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Mar 17 2015

Review of The Awakened Fate Ultimatum

TAFU_titlesheet_US3 Stars

For better or worse, The Awakened Fate Ultimatum is probably one of the most traditional games NIS has ever made. I realize how odd it is to be saying that about a game where the central premise involves your character becoming God in a very literal sense, but it’s true. The gameplay, the music, and many of the story beats fall within traditional JRPG norms rather than being a cavalcade of colourful anime nonsense like much of their past work. This change in style though allows them to tell a more serious kind of story than what we’re used to seeing out of the Disgaea developer and while it doesn’t really feel terribly original, it’s got some surprisingly decent hooks, enough to keep you chugging through the gameplay which is competent but formulaic and not very engaging.

Traditional turn-based, grid style, loot driven dungeon delving is order of the day.

Traditional turn-based, grid style, loot driven dungeon delving is the order of the day.

So as I said earlier, the basic premise here involves an apathetic high school student by the name of Shin Kamikaze becoming God. The exact reasons and machinations behind this event are too convoluted for me to relate here in full, but here’s the short version: The Netherworld (Hell) and Celestia (Heaven) are at war and both sides want to use a plot contrivance known as the “Fate Awakening Crystal” to create God so that he can help them put an end to the war. The angels manage to achieve this first thanks to the help of a captured devil scientist, but with that comes our twist. You see in order for God to do God-like things in AWU’s world, he needs to be connected to the souls of both an angel and a devil, balancing sway between the two. It’s your classic “there is no good guys or bad guys, just people” storyline and while that moral is hardly a fresh one, they use it to put forward some interesting scenarios. The angels are hardly innocent, and in the course of their war against the Netherworld they have been forced to institute some very harsh almost Stalin-esque policies. Similarly, while the devils are undoubtedly waging a vicious war against the angels, the game goes to great lengths to show that they have families and dreams and other very humanizing qualities. As God you’re regularly forced to make decisions regarding these two factions and decide the fate of specific characters that the game goes out of its way to characterize for the sole purpose of making things as tense as possible. Interestingly, the choices you’re given in these situations are surprisingly grey and have both immediate and delayed consequences. Often the “Devil” option in these scenarios proves to be more sensible and will be what saves the most lives while forcing you to be cruel in the moment, whereas the “Angel” option is generally the more immediately honorable tact but generally has a greater chance of failure and could result in a significant loss of life. These choices were by far the most interesting part of the game in my mind, daring to touch upon subjects such as child soldiery and euthanasia, and watching the effects of these decisions on both the world and Shin himself was very engrossing. Helping that is the fact that both Shin and his devil and angel soulmates are fairly well written; nothing about them feels overly original mind you, but there’s a logic and subtle awareness to the way these characters comport themselves which is refreshing. And that kind of defines the story and writing here as a whole, not terribly unique but still managing to be somewhat interesting.

One neat thing this game does is tie your decisions into your leveling, doling out points towards your Angel and Devil skills respective to your choices.

One neat thing this game does is tie your decisions into your leveling, doling out points towards your Angel and Devil skills respective to your choices.

Moving onto the gameplay side of things, The Awakened Fate Ultimatum ends up being surprisingly pedestrian for an NIS game, with it being built around a roguelike formula most comparable to that of the Mystery Dungeon games. Each chapter presents you with a new ten-floor dungeon to explore, filled with randomly generated levels, heaps of enemies, and piles of semi-useful loot. As expected some degree of perma-death is in effect as well, in this case making it so that when you fall while exploring the dungeon you lose all your items and equipment, which make up a large chunk of the progression in this game. The one new meaningful addition that AWU brings to this well-worn format is the “Deitize” system, which allows you to change into a powered-up angel or devil form at the cost of a quickly drained but fast replenishing resource. Every enemy in the game embodies either angel or devil power and using whatever form is opposite to them will allow you to do extra damage and mount a stronger defense. This means that you need to be smart about activating the right form at the right time so you can deal with every enemy in a room in the most efficient way possible, while also trying to be conservative with your powers so that you can make sure you’ll have enough of the resource available to save yourself from a bad situation. It’s somewhat reminiscent of Ikaruga in that sense, though proper use of this mechanic is not nearly as necessary and dire as it is in that game. Aside from that though the mechanics here are all pretty bog-standard, including things such as throwing items, fusing weapons for minor stat boosts, and leveling up (though the primary thing you’re leveling is the specific stats of your Deitized forms). Not that there is anything wrong with being simple or familiar, it makes the gameplay really easy to settle into and play for vast stretches of time without even realizing it, but it’s just not very engaging or exciting which ends up making The Awakened Fate Ultimatum feel like the club soda of the JRPG world.

The UI can feel a bit cluttered at times with individual elements such as the status bars and combat log taking up far more space than they need to.

The UI can feel a bit cluttered at times with individual elements taking up far more space than they need to.

In terms of presentation, it’s clear that this game was given a rather small budget and they stretched it as far as it would go; I say that because The Awakened Fate Ultimatum is absolutely rife with asset reuse. Dungeon tile sets, enemy models, and cut scene backgrounds are recycled constantly and the story is poorly stretched in ways that allow them to visit the same locations and events repeatedly. That said there’s enough overall variety in the assets that the repetition doesn’t feel too overbearing and the general quality of it all feels decent enough. I will say that there is a certain sense of incongruity though between the dialog driven chunks of the game and the dungeon delving roguelike segments, with the latter having a cutesy cartoon look that clashes with the more serious anime aesthetic of the former. As for the sound design, it’s all fairly well done; the voice acting feels competent and the music is pleasant if not very memorable.

While I appreciate NIS trying out something new with its storytelling and genuinely enjoyed some of the ideas The Awakened Fate Ultimatum lays out with its curiously muddy choices, the gameplay ended up being too bland to really grab me. That said it’s a good lazy Sunday sort of game, perfect for when you’re too out of it to play anything demanding and just need some simple dungeon crawling pablum to chew on for a few hours. As such I’m giving The Awakened Fate Ultimatum a 3 out of 5 stars; it’s worth a look if you’re in the mood for something simple with the occasional decent story hook, but I found the experience to be more shallow and rote than I would have liked. 

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