The Guided Fate Paradox by Nippon Ichi was a pleasant surprise to me. Before receiving my review copy, I didn’t even know it existed. I also somehow missed its spiritual predecessor, a PlayStation Portable title called Z.H.P. Unlosing Ranger VS Darkdeath Evilman. How foolish I was for missing that awesomely titled gem! Now I’m going to have to buy and play that one for sure, because The Guided Fate Paradox, with its fun characters, interesting storyline and addicting gameplay, is now easily the best roguelike I’ve ever played. I’d be crazy not to play the game that inspired it.
The Lottery Machine of Destiny
The first thing about The Guided Fate Paradox that grabbed my attention was the storyline that unfolded in the opening scenes. I consider myself lucky that I knew nothing about it before playing the game, so I will try to keep spoilers to a minimum throughout this review. I will be summarizing the introduction in the next couple of paragraphs and referring to certain concepts throughout the review, so consider this your warning of early game spoilers.
Anyway, the game opens up in typical Nippon Ichi fashion: a brief narration, this time in the form of a monologue of thoughts by our protagonist, Renya, followed by several scenes that are presented via text boxes, voiced dialogue, animated sprites, animated character portraits, 3D backgrounds and occasional 2D artwork.
Renya is a self-described unlucky person and typical student, who couldn’t win a lottery even if it was rigged in his favor. One day, while grocery shopping, he is forced to participate in a lottery, and surprise, surprise, for the first time in his life, he wins, and it’s no less than the grand prize. It turns out that the lottery machine wasn’t exactly from around town. In fact, the girl that convinced him to participate was actually an angel from Celestia named Lilliel, and the prize of the lottery was a job in the clouds. Renya was suddenly given the ability to guide the fate of others by granting the wishes and prayers of believers.
Unfortunately for Renya (but fortunately for us gamers), there’s more to granting wishes than snapping fingers. Utilizing a device called the Fate Revolution Circuit, Renya and Lilliel are able to enter a Copy World, which contains the most relevant parts of a believer’s life in relation to their wish. While there, Renya glimpses scenes from the Original World, and then, by influencing events in the Copy World, the Original World is also affected. It’s a bit confusing, but the short version is that Renya grants wishes by thinking outside of the box during story sequences and beating up bad guys during gameplay.
This might be the one glaring weakness in the storyline, actually. Apparently, while in the Copy World, aberrations that exist to prevent a believer from obtaining their wish manifest in the form of demons and monsters. It seems that beating up aberrations is all it takes to guide fate. There are no decisions left in the hands of the player whatsoever. No dialogue choices, no branching storyline. It’s simply a pattern of watching the storyline unfold, beating up monsters, and repeating. Although it is explained clearly in the game, I still felt a major disconnect between the gameplay and the storyline. Renya himself says it best: “Just by beating stuff up, I’ll guide her fate? That’s utterly ridiculous.” It feels like the developers needed some kind of reason to throw the player into a roguelike, and that’s what they came up with. That’s something I can easily forgive however, because, the overall storyline is still quite good.
Each chapter of the game covers one believer’s wish, and is kind of a self-contained storyline, not unlike the worlds of Kingdom Hearts. For example, one chapter involves the Cinderella fairytale and its characters, another takes place in a spooky graveyard and stars a pair of zombies, and yet another takes us underwater into a world with mermaids.
The wishes of the believers throughout the game are as varied as the settings they live in. Each chapter tells a unique story from beginning to end, but what’s more interesting is how the overall storyline progresses from chapter to chapter. As Renya grants wishes we learn more and more about why and how he was chosen for the job, what the purpose of granting all those wishes is, and most importantly, we get to know all about Renya, Lilliel, the other angels and a cast of villains.
The character development is slow and subtle, but always meaningful. By the end of the game I felt like I was emotionally attached to the majority of the cast. The later chapters of the game are particularly interesting because of how the main characters become more and more connected to the worlds of the believers. I don’t want to spoil anything more, but I’ll just say that the main antagonist is not your usual power obsessed madman, and the main motivation for his actions is both hilarious and fascinating. I was very impressed by the character development and storyline in The Guided Fate Paradox.
