For PSP owners who cherish the intricacy of micromanagement, both 2005’s Generation of Chaos and 2007 sequel Aedis Eclipse, have provided two of the portable’s most complex time sinks. Teeming with dense menus, a myriad of character and equipment management options, and an involved battle system, the two titles offered a sophisticated blend of turn-based tactics and real-time strategy. Regretfully, the synthesis of these intricate mechanics meant that the franchise had a nearly insurmountable learning curve. On at least three occasions I began playing Generation of Chaos; each attempt undone by both the game’s barrier to entry as well as a lack of any extended tutorial.
The release of Generation of Chaos: Pandora’s Reflection supplies a number of revitalizing changes to the franchise’s oft-byzantine formula. Unquestionably stimulated by the co-development efforts of Sting (Gungnir, Knights in the Nightmare), the sixth entry in Idea Factory’s seven-year-old franchise is astonishingly accessible- providing players with a solid, if unexceptional, experience.
Set against an ascetic backdrop known as Hades, Pandora’s Reflection tells the story of a resolute hero named Claude. Caring for his sickly and pain-plagued sister Yuri, the protagonist begins the game’s journey on a quest for snowdrops- the sole ingredient able to bring relief to the cursed young woman. Venturing across the landscape to search for this alchemical component, the duo encounters problems of a much larger scale. From a toxic pollutant known as ashen rain and a fanatical religious leader inspiring the lower classes to start a coup, the realm itself is just as fragile as Yuri.
Although the title relies on static character portraits and text-based dialog for plot development, comprehensive and well-articulated Japanese voice-acting prohibit the story from becoming disregarded. While the Generation of Chaos franchise hasn’t consistently provided memorable, empathetic characters, with Pandora’s Reflection, this fault is corrected. As such, it’s easy to identify with Claude’s valiant efforts and feel for Yuri’s condition, which helps to spur players on during the fifteen hour expedition.
Shirking obligatory role-playing rudiments like NPC crammed villages and exploration, Pandora’s Reflection supplements its dialog with engaging battles. After surveying the battlefield and acquiring the skirmish’s victory conditions, gamers are tasked with maneuvering a small selection of combatants across the theater of war. After selecting a unit, players may either lead the character to a specific waypoint, or create a route comprised of custom paths. Once ally and enemy forces collide, the title switches to an encounter screen where players choose an advantageous weapon, based on the game’s rock-scissors-paper-like system.
Although brawls use stats to determine the consequences of each turn, Pandora’s Reflection also employs a time-based mechanic to keep players engaged. During attacks, a gauge fills with color, challenging players to issue up an a few accurate button presses. Tap accurately and characters can augment their damage. Given the general imprecision of the meter, it’s prudent that the developers don’t penalize players too much for an ill-timed press. Despite that drawback, the interactivity helps combat remain engrossing, making venturing into the game’s discretionary Free Battles a persuasive way to improve stats.
Enjoyably, a number of nuances aim to keep combat interesting throughout the duration of the game’s campaign. Defeating enemies drops blue tokens around the battlefield, which can be retrieved and used to summon formidable creatures. Capturing strategic map points provides players with advantages, allowing the allied team to push back foes or connect with a NPC who holds a helpful item. Strategic character placement enables teammates to join in on attacks, as successful strikes create ‘impact circles’ invites adjacent allies to join in on the assault. Skirmishes reward players with alchemy points which can be used to boost weapon or character stats. Pleasingly, all these options are embedded into the game’s menu and combat screens, eliminating the need for any repetitious exploration.
While these elements add a bit of variation to battles, they also upset the balance of difficulty. Claude’s summoning ability is so authoritative that strategic elements become diluted, as players annihilate opponents with an overwhelming creature. Surprisingly, the lenience of battle is abandoned by Pandora’s Reflection’s culminating antagonist- whose disproportionate stats and abilities will force players back into the Free Play component. As a concluding experience, this battle is likely to leave some players with an uneasy lasting impression.
Elevated by Sting’s elegant visual aesthetic and the elimination of large-scale battles, Generation of Chaos: Pandora’s Reflection sheds many of the clumsy design decisions that have restricted the franchise to cult status. Players seeking an engaging role-playing experience enriched by a distinctive and absorbing combat system are recommended to give the $19.99 PSN download a try.