With the recent release of Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness, Nippon Ichi Software (NIS) proved they were able to take a decade old series and make it feel fresh with a wealth of tweaks and additions. As a developer, NIS has been known to tie their games together with many common threads. Whether it’s because of the bizarre humor, the ability to pick up and throw enemies and party members, or even a random prinny tucked away somewhere, identifying an NIS title is easy. The Guided Fate Paradox is bizarre. It’s unique. It throws some notes of Disgaea in there as well. But stripped of all that, is it any fun to play? Find out in our review.
Renya Kagurazaka has terrible luck. He never wins anything, ever. He’s basically just a typical young guy with a reasonably typical life. In a surprising twist of fate, Renya pulls the lucky ball out at a supermarket lottery. His prize is that he will become God. Not just any god but the God, capital G. Informed of his luck by Lilliel, an angel wearing a maid outfit, Renya is then whisked away to Celestia where his angelic servants and duties await.
And so begins the ridiculous insanity that is the story of The Guided Fate Paradox. Unfortunately, being God is not going to be an easy task for Renya. Each and every day there are billions of prayers coming in for God and Renya has to answer them. Enter the Fate Revolution Circuit, a kind of heavenly super computer which filters prayers so that Renya can answer them. Interestingly enough, it’s not just humans that have prayers to be answered. Fairy tale characters, aliens, zombies, monsters and just about everything in between seek help from God. The Fate Revolution Circuit is able to give Renya prayers that are at his skill level so as not to get overwhelmed. Through a series of battles, he not only answers prayers but also changes the destinies of the people involved (i.e. guides their fate).
The Guided Fate Paradox has been described as a kind of spiritual successor to Z.H.P. Unlosing Ranger VS Darkdeath Evilman, a PSP game released in 2010. Where most players would expect The Guided Fate Paradox to hold more inspiration from Disgaea, it actually takes more cues from Z.H.P which was a quite difficult roguelike. Prayers that Renya answers are separated into chapters which are specific dungeons with several floors. Typical dungeons are broken up into multi-floor sections so as not to overwhelm the player.
Overall, the set up is quite simple. Dungeon floors are based on grids where enemies and characters take up individual squares. Clearing out floors and advancing upwards is the only way to reach the end where a boss usually waits. Where The Guided Fate Paradox differentiates itself is in progression. During dungeons, players will gain levels through defeating enemies just as it has always been. But after finishing a section, the player’s level will reset back to 1. However, those levels gained during a dungeon won’t be for nothing; instead they will add to Renya’s total level. It sounds more confusing than it actually is because Renya’s base stats (like strength and speed) are always increasing. Though the player will be back to “level 1″ at the start of a dungeon, they will still be slightly stronger than before.
Items are also very crucial to progression. Hundreds of pieces of equipment are found throughout dungeons. The player and his party members have five equipment slots (head, two arms, legs, and body) which can hold an assortment of things. Pistols, swords, spiked balls and more can be equipped on the arms. Gas masks, mushroom heads, cars and tanks can be placed on the head and feet. Not only does this make for an interesting visual, it constantly changes the dynamics of the combat for the player. Different pieces of equipment have different stats but also come with a Divine Power – a special attack – that does more damage but uses spirit points/mana. The great mechanic here is that equipment can be upgraded. After being used and abused, items will “Burst” where they lose some of their effectiveness but can be upgraded. For a cost, the Bursted item will be stronger and can be burst again; though pricey, the process can constantly be repeated.
The combination of leveling and item Bursting is immensely entertaining because it allows for incredible amounts of customization and experimentation. It should be kept in mind that a lot of this amounts to heavy doses of grinding, which isn’t always many players’ cup of tea. Because of the intense grinding, The Guided Fate Paradox can also be quite difficult. Dying in a dungeon strips the players of all their equipment no matter how strong it is and also removes a lot of their money. It can be defeating, but those who are determined enough will carry on. The game rarely holds hands but the depth tucked away serves as a testament to how good NIS is at the genre.
Grapichs & Sound
Over the course of the PS3’s life cycle, the niche RPG market has settled into an assortment of distinct art styles and graphical choices. Many developers put focus into character art during cutscenes and battles while the environments appear generic and full of reused textures. Other times, a 2.5D slant is used to make the game sharper and more distinct rather than a touch dated. The Disgaea series started out rough but hit a high note with D2. NIS used a similar style for The Guided Fate Paradox and while it looks good, it isn’t as great as it could be. Wonderful anime cutscenes aside, the game is quite colorful. The sheer amount of interchangeable equipment is cute and environments work in the constraints of the grid set up. Unfortunately, character sprites don’t quite shine the way they should. From a distance they look alright, but when zoomed in during special attacks or other scenes, the resolution appears low. Instead of smooth lines, characters can instead look a little jagged. In light of this flaw, the game always moves at a fast pace which keeps the flow of battle going strong.
Voice actors in text heavy RPGs have the fate of either be constantly skipped or wildly enjoyed. Depending on how good the performances are delivered, players might opt to listen to dialogue as opposed to quickly reading it and then skipping to the next few lines. Yet again, the localization done by NIS America meets the high standards constantly set by the publisher. While purists love Japanese audio, the American voice actors always embrace their roles. By never sounding wooden or too over-the-top, the voice team delivers a set of performances that make it hard not to listen to. Of course, repetition can also be a problem in the case of an RPG. Certain commands and attacks cause the same bits of dialogue to be heard countless times and it can be exhausting. While the enjoyment of music is often a matter of taste, tracks here range from okay to great. There are some themes that work really well and others that don’t feel like anything too special. A welcome feature is the ability to listen to and select discovered music tracks to play in the background so that favorites can be repeated.
The Guided Fate Paradox is yet another successful RPG effort from the team at Nippon Ichi Software. Not content to add paltry, incremental refinements to an already existing series, The Guided Fate Paradox offers a different sort of game for those who get less enjoyment out of the strategy elements of the Disgaea series. It isn’t often that players get to take on the role of God and answer the prayers of such a bizarre assortment of beings. A funny exterior hides a difficult roguelike experience with enough depth for players who take the time to plunge it. While we might not have the next big series in NIS’ library, The Guided Fate Paradox is certainly one of their most successful efforts.