End of Eternity (Resonace of Fate, Japanese)
PlayStation 3
Reviewed: 2/18/2010

End of Eternity (to be called Resonance of Fate when it arrives in North America next month) is an unassuming-looking game. It might be tempting to overlook it in light of the upcoming barrage of RPGs, and some pieces of the game are overlookable, but passing End of Eternity by means missing out on a fantastically fun battle system and surprisingly good overall package.

End of Eternity takes place entirely within a gigantic structure called Basel. It’s the distant future, and the planet has been ravaged and polluted, so a giant purifying structure is now the only place mankind can live. A civilization has grown up around it, in a massive tower, with the higher-class citizens living on the highest floors, and the poorest of the poor living far below in the grime. Time has passed; a theocracy has sprung up, led until recently by the now-deceased Pope Frida, who was an inspiring figure to the people. Her sort-of replacement is a man named Roen, and he and the upper crust of Basel (called the Cardinals) lead the people. But after a man named Sullivan shows up, experiments happen. Stones with mysterious powers happen. Schemes about controlling destiny happen. Elsewhere, the three middle-class main characters are somewhat oblivious to these happenings…until they are gradually drawn into the mess.

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Pope Frida is watching you.

End of Eternity‘s story elements aren’t very cohesive. It pairs the strong and entertaining dynamic between the main character trio with an overarching plot that just isn’t very interesting. The three main characters (Vashyron, a smooth-talking mercenary; Zephyr, a brash and generally indifferent youth; and Reanbell, a thoughtful, calm girl) have banded together through circumstance to form a PMF (Private Military Firm) headed by Vashyron. They take missions from anyone to earn a living, but generally take large jobs from the upper class denizens of Chandelier, who are by-and-large one-dimensionally thoughtless and indulgent. But even though the missions they take on are sometimes dull or trivial, the three characters have an excellent conversation dynamic that makes even the most stupid missions interesting. One unusual treat is the in-battle banter that the three engage in. Their conversations are casual, and they really do feel like a group of friends shooting the breeze during work. This means that sometimes conversations are extremely short, clipped and to-the-point in a good way. The characters already know what the need to know, and aren’t going to waste time standing around talking about things for the benefit of the audience. NPCs within towns are usually enough to fill in the information gap, if the player is curious about details.

On the other hand, there is The Big Picture. It’s lofty and serious, but winds up being spread too thin across the game to have serious weight. Brief scenes bookending chapters, and sometimes within story dungeons, are the only glimpse into the big plot that the player is given. Given how much gameplay can stack up in between these scenes, and how brief they are, it’s difficult for the serious plot to gain and keep enough momentum to keep the player interested (especially considering most of them are talking-head scenes). While the main trio is well-formed, the Serious Business Plot comes with a bevy of underdeveloped side characters and a dearth of context that would have helped things, if not make more sense, at least be more interesting. The plot isn’t bad, but it could have been a lot better connected to the rest of the material in the game.

Altogether, the story has not-too-corny (and sometimes genuinely funny) lighthearted moments, a dull overall plot with the occasional well-directed serious moments, and three main characters with a great relationship and completely reasonable personalities. Reanbell in particular was a surprise; often girls in JRPGs are over-the-top wacky or very passive and benevolent, but Reanbell seemed normal.

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Reanbell fires during a Resonance Attack

Gameplay in End of Eternity is robust, filled with missions, world map explorations, weapon and costume customization, and what will surely be one of the most detailed battle systems of the year. The world map is unique: hex-tiled sections of the tower are completely blocked off, and can only be opened up with the use of four-hex pieces in various configurations, called Hexers. Hexers are received during story sequences and dropped by enemies in battle. Collecting pieces and using them to unlock new paths and dungeons is rewarding, and even opening up blank spots is fun because there’s the possibility of finding new items, like powerful grenades or costumes. There are also machines called Terminals that, once activated with a certain number of colored hexes, can provide benefits to those colored hexes like “Drop rate up” or “Fire Damage up,” adding to the strategy of hex placement, since connecting terminals to dungeons can give a serious power boost to the party. The mission-based gameplay is a nice variety of battles, fetch quests, and quests that involve restoring power to new areas using Hexers. The customization elements are another great gameplay boost: weapon customization involves connecting pieces to weapons on a grid map and trying to create some seriously weird combations (a handgun with four barrels and five scopes?) to cram as many good pieces onto the grid as possible, while costume customization is purely aesthetic but very flexible, letting the player customize their party’s shirts, shoes, coats, hair and eye color, accessories, and more. Costume customization is a pretty fun optional feature, and all changes show up in the game’s cutscenes. (I went through most of the game putting Zephyr in a shirt with a giant hamburger on it, which was interesting in the more serious cutscenes.)

As far as the battle system goes, tri-Ace has completely outdone itself by creating a system that is complex, strategic, very challenging, addictively fun, and unlike anything currently on the market. It’s a system that depends heavily on tactics, rather than twitch skill, but is only passively turn-based. It’s easy to grasp the concepts of the battles after picking up the controller, but the system is packed with enough details and nuances to make one’s head spin and to ensure the player is always discovering something new. Explaining all aspects of the battlestakes too long, so here’s the best possible summary: the stupidly acrobatic characters wield weapons and can charge up attacks at a distance-relevant speed that the player can execute at any time to control their power (less charges means less skills and bonuses). While only one character is controlled in turn, there aren’t really turns; enemies will move and attack as long as time is passing, but the player is firmly in control of when time passes and when it doesn’t. The goal is to defeat enemies using a combination of weapons that deal two kinds of damage: Scratch Damage, which has no lasting effects and recovers quickly; and Direct Damage, which is dealt in smaller amounts, but is permanent and can convert Scratch Damage into Direct. But players live and die by a gauge called the IS Gauge, which holds points that can be gained and used for super attacks, but also can be lost to recover characters’ life bars if enemies fill them with Scratch Damage. Losing or using all the points from the IS Gauge means that players go into Danger Mode and among other things, are able to be mortally wounded, causing a Game Over. So the battle system involves a struggle of trying to spend points, but not too many points in case of an emergency. It creates a system that is not button-mashy and can’t be easily abused, despite what the flashy attacks might seem to suggest.

