Three years after the PSP game Z.H.P. Unlosing Ranger VS Darkdeath Evilman NIS brings us the spiritual successor called The Guided Fate Paradox exclusively for the PlayStation 3. Made the same team that brought us the Disgaea series does The Guided Fate Paradox have what it needs to become a classic?
The Guided Fate Paradox starts like every good anime, with a loser protagonist questioning an aspect of his pitiful life. Meet Renya Kagurazaka our typical high school protagonist who has no luck, never wining a lottery in his life. While walking through town he is stopped by a cute girl who pesters him into playing the lottery, which he miraculously wins. What is the first prize you might ask, well none other than the position of God. After he is sent to Celestia he is told that it’s your duty to grant wishes received from believers around the world.
The Game is divided into chapters each comprising of a wish you have to grant. These wishes are well thought out and keep you guessing what will happen next. One wish has you helping Cinderella cope with the not so happy ever after portion of her life, another has you teaching a sobering zombie how to become a true flesh eating monstrosity. Each story is interesting in its own way and you will definitely learn something by the end of each. While most of the worlds have a fantasy settings, the wishes in each have some real world dilemmas. Is it fine to grant a person’s wish even if it doesn’t bring a happy end?
In order to guide the fate of a believer, Renya travels into a machine called the Fate Revolution Circuit. The world of the believer is copied into this machine and it’s your goal to kick the ass of as many aberrations (enemies) which prohibit the wish from happening. During the quest you will constantly see footage from the real world and from the copy world. As you play through a dungeon and defeat more and more aberrations you will slowly change the fate of the believer.
You might ask yourself how does a God grant all the of every believer. It just so happens that one of the angels in Celestia pick a wish they see is most important. Since each chapter is essentially one wish, it is also devoted to the angel that selected it. While the character may not be an active part of the wish, the wish itself is enough for you to learn more about the angel that picked it, uncovering more about his backstory.
Celestia has a variety of angels and each one of them is very unique. You have Lilliel who is the cheery energetic one who also tends to follow the book too much, Cheriel the big boobed slutty type, Kuroiel the cook and a person who keeps everyones hopes high, Lanael a lolita who has a thousand second names, Neliel a hikikomori angel with a tan. There are also two male angels Galtion the gentelman and Rakiel the yandere type. Most of these characters have a hidden agenda and it is a blast to find out more about them. Oh and then there are the villains. It’s quite rare for me to say this but the villains aren’t all that detestable, I really felt sorry for most of them by the end. They all look cool and have an interesting attitude.
The whole story is told in quite a down to earth way and is quite refreshing. But this means that you can forget about the humor usually found in other NIS titles. It’s not that the game doesn’t have scenes that will make you laugh, it’s just that it doesn’t have over the top elements you might have come to expect in games like Disgaea.
While I did enjoy the story, there was a bit too much of it. In-between each floor you get a cutscene that lasts longer than the amount of time required to finish that floor. Not to say that the story or gameplay is bad, each of them are genuinely enjoyable, the main problem lies in the fact that each of them seems to impede the other. I feel like the gameplay prevents further story and at the same time the story stops me from playing the game. This is might not have been a problem if the story gameplay didn’t feel so out of place. This is the first game where I have seen that each element is great on its own but somehow fails on working together as a whole. You will see scenes where characters are talking one moment and a split second later you are in the dungeon. Further proving the point, your equipment doesn’t show on Renya or other angels during cut scenes. Any angel you bring into the Fate Reolution Circuit mysteriously vanishes everytime there is a story section and is replaced by Lilliel, making both the story and gameplay feel like two different games.
What’s worse is that a lot of elements that made total sense in Z.H.P. are totally out of place in this game, such as the Divinigram (implants from Z.H.P.), re-spawning enemies and even the leveling up system. On the other hand almost every element that was taken out or changed manages to feel worse than in Z.H.P., since now there are no caravans, special story dungeons and even no more placing rooms in the hub.
