Review: Generation of Chaos: Pandora’s Reflection (Sony PSP)
by Ashe Collins on February 19, 2013

jpcoverGeneration of Chaos: Pandora’s Reflection
Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Sting/Idea Factory
Genre: Tactical RPG
Release Date: 02/19/2013

While many thought the PSP dead with the arrival of the Vita, Japan is still delivering us a number of titles that are keeping the handheld alive.  Generation of Chaos: Pandora’s Reflection, or Generation of Chaos 6 as it was labeled in Japan, is a collaboration between Sting, known for their Dept. Heaven series of games, and Idea Factory, who had been producing the Generation of Chaos games to this point.  Idea Factory dealt with the story end of things, which is pretty dark at times, but then again, it’s set in a world called Hades.  Sting is known for making pretty heavy and deep tactical RPGs, but they’ve kind of gone in a different direction this time with that end of it, making it much easier to get into and play… but is it too simplified? Let’s take a look.

Set in Hades, the game is in a bleak setting where everyone is scrambling for scraps and whatever they can get their hands on from being one of the destitute. Enter our hero, Claude, and his sister, Yuri. Claude is an Alchemist who’s traveling with his sister, as he’s the only one who can keep up with creating the nearly priceless medication to stop the curse she’s under. The medication he makes her is made from snowdrops, which are used in a lot of magic, and, surprising to Claude when he’s attacked over that fact, worth a small fortune. Claude and his sister end up getting rolled up in events beyond his original hope of simply finding a cure for the curse on her, and it escalates quickly from there. Friends aren’t always what they seem, and sometimes the person you just got done fighting is actually on your side. Honestly, the story is pretty decent in this, if a bit overdone on the sheer amount of characters you’ll come across, as not all of them stick around long enough to get developed, and some stick around and don’t add a whole lot. I think my only real complaint is that we are told things and only see the character portraits during cutscenes, when what would really sell the action outside of combat is showing it to us instead of going pseudo-radio play on the player.

talkingheadsVisually the game is very well done in some areas and okay in others.  The art style is distinct, and while there is a nice variety of color, it still feels like it could fit in this dark foreboding world they have going on.  It is all done with sprites and artwork to convey the gameplay, and with dialogue cutscenes as well.  I think my only complaint, and this comes from having just gotten through a major play of Persona 4 Golden, is that it feels like there’s maybe two different portraits for each character during the conversations, meaning the full emotion is all carried through the voice actor and dialogue bubbles, which isn’t a huge drawback, but could have led to much more dynamic scenes while we’re being treated to the story portions.  The characters have a passive look and a yelling look, and that seems to be about it. It’s kind of a nitpick, honestly, as the artwork is really well done, it’s just not as engaging as it could be when you’re not in combat. Combat art could have used a little refinement, more when the units are out and moving around, as they feel way too old school even for a tactical RPG.

Audibly, if you’re a fan of the Japanese language and original voice actors, you’re in for a treat, as only the text in game is translated and the audio is still the original Japanese voice actors and such.  This isn’t a bad thing, and my very limited, almost non-existent, perception of what they’re actually saying versus the translation mainly picked up tones and inflection, which fit with what was going on and nothing made my ears bleed.  The audio works pretty well with the combat, and the action and the score are well done, although not all that memorable as I can’t really think of any themes without the game in front of me.  It does sound great through headphones or speakers, which is a nice bonus, as I’ve had games in the past that sound good through one or the other and even none of the above.

e1348241744164The controls are pretty straight-forward and are responsive, not that lightning quick reflexes are needed all the time, but in the Attack Chance and Chaos Attack screens they’re very welcome. Most of the action in combat is automatic, once you set your character’s way points. Hitting X will select your unit, from there you get a line that follows the analog stick as you move it around the screen. You can then create a path, hitting the square button as you do, or you can simply hit the X button to set a straight line, but given the terrain, this isn’t always the best way to do it. The left trigger will auto-select a unit or base, the right trigger sets the game in fast-forward which only affects movement. When you’re out of combat and in movement, you can hit the triangle button to bring up your Summons screen to select a spirit or demon to help you out outside of combat, but in the combat area. When you’re attacking, the Attack Chance screen comes up, which plays out like a rhythm game. A bar slides across the screen with attack mark points on it; hitting the X button in time with the bar hitting the marks nets you a stronger attack and helps create a bigger Impact Circle, which helps hit your other characters so they can do the same and you can buildup your Chaos Attack, hopefully eventually triggering off a massive attack, especially if you’re coordinating against a boss on the map.

