God and the Illusory Garden (Kami, Nozomu Sekai to Hakinowa Gensou) by Yōsei Teikoku
Ready, everyone? It’s time for Under Your Radar! Today, I’ll be reviewing Nippon Ichi Software’s 2013 roguelike, The Guided Fate Paradox. Released in Japan as Kami-sama to Unmei Kakumei no Paradox (lit. “The God and Fate Revolution Paradox”), this PS3 game is the spiritual successor to their 2010 PSP game Z.H.P.: Unlosing Ranger VS Darkdeath Evilman. This game got a sequel that bombed in Japan at the end of September by the name of Kami-sama to Unmei Kakusei no Cross-Thesis (lit. “The God and Fate Cross-Thesis Awakening”), which will be released int he West next year as The Awakened Fate Ultimatum.
Of note in the development team are the Haruhi Suzumiya and Shakugan no Shana illustrator Noizi Ito on character design (who even drew an exclusive print for the North American limited edition), as well as the female voice cast. Why the female voice cast? Well, 8 of 9 major female roles plus Asagi in the Japanese voice track are actually voiced and credited as none other than the protagonists of Love Live! School Idol Project. The five who played angels reprised their roles for the sequel.
The story is simple. You are an ordinary high school kid named Renya. On your way home one day, a pushy girl in a maid dress coerces you into entering a lottery. You win the grand prize: godhood. After knocking you out and taking you to Celestia, this maid reveals herself as your personal angel, Liliel. Now you, as God, must go change fate according to your believers’ wishes that are handed to you by the Fate Revolution Circuit, and defeat the evil Satanael who tipped the balance of the eternal war between angels and demons.
Across the 10 chapters (called “Lessons” in the game), aside from the final one, you receive a wish from a believer, which opens a new dungeon. After every few floors, you get a cutscene, culminating with a conclusion after the boss. A few of these tie into the overarching plot, a few don’t. For example, the first believer is Cinderella while the seventh believer is a nameless man who plays a pivotal role in the game’s backstory.
Between chapters, you get scenes where Renya lives a normal life at home, going to school, the works, then an angel comes to pick him up. I appreciated these scenes, but I felt they were way too short.
In the final chapter, you must go face Satanael in the final battle. There is no post-game story or anything, as the game forces you into new game plus. As much as I dislike forced new game plus, the story wouldn’t have allowed anything else regardless. I’d explain why, but it would spoil the scenes after the final boss.
The story does its job, but the parts outside of dungeons could have been presented better. Of note is how every other scene in each lesson, as you’re going through the dungeons, cuts to the angels discussing things in private outside the dungeon. Surely there must have been a better way to handle this.
The gameplay is also simple, playing a lot like Z.H.P. in most places. Each floor is a randomly-generated grid-based map that’s turn-based. After you move, your partner (if you brought one – you have no excuse not to) moves, then all the enemies on the map do. there’s a large amount of equipment available that come with their own sets of attacks, but you’ll be forced to switch equipment constantly due to the burst mechanic that basically has the equipment wear down over time. If the equipment reaches burst status, you get tiles to use in the Divinogram and the equipment is severely weakened, but can be upgraded at the base.
Each dungeon, one of which gets added per chapter (aside from the optional challenge ones), has an increasing number of floors, and you must manage your hunger and equipment on top of yours and your partner’s HP and MP on your way down.There are many gimmicks, hidden special floors and the like scattered across the dungeons, as well as a boss on the bottom, most of which have various non-standard mechanics in place. Thankfully, these gimmicks do not get in the way as much as in Z.H.P., and are a lot clearer. One of my main gripes with Z.H.P. was that many bosses were just a bit too hard to decipher.
Furthermore, fighting enemies and just playing in general will charge up a bar that will allow you to enter God Mode. God Mode has a lot of raw power, though it should be reserved for boss fights unless one’s in a major pinch, since it also heals you.
After each dungeon, or if you die, you’re returned to base and returned to level 1, with your stat growths increased based on stored levels (which is what the levels you gained in the dungeons are used for). At the base, you can manage your inventory (limited size, and you lose it if you die), you money (you lose it if you die unless you store it), and other things. You can also purchase equipment, upgrade them, set emergency equipment to be sent in a pinch, and mess with your Divinogram. The Divinogram is a map that allows you to place tiles and other objects to affect your stats, your inventory size, and other things of the sort. Your available partners have their own as well.
You can also choose your partner, each of which has their own special ability, and set the equipment for everyone. You start with Liliel and get more partners as the game progresses. However, as you’re forced to use Liliel in the final dungeon, and she’s in most of the cutscenes anyway, it’s best to stick with her for most of the game. That said, a backup should be on hand for Lesson 8, where she’s unavailable.
Overall, the gameplay is easy to figure out, easy to play through, but is sufficiently hard while being perfectly fair aside from the final boss. The final boss is completely unbalanced, but I was unsurprised due to how much the story was hyping up his power.
Much like Z.H.P., this is one NIS game where you won’t mind the grind, since you start off at level 1 every time anyway. Furthermore, the game encouraging you to go out there and fail a few times helps make the grind go by faster.
To be perfectly honest with you, I prefer Z.H.P. and The Guided Fate Paradox over any given Diagaea game. I absolutely love the gameplay, and I can only hope that this gets ported to Vita someday so I can play on the go. It’s too bad it didn’t perform particularly well in sales.