. The nobility manipulates and abuses the poor common folk, even going so far as to hunt them like animals. Many dark dealings and events are performed behind the scenes, possibly leading the land towards its doom. Hades is a dog-eat-dog world, and Pandora's Reflection is not afraid to show it.
The story is shown from the viewpoints of two siblings: Claude, a young alchemist; and Yuri, a girl with a strange butterfly-shaped mark on her neck that is a painful curse. As the two travel the land to find a cure to Yuri's curse, they meet others and slowly become entangled in a plot that could destroy the entire world. The story may not be the most original, but it is intriguing enough and peppered with some interesting plot-twists that will keep the player interested until they reach one of the two possible conclusions.
The only real disappointment in the story isn't in the story itself... it's in the presentation. While the pictures seen in between chapters are beautiful and the characters are well-drawn and expressive, that's all you really get to see. Pandora's Reflection opts to tell the gruesome details through the characters' reactions. Having only to rely on that and audio cues feels like a missed chance in storytelling; it feels a few more visuals would have really driven the point of a desperate world home. It is worth mentioning that the (Japanese only) voice track is plentiful and well-voiced, and the music throughout the game provides a great atmosphere, but for some gamers that will not be enough.
With the story alone, Pandora's Reflection differs a bit from previous Generation of Chaos entries. But, where the game really branches off from other games in the series is the gameplay. Gone are the large scale army battles and kingdom management of the past; in its place is a fast paced real-time strategy system with just a handful of units that may remind some vaguely of Yggdra Union. It's here that one can really see Sting's influence on the game, and because of that it needs a bit of explanation.
As stated earlier, Pandora's Reflection runs in real-time; that is, characters and enemies alike move without waiting for their turn to come up. Each of your units have their own advantages and disadvantages in terms of terrain and weaponry: for example, Claude moves the fastest in paths, but walking on other terrain will eventually have him 'transform' it to a path; Leon has three weapons at his disposal to take down the enemy as opposed to two; and Dominique takes no terrain disadvantages as long as it's daytime. Every party member you get is unique, and each member is designed to take care of a certain situation. With only being able to bring out part of your force, learning who to bring in what scenario is a large part of the strategy.
After you dispatch your units, there's some options available to the player. You can destroy strategy points and occupy unit points in order to stem enemy reinforcements and add to your own, charge the enemy base or boss to (usually) end the map quickly, visit homes and NPCs for world-building conversations and sometimes neat items, or simply attack the roaming enemy. When two opposing units collide on the battlefield, a one-on-one battle occurs.
It's at this point that many people find Pandora's Reflection akin to a rhythm game; however, I find it more similar to the Mario & Luigi games than anything. The player chooses a weapon--its effectiveness against other weapons is presented in a dual-tiered rock paper scissors manner--and circles appear on the screen. Press the button at the right time and you'll activate an Impact Circle depending on how many cues you successfully hit; if an ally is touched by the impact circle, you can press their corresponding button to unleash a second attack on the enemy, and in turn, possibly make another Impact Circle. If you manage to get all five characters in on the chain of attacks, a Special Chaos Chain occurs that does considerable damage to the enemy in question and any other enemy unit near them.
Add a day and night cycle, health bars for the points and bases, and beast summoning to the mix, and it all sounds like a convoluted and confusing mess of a game. On the contrary, Pandora's Reflection is actually a simple and straightforward game, slowing introducing the various mechanics in digestible doses. As such, the game starts off very easy, and only very slowly ramps up in difficulty. Near the end of the game battles start getting challenging and the odds are stacked against you, but because of that, many RTS fans might be bored for the majority of the adventure. This makes Pandora's Reflection a great game for genre newbies with its overall gentle difficulty, but may deter veterans until they beat the game once and unlock the Hard difficulty.
All in all, Generation of Chaos: Pandora's Reflection is a solid and enjoyable game. While it certainly is different from previous entries in the series, the interesting story and well constructed gameplay should please new players and old alike, even if it errs on the side of easy. Fans of RPGs, RTS games, or even of Sting and Idea Factory should give this game a download; it's unlikely you'll be disappointed.
+ Interesting and rewarding gameplay
+ Story delivers a dark tale that is likely to entertain to the end
+ New Game+ and two endings add replay-ability
- Lack of visual cues outside of characters' faces a little lacking
- Game might be too easy, and thus bore, RTS veterans
- No save feature in the middle of battles lessen the game's portability
Overall Score: 8 (out of 10)
A bold change for the series, Generation of Chaos: Pandora's Reflection offers a different and solid experience for those willing to try it.