In our world governed by gods, and choices the rights, and wrongs of society can often times become blurred into various shades of grey making judgment, or the lack thereof a most difficult task. Deciding what is wrong, and what is right in a just manner definitely depends on seeing the situation from all angles, or both sides. In a similarly decisive fashion NISA's latest follow-up release of "The Awakened Fate Ultimatum" tries, in it's own way to pose the ultimate question to the gamer regarding what is right, and what is wrong when it comes to one's personal beliefs on life's many choices. Is it good to be on the side of evil, or is it evil to be on the side of good? These are two questions that the newly crowned God of Celestia must answer for himself as he scrambles to make sense of his unusual, and wholly demanding predicament. As such the protagonist who unwillingly fills the shoes of Celestia's God (Shin Kamikaze), and whom you role play as will find that he must act, and react carefully lest he ends up making the wrong decision regarding these two age old questions. Being God in the fight for the angels is definitely not a job for the faint of heart, and Shin finds that out alongside of you as you take the weight of the world on your shoulders, and decide the fate of both angels, and devils alike.
In a departure from the seemingly lighthearted antics of "The Guided Fate Paradox", NISA's developers take us on a more deeply seeded, and somewhat dark adventure in which we fill the shoes of Shin Kamikaze who in turn fills the shoes of God. In this latest tale about finding the meaning of life for the wayward soul that is Shin, and how his decisions will ultimately affect others we are given a way to balance, and counterbalance fate through various gameplay decisions, and actions. Unlike the previous game the sides of good, and evil (Angels & Devils) play a more significant role than they ever have before. With Shin being resurrected from death, and brought back as God with the 'Fate Awakening Crystal' infused within him along with the souls of both an angel, and a devil he has the power to utilize his newly found abilities as he sees fit.
In other words Shin will be donning both angel, and devil forms as he battles his way through mock dungeons via the 'Phantasma' training unit, or in actual dungeon-based combat when the occasion presents itself. As he continues to train with Jupiel (his guardian angel), and Ariael (the devil who infused him with the Fate Awakening Crystal) via dialogue driven events that are filled with dual choices regarding good, and bad Shin will have to traverse the rogue-like labyrinths of the hereafter as he faces his many adversaries. At his disposal during these trying times are upgradeable angel, and devil form attributes, and attacks that can make either form more powerful as well as weapons, and armor that can also be upgraded in various ways to better prepare him for the fight ahead.
When the game begins you will be taken through the plot as it thickens rather quickly, and will discover exactly what it is that Shin must do in each, and every in-game instance. This initial intro into gameplay has brief tutorials which guide you via the voice-overs, and text dialogue of both Jupiel, and Ariael. You'll even get to play through a dream/spirit world battle that will give you a taste of the things to come. Past the introduction, and the breakdown of what the hell it is that's going on in Shin's topsy-turvy reality you will find at your disposal is a simplified menu system that acts as a hub for things to do within the heavenly world that is Celestia. Unlike "Paradox" you will not find the usual Disgaea hub world setup, but instead a menu system that is more akin to that of a 'Hyperdimension Neptunia' game. In this menu system you'll find a way to progress the story chapters (EVENT), a way to access dungeons you wish to play in or grind in (DUNGEONS), a (STATUS) menu for checking on character stats and embedding crystals into weapons, an (EQUIP) menu for equipping Shin with the latest equipment, a (CUSTOMIZATION) menu for upgrading the angel/devil forms, a (STOREHOUSE) menu for storing items you don't want lost, a (SHOP) in which to buy various things, and an (ITEM BOOST) menu for enhancing weapons/armor by doubling them up.
It goes without saying that you will have plenty to deal with as you help Shin become the God that he aims to be. The "Events" for example are filled with a variety of different choice based scenarios that will have Shin choosing either the side of the angels, or the side of the devils. As simple as such a decision might seem NISA brilliantly weaves into gameplay the consequences, and rewards for certain actions. Some of which border the scale of the shades of grey that I mentioned at the beginning of this review. It's not so much that Shin must choose correctly, but more so that what he decides will sway certain characters' fates, and the story's outcome at the end of it all. As far as "gameplay" is concerned the "Dungeon" areas that become available after you play through the dialogue, and choice driven encounters do play out in a similar way as that of Paradox's design, but only slightly so. Like before Shin, the new God will be moving square by square in the labyrinthine dungeon structures, and will be performing actions while consuming AP (Action Points) in the process. Regardless of the game's rogue-like setup up this is a turn-based RPG that takes in account everything you do from moving to fighting, and even using items. As Shin is governed by these rules in the dungeon environments so are the angel, and devil type enemies. What differentiates Paradox's gameplay from Ultimatum's though is the fact that by pressing (L2) Shin can take on his angel form, and by pressing (R2) he can take on his devil form. Each form comes with various skills that can be chosen, and performed with a combination of (R3/Right Thumbstick + L1) supposing you have unlocked the skill with CP (Crystal Points) via the winged "Customization" menu.
