I don’t think I’ve ever felt as conflicted as I do about a game as I feel with The Awakened Fate Ultimatum. Don’t get me wrong, the story especially is great and it’s a beautiful game to play! It’s predecessor, The Guided Fate Paradox, broke new ground for NIS, even if the engine used was from a PSP game they’d produced earlier. Basically, the series strives to lean away from their Disgaea roots and focus on being the leader of one branch of Celestia. In both games, you’re a regular high school student who ends up being chosen to become that Celestia’s god. It even differs from Disgaea in being a rogue-like instead of a tactical RPG. So both factions train using different methods, it’s a fantastic idea!
The concept is brilliant, and I gave the original a near perfect score despite the combat engine being decently confusing. That’s where I think problems may have come in for this sequel. In the original, you would start at level one on each stage, but your levels were all added to a actual total level pool at the end. As cool as that sounds, you didn’t really feel that much more powerful when starting a new lesson. This is because leveling up in the game was how you’d get your stats up to their impressive numbers and your gear would give you a bonus.
For better or worse, Awakened Fate has more in common with the play style of Legasista but with none of the complex elements. Really, it’s probably one of the most basic leveling by gaining experience systems I’ve seen in an NIS game. You kill enemies, you level up. There are still elements of Guided Fate’s weapon system, but without the bursting issues to deal with. So really, it’s more akin to finding gear that gives you a plus to certain stats, that you can forge with other gear later to make more powerful.
Before I continue, it should be noted that Awakened Fate is a fantastic story, and in all technicality could be considered a wonderful visual novel with the main game element aside. If you’re listening to dialogue, each episode’s cut scenes last around twenty minutes to a half hour. Interestingly, unlike Guided Fate, dialogue mainly occurs at the start and end of a full level. Guided Fate took a break between each floor to explore more of the story. While Awakened Fate in general is vastly different, there are familiar themes between Guided Fate and it. Even then, Awakened Fate feels more fleshed out in those regards. This could have been to make the more brave moments in Guided Fate have more of an impact as was originally intended.
That is another element on story I should touch on as well before proceeding. While Guided Fate is much more a Disgaea series sort of quirky story that takes itself a bit more seriously than it’s Netherworld counterpart, Awakened Fate is a stark dose of reality a lot of the time. There are moments that Awakened Fate can feel uncomfortably serious in it’s drama. While this does add to the story, much of the character development really pushed me to care only for one character. Perhaps that was the intention. Where Guided Fate could be silly in a fun way, Awakened Fate is cold and moody.
Why do I mention all that first? Because the story and visual novel section are the true star of the game. Many of the games missions don’t involve bosses. So if you just plow through with minimal leveling, you can complete many chapters without having to focus on the RPG elements much at all. What I would have liked to see was a marriage of Guided Fate and Awakened Fate’s system. I can only assume that it was easier to convert a Legasista like engine to a simpler style than to make a Guided Fate sequel play easier.
Instead of an isometric view, this time you’re playing on a regular Zelda-like square grid. The game is still a rogue-like, much more in the traditional sense. Many items from Guided Fate make a return, even some negative items have been added to the list such as Amnesia Leaf which makes you forget the current map, or some of it’s elements, I forget which. It still gives you a boost to your time bar which makes a comeback in this one. Instead of EN you have an AC meter which drains as you move, which makes sense story wise since you’re not using the Fate Revolution Circuit’s energy for this one.
On top of all this, there is a new gimmick in Awakened Fate. The main star god, Shin, can turn into either an Angel or Devil form. This isn’t like god mode in the original however, this is literally on the fly. It doesn’t take a turn to perform this transformation, which is a very good thing. Enemies come in two varieties, Angels and Devils as well. You transform to use the opposite form to get a bonus against them. It sounds easy, but some foes are just on that border between being either or. In general, if it’s purple or clearly a demon, it’s weak against Angel form. If it’s blue and angelic or has a halo, Devil form will take it down. Unfortunately I constantly found myself mistakenly pressing the wrong button. I don’t know if this was just being wrapped up in combat or what, but I’d constantly see a happy little Halo wearing foe coming at me, and switch to Angel form.
You still gain skills like your weapons had in Guided Fate, but your skills are attributed to your different forms and how you spend points on them. In the story you’ll collect Angel and Devil crystals, as well as a point per each level you can spend on your Angel or Devil side. By spending these points, you can unlock moves for each form. So picture all the various skills from Guided Fate put into one skill wheel of only five or six skills I think it is.
