PSP games, yeah they still make those, they even play on your Vita. Just ask NIS America who brings us Generation of Chaos: Pandora’s Reflection. You might be familiar with previous entries on the PSP (or on the PS2 in Japan) where you controlled generals who commanded large armies. Pandora’s Reflection is a very different beast compared to those games.
You’ll be thrust immediately into a barren land of disease and suffering known as Hades. Claude, an alchemist, is searching for Snowdrops in an attempt to keep his sister Yuri healthy, all the while knowing of a strange butterfly mark on her neck, hidden by bandages. Along they way they are greeted by friend and foe alike as they set out to stop the source of the Ashen Rain that is plaguing the land. The story is interesting enough and plays heavily on not only the struggles of your group, but the struggle of citizens as they are simply pawns in a much grander scheme. Much of this relies on you buying into the emotions they are trying to convey. If you feel no remorse for killing innocents, then this will likely disappoint.
The characters themselves are surprisingly lively despite the world they are in. The all have their quirks and the back and forth conversations are full of subtle jabs at each other, along with the occasional innuendo and blushing character portraits. All of the spoken dialogue is in Japanese, but for what it’s worth it is pretty good. The translation is also top notch and avoids any awkward translation, something expected from a publisher such as NIS America.
Combat brings the biggest deviation from previous Generation of Chaos games. Pandora’s Reflection does away with large scale battles in favor of a new system called “Attack Chance”. Battles begin when two units come into contact. You select your weapon in a rock-paper-scissors style strong against, weak against system. The interesting aspect of each weapon is the number of bonus damage buttons they have. Pressing X while the bar fills to one of those buttons will give bonus damage. After battle a red ring will surround the attacked enemy. Any friendly units inside the radius of the ring can also attack that unit. The size of the ring is dictated by the number of bonus buttons hit during the attack. This adds an interesting layer of depth, forcing you to sometimes decide between the better weapon or the one that grants the larger circle. When five characters attack the same enemy they execute an even stronger attack that adds bonus damage to the final hit. This is particularly effective against bosses and other powerful enemies.
Combat is far from easy, though the game does a decent job of easing you into the system. Players can spawn two units to start the mission and can spawn more by capturing points on the map. Players can also capture or destroy points controlled by the enemy to force their units to retreat. At first it is easy to manage the battlefield, but things quickly get chaotic. You have to be conscious of enemy movement in relation to your points, specifically you main base. If it falls, you fail. Enemy units will often B line to unguarded points. A major advantage can quickly be lost if you aren’t careful of how you position your forces. Units guarding point are not much safer than the points themselves. Often times they will be attacked by multiple enemies and knocked out of combat. The enemy A.I. can be absolutely vicious early on, only wavering when the bulk of your forces are on their doorstep.
Outside of battles you can equip you units with new weapons and armor, or upgrade their existing equipment using the alchemy system. You can use XP gained in battle to make stronger weapons, or use human alchemy to level up characters. XP is also used to heal characters after battle. Failing to do so will almost certainly set you up for defeat in your next battle. There is a lot of management required in and out of battle, and that will definitely turn away some of the more casual players. Those willing to take the time to learn and master the various system at work will be rewarded with a much easier playing experience, which in turn is likely to turn off some of the more hardcore players who came for gameplay, but not story.
The music is a surprising stand out and is consistently excellent. This is the kind of game you set down and just listen for a few minutes before moving on. The anime style design is also very nice, but is only really shown through portraits during conversation or in menus. Level design is bland and underwhelming. Sure it is a tactical game, they don’t need to look amazing, but looking at games like Fire Emblem: Awakening with 3D environments and living elements make the battlefields on offer here seem all the more dull.
Generation of Chaos: Pandora’s Reflection is a good PSP game at a time where the PSP is mostly obsolete. This isn’t a game that will make you dust off the old PSP if you haven’t played it in a while, but Vita owners starved for new games may want to give the game a look in the Playstation Store. While it isn’t a perfect fit for the most casual or the most hardcore of players, there is definitely a group of players out there who will find enjoyment. Hopefully Generation of Chaos will eventually find its way onto the Vita, further building upon the successes of Pandora’s Reflection. Until that time, this will have to be your strategy fix on Sony’s portable platforms.