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Review #360

Trinity Universe
Publisher: Nippon Ichi
Developer: Idea Factory
Genre: Turn Based RPG
Release Date: 06/30/2010

Nippon Ichi has had a pretty good track record this year. Everyone here at Diehard GameFAN is still giddy over a Sakura Wars title being released in English, they made their first foray into adventure gaming with Disgaea Infinite, and they released two anime series in Persona: Trinity Soul and Toradora!. Heck, even their worst game of the year so far, Last Rebellion was good enough that I kept playing until I earned a Platinum trophy on it.

Now it’s time for Trinity Universe. Following in the footsteps of last year’s Cross Edge release where Disgaea characters met flagship mascots from other series like Darkstalkers, this new game gives you characters from both Nippon Ichi and Gust titles, the latter of which are published in North America by Nippon Ichi anyway, so it probably seems like an “All-Star Game” of NIS characters. That being said, I’ve never been a fan of Gust titles like Mana Khemia or the Atelier series as they tend to be a little too pat and cliché for my tastes. I think Student Alliance has fared the best out of their titles with me. Gust fares significantly better with other DHGF staffers as DJ loves Mana Khemia 2 and Aileen was a big fan of Atelier Annie.

Finally, the game was developed by Idea Factory, which is a company that tends to make games that our staff, well, seems to hate. I really enjoyed Cross Edge and Agarest but those games has the involvement of Compile Heart and Red Company respectively. Just look at our staff’s bitter reviews of games like Spectral Force Genesis, Spectral Force 3, or Chaos Wars. However, none of those aforementioned titles were localized by NIS America, so were they able to break the streak of only bad Idea Factory games being localized for US shores, or rather, could it be that there is no such thing as a good Idea factory game?

Let’s Review

1. Story

I’ve said many times that regardless of gameplay, a console or PC RPG lives or dies by its story and that a good story can carry an awful engine while a horrible story can make people hate a game even when a well crafted game is attached to it. In the case of Trinity Universe, you have TWO stories to play through. You have two VERY different main characters, each with their own unique allies and storylines, although both tales occasionally cross over with each other. This might sound very similar to the recently released PSP title Hexyz Force, which also featured two crossing over stories, but the different here is that Trinity Universe is GOOD, while Hexyz Force is pretty lackluster.

With Trinity Universe your choice of main characters are the Demon Dog King, Kanata, and a Valkyrie named Rizelea. Kanata is a powerful overlord of the Netheruniverse (Like the netherwords of Disgaea), and like those before him, he is supposed to undergo a ritual that turns him into a Demon God Gem, which then is used to protect the land of Empyria. However, the ritual is messed up and he is turned into a Demon Dog King instead and together with his advisor the fox spirit, Tsubaki, the two escape into the kingdom. As Kanata has never been allowed outside his room before, he is a very naïve protagonist and he’s just so excited to be out and seeing the world and life for the first time, that you can’t help but love him and his highly infectious joy towards everything. Meanwhile your other option is Rizelea who reminds me for of Mint from Threads of Fate in both personality and appearance than say, Lenneth from Valkyrie Profile. She’s a bit OCD, violent and quirky, and although her job is to maintain order in the universe she does keep strange bedfellows like the Dark Hero Lucius.

Both adventures have a unique cast of characters, while also sharing up to four unlockable optional characters. They also have three endings apiece, and a fourth “true ending” that you can get by beating the game with both characters on the same save and doing a few in-game things. What really counts though is the plot. Both games are light-hearted and you won’t find much in the way of angst-ridden anti-heroes, tragedy or dramatic deaths. Trinity Universe instead chooses to be a game that is as funny as it is fun, providing you with deeply fleshed out characters and a strong emphasis on characterization. There are certain events that are nothing more that characters interacting with each other, not necessarily to move the plot ahead, but just to show you interpersonal dynamics and give you funny scenes that remind you that a good RPG makes you care about the characters. Think of Trinity Universe as the video game equivalent of Justice League International, and you’ll be fine.