As far as combat goes, you start off with your start point and a few points you can capture and destroy by sending your troops out. Each point you capture that’s assigned to your side gives you a new entry into your side. You only start with two available units to deploy, but capturing your own points, as well as the strategy points, will let you put out other units as long as you hold them. To weaken how many troops the enemy can field or is currently fielding you can take a strategy point they hold; these can go back and forth, but that can lose you a unit on the field, as any slots taken by that will get your unit sent back without a way to redeploy them, just like they were defeated in combat. If your unit’s aren’t moving at all and are just parked in one place, if they get hit by a moving enemy they will never get to attack first. When your units are on the move and hit an enemy head on, most of the time you’ll get to go first, but stronger enemies who survive your attacks will hit you back, sometimes harder than you’d like. There is a rock, paper, scissors method of choosing your weapons against an enemy depending on what they’re carrying. Every character and enemy has two weapons, and depending on type, will be good or ineffectual against an enemy, meaning you get hurt even harder on the return hit. I could go into what’s effective against what, but the game itself tells you when you go into combat what will be useless by labeling your weapon as bad, good or, if it’s on par, IE rock versus rock, it will have nothing listed.

234611Units move differently depending on terrain and what that unit is good or weak on, and for some units the time of day will greatly effect how fast they move. This is important in who to send after enemy units, depending on terrain but avoiding hazards as well. Hazards can include enemies using what effectively amounts to area of effect spells or weapons. The weapons that are deployed can be captured and recaptured by either side. Having control of these can only benefit you in the long run, but obviously isn’t a requirement. Each battle has a different requirement, usually involving capture of the enemy base, wiping out the enemy leader, or a combination of other factors. Having your entire set of units wiped out and losing your base usually qualifies as losing. Summons are both a blessing and a pain. You have to save up crystals you collect form defeating enemies, and each summon requires a different number of levels of these crystals, so to summon your healing spirit you have to have at least two levels worth of crystals saved in combat. This is actually pretty easy to do, but you can only summon each demon or spirit once. So, if you blow it with the healer and need her later you’re out of luck. Use your summons wisely.

You get awarded Alchemy Points for each combat, along with experience points for each combatant. They get more for actually doing something, whether taking a strategic point or taking out an enemy, than not. Whoever does the most gets MVP, which gains you a boost to that character for that combat. Any gear you might have earned during that combat is awarded at the end of combat. Sometimes a full combat session will actually be several rounds of multiple battles with no rest in-between. Making sure your troops make it through combat is a bonus then. Most gear you get won’t be better than what your characters already have. This isn’t an issue, as you can use the Alchemy Points to go in and upgrade their weapons and make them more effective as you level. This is what most of your AP actually goes to. One of the benefits, though, is you can use these to push an ally who’s just on the cusp of leveling up to go that little bit more over, to keep up with the rest of the pack.

92405857-mediumIf you’re feeling like you’re taking too much of a beating there’s an option to grind a bit in between story advancement that lets you take the field on the area map you were just fighting on against equivalent enemies, usually with what you might consider a sub-boss. This is known as Free Battle, and you select it from the same menu you would select the next story segment from.

As far as playing this over again, it would have to be for the quick battles and gameplay, as there is no branching storyline to see differently.  I’m tempted to go back and replay just to use the experience you get later to try and go back in and either play it faster, or at least smarter.  With the actual skirmishes being only fifteen minutes or so, this much of it at least is appealing to play the game over again.  While I liked the story and the characters, this would be one I’d play every once in awhile, or start over again for those short trips when I need something to play that won’t take too long.  If you could go back in Free Battle and pick a different map, or even your enemy you’re facing or the degree of difficulty of the game, it’d be more appealing.

