Saturday, February 12, 2011
Review: Trinity: Souls of Zill O'll
Platform: PlayStation 3
Developer: Omega Force
Publisher: Tecmo Koei
# of Players: 1
ESRB Rating: T (Teen)
If you're a big fan of hack & slash action RPGs and happen to own a PlayStation 3, Trinity: Souls of Zill O'll is going to be right up your alley. Omega Force's latest is a solid dungeon hack with a few splashes of familiar genre influences (both Eastern and Western) from Diablo to Demon's Souls. If that puts a grin on your face, you're all set for many hours of quality monster slaying, loot grabbing and quests galore. The game's non-linear structure allows for enough freedom that the main plot of a half-elf's revenge against the evil overlord that killed his family almost takes second place to the sheer amount of rescue/escort missions, fetch quests, arena challenges and other RPG staples. I say almost because while the story does pick up as the game goes on, the simple, yet challenging gameplay is the star when it needs to be. While it isn't perfect, Omega Force deserves a ton of credit for making such a fun to play experience that's guaranteed to steal many hours from those players that fall under its spell.
If you've neither heard of nor played a Zill O'll game, fear not - previous experience is NOT necessary to fully enjoy what's here. The main story is told partly through some great, dynamic (and sometimes extended) cut scenes and mainly through many text-based interactions as the game progresses. Things get off to a rousing start with a tutorial/end boss battle that flashes back in time just as things are about to get serious. You start out the main quest as Areus (the aforementioned half-elf) as he goes through a few arena battles that give you a taste of the rapid fire combat system. While the combat is similar to the Dynasty Warriors games, it feels a LOT more like a mix of Omega Force's sci-fi Action/RPG Crimson Sea and the under appreciated gem Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom. Initially, you can attack, use a fireball spell, dodge, block and jump, but as the story progresses you'll end up with three different fighting styles to choose from and six combat slots where you can hot-key abilities.
After winning a few quick battles, his mentor suggests that Areus join the Adventurer's Guild in order to train himself even further (while making a profit in the process). Areus agrees and soon after he completes a few early missions, he gets an assignment to take a loaf of bread to a lost adventurer. That turns out to be Dagda, your first partner, who's the team "tank". He's a big beefy guy who uses glove-based (claws or assorted types of fists) and the like, can bash down objects and walls in one hit and pick up debris to swing for massive damage. He's also good for a bit of comic relief on occasion, but the game never gets exceedingly silly at all other than a few amusing dialog moments that don't impact the storyline. As you play through the game, there are a nice chunk of text entries to uncover that reveal the game world, characters, its different regions, monsters and more. While not required reading, spending time with these informative bits helps in making the game experience even more well-rounded.
The pair eventually meet up with Selene, a beautiful 100-year old vampire assassin who's a great character simply because she's not pushing her femininity around at all. She's just another hired guild warrior out to kill monsters and initially has no interest in teaming up with Areus and Dagda until she pretty much forces her way into the party as a necessity. What's great here is the team dynamic and the well-scripted banter between the trio. Areus comes off as a refreshing character because he's not another angst-filled amnesiac whining about caring for his new teammates endlessly nor does he carry a torch for some trapped princess. Dagda's interest in Selene is more of a goofy mild crush on who he initially sees as a "pretty girl" that he comes to fully respect as a fighter. As for Selene, she's far more interested in hunting down a specific type of monster for personal reasons than making small talk, and again, isn't some air-headed anime ditz tripping over the scenery or boobing it up for laughs. The three all find they have a common goal, but I'll let you see how that all turns out yourselves.
Other than the occasional cinema that nudges the plot forward every so often, the trio isn't the most talkative bunch... but that's actually a good thing. One or more of the party will leave on occasion to take care of personal stuff (or if Areus needs to take a trip to a certain place from time to time), a nice touch that's welcome in JRPG's packed with clingy party members, cute pets and other hangers-on. Trinity streamlines its characters into efficient killing machines as it streamlines its game world to make getting into the action FAST. With towns reduced to single images and simple menus there's no wandering about looking for that Tavern, Shop or Guild. Some gamers who prefer open world exploration might miss this, but once you see the parallels between this game and many classic dungeon hacks, you really won't miss the time consuming hoofing it from place to place just to trade in your old gear. Buying and selling items is quick and painless, although it would have been nice to be able to compare gear stats in cases where your other party members aren't around.Dungeons are multi-leveled affairs packed with a growing assortment of enemy types, destructible elements, secret passages and more. Omega Force seems to have been quite inspired by FromSoftware's stellar work in Demons Souls, as you'll see dank, dark and half-destroyed areas, some very similar color palettes and even sound design that adds an extremely creepy vibe to some areas. Enemies are either already stalking about on maps or will drop down from trees and ledges, burst from below the ground (or rise up from scattered bones), or teleport in to battle. In the case of larger enemies and bosses, looking for the perfect time to strike is key, as you can dish out major damage at the right time as you build up for a powerful finishing strike. The camera gets a bit wonky in tight spaces even when you're locked on, but as long as you keep attacking and don't stress out over this, that cranky Ogre or other mean thing is going down for the count.
