Title: Generation of Chaos: Pandora’s Reflection
System(s): PSP (Also playable on Vita)
Release Date: February 19, 2013
Publisher (Developer): NIS America (Super Sting)
ESRB Rating: “Teen” for Violence and Mild Language
Sting is no more, it is now Super Sting and part of the Idea Factory family. When the news broke, many took it badly. Sting is known for some fantastic and unorthodox games, after all, and people wondered what would happen after the shift. Generation of Chaos: Pandora’s Reflection is the developer’s first game after the change and it may make those people shudder. It’s a good and interesting game, but it lacks the panache, eccentricities and complexities we’ve come to expect from Sting.
Save his sister, save the world.
Generation of Chaos: Pandora’s Reflection begins in a post-apocalyptic scenario. People around the world are suffering. Ashen Rain falls down relentlessly, weaking and eventually killing all it touches. The rich and poor are set against each other. In the midst of it all are two orphans, a man named Claude who knows alchemy and his younger sister Yuri, who has a strange disease that not only causes her constant pain, but has also made a strange butterfly symbol appear on her neck. The two travel the world in search of the ingredients needed to make the medicine that keeps her alive.
The search for one of the rarest ingredients, snowdrops, leads them to a town where the poor are on the verge of revolt. A religious leader known as the Founder is stirring up trouble to make himself great, willing to use those suffering most to create an army that would put him in power. Claude and Yuri get caught up after learning the Founder may have the snowdrops they need. They learn too late they trusted the wrong person. Fortunately, a winged girl named Dominque arrives to save them and they flee the scene. It’s during the confrontation with this despicable man that the group learns there may be something more to Yuri’s affliction than a simple disease, as during a crucial battle the butterfly symbol on her neck manages to absorb most of the Ashen Rain falling around them.
What follows is a save the world story told in a visual novel format. Between every battle, players will receive a recap of current events and see major characters speak to one another, revealing details about the situation.
Sting can make strategic RPGs that aren’t ornate and unbelieveably complex?
In the case of Generation of Chaos: Pandora’s Reflection, I think it’s best if I start by pointing out the two things that bothered me, then get into all the reasons why that didn’t matter because it’s a good game. The first problem is that it looks cheap. It’s perhaps too streamlined. Battle segments consist of miniscule sprites barely moving cross set paths to reach other sprites or location icons. When two sprites run into each other, a fight starts. You see static images of the two characters fighting and a gauge that fills to show a weapon’s damage and chance of a follow-up attack. Sting is known for creating really detailed characters and environments in its Dept. Heaven strategic RPGs and instead of continuing that tradition, this game makes me long for it.
I also have an issue with the actual fights. As I just mentioned, a gauge will fill when it’s time for the player’s party member to attack, and the X button must be tapped when an indicator is reached. However, all players are given is a visual indication that is easy to miss or misjudge. I would have greatly appreciated an audio trigger as well. It isn’t too difficult to work out the timing without one, but still. On the plus side, when a player does work out the timing correctly, it means a circle will immediately appear around the enemy sprite on the screen once the fight is over. If one of the other party members is within the enemy’s impact circle, a player can press the action button assigned to that character to initiate a follow-up attack Chaos Attack. If all of your party is clustered around one enemy at this moment, you can have everyone attack that opponent one after another.
Also, Generation of Chaos: Pandora’s Reflection is too easy to understand and straightforward. I know how strange that sounds, but bear with me. Sting’s Dept. Heaven strategic RPGs contain challenging battle systems and subtle nuances that take time to learn and understand. Your first few rounds you’ll probably have no idea what you’re doing, but once you do catch on, you feel brilliant and the game feels special. That will not happen with Generation of Chaos: Pandora’s Reflection. Everything is extraordinarily easy to grasp and I never once felt I had to consult tutorials. Even the story feels too simple and safe, relying on tropes to tell a tale that’s good, but doesn’t have many surprises.
Now, onto the good. Generation of Chaos: Pandora’s Reflection‘s simplicity does work in its favor. Since each matchup moves relatively quickly and it’s possible to save after almost every interaction, it is a perfect portable game. I also liked the ability to engage in Free Battles between most episodes, which allow players to level grind characters and earn AP that can be used with Yuri’s alchemy to improve weapons, level up characters outside of battle and heal characters. Granted, the Free Battle is just the opportunity to replay the stage one has just completed ad nauseum, but I did appreciate the option. I also liked the character designs and voice acting.
Not to mention Generation of Chaos: Pandora’s Reflection has a story that starts out familiar, but eventually offers some satisfying twists and grows more intriguing. I did want to know more about Yuri’s disease and who Dominque, the strange winged girl who seemed to know all about the siblings, was. This helped me make it through the first chapter, which is a bit formulaic. It’s a game worth sticking with, as it does get quite intriguing.
I think a few select aspects of the Generation of Chaos: Pandora’s Reflection battle system are ingenious. In most strategic RPGs, players are told certain areas are strategically advantageous and to claim them to make the battle easier. In Generation of Chaos: Pandora’s Reflection, claiming and protecting your strategic points actually influence battle and destroying opponents hurts them. For example, players start out only being able to deploy two of a possible five warriors. If those two available warriors claim certain locations, more characters can be deployed. If those spaces are guarded while other characters move forward, they can wipe out the opponent’s locations to reduce the number of warriors he or she can dispatch. In addition, some battles can be won by claiming an opponent’s defenseless base.
The other positive battle concept involves summoning. Alchemist Claude eventually gains a second tome in addition to his medical book that allows him to summon creatures to the battle field. When enemies are defeated, they drop crystals. These crystals accumulate in a gauge and allow Claude to summon beings that will hurt all enemies or heal all friends at once. It can be a game changer and knowing when to use it in battle is crucial.
Generation of Chaos: Pandora’s Reflection isn’t bad, but is incredibly simple.
Generation of Chaos: Pandora’s Reflection is a traditional kind of RPG, carried out in an incredibly simple and streamlined sort of way. It isn’t bad, but it also is nothing like the strategic RPGs we’ve come to expect from Super Sting, which brought us classics like Yggdra Union, Gungnir and Knights in the Nightmare. When I hear Super Sting is working on a game, I expect a unique strategic experience, not one that eventually follows the “save the world” trope and has a battle system that requires little thought and effort to learn. I expect something more meaty. I enjoyed Generation of Chaos: Pandora’s Reflection‘s story and loved some of its gameplay mechanics, but its presentation is more reminiscent of an iOS or Android app than a PSP game.