A stately turn-based RPG series from Japan gets turned on its head with a hack-and-slash interpretation by Dynasty Warriors developer Omega Force. The result definitely feels different, but after a few hours you might discover there's still not a lot new here despite all the changes.
- Complex melee combat
- Balanced quest progression
- Different take on the RPG formula
- Heavily repetitive dungeon crawls
- Camera mostly works against you
- Another "avenge-my-daddy" story
- Nothing to do besides fight
Trinity: Souls of ZIll O'll Review:
Change is exciting at first. The Zill O’ll franchise is a series of turn-based Japanese RPGs that were never released in other territories. With the PlayStation 3 exclusive Trinity: Souls of Zill O’ll, Omega Force -- the studio behind the voluminous Dynasty Warriors games -- tries to break the creaking foundations and start from scratch.
Omega Force has replaced the turn-based battles and dungeon crawling into a squad based hack-and-slash game, while condensing the grandeur of world exploration into a menu-based map experience. It’s more exciting and immediate than its predecessors while also feeling narrower and skimpier. Like Bill Murray’s Suntory whiskey, Trinity works but it’s not very nourishing.
So a Half-Elf, a Darkenith, and a Boldan Walk into a Dungeon
The biggest change in Trinity is the switch to real-time melee combat. Everything that’s not directly connected to combat has been backgrounded. Combat is broken into three basic commands mapped to the square, triangle, and circle buttons. You can perform a melee attack, a focused magic attack, or a radial attack. You can string these moves together in some basic combos, and as you progress you’ll earn new attacks. To keep the controls single-button oriented you can tap R2 to switch to a secondary set of three attacks, which you’ll accumulate later in the game. After sojourning alone in the early hours, you’ll befriend two other partners who join your party. You can freely switch between all three characters at any time in combat by hitting L2.
Areus is the main character, a half-elf gladiator with a blood vendetta against king of the realm. He’s a balanced warrior who can wield a longsword and shoot basic projectile magic. Dagda is a tank character with lots of HP and almost entirely physical attacks. Selene is a ranger character who can double-jump, perform dash attacks, and get in and out of enemy range much more quickly than the other two. As you progress you can choose Souls to align each character with. Each Soul brings a set of particular skills and their related elemental perks that can be leveled up by spending Skill Points earned in battle. As you progress you’ll have more and more Souls and will need to begin paying attention to who’s aligned with which Soul before taking on enemies with powerful attributes and alignments.
Combat is simple enough in the early hours, but it becomes increasingly difficult in later quests, demanding a good understanding of the numbers beneath the action. You’ll also need some quick reflexes to wade through combat.
In simple encounters with a mob of melee creatures or a big ogre, it’s simple enough to time out your attacks and blocks or dodges—respectively performed by tapping the L1 button and the R1 button. As enemy groups become bigger and more mixed, you’ll need to create a hierarchy of who to go after first while staying mindful of blocking attacks from the less threatening enemies. Differentiating powerful magic casters, ranged attackers, and swarming grunts isn’t always easy, especially when they’re coming from all directions. Add in a couple of mini-boss level damage sponges with powerful physical attacks and things can get confusingly punitive very quickly.
The camera is an enemy of the cause here as it tends bump around level details at rough angles, often leaving you zoomed in on a part of the map where your characters aren’t even visible. You can lock onto a specific enemy by pressing R3, but when fights depend on avoiding attacks from enemies you’re not yet ready to fight as much as hacking at your current target it’s not much help.
Cutscenes are for Drama Queens
While combat in Trinity is a mouthful, the presentation is minimalist to the extreme. Dungeons are the only thing rendered in 3D, and everything else takes place in a 2D menu. The world map is a flat, brown parchment with dungeon areas and towns opened up as you complete different quests. You can navigate to each by pushing a cursor around screen with the left analog stick. In towns you’ll get a second 2D menu, from which you can choose to Shop for weapons and armor, visit a tavern for dialog-box gossip, or stop in at the adventurer’s hall to accept Quests. In the opening city you’ll have the added option of taking on Arena challenges, where Areus alone will face a certain mix of enemies in a specified amount of time.
Most RPGs focus on continuous worlds with cities whose geographic distance is broken up with random battles. In Trinity there is no such thing as travel between places. Instead you can go everywhere at the same time, and so progress is more dependent on the log quests you’ve completed. Once you start questing you’ll find yourself revisiting dungeons again and again, incrementally unlocking new areas with new part members. While this structure is very much a grind, the game does a fine job of varying enemy types and levels each time you return to a dungeon so that the combat always feels a little unexpected even when the backdrop is becoming overly familiar.
There are a few dramatic 3D cutscenes as you progress, but most of the story is told in static dialog boxes that you can take or leave. The story has all the complexity and high drama you’d expect from a yarn about a mysterious half-elf on a quest to kill the black-armored king who killed his father lo all those years ago. Yet it’s left compartmentalized in the least interactive of all possible presentations. While the approach seems to be a plain cost-saver, I found myself appreciative of the spareness. The longer I played Trinity the more interested I was in leveling up, getting to the next set of Quests, and unlocking a new set of skills to take into new Arena challenges. That was my story and I was happy to leave the soap opera as the flat, wilting parsley on the side of the plate.
Change Without Change
Trinity: Souls of Zill O’ll definitely embodies change, but it’s not quite new. Fans of Dynasty Warriors will recognize attack windows, leveling paths, and enemy mixes between melee, magic, ranged, and tank characters. It tries to split the difference between the loot-driven variability of Diablo and the performance based tactics of Devil May Cry. That’s a union of genres that’s interesting conceptually, but limits the depth that might have been had full development heft been given to either possibility.
However, that’s what RPG’s have always been, a union of ideas that seem epic on paper and anti-climactic in action. The real hook has always been the illusion of progress, the incremental bait that promises something significant in just one more level, after one new quest, or with the next learned Skill. Trinity pulls off that trick quite well. It keeps you running always forward hoping for something new. The rewards are different enough from what came before, but once you’ve seen them all you’d be hard pressed to call them new.