Combat is indeed quick here, but there are times when you'll need to be patient and choose the proper attacks lest your team go down swinging. While this absolutely isn't the first game where you can swap between multiple characters on the fly, it's definitely one of the more thrilling to play thanks to fluid controls and the partner AI generally being smart enough to survive most of the swarms of enemies you'll face. When I first fired up Trinity, I instantly recalled Atari's visually stylish Demon Stone (by the late Stormfront Studios) and how that game's fixed camera angles made for some problems in certain battles. The free camera here works well enough and being able to adjust it while running around really helps. Oddly, you can only stock a handful of healing potions (you're automatically healed after each battle) and your magic holds out for as long as you're healthy. While this initially makes the game supremely easy, if you're in a tough fight and use up all your potions, you'd better have a backup plan or hopefully a recent save point.
You may have a favorite character after the first few hours, but the game has you use all three in order to succeed. Areus' ranged fire /ice spells and sword skills make him a threat up close or at a distance, Dagda's wall-busting and ability to lift and swing heavy objects is a great help in room clearing and Selene's ability to double jump and "fly" for brief periods allows accessibility to key areas. As you kill enemies, experience and SP are awarded and more of each are handed out when you turn in a quest. In fact, the game doles out a ridiculous amount of awards, nicknames and sometimes loot that even without the PS3 Trophies, you feel as if you're accomplishing something each time you return from a dungeon or other quest. While there's no limit to the number of quests you can take on, you need to be careful not to get greedy. With the exceptions of story related and kill/item count missions, It's possible to have one quest cancel out another if they both take place in the same dungeon.
One more cool thing about the quest here is although you'll get a few rescue or escort missions, in a few cases, you'll actually have some pretty decent fighters temporarily joining Areus from time to time. Also, the occasional villagers that need escorting aren't dopes who'll run right into a pack of wolves. They tend to hang back and let you do the fighting, although you'll want to keep an eye peeled if you haven't totally cleared out some maps before making your rescue attempt. The game has a sneaky way of adding pesky Treants to some maps or dropping you into a mini-boss battle as you approach the exit. Still, I never failed a mission because my client got stomped out by some pissed off blue brute and his pack of arrow-shooting goblins.
Speaking of brutes and goblins.. definitely spend some quality time honing skills in the Arena. Not only are some fights part of advancing the plot, you'll get to work on taking down enemies in some wickedly fast times, thanks to battles with tight time restrictions that force you to build up and use power attacks. You can't heal at all in Arena matches and there are some boss battles where even attempting to rush in and start swinging is a death wish. On the other hand, discovering an enemy weakness and exploiting it until you're the winner isn't against the rules at all. One oddball thing about the Arena is you have to PAY to fight (with the exception of story progress battles). Given that most of the rewards are low level items, potions you might already topped out on or sometimes broken gear, it might seem like a bad trade-off initially. It's not (just sell off the junk gear and go make some more money by tackling a few extra quests).
As far as the presentation goes, it's solid overall. The nicely stylized visuals fit perfectly, although that gauzy filter effect makes the game look a bit washed out in screen shots and some of the CG movies. Environments are large and packed with details, yet pretty linear overall and there are some nice effects, such as Areus' ice spell partially to completely freezing up bodies of water based on their size (and how fire spells or attacks shatter that ice - brilliant!). What's great about these indoor and outdoor maps are the blocked off areas that unlock as the story moves forward and how it's not always the main three in your party that do the unlocking. You may not even see every area on the first play through if you decide to rush through the main plot and miss a few side missions or turn down a random request from a villager. The music is great throughout with different themes for each dungeon area and some nicely heroic battle tunes. The voice acting is fine, although grunts and such are looped a bit much and Dagda tends to grunt out a Homer Simpson-like "D'oh!" when jumping over stuff. Other than those gaffes, the bad guys steal the show with suitably capital "E" Evil menace dripping from their every line.
Yes, there's no multiplayer mode, but this is a great, tightly focused dungeon crawl with style to spare and I really hope we see a follow up or even better, a remake of the original game. Although, the original Zill O'll has already received a PS1 to PS2 makeover a while back in Japan, so chances are slim there I'd say. As usual, it seems almost "trendy" for the past few years for some writers to automatically go after Tecmo Koei and Omega Force for their persistence on publishing variations on the Musou theme, but here's a case where merely looking at the back of the box or judging based on screens or movies can be highly misleading. As noted, Trinity is actually a LOT less of a "pure" Dynasty Warriors clone and more of an action-based extension of a RPG franchise US gamers never got to see. As someone who's played far too many RPG's to count (many of which I still own), I actually appreciate the uniqueness of the Zill O'll world along with the fact that the missions here are far shorter and feel more rewarding overall. This one's quite a sleeper that you shouldn't pass up if you're a fan of action-based RPG's and dungeon crawls in general.