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CONSOLE: PlayStation DEVELOPER: Squaresoft PUBLISHER: Squaresoft
RELEASE DATE (NA): July 7, 2000 GENRE: Action-RPG
// review by SoyBomb

Fated to be mediocre.

Remember Threads of Fate, the Squaresoft action-RPG for PlayStation? What? No? Where have you been this whole time? Oh... right... playing Final Fantasy games instead. Maybe that's why few people remember this game, at least before it was re-released on the PlayStation Network as a PSOne Classic. Well, let's reminisce, shall we?

From the get-go, you can select to play the story of two different characters. There is Mint, the spoiled ex-princess who is seeking a lost relic to conquer the world. Or, you can play as Rue, a shapeshifting "non-human" who wishes to use that same relic to resurrect his beloved Claire. With both motives centered around obtaining one item, there's bound to be some story overlap. What's interesting here, though, is that while typically the stories of multiple characters in an RPG directly intertwine, the case is slightly different in Threads of Fate. The story actually unfolds slightly differently depending on who you choose. In some cases, this is reasonable, such as who actually defeats the final boss of the game. (It would be pitiful if one character was forced to sit back and watch the other get all the glory for their actions.) On the other hand, there are some unusual conflicts between storylines. When playing as Rue, he is generally a quite confident and forward young man, whereas in Mint's timeline, he is actually far more unsure of himself and self-denouncing. If this is truly one story, shouldn't a character's overall nature be consistent among multiple accounts?

Above all else, this game is a hack'n'slasher. Squaresoft wasn't as highly known for its games of this genre during the PlayStation "32-bit" era, mostly having been deified for their RPGs (and occasional strange fighters). As a result, Threads of Fate is often forgotten or, at best, pushed to the wayside in gaming lore. That's a shame because, for the most part, the game is rather competent in its gameplay. Both Rue and Mint attack primarily with weapons — Rue, his trusty sword, and Mint, her deadly rings — though abilities of a magical nature are also included.

Mint is very straightforward: she uses magic. Most people won't even blink an eye here, because that's what characters generally do in fantasy games. If you don't possess some form of magic, you'd better pack a mean wallop or you'll be declared useless by the masses. As the game pushes on, Mint can use more and more types of magic, categorized by colour and element. Red is for fire-based magic, blue is water, etc., and Mint generally uses this magic for solving puzzles. In the heat of battle, Mint cannot afford to waste any time; because every spell tends to require a brief but noticeable charging period, it's generally more efficient and effective to beat enemies to a pulp, rather than toss a few fire pellets their way.

Rue is a little different. He can't use magic, but through powers that he received through unknown means, he can transform into other creatures and utilize their powers/elements. This sounds useful on paper, but there are limits to this. After defeating "new" enemies, they will drop a Monster Coin, which Rue uses to transform. He can only store up to four coins at a time, and when he gets a fifth, the earlier earned coin will be dropped from his inventory in favour of the new one. Puzzles requiring a specific monster ability that you don't have will require some backtracking, but conveniently enough, the monster coins you need are usually close by, so you won't need to travel far.

I said that the gameplay is "competent" for the most part. But I haven't said anything about Mel's Atelier. Forgetting the fact that this place is entirely pink with little detail and makes excellent use of the PlayStation's ability to NOT draw anything in the distance and just have the world fade away with a foggy effect, the required 2D platforming here is atrocious. Enemy placement is poor (see also: right where you want to jump, always), and the controls are often unresponsive. When I press the jump button, I expect my character to jump, not fall off a ledge like an idiot. Let's not even mention the fact that the music is both incredibly cheerful and disgusting at the same time; it's an extremely short chipper loop that gave my remote's mute button some much-needed exercise. This is a required part of the game but should only have been a mini-game at worst, or removed entirely and replaced with a talking fern at best.

Area on the left? Somewhat fun. Area on the right? Euhhh...

Unfortunately, the rest of the game doesn't fare much better. The worlds are incredibly linear and aside from some puzzles that require only enough headscratching to cure an itch, it's more or less a case of slicing your way to the end, only to deal with bosses that offer little challenge, provided you're up to date on the latest stat upgrades from the town shop. These places aren't all that inspired, either. Why does Mint have to visit TWO large forests in the first half of the game? It's better to play as Rue, as he gets to peruse the far more interesting Ghost Temple. The areas in Threads of Fate aren't even directly connected in one large world. The town of Carona serves as the hub for everything, and you choose from a menu where to go. While I do honestly revel the convenience, it does showcase the game's (possibly technical) limitations.

The experience point system in this game is a tad bizarre, mostly in that there isn't one. Instead, it's more a case of "the more you lose, the more you gain", whereby the most damage you take, the more your life meter will increase. Likewise, as both Mint's magic and Rue's monster abilities require magic points, the more you use them, the more MP you'll have.

Upgrades to HP, MP, strength, and defense can also be purchased (the latter two, you really have no other option). And when it comes to money, that's where this game falls short. Money is hard to come by; you can only earn money by selling things you find (which aren't exactly common) or by selling...monsters?! Hard to believe, but the more monsters you defeat, the more money you can earn by selling the proof you killed them. This doesn't make much sense, as they don't drop much more than potions and magic decanters. Maybe it's a bounty kind of thing.

Looking at Threads of Fate, I sometimes can't help but wonder where the art budget went. Why do all the characters have a single facial expression and no mouth movement? Why do so many rooms look the same? Why is there a guy dressed in a homemade star outfit? Okay, I exaggerate a tad. The graphics are decent and colourful for the PlayStation era, and actually the characters are quite well-detailed. The scenery could use some work, however. As for the music, it's very much...there. No particular tunes stand out as magnificent or bold; it serves its purpose to set the scene, though its variety is notable (Rod's flamenco song is certainly different than the rest).

All this being said, the game is nothing alarmingly great, but it's certainly one that could give you some cheap slasher thrills. It's a fun game when you're just out kicking the snot out of persistent pollywogs, but it's more or less a game with a pattern of "in order to do X, we have to do Y — so go do Y now" over and over. The storyline hardly qualifies as gripping (there's a little comedy but more or less a straightforward plot), the gameplay is pretty vanilla (it's practically a 2D beat-'em-up with swords), and to be honest, there's no reason to play as both characters because the difference is minimal — one has a haunted house, one has a forest — unless you want to experience the world as both a determined young man AND a bossy spoiled gimp. A single scenario in Threads of Fate can be finished in about 15 hours or so, but if you're a storyline enthusiast, you'll get double that time. It didn't even feel like a Squaresoft game at times, however. The game itself is competent for sure, though, and it's your choice as to whether you want to enter this strange world of mystery, lore, and having to trade dead animals for hard cash.

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