As noted, this god’s name is Shin. On his way home from school, Shin is attacked by a squad of Devils. They know the Celestia they are at war with could make him into a god, so they plan to kill him. Despite them actually running Shin through, Celestia is able to revive him by replacing his heart with a Fate Awakening Crystal. The crystal itself works as the template you purchase your skills on. In a way this feels like a Final Fantasy X leveling up grid. You are usually given the choice to spend time with either Ariael, a Devil girl scientist that is working with Celestia to make your Fate Awakening Crystal, or Jupiel, your personally assigned Angel.
My biggest issue I had with the characters was that I didn’t find practically anyone but Ariael to be likable. That doesn’t mean I hated Jupiel, but I really felt detached like when Shin first arrives in Celestia. You rely on Ariael to keep your Crystal running, and she’s more interested in science and her research than she is about the war. It’s a deep story, and everyone else comes off as really conflicted. Even Shin has at least one painful moment when you make a decision for him, and he flat out ignores your input. That was my biggest frustration, that Shin would still be struggling against the story long after I’d taken up my opinion of what I wanted to do. In a way, it feels vaguely like Evangelion in that way and you could draw some comparisons between Shin and Shinji.
There are quite a few options you can choose along the way, and at least one of them has a meaningful impact immediately that changes the story. Basically it comes down to siding with your Angel side or Devil side. This shouldn’t be confused as necessarily good or bad though. The very first option I was given, I went for the “good” outcome. I’m unsure of the other option’s outcome, but either way you’re probably reminded of the results long after. It isn’t just a passing thought either, it does quite wrap into the storyline and how Shin feels. The outcome could be similar, but these choices are still reflected down the road.
To be honest, Shin has realistic character progression compared to Guided Fate’s Renya. However Renya is the brave anime hero we want to be! That doesn’t mean I’d want the story of Awakened Fate to be changed. It just didn’t feel like a true Guided Fate game. In it’s own right, Awakened Fate is a fantastic new RPG that has a deep story that I very much enjoyed playing. That and when I felt stuck, leveling was easier to understand than Guided Fate’s system. I knew I was moving forward enough to win. With Guided Fate, late in the game I ground to a halt finally when higher level monsters would come at me. Regardless of what I did, they would always be higher level and could lead to defeat quickly. I love Guided Fate, but I don’t know if I’ll ever finish it completely sadly. Awakened Fate progressed quickly however and near the end of the game I’m only around level 30. This is why I feel the game is more of a visual novel since I’ve spent more time watching Ariael and Jupiel’s struggle than I have really playing much of the game.
I’d love to see these two systems come together. Having the isometric view of Guided Fate, with the leveling of Awakened Fate, and dropping the Angel/Devil form would be perfect. It can have it’s differences but make it more like Disgaea. Keep specific stat bonuses like gear gives you in Awakened Fate. It’s a good game, I just want to get back to the Celestia from the first game. That was a big let down as well. There is no home base area in Awakened Fate. It’s all a text menu. You don’t wander around what seems to be a starship Celestia in this one. It made the game feel like much of the focus was on the visual novel aspect, and the rest of it was sort of simplified. There is such a rich history to these worlds and long list of Disgaea characters you could encounter, I’d hate to see the Fate series fade away. That and of course if Disgaea and Fate both use isometric views, the resources between each could be interchangeable. We can only hope NIS has considered these possibilities. We’ve seen the struggle of Celestia now, and the greedy struggle for power that the Netherworld can muster, now is the time to develop this into something even more amazing!
So in short, Awakened Fate isn’t a game you should pass up for it’s story alone. Though it has elements of Guided Fate’s themes in it, the overall concept is fresh and new. Instead of trying to train a god in the Fate Revolution Circuit, you’ll be developing Shin’s Fate Awakening Crystal. Gameplay isn’t bad by any means, it just isn’t that relatable to the look of Guided Fate. Switching modes can get draining, and despite that you are in a computer system still like in the Fate Revolution Circuit, I’m not full sure why you’re fighting angelic beings in the first place. I get that the Fate Awakening Crystal works as a balance and that’s the theme of the game to side with the Angel or Devil girl, but it makes a fun rogue-like dungeon crawl feel convoluted.
What I hope is that this was an addition to keep the series alive. It felt simplified, though redeemed by the enjoyable story. It’s an NIS game, so there is more than enough content here to keep you happy of course. I’d love to see more of this series that finally brings together more of the NIS world in a main story. Awakened Fate tells another great tale of a unique Celestia. I hope this series will continue and we can really see all of this Netherworld / Celestia war come together with all the familiar faces we’ve come to know. Until then, I’ll be over here having a cup of noodles with Ariael.