I haven’t enjoyed a plot or a cast of characters in a game released this year as much as I have that of Trinity Universe. Sakura Wars V doesn’t count since I’ve owned it for over half a decade. The characters have such wonderful chemistry and I really hope this isn’t the only game Kanata, Rizelea, Lucius, Pamela, Mizuki and the rest of the original characters are in. I’d love to see more.

Story Rating: 8/10

2. Graphics

My girlfriend watched me play the game for a bit and although the Prinnies annoyed her (she hates birds), she kept saying how pretty she thought the game was. It’s definitely a truism, although one that would be even more so if she had known that this is the first appearance in 3-D graphics for a lot of these characters. Characters like Violet and Etna have only appeared in sprite form before, so it’s even more impressive to people who have been playing Nippon Ichi or Gust games for a decade or more.

The 3-D graphics in battle are quite nice. You have the standard turn based RPG motif of having your team on one side of the screen and the opponent on the other. Then your characters move forward one at a time to strike, and then return to their original spot. It’s all very pat, but the animation is fluid, the characters are detailed and you can even set camera angles on your battles to give yourself a better view. Both the designs of characters and antagonists are wonderfully done and they run the gambit from typical RPG opponents like skeletons or killer bunnies to some pretty original looking bosses.

Story scenes are done in standard JRPG fashion via character portraits that appear on the screen, delivering lines of dialogue. Depending on the emotion being shown, you get a slightly different portrait. What is different here is that the portraits aren’t a static piece of art as they are in other JRPG’s. Here characters move their mouths and blink when talking. Now, this isn’t unheard of as it little movements like this go back as far as the 16-bit era with games like Shining Force, but the portraits carry animation even further. Hair, clothes, noses, and more move while talking, to give the game a more “anime” feel than a lot of other JRPGs. It’s a simple innovation, and one I can’t believe hasn’t been done before, but it’s great to see it in high definition and it reminded me how most JRPGs still just use the static characters without any animation – which is just one of many reasons as to why the Shining Force games still stand the test of time.

Trinity Universe is a nice looking game, full of excellent character designs, more animation than one normally finds in a JRPG, and the bright colours and unlockable gallery images continue the happy light hearted feel of the overall game. Now if only Nippon Ichi would release that gallery picture of Pamela absconding a clutch of Prinnies as a wallpaper or PS3 theme. It’s adorable.

Graphics Rating: 7/10

3. Sound

I tend to love Nippon Ichi’s choice in voice actors. Trinity Universe is no exception. Everyone does a great job with their lines and a huge chunk of the reason you’ll fall in love with these characters is due to the chemistry created by the voice actors. Kanata has become my favourite new character of 2010 because of the dialogue and the delivery and Pamela the ghost is a close runner-up. I did find it interesting that the main Prinny in this game sounds different than in other games like Disgaea Infinite, Prinny: Can I Really Be the Hero?, or other more recent Disgaea related titles. That’s because Trinity Universe uses Grant George, the original VA for the Prinnies in 2003’s Disgaea. Let the controversy begin there. Personally, because there are so many Prinnies out there, this doesn’t bother me at all, but I do prefer the Prinny voice by Dave Wittenberg. Michelle Ruff and Sandy Fox are also back as Etna and Flonne respectively doing a bang-up job as always.

The music in Trinity Universe is wonderful. The main song that plays in the opening and throughout the game is this happy upbeat peppy J-Pop number and it fits the overall feeling of the game perfectly. Again, this is a rather happy light-hearted game and the music really reflects that. Even dungeon music for areas like a haunted ship or spooky palace of doom is still faster and more carefree than you would in more pat (and thus darker) RPG. I would catch myself humming or singing tunes from the game even when I hadn’t played it for a few hours (or days!) and it’s a shining example of how to do an RPG soundtrack without resorting to the now cliché high fantasy orchestral soundtrack.

Trinity Universe is an auditory feast. No matter which story you play through, you are treated to superb voice acting and a top notch soundtrack.

