Despite some distinct problems, Resonance of Fate is undoubtedly one of the better console JRPGs of the current generation. Sadly, I can not in good faith claim that it is an unrivaled masterpiece. It is however, a tremendously unique and inventive game that makes great strides in breaking JRPGs out of their established rut while still remaining true to their roots.
The battle system is based around modern guns and weaponry and blends real time action and elements of turn based combat. You control characters as you would in a third person shooter. Aiming however is purely automatic via a lock on system. So long as you stand still the battle will essentially remain paused. Enemies will neither move, attack or charge up. This allows the freedom to stop, think and plan your moves as well as switch weapons. Once you do begin to move, so will enemies. Once you either run out of time or attack your character's turn will end. At this point, any enemies who have fully charged their action gauge will attack. Once all your characters have ended or skipped their turns, you can immediately move any of them again. In this regard, calling it turn based is inaccurate. It essentially blends your actions and enemy actions together. There's no real advantage or disadvantage to having more or less turns. Enemies move just as much as you do. It's a continuous flowing battle.
In addition to a traditional HP set-up, character's life is tied to the 'hero gauge'. If even one character dies it's game over. (Although you may retry the battle for only a small fee). However, if damage reaches the maximum, points will instead be subtracted from the hero gauge automatically to heal the character. The hero gauge itself may also be restored by one point for every enemy part you destroy. You see, enemies have multiple piece of armor, body parts, etc in addition to a main HP bar. By destroying these parts (or the enemies themselves) you are able to keep up your hero gauge. Also, by expending points from your hero gauge a character may run or jump from their current location to another point on the battle field. During this trip they may attack as many times as you wish. though you can attack normally, the vast majority of battles will be fought using these hero actions. That's not all though. By hero running/jumping between the two other characters you gain resonance points which will allow you to use tri-attacks. This will cause all three characters to run along the triangle formed by their initial positions. The more resonance, the longer this lasts.
All of these factors combine to create a very smooth and focused battle system. The central idea is to maintain the hero gauge which is key to both offense and defense. You also need to effectively mix both machine gun type weapons which deal heavy 'scratch' damage that does not actually destroy enemies with hand guns which are much weaker but convert existing scratch damage to real damage and also stun enemies and improve hero gauge restoration by splitting enemy parts into smaller, more breakable pieces. Thus to maximize your effectiveness you need to plan your moves carefully to allow your characters to move smoothly back and forth between the others and set up an optimal position for a tri-attacks. It would be nice however, if the collision detection was a bit more forgiving. It is possible to collide with obstacles or some enemies which will immediately end a character's action. Especially against large enemies who like to get in close it can often be very frustrating trying to maneuver. It's not a major problem by any means but certainly an occasional annoyance that disrupts the flow. The auto-targeting system is also tremendously finicky. It's irrelevant when you're standing still and have time but it means there's no reliable way for you to change targets mid hero jump.
Outside of battle, there's the usual basic customization options. You'll find a few new guns throughout the game and can equip a couple accessories to your character for various effect. It's fairly standard stuff for the most part but then there's also a very nice weapon customization system as well build around affixing various scopes, barrels, clips and handles to your guns. These accessories can be acquired in a number of ways but the foremost is by building them from scrap parts. Scraps are acquired from enemies. Sometimes destroying certain parts of an enemy will be required to obtain a certain part. Items and accessories can also be broken back down into parts which allows you to play around with your customization a lot without worrying too much about wasting valuable parts. This system provides hours of tinkering for those so inclined. It could certainly have been made easier to use however. The interface for adding and removing pieces is rather tedious and awkward.
The game operates on a mission based system. Each chapter you will receive a primary story mission as well as a variety of optional ones with a variety of rewards. There's an unfortunate number of fetch quests and a bit of backtracking in the side missions although personally, I didn't mind due to the quality combat. Dungeons do not contain random encounters but rather, take the form of a series of connected battlegrounds, each containing a group of enemies. It's a very nice change from the usual interruptions of random battles. There are still some random battles on the over-world though which takes the form of a grid of platforms and pathways made up of hexagons. In order to travel this grid you must first lay down 'hexes' which are obtained from enemies. As you progress, you will acquire new, colored hexes that unlock new areas. It's certainly an interesting way of advancing through the world. You may also open up certain terminals scattered across the map. By connecting them to dungeons via colored hexes you gain their bonus effects while in those dungeons. It's adds a nice strategic element to exploring and building the over-world.
The graphics are satisfactory although probably not overly notable. The battle sequences are action packed though and very exhilarating. Also, the whole world has a fantastic, rusted out, industrial style to it. The entire game takes place in a monstrous tower like contraption of gears known as Basel. It's really quite a thing to behold, especially from the zoomed out world map. For you manga fans, it's very reminiscent of the artwork of Tsutomu Nihei, albeit with more of a steampunk look than a cyberpunk one.
The story is unfortunately something of a train wreck. The character's back-stories are fleshed out nicely initially and there's a lot of fun interplay between them. The game has a very unapologetic, strange sense of humor that's mildly fun. However, the plot itself is a mess. It's told in an extremely stilted and drawn out manner. Very little is fully explained and most is left to vague implication. There's a mountain of unclear, pseudo-philosophical conversations. The kind where they're clearly trying to say more than they're actually saying but are being so heavy handed and unsubtle about it that it becomes completely incoherent and fails to really offer any meaning, literal or metaphorical. The ending is tremendously Deus Ex Machina. Almost literally actually (and no, I'm not misusing the term literally). It makes almost no sense and really serves to clarify or resolve nothing. If there's one positive thing I can say about the plot though, it's that it's unobtrusive. Cut scenes are short and limited to a couple per chapter. If you're playing this game in search of a story you'll certainly be disappointed but at the same time if you're willing to simply disregard it, it's pretty tolerable.
It seems to me a tremendous shame that this game was released a mere week after Final Fantasy XIII. Perhaps as a result it seems to have received very little attention from the gaming media and gamers alike. I strongly encourage you to give it a chance though at some point. It by no means succeeds in all areas but it certainly does a lot of things I would like to see more of in JRPGs.
Story and Characters: 4/10
-An impenetrable mess of a plot at least stays out of the way mostly. Some decent character development and humor though at least initially.
Visuals and Sound: 8/10
-Plenty of visual flair and a nice aesthetic make up for otherwise average graphics.
Battle System: 9/10
-One of the most innovative and effective systems I've played in ages.
-Good weapon customization system. Solid if also a bit simplistic otherwise.
Game Structure: 7/10
-Nice over-world system. Some weak missions though.
-A mixed bag in some regards but still a very enjoyable and unique experience for JRPG fans.