Guided Fate Paradox is one of the few games with Roguelike elements I’ve played in a long time. The last one I can recall was Azure Dreams back on the Playstation 1. It’s just never been a genre that’s called to me…. but something about this one made me give it a try. Somewhere between the concept of being made God through a mall lottery and the idea of answering prayers by completing dungeons, my attention was grabbed… but it was neither of those that held my attention through Guided Fate Paradox.
A New Kind of Angel…
The story begins with Renya, the world’s most unlucky teenager, getting accosted by a gorgeous girl in a mall and told to try his luck at the lottery… naturally, he wins and, before being knocked out by this lovely young lady, advised that his prize is the privilege of becoming God. Upon waking up, he’s in a strange place called Celestia and is promptly confronted with the fact that that young lady, named Liliel, is an angel – and what’s more, his “Exclusive Angel”.
He is then introduced to a strange cast of other angels, each of which has their own distinct off-the-wall quirk. Lanael, for example, is small, cute, and to be quite frank, evil. Neliel is a shut in. Cheriel acts like a nymphomaniac… and you later find out she’s a former succubus who has defected to become an Angel, which makes perfect sense. The list goes on, each of the angels is completely different from each other… and with the exception of Kuroiel and Liliel, they’re all in on a big secret which becomes the main plot point of the story later. Each of these angels are also able to accompany you into dungeons – eventually, that is. To start with only Liliel can.
You also get introduced to some rather strange antagonists. In a lot of ways, the demons feel more relatable than most of the angels do – with Satanael coming across as a well-learned gentleman, and his followers being a bit angrier, but ultimately similar. It is one of the reasons the story is so fascinating… you get a very unique and strange twist on the ‘holy war’ between angels and demons… presented with a cast of characters such that nobody is afraid to take the role of comic relief once in a while.
Don’t get me wrong, the story is completely nonsensical… but it’s nonsensical for a reason. The nonsense allows them to tell two very interesting stories at the same time… the holy war story I mentioned above being one of them. The other is the story of the two main characters, Renya and Liliel, whose personalities and relationship develop in some fascinating and intriguing ways over the course of this game.
Solving The Universe’s Problems: One Dungeon At a Time
As mentioned above, Guided Fate Paradox takes Roguelike elements. For those unaware, the concept of a Roguelike is that every time you start the game, you start from scratch and losing or dying causes you to lose everything. This game takes that concept, but makes it a little more accessible. You see, rather than losing everything… you gradually accumulate certain things even when you lose. The level you reached before you died unlocks permanent stat increases and opens up a board called the Divinigram, but more on that a bit later.
You are also able to keep your items if you either complete a dungeon or use a specific item to escape it. This allows you to accumulate a variety of different restorative items as well as powerful gear which you can store with an NPC in Celestia. This allows you to save items that you’re afraid of losing for when it really counts. There is also a rather fascinating mechanic called ‘divine summon’ which allows you to save gearsets with an npc, storing the gear with them, and allowing you to temporarily summon it within a dungeon, up to a certain number of times per dungeon.
The game’s story is primarily told in cutscenes surrounding these dungeons, with each dungeon having its own side story while still progressing the game’s overall story. Each dungeon’s sidestory, save the last, is a prayer or a wish that Renya is responsible for granting. He does this, of course, by beating up enemies known as aberrations and by venturing deeper into the dungeon. It’s kind of a pity they didn’t make granting prayers a bit more involved, but given that the prayers are such a small part of the core story – in the end they’re little more than training – it makes sense.
There is a variety of different equipment you can get in this game, falling into one of 4 slots – hands, head, miscellaneous, legs. Each item has different stats, appearance, and special ability. And unlike many JRPGs, all items actually show up on your character… this may sound like a small thing, but it allows you to create some utterly hilarious combinations. Ever seen a scorpion with a horse’s head and two laser cannons? I can officially say I have, thanks to this game. It is ridiculous, but it’s also hilarious.
It is in these items that you make unique your style. Different items offer different bonuses, ranging from destroying traps to long-range sniping attacks to circular area of effect abilities centered around Renya (or his angel of choice). Each item has a distinct special ability, and certain combinations of items feature powerful combination abilities as well. It allows for a lot of really creative techniques and playstyles… and a lot of complexity when you start facing stronger enemies who try to use some of those special abilities against you.
