Immersive story & characters
Highly polished production
In an era of kings and kinsmen, borders change as differing civilisations wage war on one another periodically. Kirgard is a country bordered by many enemies; from the west, the eastern mountain tribes and across the southern seas. On the other hand, Zelmony is giant nation plagued by a sluggish governmental system that tirelessly tries to co-ordinate each of the states it comprises. Like an aged oak tree, externally it appears strong, while really it is rotten at the core. At this point in history Kirgard's army are very powerful, having well used the years since they were last invaded to recover. Once again they decide to reclaim Helman Island; this time though, in order to stratigically position themselves for a full offensive assult on Zelmony mainland, thinking to take advantage of the latter's current weakness.
It requires a certain willing suspension of disbelief to venture into one of these particular type of games. Every genre has clichés and pitfalls, JRPG's faults commonly hitting on uninspired and uninteresting plot/ gameplay mechanics i.e. saving the world while spending many hours thrashing the same monsters over and over again until your fingers bleed. In this case, though, almost the opposite is true.
Enter SCF. Taking many of the best features from this category of games, avoiding the worst through some ingenious solutions and generally treating the product to his usual high standards of storytelling, SCF manages to succeed in producing yet another classic hit game.
Exit Fate builds on and improves everything from its predecessor. Once again we are introduced to strong characterisations accompanied by equally impressive art to flesh them out. This time the designer's drawing ability has improved exponentially and the game boasts over 75 large character portraits to demonstrate this. I felt his writing was excellent, both in qualitative and quantitative terms. Always appropriate for the particular character that is speaking, I could often "hear" their voice even as they said their first lines (thanks in part to the wonderful illustration next to the text).
And of course SCF continues to extend his generosity as regards interactions between characters via his delicious cutscenes. These cinematically pleasing events are interspersed regularly throughout and serve to entice and reward one continuously. I actually laughed at quite a few of his character’s lines, which really is a testament to SCF's sense of humour. Even so, this game’s underlying themes are the consequences of war, the stability of nations and the price of peace. Anyone who has tried Last Scenario knows how well the creator can twist the plot around like a whirlwind; giving you a ride where you might vaguely guess at the destination but not the means of getting there. Here the adventure is just as exciting as well, with the usual multi layered plotlines, timely revealed, for the ultimate satisfaction.
One of the wonderful things about this world is as much what you are not shown and are only told of, as what you can see where you do go. There is a lot of name dropping in this respect with places like the Holy Empire of Roccaine in another continent mentioned sometimes and the Fairwind Republic further south. It's a nice touch to help us feel the story's world is more real and add colour to it, even if we never travel to any of these lands. This world itself is in a state of transition as evinced in a number of ways. Clothing styles are ranging, suitably depicting the characters whilst providing only a hint of the time period. An intelligent, young and very smartly dressed scientist adjusts his spectacles as he researches the field of magic at a renowned university; his stylish white suit with matching blue shirt underneath would hardly look out of place in a modern day casino. Whereas elsewhere, an elderly mage be-robed in traditional old brown cloth spends his retirement as a hermit on a small. peaceful island. Inventions that are seen (watch out for Deke's mechanical golem) and heard of (the recently manufactured "gun" in Cayeska - which seemed to sound like a wild west setting though we won't vist it for ourselves) and, naturally, the constant sense of a revolution being born, make this an interesting time to live in.
Much of the tile sets appear to come from some Suidoken game or another with features like the menus and battle system greatly influenced by that series too. Unfortunately most of the music has been taken from other rpgs and so you may be surprised to hear some more or less memorable soundtracks (depending on how many of these sort of games you have played) now and then. Personally none of this bothered me as I hadn't played any Suidokens' before and thus had no unnecessary judgements about a game that clearly stands up on its own merits; which some fans of the former series also seem to have agreed. Additionally, there is a hidden advantage in SCF using these resources; not only does he tastefully decide where to insert them in order to create the right atmosphere, but the music is superb anyway and so it should be easy to look past that odd FF7 tune whistling off here and there.
Last but not least, concerning user interface in menus, shops, battling and so forth; the game author's two year effort with this project more than makes up for anything borrowed elsewhere. With Exit Fate the programming has broken through a higher level than usually ever witnessed in RPGMaker games. All the statistics that you need are easily referenced for and between characters making it relatively simple to choose which 6 - 8 of your eventual 75 recruits you want to take with you at any given moment. Note: you'll need as many characters as you can recruit in order to stand a chance later when you enjoy the simple yet strategically challenging war campaigns as the game continues. Don't worry about accumulating a burden of useless items or wondering what weapon to buy for whom; neither is an issue when items are less important/ more limited in variety here and each character keeps a default weapon which they can merely upgrade at a blacksmith to improve stats.
Battles do not result in a simplistic set up that requires you to grind in order to level up. Instead these are fast paced with an attractive strip at the bottom of the screen where a person's turn is represented by their face. You can pick 6 people as your main party, who you can assign to three rows, and 2 extras as your "entourage" which you can also swap in battle if one or two of the main party are badly wounded. Exit Fate is the only game I've played where magic points are increased as the battle goes on rather than constantly depleted. Every character has an innate element which gives them an advantage against the opposite element - Fire vs. Ice, Lighting vs. Water etc. Plus there is another incentive to keep a well balanced group because each character uses less mp on a spell corresponding with their element. For example, if that Dark member casts Eclipse, he gets a 10mp reduction for that spell since it's Dark magic. Spells are bought, won or found, by the way. Anyone can cast them from the list except that, obviously, if a character has weak Magic power his/her damage from that spell will be significantly weaker than, for instance, a more mage like character. Any spells not used at the end of the battle, like a curative spell, will automatically be cast if there's enough mp. One last bonus comes in the form of varying stat boosts for characters with a relation to any KO'd comrades.
If you need to grind at all then you'll find this problem has been reduced to a minimum since the game ensures you are well rewarded in experience points for beating enemies with high levels (or if you defeat multiple enemies). This conveniently means that you can bring any character along with you, even if you've never used them before, and after a just a few battles together they've already caught up fairly close to your level. Finally, if you don't want to fight and can afford it, a nifty bribery system allows you to quickly bribe off enemies just before they appear by pressing x when the warning pops up. Did I mention that all characters, enemies and backgrounds in battle are drawn by hand too?
At the end of the day, Exit Fate is a well finished title which easily matches up with any commercial games out there. Thus, if you are willing to suspend your disbelief a little bit, fear not. SCF can and will take you by the hand into another world for you to enjoy; the only question you have to ask yourself is, "Why am I still reading this instead of playing a 40 hour+ epic?"
Review by: Aillusionoftime
Mature themes (violence and minor swearing)
Safe for ages: 13+
Windows & MS Gothic font - See official download page for addressing font issues, especially if Vista user.