The Guided Fate Paradox
Developer: Nippon Ichi
Publisher: Nippon Ichi
Release Date: 10/25/2013 (Europe)/11/03/2013 (North America)
Although not a direct sequel to ZHP: Unlosing Ranger Vs. Darkdeath Evilman, The Guided Fate Paradox is a spiritual successor. After all, it uses an almost identical engine and very similar mechanics to that game while changing the plot and characters. The end result has Nippon Ichi bringing us their first ever roguelike for the PS3. I’ll admit I had a lot of fun with ZHP, but I’m also a huge roguelike fan, having spent a lot of time with games as old as Azure Dreams up to more modern renditions of the genre like Adventures To Go!, Baroque and of course, the Pokemon Mystery Dungeon franchise. Roguelikes, while still the least popular subgenre of RPG in the West has been making a comeback as of late, which is something I’m quite happy to see.
I will admit though, it was odd to see Nippon Ichi release a console version of a roguelike though as they seem to have been written off as money losers. Every roguelike in many a year has been for portable systems only save for Baroque and Atlus didn’t make a lot of (any) money off that localization. Even Nintendo declines to bring over not one, but ALL THREE Pokémon Mystery Dungeons for the Nintendo Wii, which is insane considering Pokémon ANYTHING prints money. So on one hand, it was great to see Nippon Ichi bring us a console roguelike to the States but on the other, did all these other companies seem to know something Nippon Ichi didn’t?
As roguelikes are the least common RPG subgenre these days, perhaps we should do a refresher on how these work. Each time you enter a dungeon, you will discover it is randomly generated, so no two trips will be alike. As well, each time you enter the dungeon, you start back at Level 1. If you make it through the dungeon, you get to keep all your items that you collected. If you die in the dungeon, you lose everything, included the equipment you had on when you entered. You also have to manage a hunger/tiredness aspect of a character as well, which adds a new layer of strategy. Do you eat an apple to raise your hunger or do you drop it, hoping to find another one later on so that you can pick up that powerful weapon instead? So as you can see, a roguelike is very much a game of risk and reward. Now each roguelike is different. Pokémon Mystery Dungeon lets you keep your level when you die, but enemies keep theirs as well. The latest game, Gates of Infinity also dropped the hunger aspect for much of the game. Azure Dreams had dating sim and town building sim aspects in addition to dungeon crawling. Baroque has you either commit suicide or murder an angel repeatedly. So on and so forth.
With The Guided Fate Paradox, you may return to Level 1 each time you leave the dungeon, but you also gain permanent stat increases. So if you do a dungeon five times, your Level 1 character at the end of that will be noticeably stronger and more powerful than it was when it originally did the dungeon. So grinding actually pays off in The Guided Fate Paradox. As well, as the game progresses, you will have access to the Divinigram. This originated in ZHP and was explained as cybernetic enhancements to your character. In GFP, this is basically holy power infusion. As you go through dungeons you’ll earn stat boosts to your stats of STR, SPD, DEF and HIT. These bonuses range from +1 to +5. You then lay tiles corresponding to these stat boosts and your character gets a permanent boost for doing so. This is yet another way grinding pays off. So if a dungeon is too hard and you feel burned because you lost all your gear, just grind some easier dungeons, get your base stats up and try again. While this does make The Guided Fate Paradox a LOT easier than most other roguelikes, don’t think this will be a cakewalk. After all, what you bring in and how many levels go a long way towards determining if you’ll survive the dungeon or not.
Something else worth mentioning is the Burst Effect on times. The more you use a weapon, the more their burst gauge fills up. The more the gauge fills, the more powerful the item gets. However when the gauge fills up to 100%, the item “bursts” and becomes weaker than when it was a 0%. This means you may want to switch weapons. However, you might not want to drop that weapon. If you take a weapon with a full burst gauge to the Blacksmith outside of the dungeon, you can pay to have the burst removed. The end result is the weapon now has higher base stats. Basically it levels up just like you do and you can pay to have an item leveled up over and over again. This is true of any gear in the game, so if you want that leg gear that looks like Casper the Ghost’s lower half to get really powerful, you can burst it again and again until you’re at +99 for the base stats!
