The Guided Fate Paradox - Review  

A Rogue You'll Like
by Michael "Wheels" Apps

Click here for game
60-80 Hours
+ Diverse and entertaining take on roguelikes.
+ Interesting and original story.
+ Complex upgrade system with many options.
- Odd pacing.
- Too heavy on anime tropes at times.
- Difficulty spike in the final chapter.
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   The Guided Fate Paradox is a spiritual successor to Nippon Ichi's roguelike, Z.H.P. Unlosing Ranger vs. Darkdeath Evilman. Expanding on that oddball title, Nippon Ichi has crafted a game that simultaneously does new things with the formula and provides an entertainingly interesting story despite heavy anime trope usage. The way the story and gameplay mix does create a frustratingly slow pace at first that takes some getting used to. Despite this, the end result is quite possibly the best roguelike to come out of Japan.

   The story setup in The Guided Fate Paradox sounds like something straight out of a stereotypical anime or Saturday morning cartoon. Good natured high school student Renya, known for his terrible luck at lotteries, randomly enters one at a local market run by a cute girl. He unexpectedly wins, only to find out that the prize is becoming a God forced to answer people's wishes by venturing through randomized dungeons. Naturally the cute girl running the lottery turns out to be an angel, and along with her companions who fulfill various well-worn tropes, she assists Renya in his new job. It's a bizarre setup, involving lots of technobabble, a machine called the Fate Revolution Circuit, and eventually a battle against demons.

   Something strange happens once the story moves to the first wish Renya has to grant. What involves Cinderella's dissatisfaction with her role in the venerable tale starts to feel a lot more down to earth than what came before. This wish and the ones that follow deal with real emotion, using familiar and unfamiliar characters to tell a string of mini-tales that are interesting and at times even touching. Through these tales Renya and his companion angel Liliel grow as characters so that when the wishes finally move on to become related to overall battle with the demons and their powerful leader, the player is much more likely to care about the conflict. The secondary angels don't get quite as much development, and many of their scenes feel like a waste of time early on. Eventually they get some more depth, but it would have been more welcome much earlier. It's nice to see Nippon Ichi try a more serious tale, and it largely works despite some of its typical zaniness coming through, and writing that strays a bit too much into annoying anime elements.

The dungeons are colorful
                                        and widely different in style. The dungeons are colorful and widely different in style.

   The gameplay in The Guided Fate Paradox adds a number of different elements to the gameplay typically seen in this kind of RPG. An energy bar slowly ticks down requiring the player to eat food or else face rapidly decreasing health due to starvation. Z.H.P. previously saw players forced to deplete this resource for skill use, but Guided Fate Paradox adds an actual skill point meter in addition to the standard health points and energy. Every equippable item provides a skill of some sort, giving players access to a huge assortment of techniques, which is a big change from a typical game in this sub-genre. Skills come in all shapes and sizes, from wide-angled shotgun attacks to status-inducing mushroom heads, giving the player tons of options to deal with the many challenges in the game's dungeons. The catch to all of this is that no matter the player's level, the max SP is always one hundred, making SP another resource that needs to be carefully managed along with energy.

   Like Z.H.P. before it, Guided Fate Paradox provides some permanence to character advancement despite the fact that Renya is returned to level one upon starting any dungeon. Every level gained adds to a cumulative total, which provides stat boosts at certain intervals when increased. Any items equipped when falling in a dungeon are lost, but not any levels added to the total, so getting knocked out is never a total loss. In addition to the total level count, the game provides a grid for installing tiles that upgrade each of the game's four main stats. It also allows installing artifacts that provide various effects such as powering up Renya's equipment or reducing the effectiveness of certain status ailments.

   More space on the grid is unlocked by increasing Renya's total level. To unlock more tiles for use in the grid players must "burst" equipment. Similar to the durability of equipment in Z.H.P., each equipped item will fill up a burst meter as it is used. Once burst status is reached the equipment's effectiveness will be somewhat reduced, but a tile for one of the four stats will be unlocked for use in the grid, and the equipment can then also be upgraded, resetting the burst level. This encourages using multiple sets of equipment in dungeons to maximize the rewards. To facilitate this, the game provides the ability to create summon sets that can be called upon a limited number of times, for a limited number of turns during each dungeon run. These sets also will not be lost should the player die, so it's a great way to power up equipment, or just to keep handy sets of utility equipment to be called upon in an emergency.

   These upgrade options provide plenty of ways to downgrade the typically steep difficulty roguelikes are known for. With the addition of cheap exit items to escape in a pinch, Guided Fate Paradox packs high difficulty without the frustrating loss of progress that these types of games often dish out. The game never feels easy, and provides additional challenge in the form of gimmicks in each story dungeon. These range from a dungeon where each floor constantly rearranges itself, to one where each floor is a maze on a three dimensional cube, to even a location on the ocean floor where there is just open space connecting the rooms instead of hallways. At the end of each dungeon a boss encounter awaits, which generally provides some sort of challenge such as defending an NPC from a horde of enemies, or destroying machines that constantly are spawning enemies. Finding out what tricks the next story dungeon has lying in wait for the player becomes an absolute joy as the game progresses. For those seeking additional challenges, additional martial dungeons are available that provide many more floors than the story dungeons and better equipment, and the game even provides the ability to increase overall enemy levels in any of the locations.

This is not your parents'
                                        roguelike. This is not your parents' roguelike.

   Of course, Guided Fate Paradox isn't without its flaws. The primary one is an issue of pacing. Each of the game's story dungeons contains ten floors, and a story sequence is played after each one. Those familiar with dungeons crawlers of this sort will know that floors can often go by quickly, so this pacing quickly slows the game down, especially in the easier early dungeons where floors won't take more than a few minutes. Eventually this issue is eased somewhat as the dungeons become more complex and challenging, requiring players to exit and restart with fresh supplies. Since the story sequences don't replay, these second runs feel much smoother. It's a real shame because the story and gameplay are so entertaining, but this pacing will be off-putting for many. In addition to this issue, though the difficulty curves nicely for most of the game, there's a big jump in the final dungeon. This will require most players to do some grinding in the optional martial dungeons. Though these bonus dungeons are just as entertaining as the main ones to explore, those interested primarily in the story are very likely to be frustrated.

   RPGs with randomly generated dungeons often have issues with presentation due to the required repetition of graphical elements. While this can pop up in Guided Fate Paradox if too much time is spent in one dungeon, on the whole the different styles of playing areas help to keep things interesting graphically. Even the martial dungeons change their style every few floors to keep things fresh. These dungeon designs aren't always very complex or attractive, but at least no one style overstays its welcome. Character and enemy sprites on the other hand are colorful and well animated, with Renya and his angel companion's appearances changing based on their current equipment. Eventually some enemy sprites are re-used, and the martial dungeons use the same enemies, so the game could have used a little more enemy variety. The music is a step above the typical Nippon Ichi fare, with a variety of pieces from somber piano to the rocking intro theme. There are plenty of memorable pieces, and combined with the fine voice acting the game on the whole is easy on the ears.

   The Guided Fate Paradox is an interesting game that seems to call back to the days when Nippon Ichi was a bit less predictable, making experimental games like Phantom Brave. The story is entertaining and original, and the gameplay uses roguelike mechanics in a way that even its predecessor Z.H.P. did not, creating something fresh and fascinating. The pacing is a bit off, and the story sometimes too heavy on anime tropes, so it certainly is not for everyone. For those that can stomach some frequently-used tropes and are patient with the way it mixes story and gameplay, The Guided Fate Paradox is likely to provide a wild ride the likes of which nothing else out there can really provide.

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