Sound Rating: 9/10

4. Control and Gameplay

Although Trinity Universe seems like a pretty simple game at first, but the longer you play, the more you realize how deep and complex it really is. The end result is a pretty amazing engine that is accessible to all RPG gamers, but is only as deep as you let it be.

You have an active party of up to four characters. Dungeons take the form of various objects that float into the space near Empyria. You enter them, with the goal of not defeating the boss of the dungeon (although there are those), but to detonate the gravity core, which will send the object out of orbit. After detonating the core, you have a time limit to escape the dungeon. If you don’t escape in time you lose ranking points and money as someone will have to bail you out from the dungeon. However once a core is destroyed, super rare items will randomly appear in the dungeon, so you have to decide whether to risk exploring, or just escape and get those Ranking Points which lets you unlocker deeper dungeons with more powerful monsters and items as well as improve your ranking against other Trinity Universe.

Within the dungeons are four types of encounters. You have random encounters, which all RPG fans know and despise. In Trinity Universe though, battles occur infrequently, as the emphasis is on story and exploring. I really enjoyed not having to worry about a battle every two steps. The second type of battle are set boss battles, which you can trigger by going up to the boss once you’ve found them. The third type of battle involves a “lurker” or super crazy powerful monster that occasionally shows up in the dungeon and will chase you around the dungeon until it catches you and thus triggers a battle. Most lurkers can take out your party pretty easily unless you are going back to an old dungeon, but you can run from them and if you go back to the dungeon later, you’ll find them still hurt from when you previously attacked them. Don’t wait too long though as lurkers heal up about 10% of their hit points per in game day.

The fourth type of encounter is controlled through your search function. Pressing square triggers the search ability and the more you search successfully, the higher your search rank becomes and the more times you can use it. When you use search, follow the red line to a “hunting point.” At these points, you can trigger battles at will instead of engaging in random battles. If you repeatedly use the hunting point and destroy all the monsters within it, you earn a special treasure and it shuts off random battles for a chunk of time, usually long enough to clear the dungeon. NICE! You can also use search to find a gravity core, hidden treasures or managraphics.

Actual combat is reminiscent of the original Valkyrie Profile. Your characters will get to go first, one at a time (unless there is a rare surprise attack). Each button corresponds to an attack such as Rush (quick flurry of attacks), Mighty Blow (a single but powerful attack), Magic, and Abilities. Each character can have up to four abilities and as you equip them rather than have them be inherent to a character, you can customize your team after a fashion. Chaining attacks in a specific set causes a special attack to occur, which will do more damage (and hits) than any of the regular attacks. Each character can attack as long as there are points in the AP (Action Points) gauge or until you decide to stop, and store the leftover AP for your next turn. Then you move on to the next character in one of two ways. You can either just let the AP run out and start a new character, or if you are looking to do a Fury Chain, you can press the R1 button towards the end of a character’s attack. This pulls up a screen showing the remaining characters and a button corresponding to each of them. If you press a button that is linked to a character, the hit count and total damage continues on with another character. If you choose the Star graphic, you get bonus XP and money. If you choose a button not linked to either of these, the fury chain fails horribly.

During each battle, an image gauge fills up. You can fill up to six balls on the gauge which can be used to unleash a super move, a super cure spell, or a shield to drastically decrease damage taken. You generally won’t get enough power to activate any of these moves outside of a boss or lurker battle though.

Whew! That’s a lot for combat, eh? That still doesn’t cover Managraphics, of which you can equip two to each character’s weapons. You need to have an ability to actually let you use each Managraphic, but when you do, it create an effect that affects everyone on the battlefield, both hero and monster alike, so be careful.

Finally you have two optional things that you can do. If you are playing as Kanata, you will get access to the Monster Coliseum, where you can fight super powerful versions of the usual cannon fodder monsters in exchange for rare prizes and most of all, Clear Souls, which greatly improve specific stats of your characters. If you are playing as the Valkyrie, you will have access to the meteorite workshop. These are other items that power up your characters. Don’t worry though. Late in the game, you’ll finally get access to the opposite optional activity, so you’ll get to experience both – it’s just by giving each character exclusive access for much of the game, it helps to really make each adventure stand out.

