Send me an angel!
What would you do if one day you awoke to become an almighty god? Would you use your new-found power in the pursuit of conquest, leaving your enemies to tremble under your boot? Would you perhaps use your almighty abilities to protect those who cannot fend for themselves? This is the question that awaits you in The Awakened Fate Ultimatum.
The sequel to Nippon Ichi Software’s 2013 dungeon-crawler The Guided Fate Paradox, The Awakened Fate Ultimatum takes place several years after the events of Paradox, putting players in control of former-schoolboy-turned-God Shin Kamikaze. After being murdered in the street by a swarm of devils who descended upon him as he walked home from school one fateful afternoon, the game’s unlikely hero is reborn in the heavenly realm of Celestia. Shin soon encounters his angelic benefactors and discovers he’s been imbued with the powers of a deity through the Fate Awakening Crystal, a mystical construct that has the power to turn a compatible human host into an almighty God. Guided by the his noble exclusively assigned angel Jupiel Soraumi and the brilliant devil scientist Ariael Agarie, who’ve each sacrificed half of their souls to power the crystal, Shin is forced to fight alongside his heavenly hosts in a battle in which the fate of Celestia, the Netherworld, and the Earth itself hang in the balance.
True to its predecessor, The Awakened Fate Ultimatum is a challenging roguelike RPG with a heavy emphasis on visual novel storytelling. Each chapter begins with a lengthy narrative sequence setting up the story and outlining Shin and his companion’s current mission. These dialog-heavy segments feature some seriously clever writing that pulls surprisingly few punches, weaving an often dark story that belies the game’s cute, super-deformed aesthetic by touching on such poignant topics as child soldiers, genocide, racism, and extreme sacrifice. The Awakened Fate Ultimatum doesn’t hesitate to tug at your heartstrings, and the weighty decisions the game forces upon the player over the course of the adventure have lasting consequences that alter the direction of the game’s story, ensuring you really mull your decisions, which often involve life and death choices with unforeseen consequences. These moments are easily some of the most impressive in the game, and offer a great deal of replayability as you’ll likely want to see just each decision effects the overall narrative of the story.
While the visual novel elements and story are exceptionally executed, the meat and potatoes of The Awakened Fate Ultimatum lies in the game’s plentiful and deadly dungeons. Anyone who has played any of the Mystery Dungeon games will feel right at home with The Awakened Fate Ultimatum’s fast-paced blend of roguelike gameplay. Successfully navigating the game’s dungeons will take an equal blend of skill and luck as you explore the trap-laden labyrinths. Death can be one ill-conceived turn away, as monsters and ever-present trap tiles are plentiful, always eager to throw a wrench in even the best laid plans. It’s not uncommon to enter a floor only to be swarmed by a handful of monsters attack you from all sides, and falling in battle sends you back to the pearly gates without any of your previous belongings. That said, extreme caution and smart inventory management are key if you hope to last long in the game’s randomly-generated dungeons.
Of course, what would a dungeon crawler be without the ability to crack the skulls of your foes? When it comes to combat in The Awakened Fate Ultimatum movement and exploration happen in real-time, combat is turn based in that once you encounter enemies they act after each of your movements. If you take a step while in range of an enemy, they’ll likely attack. Whereas, if you swing at a foe then you’re bound get whacked in turn unless you land a fatal blow. Learning to think before you act and prioritize your threats is imperative if you want to reach a dungeon’s exit. The methodical pacing of the game’s combat is simple and elegant, and it’s immensely satisfying to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds through clever use of the abilities at your disposal, such as utilizing a teleportation move that allows you to switch places with your foe to quickly reach an exit, or a vampiric spell that allows you to siphon your enemy’s last bit of health, giving you just enough of a edge to take out the remaining adversaries. You’ll find there are skills to give you an edge in almost any situation, which you can unlock through an extremely robust skill tree that you can tailor to your liking by spending crystals you earn from leveling up, as well as completing Ultimate Choice segments to customize Shin’s abilities to your liking.
It’s certainly true the game’s monsters can quickly do you in, but they’re not the only thing you’ll need to keep an eye on when exploring the game’s winding corridors. In typical Mystery Dungeon fashion, players will have to keep a keen eye on not only their health, but also their AC meter, which is constantly draining with each action. Once Shin’s AC meter hits zero he’ll steadily lose health until he ultimately kicks the bucket, so keeping a ready supply of AC-restoring food is mandatory when navigating the game’s labyrinthine stages. Additionally, as the Fate Awakening Crystal lodged in Shin’s chest is powered by both the souls of the demonic Ariael and the angelic Jupiel, players can tap into both of those powers through the power of Deitizing, which allows Shin to transform at will into either an angelic or demonic form to wage war against his enemies at the cost of SP points. Utilizing Shin’s angelic powers grants him an extreme melee bonus, whereas Shin’s demonic Deitization offers a plethora of upgradable magic abilities that can even the odds with ranged attacks, teleportation, and other arcane abilities. Adding another layer to the game’s combat, enemies also come in both good and evil alignments, and using the opposing Deitizing power will grant you a major advantage over the game’s numerous enemies. Knowing when to conserve SP points (which, along with your health points, regenerate as you walk around in your normal form) and when to unleash your most powerful attacks is key to survival.
As mentioned before, the importance of choice cannot be understated in The Awakened Fate Ultimatum. During each chapter Shin presented with a decision, which often involves many lives hanging in the balance. Players will have to choose between either the “good” or “bad” option to resolve the issue. One such example involves rescuing a squad of angels who’ve been imprisoned in a Netherworld prison camp. With too few forces to safely extract all of the captive angels before devil reinforcements show up you’re offered a choice; you can choose to save them, odds be damned (the good answer) or save just as many as you can without putting yourself at risk (the bad answer). Of course, these outcomes are always more nuanced than you’d expect, with many unforeseen variables popping up to impact the game’s story. These moments are truly harrowing, and the emotional punch that comes from making poor decision that ends up costing the lives of an innocent, or could potentially result in a squad of your allies being eviscerated provides a real level of tension, pulling you into the game’s often dark narrative experience.
All told, there’s an awful lot to love about The Awakened Fate Ultimatum. Nippon Ichi Software has succeeded in crafting an exceptional adventure that offers a truly refined roguelike RPG experience. There are a few nagging problems that sometimes scuff the game’s heavenly veneer, such as the serious lack of variety in animation frames during the visual novel segments and some occasionally uneven balance issues that can result in some cheap deaths in the game’s dungeons, but these issues are easily overlooked when considering just how much the game has to offer in terms of scale and replayability. You’ll want to experience the game multiple times just to experiment with the Ultimate Choice system and see how the different scenarios play out, and the allure of diving back into previously completed dungeons to uncover rare items and max out your repertoire of abilities is hard to resist.
Simply put, if you’re a fan of JRPGs or roguelikes, The Awakened Fate Ultimatum deserves a spot on your shelf. The game excels at delivering both a surprisingly mature and gripping story that’s bound to pull you in and an immensely satisfying adventure that will have you saying “just one more dungeon.” Here’s hoping Nippon Ichi Software is taking notes, because this is one series we’d love to see plenty more of down the road.
Final Verdict: 4.5 / 5
Available on: Playstation 3 (Reviewed) ; Publisher: NIS America; Developer: Nippon Ichi Software; Players: 1; Released: March 17, 2015 ; ESRB: Teen ; MSRP: $39.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a review copy of The Awakened Fate Ultimatum provided by the game’s publisher, NIS America.