There’s three other quick things to mention about the playing of The Guided Fate Paradox. The first is that you have a God Burst option as well. As you play through a dungeon, your divine power will grow and, when full, you can activate it to refill your health and SP bars and also activate a new more powerful form. This form is temporary though, so use it wisely. Another thing is that unlike ZHP, gun based weapons are drastically reduced in power so that you no longer have unlimited ranged attacks. This is a good thing as guns were so unbalanced in ZHP, it made the game scary easy at times. Instead now guns don’t do ranged damage at their default. They are just items you hold like any other weapon. Now you DO have distance attacks, but they, along with special attacks based on the item you are holding, consume Skill Points. Skill Points and Hit Points regenerate as you wander through a dungeon, but you have to decide if the enemy is worthy of a regular attack or a special attack now. Speaking of special attacks, if you hold two of the same weapon type, you gain access to a Divine Skill, which is simply a far more powerful version of a skill. Okay, I think we’ve covered all the core basics about The Guided Fate Paradox‘s gameplay and mechanics. Huzzah!
The story of The Guided Fate Paradox is an odd one and if you take religion extremely seriously, you may be offended by this. Of course, if you’ve played any Disgaea related game with their over the top satire of demons and angels, you should be expecting an…unusual take on Gods and Monsters. GFP is no different. Your main character is Renya, an unassuming average high school attending boy. He just happens to win the powers of God in a lottery. I can’t say that’s a common plot hook in video games. Taken to this game’s version of Celestia, Renya is paired up with a rookie angel named Lillel who is a bit of a “by the books” sort. Renya quickly realizes that being God is not all it is cracked up to be as he must grant wishes of various beings who pray to god. If he refuses or fails to complete the wish, he will be consumed by Misery. No, not the emotion, but an actual winged harpy like being named Misery and by consumed we mean eaten, devoured and feasted upon. The wishes that Renya must grant are chosen by his clutch of bizarre angels who are dressed like maids and butlers. Then Renya and Lillel (eventually you can pick a different angel to accompany you). None of the wishes are as straight forward as those in ZHP. No, the wishes in Guided Fate Paradox are a lot more surreal and bizarre. In Chapter One, you’ll be granting the wish of Cinderella. In Chapter Two, you’ll be granted the wish of a zombie who is scared of humans. In Chapter Three, you’ll be dealing with a mermaid whose sister has gone through a really bad break-up with a human. So on and so forth. As you can tell, the wishes are pretty strange. As well, as the game progresses, you’ll discover how eclectic (insane) your bevy of angels are and how they might not be the good hearted benevolent beings you think of angels as. Meanwhile in the Netherworld something is going odd. Oddly enough these demons are far more relaxed than their counterparts in games like Makai Kingdom or Disgaea and even come off more rational and sane than the angels you are helping out as God.
Unfortunately, as interesting as the premise is, the storyline just didn’t do much for me. I never grew to care about, or even like, any of the characters. Renya is kind of dull and generic and all of the other characters just aren’t very likeable at all. Compare that to how Disgaea makes even thoroughly rotten demons charismatic and characters you want to root for, and The Guided Fate Paradox is a bit of a letdown storywise. As well, where most Nippon Ichi developed games are funny…The Guided Fate Paradox is not. You should know that going into the game. Sure it’s weird and some of the equipment you can put on your two characters like the fish head or Prinny jet are funny looking, the game did not make me laugh – EVER. If anything the game is more morose and melancholic than any Nippon Ichi game I’ve played before. Now the game is still weird mind you, but the premise, storyline and characters feel like they are more a Nippon Ichi take on Baroque instead of their usual material. While it’s nice to see Nippon Ichi try something more serious, this Baroque/Disgaea blend, just didn’t do it for me and for much of the game I found myself wishing there was less repetitive monologuing going on and more actual levels to a dungeon. Considering I generally play video games for the story…that’s not a good sign.
Don’t get me wrong, the plot of The Guided Fate Paradox isn’t bad; it’s just subpar from what we know Nippon Ichi can do. It might not just be the plot though. This is one of Nippon Ichi’s worse localizations with some noticeable Engrish (try to have the Blacksmith strength an item that doesn’t have its burst gauge filled for example) along with extremely stilted dialogue. The story just doesn’t feel like it was translated very well and I’m usually very accepting of loose localization (I grew up with Working Designs games after all…) but something just constantly felt off with the story, the characters and the lines showing up on the screen. The voice acting really helped to show just how odd the script was as the lines that looked disjointed sounded even stranger when spoken aloud. Maybe a bit of polishing the script could have made me less cold to the characters in this game. I don’t know. What I do know is that I didn’t care for the story and the characters within it much, and the fact you have incredibly long story scenes between EACH LEVEL OF A DUNGEON the first time you go through it really weighed the game down. I really felt ZHP was far superior in terms of characters, story, the wishes you grant and so on. In the end, I really enjoyed the roguelike aspects of The Guided Fate Paradox, but the story was below average – not just compared to Nippon Ichi’s previous offerings, but most roguelikes I’ve played in the past decade or so as well. Maybe you’ll find the cast and crew of the game more entertaining than I did, but go in knowing the game isn’t a funny one. Weird yes, but it’s not what I would call light hearted or laugh out loud. If that was the goal of the game’s plot, well…it didn’t succeed.
