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PlayStation 3 Review: Trinity: Souls of Zill O’ll

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Tecmo Koei’s new hack-and-slash, Trinity: Souls of Zill O’ll, is something like an MMORPG, only without the MM; the O; or, come to think of it, the RPG. Let me explain, Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games, like World of Warcraft, allow players to band together with friends–operating their own characters, from their own computers–to tackle missions of increasing difficulty, within a world populated by millions of other human controlled characters. The RPG element is in the teaming up, the different character types (healers, spellcasters, fighters, etc.), and the ability to level up.

Although Trinity is single-player, console-based, and has no real online element, the game setting is the classic, mythological dark ages-type world of the earliest sword and sorcery pulps (a popular RPG setting), and one gets the same sense that the missions never really end, even after the player has put down the game.

The title probably has a dual meaning. The Zill O’ll series has two (Japan-only) entries preceding this one, making Trinity, though very much a stand-alone, the third in a loose trilogy. More significantly, this title has a unique style of (single-player) co-operative gameplay, with three player characters working as a unit for most of the game.

Since battles are real-time, two players are always AI-controlled, but you can switch between any of them instantly at any time. Your players include Dagda, a slow but powerful fist-using warrior; Selene, a darting, dodging dagger-user excelling in aerial combat; and half-elf, Areus, a balanced swordsman and magic-user. Throughout the game, a few combination moves are learnt: a basic shockwave attack utilizing all characters (available whenever a combo gauge is full); a finishing move for stronger enemies and bosses when their health is below a certain threshold; and much later, the ability to switch characters mid-attack for extended combos.

The most notable aspect of this game, even more than the unique battle system, is its focus on missions, or quests. Sidequests, in the form of optional areas, extra bosses, and hidden items have a long pedigree in RPG history, with many action RPGs of the last five years having a dedicated semi-optional mode akin to a missions board, offering new bosses, stronger items, and occasionally extra plot or character development. More often than not, however, these modes feel divorced from the main plot, providing replayability–a dangling carrot for completionists–but not much else.

MMORPGs took that ball and ran with it, embracing the journey rather than the destination, and encouraging users to log in year after year, tackling an unlimited supply of quests. I have to think the team at Omega Force (the developer of this title) took their cue from that, rather than console RPGs, since Trinity‘s adventure guild is central to the game, and though the number of optional missions is finite, it doesn’t always seem that way. In creating this structure they manage to snag some, though not all, of the aspects that make such online games addictive.

A solid battle system and well-balanced difficulty, even late in the game, has kept me from getting bored of monster slaying, even after 100-plus missions. New spells and techniques, and the ability to spend skill points to upgrade existing ones provide additional motivation to take on the next challenge. As an added touch, players are rewarded with experience points, not just for enemies defeated, but at the successful completion of a mission, for earning a new nickname (“Scorpion Killer”, “Veteran Adventurer”, or “Tavern Regular”, to name a few), and even for peaceful sidequests, like delivering a message. These constant small rewards give the player the feeling that no effort is wasted.

Outside of mission levels, players navigate a static map, where they may select any location that has been previously visited (or recently made available). Missions take place in locations on this map, and as the game progresses, new areas become available within previous locations. Additionally, there are many towns, which are not modeled in 3D, but are instead suggested by a 2D backdrop and a list of visitable locations. The player starts in Liberdam, which has a tavern, shops, an arena, and the usual adventure guild which is where many missions are posted. The tavern is a good place to collect information, advance the story, and sometimes take on missions from individuals directly. Conversations include static pictures of the person speaking, with varying poses and expressions, similar to the style used in many Japanese RPGs (Disgaea being one example). Although it limits the player’s freedom to some extent, the elimination of repetitive walking around on a world map, or even within towns, is actually a huge relief. Along with the ability to teleport out of an area after a mission is complete, the static, menu-based town visits serve to take out a lot of the time-consuming drudgery typical to this genre.

Trinity‘s strength, an exhaustive supply of reasonably rewarding missions, may also be its weakness. There is a story here: during the game’s prologue, our hero Areus–still a child–is nearly killed along with his father, by Balor, a ruthless warlord (and Areus’s estranged grandfather). The stage is set for a classic revenge/rebellion against the evil tyrant story, but since only a fraction of the game’s quests actually advance the story, the player may sometimes be surprised at the occurrence of a story scene after hours of self-contained dungeon crawls. Playing the game, there have been times when my completionist streak has been at odds with my desire for continuing with the plot: would I like the game more if I keep moving forward and avoiding option missions, or will I be hampered by under-leveled characters if I don’t do the sidequests?

Another major theme of the game is friendship and teamwork, and we eventually grow closer to, and learn more about our other two characters, as well. Still, this in-game camaraderie is not the same as the real social interaction that brings online players coming back to quest with their group night after night, so there is a point when you will want to finish this game and move on. There is plenty of replay value here, but not an infinite amount. It is good that the player, therefore, can choose how long to dwell on optional quests and when to get back to advancing the main story. In that sense, issues with the plot pacing might be said to be under the player’s control.

All in all, Trinity is a pretty solid adventure title, capable of providing weeks or months of fun, depending on how much time the player wants to sink into it. The battle system has depth without being unwieldy, and the story, while not tremendously original, is decent, and occasionally gripping. I give this game a solid three stars, and would probably give it three and a half if our rating system allowed for it. It’s not a must-play, but it’s very playable, and the tremendous amount of content gives you pretty good bang for your buck.

Trinity: Souls of Zill O’ll is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for Alcohol Reference, Mild Language, Mild Suggestive Themes, Simulated Gambling, and Violence.

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