I was also impressed by the gameplay! Though the game is a roguelike, a subgenre of role playing games known for its punishing difficulty, The Guided Fate Paradox manages to overcome this “flaw” of the genre. I use quotation marks because to a diehard fan of roguelikes, punishing difficulty is not a flaw at all, but a feature which is precisely what makes the rewards of success so meaningful. Still, to a player that is more used to JRPGs like Final Fantasy or other Nippon Ichi offerings like Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness, the typical roguelike would be quite a rude awakening; especially if it featured permadeath. Thankfully, The Guided Fate Paradox manages to bridge the gap between newcomers and genre veterans, offering a fair learning curve for the former, optional hardcore challenges for the latter and addicting gameplay to both.
If you’ve never played a traditional roguelike before, the basic premise is that you enter a randomly generated dungeon (usually 100 floors deep) with an unequipped level 1 character, and then explore. You fight monsters which move or take one action for every step or action the player’s character takes, and you acquire gear in order become stronger and capable of surviving the next floor. If you survive long enough to find an exit, you get to keep your gear which may be used again on the next trip into the dungeon. If you die, you lose it and everything you were carrying. If the game features permadeath, you’ll lose the character too. If not, whether your character lives or dies, he or she will be level 1 again the next time the dungeon is challenged, and will have to explore again from a newly randomly generated version of the first floor. Since the character’s experience levels are reset, the main form of progression is the collection of more and more powerful gear. In theory, with careful play and strategy, the player should be able to get a bit further into the dungeon every trip.
Features for Newcomers
The Guided Fate Paradox follows most of these rules, but if all that sounds too punishing, don’t worry, because there are several features that soften the blow (and optional features to make things more challenging as well which I will go over in the next section).
In terms of making things easier, first of all, through the entire campaign, the storyline dungeons are only 5 or 10 floors deep. These bite sized roguelike dungeons can still pack a punch, but are not nearly as intimidating as the 100 floor monstrosities more common to the genre.
Secondly, the “exit” item that lets you instantly escape from dungeons is available at the item shop early in the game for a minimal expense, so if things start getting too difficult, a prepared player will live to fight another day.
Third, though Renya’s level is reduced to 1 whenever he dies or exits a dungeon, the levels he earned are not entirely lost. They get added to a tally of stored levels, and as the number of stored levels increases, so do Renya’s base stats. What this means is that as Renya levels up, his curve of growth will become more and more rapid according to how many levels he has stored and how high his base stats are. This form of permanent character progression takes some of the frustration out of failure, because though you will lose your equipped gear and carried items, you will still be a bit stronger when you try again.
Fourth is yet another permanent form of character development called Body Modification where special items called Holy Icons can be placed on a board of tiles called a Divinigram in order to further increase base stats. Furthermore, Holy Artifacts can also be placed over the Holy Icons, providing other bonuses such as an increase in the number of items you can carry, or bonus damage to certain enemy types. This particular system increases in depth throughout the main campaign and even more in the post-game. With careful use of Body Modification, Renya and the other playable characters can become much more powerful, even at level 1.
Fifth up is gear strengthening and synthesis. With enough gold pieces the player can hire a blacksmith to improve the quality of gear or combine it with other gear in order to make it more powerful. Gear can only be strengthened once it has “burst” by being used repeatedly. When a piece of gear is in burst status, its effectiveness is halved, but when it is strengthened, it will level up and be better than new. Careful use of this system can make a big difference throughout the campaign, and is even more important in the post-game.
Sixth is a method of holding onto that extra special gear that you don’t want to lose. If you become particularly attached to a set of items or spend a lot of resources on strengthening and synthesis, you can assign those items as a Summoned Set. A Summoned Set can be temporarily summoned into a dungeon, and can be used for a few moments before being returned to base. Even if Renya dies while equipped with a summoned set, those items cannot be lost. I personally love this feature because I always hated how I was reluctant to take my best gear into the dungeon while playing roguelikes, and in The Guided Fate Paradox, Summoned Sets solve that problem completely.
Seventh up is a fun feature borrowed from the Disgaea series that allows the player to lift and throw enemies, allies, items and objects. This can be handy for getting a dangerous enemy out of the way, damaging an enemy from a distance or forcing an enemy that is invulnerable from the front into a different position. Any item can be thrown to deal damage, but certain items can also inflict ailments upon enemies, paralyzing them or putting them to sleep for example. It’s a fun feature, and it fits pretty well into the roguelike formula.
