Generation of Chaos: Pandora’s Reflection Review
Developer: Sting/Idea Factory
Publisher: NIS America
Genre: Strategy RPG
As a Vita owner, the lack of exclusive releases (or releases in general) can be quite frustrating. Fortunately, there is a large well of PSP titles with which to draw from that continues to expand despite that console’s status as a “dead” system. Generation of Chaos: Pandora’s Reflection is the latest to breathe life into Sony’s handheld market and despite its label as a niche Japanese title, does an admirable job of providing a unique and enjoyable experience.
Generation of Chaos: Pandora’s Reflection is actually the sixth title in the Generation of Chaos series. That being said, you can jump in without any prior knowledge of the series and still be able to follow along with the story. It’s also a collaboration between Japanese developers Sting (Gungnir) and Idea Factory (Hyperdimension Neptunia) which may be a good or bad thing depending on your affinity towards either of those companies. The overall feel of the game seems like it leans more on the Sting side of the equation and is honestly, from a gameplay standpoint, one of the better projects I’ve played from them.
The story takes place in a world seemingly without hope, as the people are constantly getting sick and dying from what is referred to as Ashen Rain. The protagonist Claude, and his sister Yuri, have managed to stave off the effects of the Ashen Rain using medicine made from Snowdrops using Claude’s skill as an alchemist. Snowdrops are quite rare, and they are constantly on the move to find more as Yuri has another problem; a cursed butterfly tattoo branded onto her neck brings illness of its own. In addition, they become embroiled in a much larger struggle that reveals the true nature of the Ashen Rain, the Snowdrops, and the fate of their world.
As much as I enjoyed the grim setting in Pandora’s Reflection, the way characters were introduced and how events moved along felt very generic overall. Cutscenes play out as portraits with text next to them, so there isn’t much of a scene so much as chunks of text that scroll through as you hit the X button.
As a lower budget game, I’m definitely okay with this method of plot progression so long as the game gives me reason to care what’s going on. However, random characters join your cause as circumstances dictate, which is normal given the genre, though it takes a long time for anything to be revealed about their personality, much less their motivations. This can be a little frustrating when you want to be given reasons to care about certain characters, but little is provided to pull you along. It’s not as though the events that take place aren’t compelling either, it’s just that the storytelling needed to provide a little bit better pacing as well as events that make it tough to put the game down.
Fortunately, what burden the plot is unable to carry the gameplay more than makes up for. Generation of Chaos: Pandora’s Reflection is something of a hybrid between an RTS and an RPG. You’re only allotted a handful of characters, but you launch them from your home base one by one in an attempt to capture the checkpoints of your opponent. The number of checkpoints under a team’s control determines how many characters they can deploy at once and capturing or otherwise destroying one belonging to the enemy when the max number of units is on the field will force one to retreat. It makes for a nice strategic option for defeating enemies you might otherwise not be confident in engaging openly.
There are also a number of artillery points that can be captured as well, giving you access to cannons or arrows to aid in dispatching enemies with little effort on your part. If one of your units does come in contact with an enemy unit, an exchange takes place that results in both sides trading blows. Since units can carry multiple weapons, there is a rock-paper-scissors system in place to determine which weapons are effect against others, which is reminiscent of the Fire Emblem titles.
Upon taking damage, your HP meter drains, though in later stages your character will represent an entire battalion of soldiers that begin to dwindle little by little. Whoever wins the skirmish will send the other reeling and in the case of the opposition, will cause a red bubble to appear around them. The size of the bubble hinges on the weapon used as well as being able tap the X button at the right times during your strike. If you’re lucky enough to have your comrades within the bubble, they have an opportunity to inflict another attack unabated, leading to some lengthy all out assaults if you clump your party members together.
Participation will earn your units AP (or Alchemy Points) that will net them level ups and increase their strength. They can be outfitted with weapons and armor found during stages or discarded in exchange for more AP. Any extra AP not allocated to increasing character levels can be used to heal party members KO’d during combat or spent upgrading their various weapons. And if you don’t have enough of what you need or you feel compelled to power level somebody, all you have to do is participate in free battles which can be triggered as often as you like.
Generation of Chaos: Pandora’s Reflection is a bit simple in its presentation, but then, a game of this genre doesn’t need to be a spectacle on the eyes. With enough gems earned in battle, Claude can summon monsters to wreck havoc upon the enemy, which is about as flashy as it gets. After a couple times viewing the overly lengthy sequences, you will likely turn them off in order to move the battles along quicker. The game also retains its Japanese vocal track, so purists should be pleased. The soundtrack is also very somber, which is fitting given the source material.
The game progresses in a very linear fashion, only allowing you to select the next sequential battle or engage in a free battle. I didn’t notice any option during normal game progress that allowed me to backtrack to earlier battles, even though there is a map illustrating your journey. This isn’t entirely problematic unless you find yourself stuck on a story battle and the current free battle happens to be of the time consuming variety that’s not very grind friendly. This rarely occurs though and the game is generally quite forgiving, even when invincible enemies start getting thrown in the mix.
Fans of both Sting and Idea Factory may find that the level of depth in Pandora’s Reflection is a bit light compared to their other games. I generally like their titles, though many of them are plagued with mechanics that are obtuse or otherwise overly ambitious given what can reasonably work successfully. They’ve managed to trim the fat this time around, which makes it very accessible, despite its limitations.
At around $20, Generation of Chaos: Pandora’s Reflection is a solid choice. It’s less than 400 MB, so it won’t use up precious space on expensive memory cards, plus it will work on both the PSP and the Vita. It’s also a great title for being able to pick up and play, as most battles are over in 10 or 15 minutes; perfect for a handheld title such as this. If you want a game with a riveting plot to keep you glued to your system for hours on end, this isn’t it. But if it’s an accessible strategy RPG that’s a blast to play in short bursts, you’re in the right place.