I have a predisposition to avoid games by NIS. This is not because they do anything wrong or I dislike the games they make. Rather I have lost a great number of hours to Disgaea and its sequels over the years, and I have much less free time than I used to. So seeing those three letters when loading up The Awakened Fate: Ultimatum filled me with a sense of dread mixed with a little anticipation of diving down a rabbit hole. Luckily, for me, the outcome was somewhat of a relief.
A visual novel cum dungeon crawler, The Awakened Fate: Ultimatum couples copious amounts of (mostly well voice acted) reading with some moral dilemmas and straightforward, yet potentially punishing, turn based exploration.
This is a sequel to The Guided Fate Paradox, which (full disclosure) I did not play. However having finished The Awakened Fate, outside of some characters from the previous game turning up in the post-game content, I did not notice any references and so there is no requirement to have played the former game. Which was good as the story was interesting enough to keep me playing until the end. Cast as Shin Kamikaze (no, really), he is killed by a team of devils and subsequently revived by angels to become their God and change the course of the ongoing war between the forces of Celestia and the Netherworld. This is all before the first bit of dungeon crawling. Shin is a bit of a loner but gains two companions in the form of an angel called Jupiel and a devil (working for the angels) called Ariael. The story, whilst fairly predictable, is well written and Shin believably develops as a character over the course of the game.
Presented as a series of chapters, each part also has a randomly generated dungeon to explore where the goal is to reach the lowest level and/or defeat the boss that waits there. Due to the circumstances of his revival Shin is able to ‘deitize’ at will to either an angel or devil form each of which gives an advantage against opposite enemy types. Each form also grants access to different abilities yet the majority of the time I found the standard attack to be sufficient. This system rarely adds an extra layer to proceedings as with some diligence you can usually limit battles to a one on one encounter and the biggest challenge I found, to begin with, was remembering to change back to human form after a fight.
However careful planning is the most important factor as mistakes can result in rapidly losing health. If this runs out then the dungeon is failed and you are booted back to the pre-dungeon menu sans all of the items Shin was carrying, including those which were equipped, but keeping all the experience earned. Due to an item upgrade system this can result in losing a powered up weapon that has had huge amounts of money poured into. While this could be extremely annoying there are items that can limit this (including a revival gem and an exit) but these take up valuable inventory space. There is also a factor of risk as you can easily get into a situation where the next hit will defeat an enemy but if you miss Shin will run out of health. This is a bigger issue the further you reach in a dungeon as if you leave you start from the first floor again. In the worst case scenario there is a shop available to purchase items, but these are not as good as the ones you find lying around when exploring.
Levelling up grants a point to spend on a huge grid, split into angel and devil sides, to use to increase an attribute or grant a new ability for the corresponding form. This also ties in with the ‘Ultimate Choices’ that appear throughout the game. These present some dilemmas and are not the typical black and white choices. An early decision sees you weighing up helping injured angels resulting in more being hurt, or abandoning the wounded to take the fight to the devils which will result in fewer casualties in the long run. The game is peppered with such choices however they do not appear to have much impact on the story. On trying both options on a couple of choices the exact same scenario unfolded after taking a slightly different path to get there. However while the game tries to present these as grey scenarios the options are presented as either favouring Jupiel or Ariael. Furthermore when you make a choice you get a level up point for the corresponding side. As I was aiming to put equal points in the angel and devil sides I tended to base my moral choices around which side I needed the point for rather than the potential outcome of my decision. I think that says more about me than the game.
Whilst I enjoyed the story I don’t have particularly strong feelings for The Awakened Fate: Ultimatum. Nothing stands out as bad and exploring dungeons presented the right level of challenge throughout, but at the same time it does nothing to get especially excited about. Yet that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Not every game needs to be revolutionary or a blockbuster, and The Awakened Fate: Ultimatum was an overall pleasant experience.