Wait, what? Really? A new PSP game?
After getting over my initial shock that a PSP game was released in 2013, I dusted off my old-faithful and downloaded the Japanese strategy RPG Generation of Chaos: Pandora’s Reflection, the sixth iteration of the Generation of Chaos series, from the PlayStation Store.
I have never played a Generation of Chaos game before, but I understand that Pandora’s Reflection, developed by Sting Entertainment and published by NIS America, deviates significantly from other entries in the series.
As the game begins, a quick burst of exposition situates you in the dark land of Hades. Siblings Claude and Yuri are traveling to escape the deadly ashen rain, which is destroying gradually destroying all life in the region. Yuri is marked with a butterfly curse, which her brother Claude, an alchemist, tries desperately to cure. As war rages, the remaining humans are pitted against synthetic homunculi for what is left of the rotting world.
Along the way on their journey, Claude and Yuri enlist many friends to take up the cause to save the way. They also meet many foes. In typical JRPG fashion, the major villains of the game are not introduced until well into the story, and there are plenty of plot twists to keep it, at best, difficult to follow.
The text in the North American port is translated into English, but the dialogue remains in Japanese, much to the delight of otakus everywhere. I do agree with the choice not to hire new voice actors, since the dubbing would probably come off as cheesy anyway and players would likely clamor for an option to switch to the original voices.
The battle system seems very complicated at first, but it’s remarkably intuitive after a battle or two. Like most strategy RPG’s, you must select characters from a roster to send into combat. Once they spawn at your base, you can direct them anywhere on the map, whether to capture or destroy enemy strategy points, field artillery, or simply march into battle with a stationary foe. Unlike tactical RPGs like Final Fantasy Tactics and Fire Emblem, movement is not restricted to a grid system, but hazards like water and mountains do affect character movement.
Once one of your characters touches an enemy, battles begin in proper. Sting Entertainment has managed to blend a rock, paper, scissors dynamic with weapons, combo rings, and rhythm game-esque timing features to great effect. While types of weapons are “good” or “bad” against others, each is also assigned a typical strength rating which, along with enemy defense, directly determines damage output.
Once you choose a weapon with which to attack, you have the opportunity to press X as a bar passes over circles. A greater ratio of hits to misses yields an “Impact Circle” expanding from the attacked enemy, where you then can chain attacks with other characters against the now-helpless defender. In addition to a strength stat, each weapon also has a designated Impact Circle diameter (measured simply in S, M, L, etc.) Combo the maximum of five times and that last character to attack performs a special “Chaos Attack,” which does extra damage to every enemy within a limited radius of the target. Trust me, by the end of the game you will need to take full advantage of this feature to win.
Victory conditions are usually either to capture the enemy’s base or defeat a particular named enemy, although you will most likely defeat all of the enemies before you even get to their base. A great majority of the fights require you to simply defeat one enemy, and I recommend you make it a priority to do just that, in addition to destroying enemy strategy points to decrease opposing field enemies to a manageable number.
Early in the game, Claude unlocks the ability to call upon summon monsters, which are also essential in staying alive in many of the game’s later skirmishes. The only way to heal, besides Yuri’s generally useless special ability that I won’t bother explaining here, is the Wind Spirit summon. I also resorted to other summons often, like one thatdestroys a handful of enemy strategy points and another that stuns enemies so that they cannot counterattack. There’s a summon meter at the top of the screen where orbs gathered from hitting enemies collect. The meter reaches its max at 3 bars, and constantly filling the meter by doling out big chunks of damage to weaker enemies is very important when fighting a tough named boss near the end of the game.
Once you win a battle, Alchemy Points are awarded. You can use these points to heal ally’s hit points (this option is essential but requires very few points, so don’t worry), invest in additional character leveling, or upgrade weapons. I almost exclusively chose to upgrade weapons and found that to be more useful than constantly adding EXP points. You can also convert extra weapons earned as loot into Alchemy Points, which is another useful feature.
The game is all over the place in terms of difficulty. I beat most of the game within two days, but then had to grind for hours just to pass the next stage. In all, there are just over 30 stages in the game, while some of which have two battles within a single stage. The first twenty or so battles are a breeze, but then one out of every few of the following stages is a real killer, mostly because you have to win two battles without any chance to heal except through the use of the Wind Spirit summon once every battle.
The musical score also varies a bit in quality, but it is generally excellent, with some epic orchestral arrangement peppered throughout later battles. At the end of the game, I was moved emotionally not by the overly convoluted story but the refrain of the game’s theme, which I knew I wouldn’t be hearing again, at least for a while. The game does offer a New Game+ option, but I was so exhausted after a week of training on-and-off for the last few battles that I don’t expect to return to Hades anytime soon.
I should mention that there are no animated cutscenes in the game. Instead, the screen divides in half during story sequences and the scene plays out like a really simple motion comic, with characters appearing, saying a line, then withdrawing as another character appears. This gets confusing at times, as characters allude to action happening that you can’t actually see, except the occasional grimace on a character’s face.
Overall, Generation of Chaos: Pandora’s Reflection is a perfectly serviceable and often fun addition to the PSP’s RPG library. Some of the final battles in the game are frustrating, and the repetition of simply advancing through stages without any overworld control gets monotonous very quickly. For anyone who wants to give his or her PSP one last spin, you can do much worse than this game. Oh, and you might have noticed this review is marked as a Vita review. This game is also playable on the Vita through the PlayStation Store, so give it a shot if it sounds interesting and you’ve got nothing better to do.