Squaresoft is a game company that gained a legion of fiercely loyal fans by mainly producing role-playing games (RPGs) with dedicated precision and unparalleled craftsmanship. If there were a book written on console RPGs, Squaresoft would take up a large chunk of it. However, their success has not been without consequences. As Squaresofts acclaim grew, so did their company. And while the company has remained largely true to its roots, there are still obvious attempts (probably motivated more by their Board of Directors than their creative directors) to "broaden their appeal" by "diversifying" their line-up of software. Such efforts have ranged the quality gamut from brilliant (Bushido Blade) and decent (Eihander) to confused (Tobal No.1) and misguided (Chocobo Racing). Of their latest flurry of releases, Threads Of Fate, a 3D action adventure game, represents another attempt at trying to "branch out".
Threads Of Fate revolves around the exploits of its two protagonists: Rue, a hero-type warrior with a mysterious past, and Princess Mint, a spoiled and sheltered royal who plots revenge. Residing in an ancient and mystical setting, both characters are on a quest to recover a powerful relic for individual reasons. The most unique concept that the game offers is that Rue and Mint are on different interceding paths throughout their journey for the same goal and players are given a choice to play as either character from the start. Depending on that selection, the game plays differently due to the varying skill set of each character (Rue can morph into different monsters while Mint utilizes magic spells) and the story unfolds according to the perspective of the chosen representative. The play-life of the game is effectively doubled since players can complete the game with one character and play through the game again with the other.
Despite how great that may sound on paper, I'm sad to say that the final results are only slightly better than mediocre. At its heart, Threads Of Fate wants to achieve the kind of friendly and approachable, yet epic and majestic feel that The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time so wonderfully conveyed. The problem is that Threads Of Fateis overly wrought with age-old conventions in its joyless gameplay and their most-unique two-tiered feature is a wash.
Threads Of Fate may be presented entirely in real-time 3D graphics, but the game plays like an old 2D platform game to a fault where stages are predictably linear and there's always a boss enemy waiting at the end. Environments aren't really explored as much are they are walked through. That wouldn't be such a problem if the basic hack 'n slash, button mashing-style of combat had more depth. Outside of figuring out which form to take or which spell to use (usually a common sense, trial and error process), there wasn't much technique or strategy. Without enemies and puzzles posing more of an challenge, the game gets pretty dull and mindless after a short awhile. What made matters worse, however, was the flaky 'jump' button. Unresponsive at key moments, this flaw led to plenty of mishaps on more obstacle-laden stages and annoyed the heck out of me.
As to why the dual character approach fails; despite the choice of two different characters, the gameplay remains largely unchanged and unchallenging. There aren't any clever alternating timeline effects like there are in Resident Evil 2. The story simply shifts its focus to the selected character with script changes and minor deviations rather than offering an entirely unique experience. To its credit, the developers did include several stages unique to each character, but its hardly enough to justify the repetitiveness of playing through the game twice. Also, the gravity of the story seems to favor Rue and makes Mint's storyline seem more like an after-thought tacked on later in production.
If there were any bright spots in Threads Of Fate to speak of, it would be the graphics and the portrayal of the characters. Resembling something like a cross between Mario 64 and Legend Of Zelda, the look and style of graphics in Threads Of Fate is very effective and technically sound. Textures are simple and colors are bright. The overall clean, cutesy, and light-style clearly accomplishes what the art directors were shooting for. Outside of their competent physical portrayal, each character also manages to brim with personality that will make even the most jaded gamers smile a bit. I was also surprised to see the level of commitment the game takes to resolve each characters relationship at the end of the game. This is a rarity amongst today's grossly inadequate endings.
Those two positives are still a long way from moving me to recommend this game. There simply aren't any defining moments in the gameplay to make the game stand out. Threads Of Fate represents the kind of effort made by a company (even if its on a rare occasion for Squaresoft) that is more concerned with its bottom line than an artistically sound game.
Somewhere between all the gaming, Chi some how managed to finish high school and get into the New York Institute of Technology. At the same time, Chi also interned at Virtual Frontiers, an Internet software consultancy where he learned the ways of HTML. Soon after acquiring his BFA, Chi went on to become the lead Web designer of the Anti-Defamation League. During his tenure there, Chi was instrumental in redesigning and relaunching the non-profit organization's Web site.
Today, Chi is the webmaster of the American Red Cross in Greater New York and somehow managed to work through the tragic events of September 11th without losing his sanity. Chi considers GameCritics.com his life's work and continues to be amazed that the web site is still standing after the recent dotcom fallout. It is his dream that GameCritics.com will accomplish two things: 1) Redefine the grammar of videogames much the same way French film critic Andre Bazin did for the art of cinema and 2) bring game criticism to the forefront of mainstream culture much the same way Siskel & Ebert did for film criticism.
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