The conflict between Heaven and Hell is a theme often explored in video games. Is Heaven really made up of pure righteousness, and conversely is Hell really founded solely on black malefic intent? The eternal struggle of good and evil, polar opposites clashing against one another in a battle to the death – it can all be rather engaging and interesting, if a little cliché. The Awakened Fate Ultimatum is the latest attempt at breathing some life into this beast, bringing its own brand of hardcore roguelike RPG coated in a fluorescent slathering of anime-style paint, with hopes of settling the ever-present debate the only way that it knows how: by making you select whether a cute angel girl or a cute devil girl is your favourite.
Earth shatteringly, it's actually fairly good, too.
Set several years after 2013's The Guided Fate Paradox (luckily, you don't really need to have played the first game in the series to fully enjoy this entry), The Awakened Fate Ultimatum starts off on a practically identical tone to its predecessor. Our school uniform clad protagonist, Shin Kamikaze, impressively manages to get himself attacked within minutes of the outset by a horde of mysterious winged beings, before being defended by an unknown girl. Three points for guessing which ones are the good guys and which are the bad. While escaping, he's struck through the heart with a spear, and in true JRPG fashion, hastily brought back to life by a band of side characters with the added bonus of a bundle of new powers. The power of God, to be specific.
This ties into both the story and the gameplay pretty heavily, as over the next few hours you're introduced to the base of the plot: Heaven and Hell are at war, and things are in dire straits for those few remaining angels. As God, you represent the balance between the two races, simultaneously wielding the powers of both, and have been involuntarily drafted in to help beat back the assaults on the last bastion of Angel-kind, Celestia. Everything takes absolutely ages to get going – the cardinal sin that a lot of Japanese titles suffer from – which doesn't feel like much of a winning mix when combined with the paper thin, convoluted story during the earlier stages. Thankfully, things certainly pick up later on, with the mountains of dialogue and exposition becoming entirely more charming and outright enjoyable as things progress.
The core of the gameplay makes use of Shin's dual abilities as both an angel and a devil to great effect. At will, you can invoke either Angel form or Devil form with a tap of the shoulder buttons. Each has their own individual attacks to be learned, completely standalone character statistics, and the ability to imbue attacks with their respective element – it's very Ikaruga, with light attacks striking with enhanced effectiveness against darkness and vice versa. Summoning both at once triggers an overdrive for a short period of time (dependant on how long that mana bar can hold out for), to unleash truly devastating attacks and alleviate an ounce of danger when in really dire straits. So far, so unexceptional.
Separate skill and stat trees are available for both the light and dark forms, and skill points that are earned through levelling up and interacting with characters add a deeper level of decision making. Do you want to play with a super strong angel form in exchange for a withered husk of a devil, forfeiting some of your type coverage? Would you rather be the jack of all trades, God of none? Strategising Shin's growth and equipment will constantly be at the forefront of your mind – especially considering that a death will cost you any gear that's currently equipped.
That's the roguelike aspect right there, and it's brilliant. As a turn and tile-based dungeon crawler with randomly generated floors and environments, it's solid – reminiscent of the Mystery Dungeon games, certainly. The risk of losing gear is what really brings The Awakened Fate Ultimatum into its own, though. A death in any of the dungeons will cost you any loot that you've collected while exploring, as well as any equipment that was initially brought in. Levels and stats carry over through death to allow a constant sense of progression even in failure, and there's a vault to store items in as well.
Enemies are tough – certainly able to drop you in moments if you allow them to gang up on you while low on healing potions. Maze-like corridors and interconnected cavernous halls result in a lot of options for smart play, luring monsters into single file battles while keeping escape routes clear. Risk/reward scenarios are everywhere: exit to the next floor, or go check out that room in the hopes of finding a pretty new sword?
Jupiel the Angel soldier and Ariel the Devil scientist act as your guides and companions, both as paragons of their respective races, and as the driving force behind The Awakened Fate Ultimatum's morality system. Yes, a morality system (if you can call it that). Occasionally during cutscenes, you'll be provided with choices as to how you'd like to tackle a problem. However, they're almost always so blatantly linked to one of the main girls that it's never a case of what you feel is right or what you want to do, instead restricting to which choice will help you to further romantic ties with the lady that you like the most.
One specific scenario early on has you deciding whether to "use medical supplies to heal the injured angels", or "leave the angels for dead and push forward to kill a few dozen invading devils". Apparently God can't multitask. Shame. Branching storylines are promised, but end up feeling like they're playing lip service to player preference, ultimately carrying out exactly the same actions but with a different character and dialogue.
Seeing as we're talking about a localised JRPG, there's a question that must be answered without fail in practically every piece of critique ever: yes, it has choices for both Japanese and English audio. Yes, they're both fairly well executed. We can all be friends.
You'll know with a single glance whether you're interested at all in playing The Awakened Fate Ultimatum. It's a niche hardcore RPG with an undoubtedly Japanese style of storytelling, falling victim to almost every cliché in the book throughout its duration – but doing so unashamedly. If that's not really your thing, then avoid it at all costs. Otherwise, it's a carefully made dungeon crawling roguelike, offering a real challenge and a (mostly) likeable cast packed with fun interactions. The elements borrowed from other titles only act to improve the experience as a whole, focusing on simplicity with a ton of potential for elation and breakdown alike. It's a great time sink – once those initial slow hours are out of the way. If all of this sounds exciting, you may just be fated to be together.