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A slice of the hex-tiled world map.

The above summary doesn’t even begin to scratch the tactical surface of how battles play out, or all of the many facets that battles contain: three-person Resonance Attacks for dishing out combos, Blasting Up and Smacking Down enemies, jumping into the air, enemies using their armor HP Gauges to block attacks and how that must be worked around, interrupting enemy attacks, area damage, Gauge Cracking to stun enemies, using cover, and many more tricks and surprises involving the timing, distance, and angles of attack. The amount of strategy required in difficult battles is intense, exciting, and deeply satisfying. Where the other aspects of gameplay in End of Eternity provide average to good levels of enjoyment and creativity, the battle system blows them and everything else in the game out of the water. Loving or hating the battle system should be the measuring stick in deciding whether to pick up this game or not, because it is the most prominent and most important piece of the game.

Battles are incredibly fun, but they aren’t without their shortcomings. The difficulty will be off-putting to some players, but rather than be a huge detriment on its own, the difficulty makes a few design flaws more frustrating. In longer dungeons without save points, it is possible to get trapped in a difficult battle and be unable to escape the room to power up or even adjust equipment, perhaps forcing the player to load and lose all progress up to that point. The battle system is set up so that leveling up can make things more difficult, rather than easier, because higher HP increases the number of IS Gauge pieces lost when taking Scratch Damage, and IS Gauge pieces are limited. Another flaw is that the targeting system in battle can be erratic and wonky, retargeting a different foe (or a piece of cover or a barrel) if the camera is rotated away, which can be fatal if it escapes notice in a hectic battle.

Finally, the battle system is so busy that during an attack, it feels like there are five different places one needs to be looking: at the enemies to make sure they don’t run behind a wall or something, at the time gauge so the attack isn’t wasted, at the skill list to make sure the proper skills are charging up, at the target box to make sure the target and angle of attack are correct, and at the crosshairs to watch for incoming attacks that might interrupt the character. Flick, flick, flick, eyeballs twitching all over the place, trying to take it all in. It can be overwhelming, and not so fun when missing one of those visual pit stops ruins a crucial attack.

A highlight of End of Eternity is its bold soundtrack, composed jointly by Motoi Sakuraba (of Tales and Star Ocean fame, among others) and Kohei Tanaka. It combines strong orchestral tracks with crazy rock and roll-styled battle themes. The calmer stuff is background music, but doesn’t fade so far into the background that its melodies become indistinct and it becomes forgettable; on the contrary, there are many memorable tracks that range from beautiful to haunting. The battle music, on the other hand, jumps to the forefront by having many variations that reflect what is going on in the battle. When the player sits and plans, not doing much, the music is more relaxed, but if an Invincible Action is performed, the music instantly kicks into high gear, with extra guitars and faster beats. In the rest of the sound department, the sound effects are nicely arranged in battle to give aural cues to the action, which is extremely helpful. The Japanese voice acting is cheesy, but at least the actors bothered to put some emotion into it.

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The Boutique slowly gains more costumes as the player progresses through the game.

While its visuals aren’t its strongest point, End of Eternity is a visually satisfying game. It isn’t stunning, but has some well-designed areas and well-rendered towns, and the pre-rendered movies look fantastic. The visual use of elements like street signs in the environments is very cool. The characters’ bodies animate well in story scenes; the faces, less so, and the question bears asking: who thought that the battlefield movement animations looked in any way realistic? That person needs to be taken to a gym or something to watch how people really run.

However, the problem holding End of Eternity‘s visuals back from greatness is the lack of variety. The monster designs are heavily reused and palette-swapping abounds. More importantly, the environments lack color and variation. Basel is a pretty dingy place; we get it. But the constant barrage of greys and browns on battlefields in particular is ugly, often poorly lit, and boring. There are ways to make scrap metal and concrete look interesting, but those ways weren’t used here.

End of Eternity comes equipped with higher difficulty levels after beating the game, a bonus dungeon, and hundreds of arena battles. Similar to the system in Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria, each new difficulty level is unlocked after beating the previous level. Couple those factors with the collectability of costumes, the abundance of non-story missions, several optional dungeons, and the extra zones on the world map to find treasure in, and End of Eternity becomes quite a replayable game, with plenty of content to keep players occupied even if the story is identical on each playthrough.

Overall, End of Eternity has a few very appealing elements, in its immensely strategic battle system, satisfying gameplay, interesting main characters, and stunning soundtrack. These strong points allow its less polished aspects, like an uninteresting plot and slightly repetitive graphics, to fade into the background. Ultimately, its battle system will likely be the make-it-or-break it factor for players.

-Janelle Hindman

Score Breakdown
Out of 10
See our Review Criteria
Gameplay Excellent
Story Average
Graphics Good
Sound/Music Great
Replay Value Good
The Verdict: Great