[Review] Generation of Chaos: Pandora’s Reflection
When Sting and Idea Factory joined forces, they had the audacity to brand their collaboration as “Super Sting.” It reeks of hubris, but if I can be honest, I’d expect nothing less from Idea Factory. On paper it sounds like a really promising venture as Sting consistently creates unique gameplay options while drudging a bit on the story. Idea Factory is a well known visual novel producer in Japan so pairing a gameplay focused studio with a story driven one is just a good idea.
On paper at least.
With this being Generation of Chaos’ sixth entry, it begs to question whether Sting would be able to rejuvenate the series. Did this super collaboration prove successful? Read on to find out.
Instead of coming to the board anew with Generation of Chaos: Pandora’s Reflection, Sting decided to retool their Yggdra Unison battle system to work for the PSP. If you haven’t heard of Yggdra Unison, that’s because Atlus never localized it for the west. What this system does essentially is create an RTS battle structure within the limitations of the PSP. For those questioning RTS systems without pointer controls, yes it does work.
It works because they simplify the structure down to traditional strategy RPG definitions. Party size is capped at 5 people on screen, the arenas are all the size of the PSP screen and most importantly, it all works around a tower defense style structure of resource management. All battles follow the same techniques with subtle variations in their goal structure so Sting eases you in to the system gradually. This is something they are very good at; they build complex systems and give the player a lot of room to make mistakes and understand how the game works.
This is very important because the game has numerous real time considerations that it needs to employ at any given time. Little things like which unit to use, where to move them and when to use a summon monster are all things that Sting spends the time to work out with you. You’ll need it because the way the battle system works boils down to essentially the attack structure to Elite Beat Agents meets volleyball.
If you think that’s an odd description for a battle system, it is. If you see in the above image, whenever two people collide they attack with a simple rhythm game prompt. Different weapons offer different prompts, but with only six weapon types you’ll get used to them fairly quickly. Following a successful attack, you have the ability to knock around the character to another one of your attackers in what could only be described as gang violence.
So a large part of this game is setting your allies up to beat a single character around the field. Bouncing an opponent around five times results in a flashy “Chaos Attack Special” that causes an explosion which damages the enemy and people around them. It is a very active system, but it ultimately gets repetitive. With only those six weapons, the rhythm game becomes the same thing over and over again. They have a nice little upgrade system for weapons that changes a Platinum Sword in to a Fire Gun that would be a fantastic excuse to change the rhythm up a bit. Sadly that’s not the case. Characters can equip two (or in a rare case three) weapons, so that adds a bit to the game, but not much when it all comes down to it. The focus instead lies on the distance weapons can bounce characters which does add a lot more strategy to things, but after 30 missions a bit more could have been done.
Instead of relying on Sting’s penchant for layering the gameplay by adding a late twist as in Yggdra Union, they presented a straightforward system and relied mostly on the story to liven things up. Within those 30 chapters, it starts to lag in the middle, but certainly begins to ramp up near the end when the difficulty starts to get tough. To offset this difficulty, they allow you to cheat by grinding through free battles. The nice part was I never felt compelled to use this option until just before the final boss.
Generation of Chaos: Pandora’s Reflection is a standalone title in the series so there isn’t any need to worry about back story. Many of the motifs have been carried over, but that’s about it. What Idea Factory has crafted is an overly complicated narrative involving really horrific events and a storyline belonging more in tune with a comic book than a video game. This is high drama stuff here, or at least as high drama as you can get while still using a selling point like shy mermaid girls and busty mages.
The story is focused on the very close relationship between an alchemist and his cursed sister as they travel the land trying to find some cure for her disease. They gather together a band of characters each of which fills their perspective archetypes as one would completely expect. This crew will march forward fighting oppression, human rights abuses, fate and the occasional psychopaths. Compelling stuff really.
It is a very intriguing story to burn through that could be extremely depressing if it weren’t for the plucky attitudes of our rag tag band of adventurers. It really tries to take from the pages of manga like Full Metal Alchemist with its tone and overuse of homunculus. It doesn’t succeed that lofty goal, but there is some real drama that they try to pull off and it creates some interesting backdrop to battles that can get repetitive. For those who think I’m kidding about how depressing it could be, here are the titles of some of the chapters: The Forbidden Land of the Cannibal, The Falling Ceiling, and The Prism and the Death Butterfly. It’s like they hired a goth to write the story and then somebody at Idea Factory asked the obvious question of “where do the cute girls come in?”
Idea Factory made an overly dramatic comic book story that they fit in to the confines of an RTS. It is admirable in its success. Unfortunately, like most Idea Factory games, the attempt is still a bit short sighted. It’s a story essentially about the butterfly effect which incorporates a time travel mechanic and parallel universes. This story is too complicated for DC Comics, you can’t expect them to get everything right. To make it work, they just push forward through the story and leave most questions unanswered or solved by the cureall that is magic. It is something that gets a bit ridiculous and while I certainly get a kick out of stuff like that as a comics fan, others might not.
It’s also fairly disappointing that this story that focuses on repercussion has only one random decision tree thrown in. Not a deal breaker in the slightest, but when I finally stumbled upon it, it shocked me. I sat there staring at this decision tree for minutes wondering why it wanted to show up here of all places.
For those looking at the Idea Factory name and cringing a bit, relax. This is a good game because they partnered with a developer who knows how to make good games. It has that Idea Factory quirkiness that people want to love paired with Sting’s unique gameplay to carry it through. It is not perfect, but it is a unique game with a crazy story. Not quite super, but it is one of those games that plays to convention while going absolutely insane with it’s story.
I’m not sure who I’d recommend a game like this to, but if I ever did find that person who wanted a portable RTS rhythm game centered around conventions that many comic book writers wouldn’t employ, this would be the game I would heartily recommend to them.
Final Breakdown: Good
[+Strong, Unique RTS System] [+Interesting Story] [+Solid Gameplay] [-Repetitive]