Made by some of the same team that developed the uber-serious Xenogears game, at a time when Square seemed to have a Midas touch, Threads of Fate was made to be a contrasting light-hearted adventure that still makes an impression. At that, the team succeeds while maintaining Square's excellent PS1 track record. Despite a number of minor issues that keep it from being a great game, is a charming and memorable title that could endear itself greatly to the player.
It did that for me when I first played it, without completing it, nearly two decades ago, and it endeared itself to me again this time as well.
#35: Threads of Fate:-
Year: 1999, 2000.
Genre: Action RPG.
First things first, I am changing my rating system to a simpler 10-point system. I fully recommend games that get above a 7, and those that get below are mostly a waste of time. The recommendation for a game scoring a 7 largely depends on your personal taste.
"And so, my journey began... I'll find the [Relic] and save Claire, no matter what..."
Threads of Fate's story begins with the central motivation of your chosen character (from two) who trace their objective, a powerful "relic" that could grant their wishes, to the small island of Carona. There, they interact with a limited number of characters, including the non-chosen main player, who are all looking for or are impacted by the existence of this "relic".
By the end of the game, a curious thing happened, where I realized I knew the names and personalities of each and every character in the game, as if they were cast members in a play. The limited number of characters and the small environment in which the story unfolds made this an unusually dense experience, despite the game going for a save-the-world tangent at the end.
Curiously, while the charming and humorous tone of the game is consistent throughout, the choice of the main character does have an impact on the specific tone of the story. Rue is a typical and taciturn serious Square MPC (equipped with spikey hair under his hat) who aims to use the "relic" to revive Claire, a girl he loves who was accidentally killed by a mysterious man who wields a giant arm. While Mint is a selfish and spoiled princess who was demoted from the line of succession and wants to use the "relic" to avenge that insult by, ahm, CONQUERING THE WORLD.
Things don't always work out as well as you planned
As you can expect, Rue's story is more serious, with some solid themes about the conflict between duty and will. Its ending is also more satisfactory for nearly all parties involved since it also resolves the mystery of the main bad guys as well. In contrast, Mint's story is more comic and adventurous, especially since I don't think you are supposed to root for her since she deserved her fate. However, I should complain that she hasn't matured enough as a character through the experience even in her own story.
Despite the main story being quite simple, it is told expertly once all the pieces are revealed and each character is given the time to shine. Unfortunately, the game's first half, which involves what amount to a series of fetch quests, is criminally slow and doesn't do enough to build the main story although it does help in establishing all the characters involved.
"I'm Princess Mint. No one says no to me, just for that, I'm going to beat you to a bloody pulp"
As one of Square's more experimental titles, Threads of Fate crafts its own take on Action RPG gameplay systems, for better or worse. Although, I am not even sure the genre description is accurate since there is very little in terms of RPG systems in the gameplay. Other than some perfunctory stats which improve throughout the game, there is little to differentiate it from plain old Action games.
Regardless of how you want to describe it, the main gameplay mechanics involve combat and limited platforming in a 3D space, with platforming thankfully being very limited since it's really janky. Combat involves quick attack combos, strong attacks, jump attacks, and a unique ability for each character that I will elaborate on later, and while it is as janky as platforming, it manages to be mindless fun most of the time.
Some boss fights are really fun
Each character has their unique mechanics. Rue can transform into the monsters he defeats, which in theory unlocks a great variety of moves for him, while Mint has an interesting magic system that allows her to combine a type of magic with a form. Both systems could have been game changers if they were better implemented. Rue is only limited to transforming into the last four monsters he defeated, which creates annoying backtracking scenarios when needing a specific monster transformation, but that's not as limiting as the fact that Rue's basic moves are almost always the best option to use in every fight. In contrast, Mint's magic system is better initially, but unless you find the optional Omega form, it becomes very difficult to cast in mid-fight.
Generally, I find that the gameplay system itself is acceptable, if janky at times. Even if it's not needed, it's still fun to transform into various monsters as Rue and Mint's jump kick is strong even outside of the comic cut scenes. Some battles get annoying, and the system is never tested to its full limit, but that's not the worst aspect of this game.
"The power of the Aeon's [Relic] might destroy the world. What do you say to that?"
The worst part about this game is how little of a game there is in it. In theory, you go into dungeons to reach a goal, but the majority of dungeons are single-line corridors with little to do in them. While some dungeons elect to have basic puzzles to shake things up, these puzzles are extremely basic and limited in both quantity and scope, that they barely register as puzzles. There are only about four dungeons of worth in the game, and all of them combined barely compare to a single dungeon in the level of Ocarina of Time for example.