So we know I found The Guided Fate Paradox a very fun game to play, but a bit of a bore storywise. What about the other aspects of the game? Well graphically the game is…okay. It’s a roguelike and I can’t think of any that have ever pushed the graphical capabilities of a system. Which is fine as the emphasis of these games should be on the engine rather than Final Fantasy level graphics. This is probably why the vast majority of games in this genre released over the last few years have been for portable systems – the better to hide the lower power graphics. What this means is that you are getting the same style of graphics that you saw in ZHP, but upgraded to high definition. Character models are very well done, but backgrounds, especially in the dungeons, are pretty bereft of detail and very repetitive. Again, this is a commonality amongst roguelikes, primarily due to the randomly generated aspect of the floors so it’s not a big deal if you know what to expect. Those looking for something visually breathtaking will be disappointed here. The game could easily be done on the Vita or perhaps even last generation’s machines save the high def aspect. What’s here visually serves the purpose of the game, but it’s not going to wow you. Even the cutscenes use static portraits instead of fluid and animated ones ala Disgaea 4.
Aurally, The Guided Fate Paradox is quite nice. I loved the soundtrack. Each track is fun to listen to. They might not get stuck in your head or have you wanting to buy the game’s soundtrack, but it’s a lot of fun. I especially loved the opening movie theme (INTENSE) and several of the tunes you hear around Celestia. You can always spend money to unlock tracks and change what you hear around your home base. I’d advise saving your money for strengthening items, though. The other aspect of the audio in The Guided Fate Paradox is the voice acting and it’s…okay. Part of it is that the actors are forced to work with some really weak writing and their attempts to make it work makes things worse. Lillell’s voice actress for example drove me nuts with most of her delivery. “Muhahaha” is almost universally read ala a megalomaniacal supervillain’s laugh. Lillell instead does it as short high pitched syllabic bursts. It comes off especially fake and unnatural sounding…which is pretty far from how it should be. I honestly can’t say I cared for much of the cast’s delivery in this game, which is a shame as I generally love Nippon Ichi’s voice acting selections. Renya’s does a great job and he should be noted for that and the core three demons do a good job as well. The angels though…nope. Unfortunately they’re the ones you hear talking the most, so get ready for that. At least the soundtrack outweighs the voice acting to me. That’s a plus.
In terms of replay value, The Guided Fate Paradox is a hard game to judge. Due to the nature of the randomly generated dungeons, you can replay them and discover something different each time. However, there is noticeably less post game content in GFP than most roguelikes. You have some bonus dungeons where you can encounter some Disgaea characters like Laharl and Raspberyl, but most roguelikes offer more postgame dungeons and with a lot more variety. Heck even Gates to Infinity, which has a fraction of the content found in the previous two Pokémon Mystery Dungeons has more to do postgame than this. So if you were a roguelike fan that was pissed at how the latest PMD game was scaled back, expect the same emotional reaction here. At least those dungeons are infinitely replayable and if you have OCD you can try to get all the items in the game while raising them to Level 99. So if you really want to get the Platinum trophy, you can, but it will take a while. If you just want to play through the story, it actually won’t take you that long, especially compared to other roguelikes or other RPG subgenres. I was surprised I whipped through the first three chapters of the game in seven hours, and that involved playing each of the six dungeons within numerous times to check item drops and level design (Yay reviewing!).
Difficulty-wise, The Guided Fate Paradox might be the easiest Roguelike I have ever played. I can’t think of a roguelike that I breezed through without the slightest bit of difficulty. In my entire story mode playthrough I only died once….and that was because I let myself croak to see what would happen (and to get a bronze trophy). ZHP with its unbalanced distance attacks was harder. Gates to Infinity, which was specifically made for younger gamers or those new to roguelikes, was harder. I couldn’t believe what a cakewalk this game was. It was kind of disappointing as part of a roguelike is dying more times than you would in Demon’s Souls or 80s arcade games. Again, I loved the gameplay and mixing and matching of items for my characters to see what Renya and Lillel would look like but at no point did I feel challenged or worried I was going to lose my items due to damage or starvation. I think the Divinigram just lets you overpower enemies without even trying.