Last but not least is that Renya is not alone in most of the dungeons. Lilliel or another angel can accompany him. The presence of an A.I. controlled ally makes things easier across the board, especially considering they have special skills like healing auras that come in quite handy. They can also be equipped just like Renya, and even have their own Divinigrams.
Between all of the above features, The Guided Fate Paradox is easily the most accessible roguelike I’ve ever played, and is a perfect starting point for players new to the genre.
Features for Veterans
On the other hand, if this is starting to sound a little too easy or if you’re one of those diehard roguelike players, fear not. The Guided Fate Paradox has several features to increase the level of difficulty as well.
First up is the Enemy Boost Shop. Not unlike the “make enemies stronger” bills from the Disgaea series, the Enemy Boost Shop does exactly what it sounds like it does. Enemies can be increased in power from level 0 (default) all the way to level 10. The adjustment appears to be multiplicative and can add a challenge to even the simplest of dungeons if you are not prepared. It also makes playing the game multiple times more interesting.
Second are the Martial Arts dungeons. Unlike the storyline dungeons, the shortest of the Martial Arts Dungeons is 50 floors. I’ve only made it to the second of these so far, and it has 100 floors and a much higher difficulty curve than the first one. The Martial Arts dungeons provide a ton of additional gameplay beyond the main storyline and are a bit closer to a traditional roguelike experience. It could be said that the dungeons of the storyline are just practice for the Martial Arts dungeons. On the last floors of the Martial Arts dungeons are very powerful boss enemies. I’m at the point where I can easily clear the first 49 floors of the beginner’s dungeon, but the boss on the 50th floor still kills me in two hits, even with my very best Summoned Set of gear (and this is with the Enemy Boost Shop set to level 0)! I consider it an inappropriate level of challenge considering the difficulty of the rest of that dungeon, but there’s a trophy in it for me if I manage to defeat it so I’ll keep trying. I’m using the Intermediate Martial Arts dungeon to acquire better gear in the meantime, but man, these dungeons are not easy.
Third is Dungeon Survival mode which is unlocked after completing the main storyline. If you want to play the closest thing to a true roguelike in The Guided Fate Paradox, then Dungeon Survival mode is the place for you. In this mode, you enter the dungeon with absolutely nothing. You are a level 1 character, you have no gear, you have no stored levels, and you have no Divinigram. It’s just a barebones roguelike where you survive off what you find and pray that it’s enough. It’s very challenging, to the point that you can easily get defeated on the first floor. I only challenged it once so far, and I made it to the 5th floor before getting stomped. You do get an angel companion in Dungeon Survival mode, but roguelike purists can feel free to let that character die if they want a greater challenge.
Finally there are the extra stages, a series of post-game levels that bend the rules a bit. In the first one, you have to pick up a bunch of boxes and throw them into holes before the exit to the next floor is revealed, all while fighting to survive. These stages are particularly fun for fans of Nippon Ichi games, because you get to face off against cameo characters from their other games when you reach the end of the extra stages. They are also more difficult than the levels throughout the main campaign and should provide a significant challenge to roguelike veterans, especially when combined with the Enemy Boost Shop.
With all of this post-game content, even the most dedicated roguelike player will find plenty of challenge in The Guided Fate Paradox, as well as a healthy supply of replay value.
Features for Everyone
But there is more to this game than just a nice learning curve for roguelike newcomers and an abundance of depth for veterans. As far as roguelikes go, The Guided Fate Paradox has a very strong storyline. It is on par with the best of Nippon Ichi’s work and is paced well throughout the game. The player gets to see a new storyline sequence after every single completed floor of the dungeon throughout the entire game. This drastically decreases the sense of tedium that often builds while spending too much time dungeon crawling. If anything, there might be too much storyline content, as a floor can be completed very quickly if the player wants to rush through it, and it can be a bit much, especially towards the beginning of the game. But overall, the storyline is implemented into the roguelike formula expertly.