But what makes the item system in this game truly unique is the way you progress your items. By using items, you can ‘burst’ them reducing their stats in half but also allowing them to be upgraded. When you upgrade an item, it becomes stronger in every way and lasts longer before being burst. Sounds pretty simple so far… right? That’s where Synthesizing comes in. Synthesizing allows you to combine an item with another item to take part of its stats which allows you to create even more powerful items. In learning which stats you need, and how to synthesize items correctly, is where the true strategy of the game begins to become clear. Remember the Divine Summon system I mentioned above? Well it has a role in this too, as items equipped via Divine Summon ‘burst’ more quickly. Bursting items also accomplishes one other very important goal…
The Divinigram is probably my favourite part of this game. I spent a huge amount of time just playing around in there… and if you’re anything like me, the puzzle of trying to maximize it will probably catch you too. But that’s getting ahead of ourselves… what is the Divinigram, you ask? The Divinigram resembles a map with a bunch of statues that generate ‘God Energy’. As you progress through the game, you’ll accumulate Icons and Artifacts. Icons, of course, are produced by bursting items. The type and quality of item determines the icon you get. Artifacts have to be purchased. Basic ones are accessible through the store in Celestia but more interesting and powerful ones are only available from the rare stores within bonus levels in dungeons.
Icons contain stat bonuses that you can place on your Divinigram allowing you to gradually become more and more powerful. Icons can only be placed on locations that are connected, by a direct chain of other icons, to one of the God Energy sources I mentioned above. The Divinigram allows you to gradually unlock more space to place icons, and each of your angels can have their own Divinigram as well, allowing you to further customize them. Now this may sound pretty basic so far – unlock spaces, put more stats down, maximize the stats you want most… and that is where the artifacts come in.
Artifacts are items that have a variety of different effects that can be placed on top of icons on the Divinigram. Artifacts have different sizes, shapes, and some even can only be placed on top of certain Icons. This creates a bit of planning required in laying out your Divinigram, but that’s only the start. You see, the ‘God Energy’ that I mentioned earlier… it’s not just for allowing you to place Icons. It also shoots a straight-line beam of energy that will empower an Artifact based off of how far it has travelled, and you can use something called a ‘Changer’ to force it to change direction, allowing for it to travel longer since it can go through the entire Divinigram. If two beams of God Energy touch, they’ll mix together, still granting the benefit of both beams, allowing you to empower Artifacts further. Additionally, there’s something called a Preventer that you can put down to stop God Energy from combining, allowing you to get even more intricate designs going on and empower more Artifacts even further. This is the real key to the Divinigram, and ‘solving’ this puzzle is why I’ve spent hours playing around with it. It’s satisfying, and a great deal of fun – well at least if you’re interested in the math of the whole thing like I am.
Like most games coming out of the smaller Japanese companies these days, the game isn’t a very good showcase of graphics. In fact, Guided Fate Paradox looks like it would be perfectly at home on either handheld, or even on the PS2 as far as graphics goes. Similar to Record of Agarest Zero, the opening cinematic is just about the only display of graphics you’ll see in the game, really. Graphics aren’t everything though… and this game features a fairly impressive soundtrack. Most of the music in this game hits a high note for me, with the exception of the menu screen’s track which is exceedingly annoying. And the game leverages that soundtrack, as well as some soundtracks from previous NIS titles as well, by allowing you to customize the soundtrack to your liking. In my case, that meant that I was hearing the theme from the opening cinematic throughout the entire game… it was Glorious. This is something that I wish more of these slower, longer games would allow you to do… soundtrack customization is a huge convenience as it allows you to not have to mute the voices to get the music you like.
I know it seems like I’ve glossed over the actual gameplay, but that’s because it’s really just a straightforward turn based dungeon crawler. The controls are basic, they work, and aside from one minor annoyance are largely unremarkable. That annoyance being that the directional axes work a little differently than most games. Pushing the direction doesn’t move you in quite the direction you’d, at first, expect… but with how long you’ll be playing this game, you very quickly become used to this. All in all, the gameplay of the game is the lowpoint with the difficulty, quirky story, and endless replayability being the highpoints.
Endless replayability, you ask? Indeed. After finishing the game, that’s truly only the beginning with a variety of endless dungeons and challenges to overcome if you wish to truly ‘complete’ the game. At this point, I’m uncertain if there is a ‘true ending’ or anything like that, although nothing I’ve seen gives me any indication that there is and the ending I saw worked perfectly for the story.
Guided Fate Paradox, at first glance, seems like a fairly straightforward dungeon crawler with an absurd plot… but when you begin to peel away the crazy layers, you begin to see something fantastic. With it’s incredibly deep progression system, endless replayability, and charming love story, it’s a worthy and unique title… and one I fully intend to go back to. Oh, and if NIS ever implements a Vita version with cross-save functionality, I can assure you it will become a staple there as this game would be absolutely perfect on a handheld.