Still there are quite a few improvement to this title when compared to the original. In Z.H.P. each weapon would act believably, a spear could hit two spaces in front of you, while a gun could hit more. In The Guided Fate Paradox you hit using your fist regardless if you have a knife or shotgun, but now skills act as specific weapon would. Since you now have a replenish-able MP bar you will be using skills non-stop. Unlike Z.H.P. you actually need skills in this game and each of them is animated masterfully, while at the same time it never drags out for too long. Even shoes hat and accessories have skills, pretty important ones at that. Equipping the same weapon on both hand gives you a specific skill when dual wielding wilding further enhancing the number of combinations.
The Guided Fate Paradox essentially plays exactly the same as Z.H.P. You must go through floor after floor of a random dungeon dungeon finding the exit and defeating as many enemies as possible. The game is a turn base rougelike dungeon crawler, you make a move and then all the enemies on the floor make a move. All the equipped items you have will slowly charge their burst meter and when full they will be in a burst stat,e meaning they do half damage unless repaired. Since weapons constantly burst you are encouraged to swap them for new ones while in the dungeons. This means you will have a couple of different sets of weapons that you will always bring along with you. Unlike in Z.H.P. you can’t place weapons as chips in the Divinigram grid, but instead weapons that burst will grant you tiles, meaning you won’t lose a weapon but at the same time you will be forced to swap them regularly.
The game is a bit easier than its predecessor. Hunger has been greatly reduced as it will drain at a much slower pace, on the minus side now you can no longer eat you equipment (carrot head) meaning you will have to do with a few apples and healing items which restore very little energy. You now have a partner angel following you around who aside from attacking can heal you our give you other boosts. Item management is also a lot easier as you will have 20 spaces in your inventory when you start, which is twice as much than that in Z.H.P. Base stats where also simplified, which is a nice touch.
Just like in Z.H.P dying doesn’t spell game over, but instead you lose all the items you had on you as well as half your gold. This of course means that in some dungeons there will be a real risk-reward system forcing you to decide whether or not you want to risk all your items for a few new high value items and upgrades. The main problem in The Guided Fate Paradox is that you can easily die from a few really random things and then lose items for which you have spent hours upgrading (petrification literally shaved off a few years of my life). I know this was the case in Z.H.P, but at least there you had a chip which would keep a small percent of items once you die.
The graphics are absolutely stellar. They follow in the steps of the high resolution sprites Disgaea 4 left, but here every one of items you have is fully visible on each of the characters while they are in the Fate Revolution Circuit. Want a drill hat, mermaid legs and rocket hands? Well you don’t mind looking like a fool you can.
Graphics aren’t the only thing that has taken a huge step forward, animations shine. Things such as subtle character emotions are finally visible during cutscenes on characters. Characters shaking heads or making different facial expressions are unseen for this kind of game, and really help the story go that extra mile.
The music is also spectacular, brought to us by Yosei Teikoku, a group that made songs for various anime during the years. The tunes in The Guided Fate Paradox range from very kick ass to touching and emotional, with the intro song being particularly impressive. If you love a specific song you can always buy it for an affordable price in-game and listen to it whenever you are grinding in the Hub, martial arts dungeon or dungeon survival.
Like in most Nippon Ichi games The Guided Fate Paradox has a dual language option. While during Disgaea D2 review I said both are equally good the same case is not here. The voices might not be bad per se but it’s the overall tone of their voice that doesn’t fit in with the whole mood of the game, and since the game no longer features a silent protagonist, I stuck with the Japanese voices.
While The Guided Fate Paradox is a successor to Z.H.P. in reality it is a totally different game. Yes the gameplay might be similar and a lot of elements might be borrowed from Z.H.P. but it is intended for a different audience. A lot of elements that made Z.H.P. so memorable just don’t fit here, while other elements that where reworked feel more like a step back. Still this game is intended for a much broader audience and with that both the gameplay and story is good enough for me to suggest this game for anyone looking for a great story oriented game with a lot of customization and different gameplay mechanics than in other games.
For all those interested in the game you can read the prologue chapters for the game here.
The Guided Fate Paradox launches today and is available exclusively for the PlayStation 3.