What is it about strategy games and February that makes for such a good match? Maybe it’s the inclement weather keeping us indoors, the contemplative tone of a new year, or maybe even the grey skies evoking a sort of infinite chessboard in our minds. No matter what the cause this just seems the season for strategy games and between Fire Emblem and this new release, Generation of Chaos: Pandora’s Reflection, we shall not want for interesting and new ways to smack a variety of what are essentially chess pieces against each other. So for everyone out there without a 3DS and therefore missing out on the Fire Emblem fun, this one is for you, I just hope you have a PSP or a VITA to play it with.
So while I have been positioning this as an alternative to Fire Emblem, the two games are actually quite different and GoC brings a lot of new and interesting ideas to the table. Probably the biggest difference between this and other strategy games is that there’s no grid to move around upon. Instead you just pick a place for your unit to go and they’ll head there in a straight line. To better effect actual tactics and not just have all the units run straight at their objectives like a herd of squealing idiots you can actually set up points for them to head to in order giving you the ability to easily set up flanking maneuvers and pincer attacks. The game is also real-time, pausing only for combat and for when you’re readjusting a unit’s path, meaning you’ll have to adapt on the fly to the enemy’s plans and learn to play on both the offensive and the defensive at the same time. It’s an interesting system and both allows for and requires more flexibility than you normally see from games in this genre.
Another interesting note is the fact that you’re working with far fewer units than you might expect, on average not more than five or so at a time. In fact a big part of the game is capturing or destroying “strategy points” on the map both so that you can bring out more units and to make the enemy withdraw theirs as they are generally working within similar limits. In fact capturing and defending nodes on the map in general is a massive part of the game with things such as artillery, NPCs, and the aforementioned strategy points all littered about and providing an assortment of bonuses. Even the victory condition of most stages is to capture the enemy’s base node, so this is much more a game of map control than a pure unit to unit combat experience, which is honestly for the best as the combat is somewhat lack luster.
Combat consists of two character portraits staring at each other angrily, you picking a weapon, and then performing a quick QTE, all of this without any real animation. I mean sure animation isn’t strictly necessary but it does take you out of the experience somewhat to have combat be boiled to pretty much nothing but a series of quickly timed button presses. It’s not entirely joyless but it takes a lot of the gravitas out of combat making it a means to an end rather than something to really be enjoyed. Oddly enough the more I think about it the more I realize how little animation there is in the entire game. Dialog, combat, menus, and even between mission cut scenes are all just talking heads that switch portraits when they need to emote. In fact I’m fairly sure the sprites moving on the tactical map are literally all the animation there is here. Even the supposedly magnificent summons you get as the game goes on are pretty much just a static picture of the summon monster moving around the screen while a bunch anime effects go on around it.
The real meat of the gameplay outside of the tactics is the upgrading and unit management which all uses the singular currency of alchemy points. Outside of battle you have the option to heal your allies, upgrade your weapons, and even level up your units all using alchemy points which you get a limited amount of for beating each level. Despite the fact that those upgrade and leveling paths are linear-which is a little boring-what’s interesting is the fact that you can straight up buy levels for your units. This means you’ll never have that awkward moment where a character you feel like using again becomes under leveled because they been part of your rotation in a while; just do a few free battles with your strongest dudes and then level everybody out. Much like the rest of the gameplay it lacks a lot of the flair and depth you might want but offers a surprising amount of options and flexibility which is its own kind of fun and something new in a genre normally stacked deep in rules.
I guess I haven’t really touched on the story or the presentation yet and that’s mainly because there really isn’t much to touch upon there. The story is incredibly boilerplate with it being the standard anime rigmarole of an over protective older brother and a mewling sick little sister (who are of course orphans) wandering around trying to find a cure for her ill-defined yet obviously plot important disease, gathering up a party of simpletons with vague yet altruistic goals that all thankfully mesh with your own, and learning that their world is really screwed up and that they must save it from evil demons and/or world leaders who worship said evil demons. It’s a story we’ve all heard about million times before in some permutation and there wasn’t really much in the large chunk of it I played to indicate that it was going anywhere different towards the end. The presentation as I’ve mentioned is minimal with character portraits and small sprites on a map screen being the majority of what you’ll be seeing but the UI surrounding it all is at least somewhat different. It has a very spiky, purple, somewhat gothic feel to it that pervades the game as a whole. It reminds me a lot of the Dept. Heaven stuff like Gungnir or Riviera it’s a different kind of look but it works and fits the ruined world theme that’s evoked in the story.
Put simply this is a fun little strategy game with some really neat new and most importantly innovative ideas. Sadly it doesn’t exactly succeed on every front and a lackluster story, a dearth of customization in the upgrades, and ho-hum combat hold it back. It makes for a good little fix if you’re craving some strategy action and the idea of a gridless strategy game is incredibly novel but it just doesn’t really feel like a must-have-title. If you don’t have a 3DS to play Fire Emblem on and you want some strategy fun this doesn’t seem like a bad way to go especially for only $20 on PSN, even if it does feel like it’s missing a little something. Generation of Chaos: Pandora’s Reflection gets a 3 out of 5 stars, not the best strategy game released this month but definitely one to consider playing if you’re a fan of the genre.