Man, that was a lot to go through. Are you still with me? As you can see, Trinity Universe is one of the deeper and more complex RPG’s out there. Yet all of these things are slowly introduced throughout the game and you’ll still be getting tutorials on all the options into Chapter Four, so even rookie gamers will be eased into things nicely. I have to admit, I adore this engine, and combined with the characters, I am strongly hoping for a sequel or even a franchise based off this one game.

Control and Gameplay Rating: 8/10

5. Replayability

With two very different storylines, each with their own characters and events, you can get a lot of mileage out of Trinity Universe. Then factor in that each character has three different endings on top of the “true” ending and you can play through each adventure numerous times and still find something new to do. Finally, if you are a competitive gamer, there are some insane trophies to earn as well as a universal ranking system based on your cumulative ranking points. At one point I was in the top 100 dood, but due to having to actually write reviews on other games, I’ve fallen quite a bit.

Each adventure is about two dozen hours if you are going straight for the ending, but if you’re trying for trophies or someone who wants to see all the possible events and dungeons, it can increase to over forty. I know I put about two dozen hours just fiddling around and was only to chapter five at the point with Kanata, while I had rushed through and beaten the game with Rizelea at that point. This just shows how flexible the game can be.

Trinity Universe packs a nice amount of replay thanks to the separate storylines. You’ll easily get your money’s worth out of this and can play this RPG for months to come just by fiddling with random dungeons.

Replayability Rating: 7/10

6. Balance

I find Trinity Universe to be a wonderfully balanced games. There are tutorials through the first four chapters of the game, and then again whenever something new comes up. Dungeons give you a challenge rating before you enter so you have an idea how tough it will be. If a Dungeon is too easy, you can either try to challenge the lurker it contains or, if you have collected enough rating points to increase your Dungeon level, you can try a deeper, harder level of the dungeon. There are also random dungeons that show up or unlockables ones such as the free one that appeared on the PSN this past Tuesday.

Speaking of PSN, there is a lot of DLC for Trinity Universe and still more to come. Some of it costs between ninety-nine cents and $1.99, but a good chunk of it is free and the free stuff, funny enough, is the better content. Besides the free dungeon I mentioned, there is also a free Clear Souls pack which gives you 15 of each type of Clear Soul. That is a HUGE amount of power-ups that I can’t explain to anyone unless you have played the game. So if the game is way too hard for some of you, both the free and pay-for DLC can even things out in your favour.

After beating the game, you can also unlock a higher difficulty level to give you even more of a challenge. With all these options, you can make Trinity Universe as easy or as hard as you want. It’s been a long time since I’ve played an RPG that is geared for hardcore JRPG fans while being easily accessible to more casual RPG gamers.

Balance Rating: 10/10

7. Originality

There’s a lot of neat ideas in Trinity Universe. You have some slight innovation over the typical RPG cut scenes. You have an RPG set in space feature fantasy and demonic characters, which is pretty unique. You have a pretty original battle engine, even if some elements seem to be lifted from Cross Edge and latent character abilities from Agarest. I love the two different stories aspect, but that’s not really all that original as other games like Hexyz Force and Kartia have done that, amongst others. OF course, this is the only really good one I can think of that uses that mold…

Overall, the core of TU is still a basic turn-based JRPG, albeit it one with a lot of new ideas, along with some fresh faces, characters, storylines and a battle engine. The game is just different enough that it stands out from the long line of cookie-cutter JRPGs that have been released over the last few years, while still staying familiar enough to gamers that hate change and buy sequel after sequel of played out crap so they won’t whine and complain.

Originality Rating: 6/10

8. Addictiveness

I won’t lie. Trinity Universe is easily in my top ten games of 2008 so far, and in terms of story, it’s #1. I haven’t been glued to a game this much all year, nor found myself enjoying all that there was to see and do. There were so many options to me that I kept telling myself, “Just one more Dungeon,” or, “Just one more Event.” Before I knew it, an entire evening went by. Heck, that’s why this review has taken me so long to get out. I didn’t want to write the review as it meant I would have to stop playing the game.