The game does provide a nice progression, and for the price, around twenty dollars US, you get a nice chunk of content with it.  While it is a digital only purchase, this has the added benefit of making it available to run on the Vita along with the PSP which, in my case, is a bigger bonus as I’m slowly working to just carry my Vita instead of both my Sony handhelds.  While the game isn’t necessarily a cakewalk, you can make screw-ups in your deployment and who gets sent where at what time, and it will let you know you’ve screwed up by sending just the right group to deal with your team if you play it that way.  Overall it’s a very well rounded title.

13171718While set in the same setting as previous entries in the series, this game takes on a whole new approach to combat, using what the developers have termed a more ‘Sting-esque’  approach to give the game a decent mix of the two developers working on it.  This breaks with the large scale battles from previous games and pares this down to about twelve or so active combatants on the screen at most, making combat far more personal in scope.  The Chaos Attacks which require timing against a moving bar, almost like a rhythm game, to achieve maximum damage are an interesting inclusion into the game, giving it a neat spin that keeps the player involved in combat when initiating it simply involves making sure your icon hits the bad guy icon when they’re moving.

Once I got past the introductory portions of the game, where right after the story they flash a ton of tutorial screens at you that you can access from the menu anyway, I started to get into this more.  Especially when you get one mission followed by a B-mission with no rest in between.  Being able to save in combat is nice in that situation, especially if you royally screwed yourself in the first fight by giving little thought to your health and need to be extra careful this time around.  The quick missions and decent story pacing, even with the extra dialogue they heap on you by having to do all the story work with just the talking portraits, really kept me into it for good stretches at a time.  While this makes it easy to put down, it also makes it easier to move through the story and combat rewards pretty quickly, which feed that need nicely.

excellentI know there are people that balk at the digital only nature of a lot of the US PSP releases lately, but let’s face it, the UMD is dead, the cartridge and memory stick is in, and with the Vita out it’s the only way to play PSP titles on that system anyway.  It’s a decent price given that it’s new and digital only, the artwork is fantastic, the gameplay is simple to learn and has a bit of depth to it, the story is pretty decent, and it’s not digging deep into your storage space on either handheld you choose to play it on.  While fans of the other Generation of Chaos games might be a bit turned off by the changes in the game, it is fairly accessible to newer players, which was a godsend for me. While it seems a bit shallow at first, it deepens as you go and more options open up. From what I’ve read though, this is a far cry from Sting’s games before this, when you’d still be left confused even after looking at a tutorial and a guide.

Honestly, I have no complaints about the game.  It’s a solid PSP title that handles the real-time tactical RPG quite well and seemed to actually have been designed for people who are on the go but want something similar to the more traditional JRPG experience.  While I’m not great at the pseudo-rhythm game they added to max out your damage during combat, I found it to be a lot of fun and it made you feel far more involved in combat.  This game is definitely going to stick around on my Vita a while, especially because you can run through combat in quick jaunts as time permits, save and close the game instead of having to have your PSP or Vita in a perpetual standby because heaven forbid you leave your house with a portable handheld and not have an hour to play.  If this had been made for the Vita instead of the PSP I’d have loved to see touch screen controls for troop deployments and the Choas Attack portion, but considering the Vita hadn’t even been announced when this game was still in development, I think I’d like to hold out hope for a sequel like this in the future for the Vita.  Finally, a proper use for the touch screen in an RPG.

Short Attention Span Summary
Generation of Chaos: Pandora’s Reflection is a shorter, but far more portable friendly, game than most.  The combat, while simplified from other titles, is still often quite deep, and the skirmish nature of the battles means it’s even easier to pick up and play when you only have ten or fifteen minutes to spend playing.  It’s not an expensive title and won’t clog up the memory card, only weighing in at 354MB, so it’s easy to make space for.  While it may not have a huge amount of replayability once you’ve finished it, it’s an easy game to sink up to forty hours into.  This is an easy recommend for someone who likes titles that shake things up a little as far as tactical RPGs go, or for someone who likes a well done JRPG, but for those looking for a more in depth tactical RPG in Sting’s style you may want to look elsewhere.




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