Threads of Fate
We all have one, a game that no matter how long our personal list may be, top ten, top five, or top three, we’ll put it on that list. For me, it’s Square’s Threads of Fate (a.k.a. Dewprism in Japan), a game that was given an unfortunate release date sandwiched between its colossal siblings, Legend of Mana and Chrono Cross, thus promptly sending it off the radar. My discovery and possession of this gem was based on pure luck, first finding it amongst a collection of demos in a gaming magazine, then given the full copy on my birthday after a friend had bought me Resident Evil 2 without knowing that I already owned it and beaten it…many times. Things happen for a reason.
The allegory of this action RPG is told through two individuals. You must choose between a young fighter named Rue or a spell-casting girl named Mint. Both however find themselves in the common rat race to find a powerful relic hidden somewhere around the town of Carona. The stalwart and mysterious Rue hopes to use this relic to resurrect a murdered friend while Mint, a spoiled princess who ran away after being denied the throne to her kingdom, desires to use the relic for world domination.
While both characters will be doing a lot of running, jumping and thrashing each comes with their own unique tricks. Aside from being the better physical contender, Rue has the ability to change into most of the game’s monsters. This also includes being able to access each monster’s special attacks and skills. Mint uses magic that greatly makes up for dealing the embarrassingly low damage expected from swinging around a pair of hoola hoops. While enemy fights may be redundant at times as they better serve to sate the simple craving to run around and bash, the boss fights are very involving, each containing a unique victory solution far different from one another.
Though the choosing of unique characters to run a story is not at all inventive, many players will immediately recognize that this is not the usual creation one would expect from Square’s forge. Noticeable is the absence of a traditional leveling system. Instead of gaining experience to increase stats the characters’ max HP increases as they take hits and their max MP increases the more they use their skills or magic. These stats can also be increased with power ups purchased in the shops of Carona. This also serves as the only means of increasing one’s strength and defense with not just power ups but also upgrading equipment.
“Many players will immediately recognize that this is not the usual creation one would expect from Square’s forge”
Interestingly enough, the game follows a unique way of racking up income. Slain monsters do not drop currency but each foe you defeat is added to a kill count, bosses included, which can be cashed in at shops. The same can be done for precious stones and artefacts found during quests. Or if you want to make the process more entertaining, you can challenge Rod the Blade Star for prize money.
Going further into seldom traversed realms is the fact that there are no consumable items to be carried. Monsters randomly drop potions that either replenishes your health or MP immediately upon contact. In terms of staying alive, this would be your only source of remaining conscious during missions. Oddly enough, MP is actually easily replenished as each physical attack you deal gradually restores your MP. In the case that you die you can choose to either return to town or use special coins (Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum) to continue where you left off. Each coin yields certain bonuses such as reviving with full MP, partial MP, or even increase Attack and Defense.
While the game is most certainly delightful for its unique and alluring gameplay, Threads of Fate draws its strength from an illustrious character driven story. Whether it’s Rue, Mint, the NPCs, or the villains, every character is truly memorable thanks to the writer’s clever choices in keeping the story elements and dialogue simple yet diverse. This element stands out as the tone of the story differs between Rue and Mint. Rue’s story is filled with carefully chosen dialogue and defining moments that help to convey the emotional struggle in dealing with loss, regret, and staying determined. Mint’s story is simply hysterical. Every dialogue in her story is chocked with slapstick humor and slang while every moment with Mint usually involves invoking laughter at the expense of villains, friends, and even herself.
“Threads of Fate draws its strength from an illustrious character driven story”
Also standing out is the soundtrack. Like the characters, the music is certainly unforgettable. The tunes are a mix of ingenious fantasy melodies with a dash of synth-pop. The result is an uncanny assortment of what is best described as ear candy. Though the style may seem childish it is surprisingly versatile in bringing out varying shades of emotion. Additionally, the game utilizes appropriate choices in sound effects to bring out an underlying seriousness amidst the kiddy anime menagerie. The loud clank of Rue’s blade and the sound of heavy magic being charged up are always sure signs of things about to get bad ass.
Sadly, the game is not devoid of flaws. Aside from being given a disadvantageous release date the visuals were the leading cause of having people ignore the game and its existence completely. The original character art is phenomenal, but using sharp cornered polygonal models to transmit it onto a three dimensional medium was a grave injustice. This also more or less can distract players from recognizing the more charming background and environment art.
The game also lacks useful camera manipulation. Why the creators chose to only have camera rotation accessible in town establishments is a mystery. The fixed camera angles in dungeons are often awkward and set you up for a fall…or more. This is particularly evident when one jumps from the background to an off-camera platform in the foreground.
The game’s jump mechanism is the big reason why a number of people would quit shortly after beginning. Many of my friends who I introduced to the game set down the controller after falling again and again during Fancy Mel’s mini-games. The fact is that Rue and Mint actually have distinctive jump trajectories, both fixed so hoping to accomplish anything with a running head start is no bueno. Mint, being agile, naturally has a larger leap range thus compared to Rue, she would not often fall victim to the aforementioned evil camera. Rue on the other hand, being a bit slower, has jumps that feel weighted which in turn has his adventure weighted in frustration. Unless you have a transformation that provides any gap scaling assistance, you’d pretty much have to tough it out.
Sadly, much of the game’s blemishes are the fault of Rue. While it’s interesting that he can transform into monsters, much of the encountered wildlife are pushovers meaning they have useless fighting capabilities. The most useful transformations are only those that assist in puzzle solving. And while both characters have a primary and secondary attack, Mint was the only one to receive a perfect package of physical primary attacks and using magic as secondary. Rue got stuck with a weak horizontal slash as his secondary and it doesn’t even push back surrounding enemies. However, during certain boss fights, this attack is replaced with the ability to block and reduce attacks, it would have been more prudent to ditch the slash for this defensive move instead. Mint clearly has few let downs aside from having excessive magic and not being able to perform her trademark dropkick in battle, only viewed in cutscenes.
Despite not being perfect, Threads of Fate is still an endearing title made up of striking components that is sure to have one constantly returning to Carona for a feel-good action adventure fix. Though the individual stories by themselves are not by any means lengthy, one would do well to play both characters to get a full experience. Completing both stories not only uncovers new game plus, but the true ending. Not only does it reveal the real winner of the relic but also how the characters’ own stories may have actually intertwined leaving it up to the player’s imagination to figure out how the actual tale may have unraveled. Truly, this is one of Square’s most underrated titles.