I’m not sure when the game mash-ups started, but I think it all points back to Capcom with their VS. series. Ever since then company crossovers have been happening with greater frequency, and to be perfectly honest these have yielded some great results. The best example that comes to mind is Square-Enix and Disney’s Kingdom Hearts franchise. Other ventures of this sort have been mostly tame, but last year the PlayStation 3 saw a niche game called Cross Edge that was a collaborative effort with characters from Capcom, Nippon Ichi, Namco Bandai, Gust, and Idea Factory.
While not entirely successful, Cross Edge was a step in the right direction and kept fans of franchises such as Disgaea, Atelier Marie, and Darkstalkers happy. Seeing some possibilities there, Nippon Ichi, Gust, and Idea Factory got together again some time later and worked on Trinity Universe (though it has nothing to do with Cross Edge). Featuring a host of new characters and favorites such as Disgaea‘s Etna, Flonne, and Prinny, as well as Atelier Viorate Pamela, and Violet, Trinity Universe once again takes things that J-RPG fans love and sticks them in a pot. Does it work?
Trinity Universe takes place in Empyria, which happens to be a magnet for crap from the Netheruniverse. Everything from old sushi to desserts, buildings, and first aid kits finds itself drawn to Empyria. The only way to stop this from happening is if the Demon Dog Kanata is turned into a gem. What’s the big deal with that? Well, he doesn’t want to become a chunk of rock locked in servitude. Instead Kanata would rather run free and have adventure, so that’s pretty much his motivation in the game.
On the other side of the coin there’s the Rizelia, who is a valkyrie charged with restoring order to the Netheruniverse. Obviously the best and easiest way to do that is to get Kanata to turn into a gem, though since that’s not going to happen without a fight she has to come up with something else. The story doesn’t evolve much beyond this point, though various cut scenes and dialogue flesh out the world, characters, and story somewhat. For the most part the game is nonsensical and just cracks jokes while presenting one absurd situation after another.
At the start of Trinity Universe players are forced to choose between Kanata and Rizelia with no real knowledge about what each story entails. There are differences between the two in terms of gameplay, characters, and plot. Eventually the paths converge somewhat, but there’s definitely enough that’s different to warrant playing through the other once players are done with their current selection. In some respects it almost feels like two different games built around the same system and plot timeline.
The gameplay in Trinity Universe is rather straightforward, and quite honestly it doesn’t push the envelope very far. The overworld isn’t so much of an overworld, but a collection of menus. Basically the game circles around the objects in the Netheruniverse and players select between these items and search to discover if there’s something more to it. Shops, events, and dungeons are scattered around and seemingly random throughout the course of the game. Not every hunk of garbage that floats to Empyria has something worthwhile, but checking them all out is often fruitful just the same.
Once a dungeon is discovered, players can enter with their party members and explore it to find additional treasure, fight enemies, and eventually destroy the Gravity Core, which is the thing that’s drawing it to Empyria. The dungeons are often large and chockfull of enemies. There are more random encounters than you can shake a stick at, and throughout each dungeon there are a set number of hidden items to discover. By using a limited search feature players can uncover objects that are unseen.
Combat is another area where Trinity Universe doesn’t necessarily break the mold. Parties of up to four members have what are called Action Points, which denote a set number of attacks per round. Players basically have until their gauge reaches zero to launch basic attacks, magic, or pull together moves to create powerful combos that can even involve multiple party members. The variety of attacks range per character and there’s a nice progression of growth with the system as party members gain levels and such. It’s basically an action-RPG system, but it takes place with turn-based battles and doesn’t allow players to roam around.
Typical J-RPG trappings abound in Trinity Universe. Save points are available in dungeons, winning in combat yields experience points of a sort, and shops are stocked with stuff to buy. There are also a slew of items to discover and collect for synthesizing, which fans of the genre should totally be comfortable with by now. In these respects Trinity Universe does little to separate itself from the rest of the pack.
What’s unique to Trinity Universe is a weapon customization system, which really opens the door for some creativity. This system is called “Managraphics” and it adds some visual flourishes to the combat, as well as different effects.
The game also maintains a great sense of style, which comes in the form of self-references, humor, and plenty of personality. The game is always cracking jokes at itself, pointing out J-RPG clichés, and even making fun of its characters. The cut scenes stand out more for their charms than their content for better or worse, and this game will put a smile on your face no matter how familiar you are with established characters or gags.
Overall the gameplay in Trinity Universe is more than serviceable and it offers enough to keep players coming back for more. The large amount of dungeons to crawl through, an abundance of things to collect, and plenty of characters to power up never really get old. That’s a good thing considering most people who come to this game love powering up characters to the nth degree. Also, having both storylines to go through effectively doubles the amount of time most players will spend on the game. It’s just a shame that the overworld design and combat didn’t do much more to “pop” when compared to its competition, but to be quite fair the game is still fun to play.
Trinity Universe features some very attractive character artwork and designs for its cut scenes. The characters are animated, vibrant, and truly stand out. Anyone familiar with Japanese visual novel PC games will instantly recognize the style the developer was going for. Now, as far as what’s actually the meat and potatoes of the game itself, things aren’t quite as good. Textures are often flat, dungeons are rather drab, and overall it’s just not a game that really pushes the limits of the PlayStation 3′s processor. It looks better than Cross Edge and other PS3 efforts by NIS, however.
The audio quality is kind of a mixed bag, in all honesty. The soundtrack in Trinity Universe gets a tad stale after a while and the dialogue, though perky, never really impresses. The game includes both Japanese and English dubs, however, so you do get to pick your poison so to speak. Personally, I couldn’t take the English cast for very long, so I made the switch and was quite pleased with the conversion. As far as the sound effects are concerned, they are okay, but nothing to write home about.
Ultimately Trinity Universe is a worthwhile outing that fans of Gust, Nippon Ichi, and Idea Factory will want to sink their teeth into. It’s not a complete package by any means, but it’s a step in the right direction. On the plus side the game has a fun personality and plenty of reasons to keep players coming back. Unfortunately the mediocre elements do come into play, such as rather static gameplay, a nonsensical story, and a so-so presentation. The bottom line is fans of the developers are really the only gamers that need apply. Everyone else can chalk this up to another whacky Japanese role-playing game.
Trinity Universe is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for Alcohol Reference, Fantasy Violence, Language, and Suggestive Themes.