The story is also enhanced by great music and a talented cast of voices. The soundtrack is filled with beautiful vocal pieces and lovely choral work. I never got tired of listening to the music in The Guided Fate Paradox. As for the voice-overs, the first time I played through the game I listened to the English voice cast. For the most part it was very good. I especially enjoyed the antagonist’s voice in English, which was subtle and straightforward—highly appropriate for the character. I actually missed that voice and a couple of others when I played through the game in Japanese. The main difference between the two voice casts is the performance for the angel, Lilliel. For example, what was a sort of giggle in Japanese has been translated into a very over-the-top “MWA-HA-HA!” that is repeated throughout the game, somewhat jarringly. Her entire character seems a bit crazy in English compared to the Japanese in which her voice is softer, lower, and calmer. Likewise, a zombie character sounds much more like a zombie in Japanese than it does in English, where is sounds more like a high pitched cartoon character’s voice that is annoying to say the least. But overall, both sets of vocal performances are good. If I had to recommend one, in this case, I’d pick the Japanese, but I highly recommend playing through the game twice so you can hear both casts and unlock a few goodies as well.
Speaking of goodies, the game is full of them. The weapons, armor and objects that can be found and equipped throughout The Guided Fate Paradox are endlessly bizarre and entertaining. My personal favorite is a Tuna Head that can be worn as a helmet. Go figure. All of the equipment is displayed on the character while worn, so you can turn easily turn Renya into a cat ear wearing, shotgun wielding freak with cannons on his back and mermaid legs if you want to.
There are well over 200 types of gear in the game, each with a unique appearance and multiple ranks with palette swaps, so the customization options are substantial. Nippon Ichi was kind enough to include an NPC that will allow you to change the color of your items and rename them too. There is also, of course, a character that keeps track of what you have found, so completionists will have plenty to keep them busy. You can store up to 1000 items in storage while you are outside of the dungeon, so there’s nothing stopping you from collecting everything except your lack of free time. The storage interface is a bit inconvenient, as for some maddening reason they decided to use 10 pages of 100 tiny icons rather than a list-based system, but it still gets the job done.
Aside from stats and visual flair, gear serves another purpose. Each item has a unique special ability that Renya and his allies can only use while they are equipped. Some skills have a wider area of effect than basic attacks, and others can provide buffs and bonuses to help increase Renya’s chances. Ultimately, the item system adds a great deal of fun and variety to an already great game.
Another aspect of the game that adds variety is the dungeons throughout the storyline. Each one has a unique theme that not only changes how the dungeons look, but changes how it plays as well. For example, there is a level full of zombies that will come back to life unless you throw a tombstone on top of them. There’s another level where Renya is walking on the surface of a cube instead of on a flat plane, and he can jump through holes to reach the opposite side, and has to navigate through a maze of barriers all over the cube. There is a great deal of creativity in the level design throughout the campaign that makes it far more fun and less redundant than the hallways and rooms of most roguelikes. Then again, if you like hallways and rooms, you’ll find plenty of those as well in the bonus dungeons.
There are also boss battles at the end of each chapter which provide an interesting twist to the usual roguelike combat. There’s a huge zombie that can only be harmed when all of the little zombies are dead, but they tend to come back to life to make things more complicated. There’s also a difficult encounter where you have to protect an NPC while waves of bad guys come after you. These boss fights definitely spice things up a lot, and they are very intense considering if you fail, you face the usual consequences, including starting that dungeon all over.
Overall, The Guided Fate Paradox truly is the best roguelike I’ve ever played. While I’m sure that fans of the genre who are a lot more dedicated to it than I am will argue for their favorites, I believe The Guided Fate Paradox succeeds not only in providing an accessible roguelike to newcomers to the genre, but a very deep, rewarding experience for enthusiasts. It’s also incredibly addicting, not only while playing through the campaign, but when challenging the post-game dungeons as well. It also includes a strong storyline and characters, even though the genre typically lacks such things. Give The Guided Fate Paradox a try, and I hope you will be as pleasantly surprised as I was. Now I just have to find a copy of Z.H.P. Unlosing Ranger VS Darkdeath Evilman!
Ari completed The Guided Fate Paradox in 40 hours and has played a total of 60 hours so far. He received a copy of the game from Nippon Ichi for review purposes.
+ Accessible learning curve
+ Surprisingly deep mechanics
+ Strong storyline
+ Good characters
+ Extensive post-game content
+ Solid voice acting
+ Awesome equipment
+ Great music
-Disconnect between gameplay and storyline
-Inventory interface is cumbersome
-Bosses in Martial Arts Dungeons are overpowered
Available on: PlayStation 3
Version Reviewed: PlayStation 3