Even though Sony is focusing all their handheld efforts into the struggling PS Vita, that hasn’t stopped Japanese developers from making games for the original Portable PlayStation (PSP). Generation of Chaos: Pandora’s Reflection is one of those many niche titles that is being brought over to the West. Even though the game can be labeled as an RPG, it has some interesting quirks that distinguish it from what most gamers are used to. But do these idiosyncrasies make for an enjoyable experience or one that is too obtuse to grasp?
Yuri and Claude walk through Hades, a world where ashen rain plagues the land and poisons the people. Claude is an alchemist hunting for a cure to his sister Yuri’s mysterious disease. A strange butterfly mark glows blue on her neck while slowly sapping her life away. By RPG standards, Pandora’s Reflection’s plot isn’t quite far-fetched. One sibling out to save another makes for a personal and, at times, passionate tale. Along the way Yuri and Claude get mixed up in religious cults and political turmoil while players discover the truth behind Yuri’s curse and the ashen rain.
The story is told through a series of chapters and unfolds through various static cut-scenes inside and out of battle. More than anything, Pandora’s Reflection is driven by its cast of characters who come and go throughout the game. Don’t expect mind-blowing intricacy typical with many “save the world” tales. Well written dialogue and excellent Japanese voice acting would have been enhanced by motion cinematics, but are serviceable. If anything, the game is paced in a way that benefits the portable systems it can be played on.
Graphics and Sound
To the more expectant eye, Pandora’s Reflection might look overly cheap. The 16-bit era sprites during primary gameplay won’t strike many as beautiful or anything except too simplistic. Truthfully, the visuals are more reliant on simple graphics and well drawn character art. Obviously the PSP is capable of some pretty impressive software but with a game like this, graphics have never been the sole focus. If anything, simplistic visuals don’t distract from the actual gameplay and also offer up some nostalgia for old Final Fantasy games or other classic SNES RPGs.
One of the standouts of this title, like other Idea Factory and NIS America games, is the Japanese voice acting. For many, the Japanese audio track is the preferred method of hearing dialogue in a game like this. In all honesty, those who prefer English voice acting aren’t as likely to pick up a game like this anyway. Anime fans will certainly love the pairing of Japanese voices with the excellent character art. Additionally, the music is well done and full of tracks that work during battle and the more dramatic story scenes.
Pandora’s Reflection abandons the complex mechanics of recent niche RPGs for a more streamlined and simplified overall experience. In a way, the battle system almost resembles a real time strategy (RTS) game. A battle typically has a friendly base and an enemy base. From the player’s base, friendly units can be dispatched while enemy units trickle out of their base. The battlefield is comprised of different terrain (like mountains or paths) and will speed up or impede the movement of units depending on their strengths. This system forces you to be mindful and strategic of how characters move and attack. Strategic points, artillery, and other areas of interest fill the battlefield. Capturing strategy or unit points allows more friendly units to be dispatched, but enemies can do the same. Finding hidden “plot markers” usually unlocks a piece of dialogue or story element and can also award items. Rings will appear that replenish health or give other benefits.
Victory is normally achieved when the enemy base is captured or specific enemy units are defeated. When two units move into proximity with each other it engages a sort of rock-paper-scissors match. Different units can hold various types of weapons where spears, spell books, swords, daggers, maces, and more all have strengths and weaknesses against different weapon types. Striking the balance between good attacks and bad attacks is crucial in maintaining the upper hand. After a weapon is selected, an “attack chance” happens where players must used timed button presses to execute stronger attacks. These moments play out like a rhythm game and, once players get the timing down, are hard to mess up. Chaos attacks are initiated when an enemy is knocked within striking range of another character, allowing for the process to continue and more damage to be continued. Within a few battles, the ability to unlock summons becomes available. Summons can do things like inflict damage on certain terrains or heal all allies and can turn the tide of harder battles.
Instead of the traditional experience system, Alchemy Points (AP) are used. AP can level up weapons to make them stronger or level up characters post-battle. On paper it might seem like a lot of different gameplay types mixed together. In reality, the game is pretty easy to play and understand. Those looking for a challenge might frown upon the simplified battle mechanics, and understandably so.
The simplicity does benefit the handheld and on-the-go aspect of the PSP/PS Vita. More dedicated RPGs have lengthy battles that require a lot of time. Here gameplay is short and to the point allowing for a brisk pace. Overall, Generation of Chaos: Pandora’s Reflection is not a game for those seeking the grandeur of Final Fantasy or the action of something like Mass Effect. The game is geared towards a specific audience, and those who appreciate its charm are in for a fun time.
Note: A copy of the game was provided to Gaming Illustrated by the developer for the purpose of this review.