Both the angel form, and the devil form also play a role as a yin-yang type of damage persuasion that make them more effective against enemies of the opposite alignment. For example, Shin in the devil form can do greater damage to angel type enemies. The opposite also goes for the angel form versus devil type enemies. The one catch to all of this though is that like everything else regarding Shin in the dungeon environments is that it's governed by a meter. In this case you'll find that the angel, and devil forms along with their form specific skills run on SP (Spirit Points). Like the health meter, SP can be regained as you walk the tiles of each dungeon, but only so long as you have the movement meter (AP/Action Points)) to keep going. When it comes to goals within the dungeons some will demand that you just progress from floor to floor while avoiding, or engaging in combat along the way. It goes without saying that looting the area for various treasures, and equipment is also an option during these outings. In other instance you'll also square off against bosses in boss fights all the while maintaining your point, and ailment stats with applied items, if need be.
As far as customization goes things are a bit simplified this time around. If I remember correctly Paradox had a more Disgaea-like customization about it in which you could name items, and weapons as you upgraded them. In Ultimatum's case you have a few options for improving up Shin's offensive/defensive nature. While on your outings Shin will be able to collect dropped items that range from weapons to shields, and even gems that will help to add special effects to equipped equipment. Currency also drops in the form of diamonds which can be used for purchases in the "Shop" menu. By collecting these various things, or buying them outright you can enhance them in two ways. This only pertains to equipment pieces (Weapon, Shield, Accessory) though. If you happen to have some extras of the same weapon/shield, for example you can visit the "Item Boost" section of the main menu, and basically improve upon said equipment items buy doubling, and tripling up on them. As the name of the menu suggests it's an easy way to boost the damage/defense of each item making it stronger than it was initially. The only catch is that equipment items can only be boosted to +3, and in a certain combination order. You'll have to select your 'Base Item', and follow-up by combining a 'Boost Item' along with it. Usually type does not matter outside of the equipment class, but the stats of the base, and boost items definitely do.
Outside of the "Item Boost" menu you can further endow your equipment with gems of varying sorts that house ailment boosts. This can be done via the "Status" menu. While you'd normally thing the "Status" menu would be reserved solely for looking at Shins character stats it doubles as a way to add the collected gems to the equipment piece of your choice. All you have to do is select the piece of equipment you want enhance, click on it via the appropriate button, and follow up by selecting which gem you wish to infuse within it. Gems like equipment varies, and most do something outside of simply boosting ATK (Attack), CRT (Critical), or defense stats. The catch like anything else pertaining to weapon boosting management is that it requires in-game currency to perform, just like when using the "Item Boost" menu. Aside from the item boosting, and status based gem assignment features you'll also find that certain angelic, and devilish features pertaining to Shin's character can be improved upon, and added to via "Customization".
Within the "Customization" menu you'll find a pair of celestial wings adorned with stat, and skill boost icons. The left wing houses upgrades compatible with Shin's angelic form, and the right side with his devilish form. The contained upgrades which spiral around include everything from attack boost to defense boosts, and skills that are alignment specific. The only way to upgrade the forms via this menu system is to apply points that you earn in dungeons. These point types which are made available through leveling up in the God, angel, or devil form will allow you to upgrade each alignment accordingly. The only exception to the rule is that points earned while leveling up in the God form can be used on either alignment upgrade.
Upgrading Shins forms, and his equipment of choice are to sure fire ways to make it far in battle. Should you die an untimely death while on one of your dungeon outings though all equipment you had in your possession at the time, including items will be lost. Thus it is imperative that you use the "Storehouse" to save that equipment which is dearest to you. Even though you may retain your level stats after death fighting barehanded as God can prove to be your undoing more quickly than you think.
For those of you looking for those more in-depth extras of the NISA persuasion fret not as they have included the usual "Library (a bestiary of sorts, Items & Enemies)", the "Music Hall (the in-game soundtrack tracks)", and the "Art Gallery (CG scene images)" all of which house unlocked items that are obtained as you progress within the game. For those of you needing a feature reference the "Manual" is there at your service when you need it as well. Even the "Options" menu provides certain in-game tweaks that coincide with the spoken language (Yes to Japanese!!!), message speeds, and other things pertaining to the way the game is played. Even with it's scaled down nature, "The Awakened Fate Ultimatum" gives the player at home plenty to do, and think about as they fulfill their role as the new God of Celestia, Sir Shin Kamikaze.
The Verdict ...
'The Awakened Fate Ultimatum' is a slight step down in the way of it's overall presentation to be honest, and I don't mean graphics-wise. It's not the Disgaea-like experience of "The Guided Fate Paradox" at all. There are more story panels than before, and the battle system has been changed/adjusted according to the new story's plot in a simplified manner. NISA really went heavy on the choice driven dialogue this time, and made the dungeon gameplay a second place ordeal in the process. The dungeon aspects of the game definitely had a more simplistic chibi-style presentation about them which did away with the former things that I thought made the first game so great. While this may bother some I feel that the story was actually more interesting than the gameplay in this particular instance. It made me want to keep going to see how my decisions affected the outcome of the war. It also offered some very interesting scenarios that had me struggling to guess what choices I should be making as Celestia's new God. Some of my choices turned out for the worst, and heart wrenchingly so. Other choices landed in the shades of grey area, and only slightly affected the outcome of things. There were even choices that I made which made me feel good about things. Looking back at it all I think the story really carried this game along well, and despite the over-simplified gameplay features it felt pretty epic to play as Shin Kamikaze. As such this game is going to get a recommendation from me. I think it's standalone nature can be enjoyed by any RPG enthusiast who still owns a Playstation 3. Be sure not to miss out, and to pick it up when the 17th comes along!