Though NIS America is known primarily for their Disgaea franchise (including its numerous sequels and spin-offs sharing the same art style and gameplay mechanics), the company has also published several other unique titles from other Japanese developers. One such franchise is theGeneration of Chaos series, which has just hit its sixth entry in the series with Pandora’s Reflection, though it is in fact only the third game to be localized for North America (not to mention the first to be exclusively released digitally in the West, as is the case for most PSP titles released after the Vita).
The story of Pandora’s Reflection centers on Claude, a young alchemist trying to find a cure for his sister, Yuri. Plagued with a bizarre mark on her neck in the shape of a butterfly, Yuri’s increased sickliness causes Claude to travel the world of Hades (which faces its own crisis in the form of Ashen Rain, a deadly weather effect that has claimed countless lives), where he gathers clues and allies to assist him in breaking the curse, not to mention several enemies and a mysterious organization poised to end his journey, as well as his life.
The story spans seven chapters, each containing multiple episodes (with a staged battle in each episode), and is told primarily through character portraits and Japanese-voiced dialogue. This approach may resemble the style of a Visual Novel, but the lack of narrative descriptions as well as backgrounds result in a visually unpolished effort by comparison. Worse still, the plot and its characters are often painfully generic and usually have their objectives conveniently laid out by their feet; allies join your group seemingly out of nowhere and with little motivation, confrontations occur over the most trite reasons, and the story as a whole moves at far too quickly a pace to properly flesh out the cast or the world they inhabit.
For some, the brief story beats may prove positive as it serves as mere window-dressing for the gameplay. During each episode, a battle occurs between Claude’s party and an opposing team. Both sides face one another in a single screen layout filled with “terrains” such as forests, roads, water, and so on. Each of the playable classes can traverse certain terrains quicker than others, while the reverse can also be used to impact them. Littered throughout the area are several icons that can be seized by either side, including stage points (which can allow players to deploy an extra character onto the field, or reduce the number of deployed troops from the opposing side), artillery weapons (cannons, crossbows, and other automated weapons that can be taken over by either side) and the party base.
The party base is the most crucial point, as taking it over will immediately ends the battle for either side. As a result, calling Pandora’s Box a Tower Defense game would be the most apt comparison, though actual battles take place on a separate screen with button prompts as a mechanic. When two opposing sides make contact, they both are given a chance to unleash an attack on one another. When the player’s turn comes up, they can choose between the characters’ two equipped weapons, with an on-screen indicator showing which one is more effective against the enemy. Once the weapon is selected, a cursor will trail the screen across several icons that, when timed properly with the X button, will result in increased damage from the weapon. Each weapon carries a different pattern as well as cursor speeds, making it somewhat difficult to get a perfect string with each attack, though the more successful prompts hit, the greater the damage inflicted.
Another strategy is the ability to chain attacks between party members. Once an attack between two sides has ended, a circle will appear from the enemy. If any party members fit inside the circle, they can be chosen via the corresponding button to continue the attack on the enemy. Even enemies who have already been defeated can still be chained, which results in extra crystals dropped. Speaking of which, collected crystals are used to fill up the Summon Gauge, which is used to call up a list of collected Summons when full. These beings can cause immense damage to the enemy in various ways or aid the player by healing their HP, among other uses.
While the mechanics may sound complex, they are in fact very simple to grasp…which is also the biggest problem with the game. While most Strategy RPGs and Tower Defense games feature a complex set of mechanics that are simple to grasp yet challenging to master, Pandora’s Reflection is far too simple to ever be considered exciting. One-on-one battles may contain inspirations from both timing-based games and chaining attacks, but there is little variety beyond bumping one character to another and mashing buttons.
Similarly, the concept of terrain advantage/disadvantage between player classes sounds like it requires careful planning and navigating, but it’s a minor inconvenience at best, especially among powerhouse characters like Claude and Marlon. Moving between units and planning pathways with the analog stick is also slow and cumbersome, which would have made this game better suited for a touch-based machine like the Nintendo DS or any iOS device. And while most games of this nature should be quick to pick up and play, Pandora’s Reflection features unskippable annoyances to slow things down, such as character dialogue for every action taken as well as lengthy summon animations (an annoyance not felt since the days of Final Fantasy VIII).
The biggest positive about the game actually revolves around its usage of Alchemy Points (AP). Obtained after every battle, these points can be used to either level up party members, revive incapacitated allies, or level up their equipment. The latter foregoes the typical RPG necessity to purchase new equipment in shops, instead allowing players to strengthen their existing swag as much as they would like.
In the end, Generation of Chaos: Pandora’s Reflection is not a bad title, but one that borrows several elements from well-known genres without fully executing most of them. While the presentation is adequate for a small-scale handheld RPG, the dull battle system and ho-hum story keep this title from gaining any notoriety among the PSP’s all star list of quality RPGs, be they turn-based, real-time strategy, or otherwise.
Note: The Generation of Chaos: Pandora’s Reflection review was written based on the PSP version of the game provided by the publisher and played using a PlayStation Vita.