Calling a game Generation of Chaos: Pandora’s Reflection is a little intimidating for those not familiar with the long-running PSP Japanese strategy series. Oddly enough, the mouthful of a title is actually in direct contrast to the bite-sized battles contained within. Developer Super Sting (a collaboration of Sting and Idea Factory) has scaled back the complexity contained in the previous entries in the franchise in favor of a more streamlined approach. Does this small strategy game with the big name successfully conquer the casual tactician in me?
Many of the mechanics you’d expect to find in a tactics-style experience are present in Pandora’s Reflection. You have your different classes of characters and you order them around the map in real-time to engage the enemy’s troops. As the small sprite-like characters bump into each other, turn-based battles are triggered. These combat sequences are where Pandora’s Reflection tries to differentiate itself from competitors. Each attack is a series of rhythmically timed “x” button presses that correspond to an on-screen meter. The timing and number of inputs varies based upon the weapon equipped, but successfully hitting these prompts activates an Impact Circle back on the overall map. Any of your troops that are positioned within this circle then get to perform a follow-up attack and this process can be repeated up to five times without the enemy having a chance to counter-attack. This chaining of attacks is really the key to success in the game and it also builds up a meter that allows you to summon magical creatures for additional attacks and buffs. In fact, this positioning of characters inside these battle circles is essentially the only strategy that matters.
There is also a small rock-paper-scissors element to the weapons as certain ones are strong or weak against different enemies or weapons. But the screen clearly labels which of your character’s weapons are “Good” or “Bad” each time it’s your turn to attack so there’s not a lot to think about. Hardened strategy game players may find the scaled-back nature of Pandora’s Reflection off-putting. But for those like me that merely want to dabble in the genre, the lack of complication makes the game immediately accessible. The early moments of each stage are where the more engaging portions exist. You generally start with two units and need to race against the computer-controlled characters to capture key points on the map. These could by artillery points like cannons and lasers or spawn points that allow you to dispatch another unit - up to five on the screen in total. Once you’ve captured all the points to keep five units on the map, you can pretty much just stand on them and wait until the enemy comes to you. You can also point and click your characters around the battlefield if you like, but this leaves your captured points open to attack, so there’s not much reason to move until there is only the opposing boss left to defeat. Usually the boss just sits on the enemy base and you just walk all five of your characters over to him so that you can perform the chained Chaos attacks until he or she dies.
Like the strategy aspects, the role-playing elements of Pandora’s Reflection are on the minimalistic side. Each battle earns you Experience Points and Alchemy Points (AP). Experience Points obviously level up your characters and AP can be also be used to level up characters, heal characters between battles, or improve weapons and armor. It’s a very rudimentary system that fits with the other simplified choices that the developers decided on with this game. There is a sparse looting system as well, but don’t expect to be changing out gear on a regular basis. The different classes of characters don’t differentiate themselves from one another in a major way, so you’ll find yourself just sticking with certain characters and upgrading the same gear for most of the game.
As far as the story goes, the writing and characters are passable, but not memorable. The entire story plays out through English text with Japanese voice-overs and there aren’t really any cut-scenes or animations to speak of. Instead, everything is presented as still-imaged talking heads. It honestly gets somewhat confusing to keep track of what’s going on in the scenes when so much is described and not seen. This budget presentation gets the job done, but it definitely left me cold on the characters and the overall story. There is also a really strange multiple-ending scenario that is based solely on the answer to a question you give late in the game. It’s the only time where you ever make any type of choice and it just feels out of place.
The downfall of Pandora’s Reflection is that the lack of variety dulls the experience. Every battle plays out nearly identically, and the scaled-back strategy and RPG systems really start to become too scaled back when you reach the fifteen hour mark. Fortunately, that’s about as long as it takes to reach the end boss. Unfortunately, I found the end boss impossibly difficult to beat with the cast of characters I had after fifteen hours. This resulted in an excruciating grind of eight additional hours of leveling-up my characters so that I could conquer the final stage. Making this even worse is that you can’t just replay levels. Nope, you can only free play the last level you won. So I played the second to last stage for eight hours so I could win the game. Keeping in mind that I had no difficulty up until the final boss, this end-game scenario is absurd.
Five or ten hours into Generation of Chaos: Pandora’s Reflection, I would have whole-heartedly recommended the game to novice strategy players. Its simplified and streamlined approach made sense for a budget-priced portable game. Simply put though, the lack of depth weighs heavy about the twelve-hour mark and the slog at the tail end of the game left a very sour taste in my mouth.
Outstanding | Very Good | Fair | Poor | Awful
Recommended Buy Price: $12.00
Current MSRP: $19.99
Generation of Chaos: Pandora’s Reflection was provided for review by NIS America. I completed the game in 23 hours. Upon completion of the game there is a New Game+ option that I opted out of. I played the game on a PlayStation Vita. Please note that the screenshots are from the Japanese release of the game and the version I played has English text. Generation of Chaos: Pandora’s Reflection is available exclusively as a download on PSN.