Most of the things I hate about turn based RPGs were absent or extremely limited in this game. Random battles were kept to a minimum and could be avoided altogether. There is no forced grinding; instead, you just level up insanely ala Disgaea if you choose to do all the optional things. I love it.

Trinity Universe kept me glued to it from beginning to end. It was exactly what I’ve been looking in JRPG for years.

Addictiveness Rating: 8/10

9. Appeal Factor

At first glance, one might assume that the inclusion of Disgaea and Atelier characters might make it so the game can only be appreciated by people who have played games in both franchises. In fact, this is not so. Crossover characters make only passing reference to other titles they have appeared in and for the most part, this could be your first encounter ever with Violet or Etna and you’d never know they came from another game. The stories and world is crafted so nicely, they don’t feel like cheap fan service at all. So if you’re not a SRPG fan, you can play this and still enjoy the Disgaea crew without having to know who people like Laharl or Mid-Boss are as they are never brought up.

As well, the game does a great job of holding one’s hand through the beginning adventures that your chosen protagonist will have, while still giving you a wide berth to tinker and experiment with. This means a younger or more casual gamer can stick to the core basics and still have fun (and beat the game), while the more diehard gamer can chain together special attacks and get their fury or damage counters to hit the stratosphere. Both methods work and are fun for the skill level – it’s merely going to take the casual gamer longer to beat the game as the battles will be harder without implementing all the special things you can do. Don’t worry though – by the end of the game even a newbie RPG gamer will be doing 100+ hit combos like they were Cable in Marvel vs. Capcom 2.

If you need an RPG for your PS3, this is by far the best one for the system right now and definitely worth picking up as soon as you can. You won’t be disappointed. The story, balance, and accessibility of Trinity Universe is such that most gamers will be able to be sucked in by it.

Appeal Factor: 7/10

10. Miscellaneous

As you can probably tell from the previous 4,000 words, not only is Trinity Universe an amazingly deep game, but I loved it. I love that Nippon Ichi and Idea Factory are supporting TU with a ton of DLC, but also that a good deal of that content is free. It’s a nice way to thank people who picked up the game. I loved that the game had an epic feel to it while also making me smile and laugh more than any other RPG I’ve played in years. Best of all you have this small indie publisher in NIS America that has put out the best RPG for the PS3 save for Valkyria Chronicles, and the latter is more a RTS than a RPG. The game is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but I honestly can’t think of anything to complain about in regards to it. With two wonderful stories, a cast of loveable characters, an amazing engine, and stellar voice acting, Trinity Universe is my top five games of 2010 so far, along with Sakura Wars V, Pokemon HeartGold & Soul Silver, Tatsunoko Vs. Capcom and Heavy Rain. That’s some pretty impressive company to be in.

Miscellaneous Rating: 10/10

The Scores
Story: 8/10
Graphics: 7/10
Sound: 9/10
Control and Gameplay: 8/10
Replayability: 7/10
Balance: 10/10
Originality: 6/10
Addictiveness: 8/10
Appeal Factor: 7/10
Miscellaneous: 10/10
Total Score: 80
FINAL SCORE: 8.0 (GREAT GAME!)

Short Attention Span Summary
Trinity Universe is arguably the best PS3 exclusive RPG on the system aside from Valkyria Chronicles. The game really turns conventional turn based JRPG mechanics on their head while still feeling familiar and comfortable no matter what a gamer’s experience level is with this genre. Best of all it boasts a light hearted and amazingly enjoyable story and easily the best cast of characters in a game I’ve played this year. I honestly can’t think of anything negative to say about the game except that it’s doubtful we’ll ever seen the non Disgaea and Atelier characters in this title again, and that’s a damn shame. There’s also an enormous amount of DLC for the game, so if you’re even remotely curious about this game after reading this nine page review, than stop reading and buy the thing right now! You won’t regret it.

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