Beyond Mere Craziness Lies a Universe of Insanity
Trinity Universe is the most absurdly cute RPG that I have ever played, and I’ve played a lot of absurd and cute Japanese games over the years. The overall aesthetic of Trinity Universe is so strange, so utterly removed from the template of Western game design that it looks like it comes from the future. Characters bound around in a brightly-colored world saying things that are humorous because everything comes from so far out in left field.
Some games try to balance cuteness with all the things that we tend to think are necessary for a story. Things like a dramatic narrative, revolting villains, idealistic heroes, dialogue that moves the story along, and so forth. Trinity Universe throws all of that out the window in favor of taking fans of Japanese kitsch to the next level of utter weirdness. If you like that sort of thing, then Trinity Universe is the epitome of uniquely Japanese craziness; break out the life-sized Etna pillowcase and imported octopus Ramen-flavored soda.
If, on the other hand, you have ever enjoyed even one game developed in the West, and you never once thought to yourself, “You know, these characters just aren’t flamboyant enough,” then Trinity Universe will simply make no sense. While the play mechanics, the combo system, loot drops, and general RPG conventions will make sense, the rest will be a complete and utter carpet bombing to the rational left side of the brain.
Combat is not so foreign. Characters have a set number of action points that can be accumulated through inaction or boosted via gear. These points can be spent on three different kinds of attacks that can be strung together into combos (most of which are different based on character or weapon used) or even group attacks. It makes sense, as long as you can handle the nonsensical statements and absurd “battle cries” of the heroes, and enemies that are more cartoonish than intimidating.
Things seem to get a little more complicated with the introduction of upgrading equipment. One character can synthesize items from random loot drops into powerful weapons, another can etch “managraphics” onto weapons for power-ups, and a third makes power-boosting items that can be slotted into weapons. I found it overwhelming until I realized that doing these things was actually making my characters way too powerful.
While normal level-ups occur frequently, few enemies are powerful enough to warrant a detailed understanding of the intricacies of maxing out the potential of your weapons. If you think the random combat is tedious, just wait until your gear is so powerful that you can steamroll over anyone. Combat then becomes little more than a nuisance, delaying your progression between point A and point B.
I feel as if the combat system and dungeon exploration are tacked on to the “real game,” which is opening up the over-the-top comedic interactions between the goofball characters. There are a lot of cutscenes shown in rich, vibrant colors. It’s truly surprising that you can always find something interesting to look at, even when the cutscenes are little more than 2D cutouts laid atop a flat background. The style is reminiscent of Sakura Wars or Record of Agarest War, except the color scheme is intensified and the flat character models continually breathe, pulsate, twitch, and have manga-style icons flying around their heads.
Every part of this game is tailored for fans of Japanese culture who have likely disconnected from what they perceive as the overly dry, overly serious fare of Western games. While I might never actually laugh out loud at Flonne (with her ridiculous new title of “Universal Witch Girl, Galaxy Flonne”) and her insane ramblings about spreading love and justice, I can understand the appeal that might have to a niche audience. I can’t understand the complete abandonment of skill-based or tactical gameplay, however.
Much of Trinity Universe feels like work, like mind-numbing data entry, like cleaning up after closing time, and like putting in hours in a place where you don’t want to be. Similar to finding something appealing about talking to your coworkers in order to get through a grueling work day, the appeal of Trinity Universe lies solely in an appreciation of scenes of character interaction. “If I can just get through this one repetitive dungeon,” I once found myself thinking, “then I bet Etna will yet again say something absurd and self-deprecating about having the body of a ten-year-old boy…”
There are two campaigns in Trinity Universe and, thankfully, they are quite a bit different. Dungeons, item management, and battles are frustratingly similar. However, the challenge level is slightly higher in Riz’s campaign, and there are a whole slew of new characters and ridiculous interactions to enjoy and be victimized by. Just don’t kid yourself into thinking the end will make sense of anything!
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.2 Graphics
Eye-gougingly rich and vibrant 2D character interaction scenes do much, but not quite enough, to overcome the repetitive and overly simple 3D dungeon outings. 2.8 Control
Simple control scheme straight out of the days of the PlayStation 2. 2.6 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Spotty voice acting adds life to character interactions, while distinctly un-memorable music does its best to add wackiness to that which is already at maximum wackiness. 3.4 Play Value
While TU might be weak in all other areas, it delivers exactly what the targeted niche market is expecting: A huge cast of oddballs going crazy during unbelievable cutscenes. 3.0 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.