Generation of Chaos 6: Pandora's Reflection (Vita) Review
Posted by Stephen Randle on 02.27.2013
A long-running Japanese strategy RPG series makes its way overseas and onto the Vita! Find out if it's worth checking out inside!
Title: Generation of Chaos 6: Pandora’s Reflection
Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Sting/Idea Factory
Genre: Real-Time Strategy RPG
Generation of Chaos 6: Pandora’s Reflection is the latest installment in a decently long-running series of strategy-based RPG’s that had previously been limited to Japanese releases. This edition originally appeared in Japan on the PSP, and was just recently translated and released digitally on the PSN for the PlayStation Vita. The game brings together gameplay elements that you may recognize from classic strategy RPG’s such as Ogre Battle, Final Fantasy Tactics, and Shining Force, however this amalgamation results in a finished product that is somewhat lesser when compared to those franchises from which it borrows.
The story of Pandora’s Reflection is an easily recognizable tale. The main characters are orphaned siblings, he an Alchemist, she a young woman with a strange, mystical butterfly-shaped tattoo on her throat, which appears to be a source of magical powers. As the pair journey across the land, they end up caught in a war where a cult leader, in search of greater power, has manipulated the lower classes into rebellion against their leaders, threatening to plunge the entire world into chaos. Together, brother and sister must help put an end to this conflict, and also try to find out the meaning behind the strange tattoo that marks her.
The story, obviously, is not complicated, which may appeal to those who have grown tired of the overly confusing multi-layered messes that have occasionally plagued narrative-based games over the last few years. However, my only issue with the story is that it is delivered entirely through text-filled dialogues between characters, with no animated cutscenes of any sort. I’m not asking for reams of CGI, but even scenes involving sprites on a static background would have added some life to the reams of exposition, which sometimes take longer than the battles themselves. While the game does contain voice-acting, it is in un-translated Japanese, and while the English translation is adequate, it is only that, leaving many of the statements made by characters feeling stiff or awkward, lacking in nuance or emotion.
Some screens may have been taken from the Japanese version of the game. You probably won’t notice a difference.
The battle system runs in real-time, as units move across the map even while you issue orders. Each unit consists of a single character, and depending on how many strategy points (random spots on the map that you send units out to activate) you hold on the map, you can have up to five units running around on your side. Units are deployed from your base, and if the enemy ever moves onto it unimpeded, you lose the battle and have to start over. When your unit meets with an enemy, the battle shifts to a new screen, where each side takes a turn delivering a single blow. Combat is resolved in a modified “rock-paper-scissors” format, with various weapons or skills offering better or worse damage depending on what defense the enemy offers. It sounds a little complicated, but your characters can carry anywhere from one to three weapons, while enemy units only hold one, giving you multiple choices and a very good chance of having the advantage in any battle. In addition, after you select your attack, a meter will appear on the screen, featuring up to six “points” lined up on it. As the meter fills, you hit “X” and attempt to activate each point, receiving damage bonuses depending on how well you do. It’s an interesting system, but the meter tends to get cluttered at higher numbers of points, making it feel less like a timing mini-game, and more like an exercise in button-mashing.
Aha! Is this our chance?
But wait, there’s even more, as if you successfully damage an enemy, the game displays a circular field around that unit on the battle map. Then, if you have any other units inside that circle, you can hit a button prompt, which allows them to deliver a hit of their own without fear of reprisal. My only issue with that part is that the circle appears even if a) you clearly have no units anywhere near the field, and b) if the unit was already killed by the initial attack. Sure, you can skip the follow-up attack on the dead unit, but why even offer it in the first place?
Don’t get caught in the blast zone!
In addition, early in the game you receive the ability to “summon” creatures, which will be familiar to any Final Fantasy fan. These summons offer a range of powerful spells, from healing your party to dealing massive damage, and are powered by crystals that drop whenever you successfully damage enemy units.
It all sounds complex, but it’s all presented in easy-to-understand terms as the game really eases you into the battle system over several maps. In fact, the entire game is easy for anyone, even someone who has never played a strategy game, to pick up and be successful at. As someone who has grown up on extremely challenging strategy games, complicated JRPGs, and games that are a diabolical mix of both, Pandora’s Reflection featured none of the things that could frustrate novice gamers. The difficulty curve is very gradual, which is good for those looking for an introduction into the genre without tearing their hair out at difficult concepts, but for anyone with even a general experience in any part of the strategy RPG milieu, the level of challenge hovers somewhere around “mostly non-existent”. The battle maps and Alchemy system, while interesting, are fairly easy to exploit with minimal grinding, making it practically child’s play to have your characters leave enemy units in the dust. Also, the battle maps are all single screen, which means they are incredibly small, and once you and the enemy have all your units in motion, there’s really not a lot of room for any strategy. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your point of view), most battles are pretty linear, and you can pretty much rush your way through without suffering too much of a setback. Again, while this might be a relief to new gamers, it does make the game fly by without having to use much brainpower at all.
Graphically, the game is a mix of hand-drawn character portraits for the dialogue, while using sprites that resemble those found in old-school 16-bit RPGs to represent units on the overall battle map. Meanwhile, the soundtrack is solid but unspectacular, and the voice acting might be good, although you’d have to ask someone who speaks Japanese to be sure. In both cases, these aspects don’t detract from the game, but they don’t particularly add anything impressive to the presentation, either. People looking to games like these for memorable graphics or music tracks will probably be disappointed in this case.
Big golden eyes, long blue hair. Yep, it’s anime, all right.
- Easy for even novices to pick up and play
- Interesting Alchemy system for upgrading weapons and characters
- Decent RPG story elements
- Don’t need to grind your unit levels to succeed
- Very small maps limit viable battle strategies beyond the obvious
- Controls sometimes too slow to react to fast-paced battle developments
- A little too simplistic, not very challenging, lacking in any real depth
- No real innovation, many concepts done better in older franchises
Pandora’s Reflection is a decent introductory RTS, suitable for people who might find the more difficult entries in the genre too overwhelming or complex. Both the combat and Alchemy upgrade systems offer easy-to-understand concepts that anyone, even the newest player, should have no trouble understanding and mastering quickly. For some, however, the systems in place and their simplicity might be considered a turn-off, as the game is almost too easy for anyone with any experience in video games. Even limited attempts at grinding will allow your party to quickly outdistance your enemies in levels. In addition, the maps where these battles take place are incredibly small, limited to the single screen of the Vita, making things cramped, and thanks to the accelerated pace of battle, limiting in terms of what you can strategize, often favouring a simple “all-out assault” in lieu of capturing and maintaining control points or artillery pieces. The story that binds the game together is decent, if clichéd, but reliant entirely on dialogue, occasionally leading to confusion due to an adequate but bare-bones translation. If you know someone looking for a starting point in the genre, Pandora’s Reflection is a decent entry-level choice, but if you’re looking for something that will challenge an experienced gamer or anything particularly attention-grabbing or innovative, you’ll find better options elsewhere.
The character portraits are well-done and stylish, the battle sprites reminiscent of the 16-bit era, favouring simplicity
Almost too simplistic, small maps combined with fast-moving combat reduces opportunity for actual tactics in favour of rushing through
Voice acting is all in Japanese (with English text), the soundtrack is decent but unmemorable
Seven chapters and thirty-odd battles, but only a few hours of game play, no real need to grind, and no reason to re-play
A decent entry-level RTS with limited RPG elements, but experienced gamers won’t find much challenge here