Outside of dungeons, there isn't much to do either. One of the most annoying areas of the game, which is Fancy' Mels house, has you participating in a few janky mini-games that exposes the frayed limits of the game's mechanics. Later, you have the option of subjecting yourself to that horrid experience.
Behold the hideous world of Fancy Mel, but something seems wrong in this picture
In the town, where it is at least fun to talk to everyone, there isn't much to do other than have a few duels with Rod the vagrant for a few hundred bucks. These you can use to upgrade your stats, which is the extent of the RPG systems in the game. Unless you count the fact that you increase HP by being hit, and MP by using magic attacks, as a sophisticated "system".
So, outside of a few nice boss battles and the occasional good dungeon, there is little to enjoy about "playing" Threads of Fate, which sees its story and charm do most of the heavy lifting. In that case, it's great for the game that it could always rely on Square's brilliant production chops.
"In this world, it's all about heart. Without heart, we're nothing!"
I feel that a great story can be conveyed with only simple graphics and a solid narrative, but comedy and charm require more creative production behind them, which is thankfully what Threads of Fate has. With some of the studio's best work in converting their unique designs into 3D polygons, the characters look like they are out of a Saturday-morning cartoon.
Besides the charming graphics, there is something to be said about the scene direction, with all cut scenes made in-engine. The camera work is exemplary, selling the drama when it needs to, but excelling mostly with its comedic touches. One of the game's innovations was in how the character's eyes tracked movement, which is used in conjunction with the camera work in selling the scenes.
The game is best at selling comedic scenes
With charming graphics and exceptional direction, the game could utilize the best aspects of its art direction. Unfortunately, not all designs were equal, with many forgettable monster designs and the eye-sore that it's Fancy Mel's place (the game making fun of the place doesn't get them off the hook). However, this is countered by some truly memorable designs, such as the writhing arm of the main villain in Rue's story. I played but not finished the game 20 years ago and that design stayed in my memory for all that time.
Equally impressive is the game's soundtrack, which is made by the lesser-known Final Fantasy collaborator Junya Nakano and is considered one of his favorites. Not only is the soundtrack brilliant in its own right, creating an atmosphere and style that sets the game apart, but is used brilliantly in the scenes to underscore specific emotions or character actions.
But the game is also good in its most dramatic moments
When "A Chance Meeting" plays, you know the heroes are about to turn the tables in some way with its charming beats and heroic overtone just as you know you are in for trouble whenever the "East Heaven Kingdom" track plays with its mysterious chimes and echo effects. My personal favorite, outside of the brilliant main track, is the main town's theme which welcomes you with open arms whenever you come back from any expedition, no matter how disappointing it was.
I think that it is difficult to accurately review Threads of Fate since its strong suits are hugely subjective and depend on accepting the charm and comedy of the narrative while its weakest aspects are clear to everyone. Simply put, playing the game could be a boring experience.
This is why this is a rating that will not accompany a recommendation. I don't know if you would like the game, but I was won over by its charming story and graphics, its brilliant music, and the image of Rue's nemesis with that giant arm will keep haunting me forever.
1- Fight Rod to get money, save beforehand not to lose anything.
2- Fight Rod and lose for easy HP gain.
3- Always buy the most expensive equipment, once available.
4- Rarely, elemental attacks are necessary.
5- For Rue, you will need certain monster transformations to progress.
6- Getting high scores in the stupid Fancy Mel mini-games is useless.
7- Go back to the volcano at the end of Mint's story to get the Omega magic.
8- Don't sell the "Legendary" items and instead give them to the bar chef once you have them all.
9- Visit all the areas in town before the final dungeon for optional scenes.
Fighting Rod is all about heart and quick cash
For those reading one of my PS1 review blogs for the first time, here is the basic concept:
I already reviewed both major Generation 4 consoles, and am now reviewing Generation 5 consoles. I already finished reviewing the Sega Saturn, so I am now reviewing the PS1. In these reviews, I take a top 100 games list and review the games that interest me in that list.
This time, my review series is based on this list from Retro Sanctuary and other sources, since the PS1 can handle a list bigger than a top 100.
Also, note the following:
-If you have any suggestions for a game that is not on the Retro Sanctuary list that I should review, please suggest them.
-Make a bet on each game to check whether Chris Charter played it or not.
In the end, this game is all about its charming cast of characters
I knew that I would like this game, and I ended up liking it despite its clear fault. However, I think it's more than nostalgia since I really do think that Threads of Fate is a truly charming and memorable game.
Next on the list, after writing a report about the top 40-31 games according to Retro Sanctuary, is going to be back to the addendum list with In Cold Blood, a cult-classic Adventure game that I hope is actually good.
For Previous PS1 Game Reviews: