The Guided Fate Paradox starts incredibly slowly. Tutorials hold your hand for the first hour, with only a mere sliver of actual gameplay putting in an appearance. Even when it's over, there's still more to learn, although these intricacies are thankfully taught through a staggered approach over time. This initial phase is also thick with dialogue and exposition, which introduces the majority of the cast, explains the strange setting, and prepares you for the task at hand. However, there's a charming and unexpected quality to it all that helps keep your attention. Indeed, there's a lot of explanation required when you become the ruler of all things.
The title begins with your character Renya Kagurazaka winning a lottery in a mall and becoming God. An angel then guides you to Celestia, introduces you to several other heavenly beings, and explains the wheels of fate as well as your role within it. Your duty is to fulfil the prayers of humans and indeed any being in the universe – be it children, fairy tale characters, the undead, or even aliens. You're then shown the Fate Revolution Circuit, a divine machine that copies reality, and, as a sort of simulation, allows you to enter it. With this, you can perform your prayer granting tasks which then indirectly affect the real world, all while demons plot against you and a grander struggle between good and evil is revealed.
It's a fascinating setting for a dungeon crawler, which relies on a familiar religious foundation laced with scenarios that explore interesting themes like morality, balance, and societal roles. It never goes as far as to thrust a viewpoint or debate onto you, but it can certainly suggest them. Moreover, it's interesting and fun to watch each tale within the larger narrative unfold. Angels encourage and test your march of godliness, prayers challenge your decisiveness and fairness, and the aberrations – creatures content with the status quo – test your resolve and tactical prowess. It's clever but accessible. Mature yet whimsical. Stupid and poignant.
However, under its complex narrative, the game can prove to be very simple and disappointingly restrictive. You have no impact on the plot, as there's no choice or even an illusion of it. Fortunately, the experience is still largely enjoyable, partly thanks to the solid gameplay. Celestia acts as the hub for your dungeon crawling, offering characters to seek advice from, stores that allow you to buy and create equipment or items, a safe where you can stash your belongings, and a general sanctuary.
After you're fully prepared, it's time to dive into the Fate Revolution Circuit, where randomly generated dungeons are built to simulate your struggle to fulfil a prayer. They're filled with aberrations to slay, loot to find, and exit gates that lead you deeper. Combat is performed through a tactical grid and turn-based system. Enemies have a cone of sight marked out in grid squares, and chase you down if you enter it. Each dungeon consists of multiple layers with an intermission in the middle and a boss encounter at the end, punctuated by plenty of dialogue and exposition.
Combat, levelling, and equipment managing is intuitive and comprehensively explained in the drawn-out first hour. Levels earned each time that you enter the Fate Revolution Circuit are reset on leaving the simulated dungeons, but count towards permanent stat upgrades to your base attributes. Weapons and gear gain experience as you wear and use them, and once maxed out provide stat increasing tiles that can be placed on an attribute-boosting board for your character. Here you can also put down holy relics which bolster other aspects of the protagonist, such as his inventory space. It's a complex levelling system on the surface, but its intricacies are introduced at a gradual and accessible pace.
Special abilities can be used in battles based on which weapons and equipment you're holding, with a bonus special attack available if you're carrying two of the same death dealers. Each piece of gear also has a different area of effect applied to its attacks in order to complement three different styles of combat: close-quarters, magical, or ranged. Much like the Disgaea series, you can also comically pick up characters and scenery to throw at foes, as well as use whichever items you have in your inventory such as paralysing orbs and med kits. Finally, filling a gauge allows you to unlock a stronger form of yourself, which can inflict extra damage and soak up more hits. Dying in the Fate Revolution Circuit returns you to Celestia, stripped of your items, weapons, and equipment. As if that wasn't punishing enough, your levels are converted to base stat increases and your money is halved. Die on a frequent basis and you'll receive some additional items from your angel companions to aid you, as well as some patronising remarks.
But at least these quips and judgements are well delivered by the game's cast. Thankfully, most of the dialogue throughout the release is fully voiced, saving your eyes from having to read mountains of text. The characters tend to fall into anime stereotypes, and feature their fair share of cringe-inducing lines and incongruous translation issues – but overall, it's a highly polished and enjoyable production, with a blend of brilliant pop culture references and adult humour mixed into its compelling narrative. The visuals also help with this immersion, providing highly detailed 2D sprites and portraits – although some jagged edges around said sprites are occasionally distracting.
Despite a slow and tedious beginning, The Guided Fate Paradox is a very well constructed dungeon crawler. Its complexity is introduced gradually enough for genre newbies to grasp, while still offering plenty of tactical depth for veterans to master. The narrative and characters are varied, quirky, and interesting, and while the core action does get a little repetitive, the plot and constant dialogue will undoubtedly keep you entertained.