I can give The Guided Fate Paradox points for originality in terms of the core storyline, but that’s about it. Fundamentally, this is the same game as ZHP but with less options, easier dungeons and no Prinny to marry dood. Compared to other roguelikes it’s either missing a lot of the elements that make these games great, such as large, expansive dungeons, a high degree of difficulty, less randomness due to the small nature of the dungeons and interesting characters. Some of the boss fights (Like the one at the end of the second chapter with a very hipster Lord Raptor-esque zombie) were neat, but this was a fairly bare bones roguelike compared to recent releases, even old games like the aforementioned Azure Dreams and even ZHP which had some awesome cameos and a wonderfully bizarre story. The Guided Fate Paradox may be the spiritual successor to ZHP, but it lacks its predecessor’s soul. If you’re a fan of ZHP you might want to get good at Disgaea D2 so you can do battle with Darkdeath Evilman again!
So who will enjoy The Guided Fate Paradox? That’s really the rub. I enjoyed the gameplay but not the story and most people play RPGs for the story, so that’s a bit of a strike against the game. It’s missing the same level of zaniness found in ZHP and the game is lacking the usual level of hilarity one can find in a Nippon Ichi game, so that sort of puts a dent in the fanbase loyal to the publisher/developer. It’s pretty bare bones compared to other roguelikes, so diehard fans of the genre may be disappointed compared to what other options they have (even just looking at what is released this year in the subgenre). Since roguelikes are the ultimate in niche genres for an RPG due to how different they play, the actual amount of gamers that will pick this up and be happy with the end product is a small slice of the North American gaming audience. I guess if you’re looking primarily for a straightforward roguelike experience, you’ll be more than happy with the gameplay, the mechanics and traversing the dungeons of The Guided Fate Paradox in general. The engine is solid and I can’t stress that enough knowing that the criticism in this review will stick in a reader’s head far more than the positive.
All in all, The Guided Fate Paradox is not a bad game. FAR FROM IT. It’s just not a good game either. There’s nothing horrible or profanity inducing about the game, and it’s nowhere close to being one of the worst games I’ve played this year. It’s simply a “thumbs in the middle” game. A mediocre experience, if you will. It has less content and is easier than its contemporaries, although the easiness may be a selling point for some gamers, especially those who have been frustrated by roguelikes in the past. I didn’t care for the story much, but that’s highly subjective. You might find it charming or even highly enjoyable where I found the scenes between dungeons levels to be far too long and the characters unlikeable. It’s an interesting idea of a video game plot, but the followthrough left me cold. The game has a solid engine and the graphics are serviceable so you shouldn’t have a problem PLAYING the game (unless you suck at roguelikes and even then…easiest one ever, remember?). I know I’ve been hard on The Guided Fate Paradox throughout this review, but it’s also because I was disappointed in the end product. ZHP is a far superior experience and to see its console successor just not live up to it was a bit disheartening, especially as we get so few roguelikes here in the states as is and doubly so after we saw the latest PMD game get reduced in scope and difficulty as well. Well, maybe Sorcery Saga will be the big roguelike game of 2013, eh? The Guided Fate Paradox might have a solid engine behind it, but it simply wasn’t the game I wanted or expected. I know Nippon Ichi can do better and perhaps they will next time. I’m happy enough with the engine that I’ll give their next roguelike a try as well.
Short Attention Span Summary
The Guided Fate Paradox isn’t a bad game; it’s just not a good one either. The game offers less content and is far easier than any roguelike I’ve ever played before – including Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Gates to Infinity. I thought the game’s premise was exceptionally interesting, but the followthrough left me cold and I found the characters to be pretty uninteresting and unlikeable – something I’ve never experienced with a Nippon Ichi developed game (although certainly with games they’ve merely localized and published). That said, the game has a very nice soundtrack and the engine is incredibly solid. It’s just disappointing that the game didn’t live up to the high standard of its predecessor ZHP: Unlosing Ranger Vs. DarkDeath Evilman. I’m normally a big fan of roguelikes but I found The Guided Fate Paradox to be a mediocre experience across the board. It’s not something I can recommend, but it’s not something I can pooh pooh or condemn either.