Trinity: Souls of Zill O’ll is not the best game ever. It’s not even the best game of the year, and the year is only six weeks old. It won’t push the envelope, nor will it challenge gamers in new and interesting ways. The graphics are at best average, and at worst just background images rather than cut scenes. On paper, it is a total failure of a game. And yet, I can’t stop playing it.
Tecmo Koei’s Japanese-style role-playing game might best be described as the evolution of the hack and slash genre, forced into an RPG framework. It uses the same engine that its in-house developer Omega Force has used for years on games like Dynasty Warriors 5, Dynasty Warriors 6, Dynasty Warriors: Gundam, Dynasty Warriors: Fist of the North Star, Dynasty Warriors: Dynasty Harder, Dynasty Warriors: The Dynasty Strikes Back and so on, yet the developer has found a way to take that pluckly little engine and add the ability to level up through it for each kill you accrue. That might not seem like a major addition, but for a series that encourages the borderline genocidal pursuit your enemies, seeing them driven before you, and hearing the lamentation of the women, it is a surprisingly deep addition.
Again, and I can’t stress this enough, Trinity: Souls of Zill O’ll is not a great game. It is the equivalent of buying your clothes at Wal-Mart when you could be shopping at Nordstroms. And yet, almost bewilderingly, it is fun and addictive. Part of the reason it works is because it uses things that have already been successful, although several years ago. They haven’t stopped being fun, but they are well and truly dated. If there is one mainstream game I could compare this too, it would be Final Fantasy XII, which was released for the PS2 in Japan in 2006, and even that game was vastly technologically superior and offered better cut scenes, a more intricate leveling system, and a more well thought out combat.
Trinity: Souls of Zill O’ll is a game that was dated five years ago. But if you like the hack-and-slash mechanics, enjoy RPGs, and if you are looking for something that you can turn your brain off and play for hours and hours, than this game might be worth a try.
A well known story (in Japan)
Trinity: Souls of Zill O’ll is part of the Zill O’ll series that originally appeared on the PS2. I will admit to never having played the original game, but I do know that Trinity is a prequel to the previous title. So I approached the story as if it were unconnected to any existing entries, shamed by the fact that I did not play the original obscure, Japanese-region-only game, released by a niche, mid-level publisher. I will carry that regret to the grave.
The story begins in the land of Zill O’ll, a world suspiciously like many, many other fantasy-based worlds, right down to the various species that live there, including elves, dwarves, and of course humans. But all is not well, and a prophecy given to an evil emperor sets off a series of bloody events that will have repercussions for decades.
When Emperor Balor is told that he will be murdered by his own grandson, he reacts somewhat poorly. Rather than risk the potential upstart being born, he murders his own daughter and her unborn son, then he turns to his son and heir, the beloved Prince Lugh, who had fathered a son via an elf. The Prince had been rallying support against his father when the emperor decided to move against him, and a brief civil war began. The Prince fought to help mother and son escape, though it cost him his life.
Twenty years later, the son has grown into a man named Areus, who has turned bitter and resentful after years of being rejected by both elves and humans for his half-breed status. To channel his anger, Areus began training as a gladiator and biding his time, while honing his skills, all the while intent on killing his grandfather out of revenge. But he isn’t ready, so he begins to travel the world as an adventurer to become stronger.
Along the way he meets the boisterous Boldan warrior, Dagda, who seems content to live his life as an adventurer, but secrets surround him, and Selene, a member of the vampire-like race known as Darkenith, who attaches herself to the other two in order to fulfill her own private goals.
It isn’t a terribly original story, and it begins with “a prophecy”, which is a fairly cheap way to start off a murderous rampage from the emperor, but what it lacks in originality it makes up for in enjoyment. Sure, an evil empire in a video game won’t break any ground, but there is a reason that it has been used so many times before — it works. It also helps that the game steals — sorry, is an “homage” to — the Lord of the Rings in so many ways that it borders on a legal issue. The elves are nature-loving beings with long lives, who are skilled in many things, including magic. The dwarves are short and bearded, and greedily dig under mountains that they live under—which, by the way, are inhabited by goblins now. To be fair, it is an archetype that many, many have used before, and Trinity is no different.
The majority of the story is told through a storytelling device that Tecmo Koei needs to abandon forever — scrolling text. There are some decent CGI scenes in the game, and they are typically fairly well done with decent graphics and voice acting that does the job, but the vast majority of the story is told through text. One character appears on the left in a still image with text below them, then the other character’s image appears and their text scrolls. This works fine on a Nintendo DS title, but not so much on the uber-powerful PS3, where it looks very retro, and not in a good way. Trinity: Souls of Zill O’ll tells the majority of the story in these text boxes. Not only is it fairly dull, it is time consuming to wade through all the dialogue that doesn’t matter in order to get to the few nuggets that do.
This almost minimalistic feel also carries over to new towns. The dungeons are all fully explorable areas, but the towns are not. Early in the game, you will have the opportunity to head to the Dwarf Kingdom. It is described as a fantastic place, buried deep under the mountains, where thousands of people live in huge, and impressive castles. It sounds amazing! Of course, when you go there, all you see is an image of the city in the background, and a few options of where to go that include things like “tavern” and “weapons shop”. When you choose one, you are treated with a new background image to highlight the text you see. It seriously robs the story of what could have been potentially awesome moments.
To put it in context, sticking with the Lord of the Rings analogy, imagine the moment in Fellowship of the Ring, when Gandalf lights his staff and majestically shouts “Behold…Minas Tirith!”, and the massive hall of pillars is illuminated. Now imagine that same scene, only when Gandalf shouts, he says “Behold…Minas Tirith… which can be seen here on this lovely 3 x 5 postcard”. It just isn’t the same.
As the game progresses, you begin to know the characters a bit better, but the story is a fairy tale, and one that you know the outcome of immediately—partly because it is obvious, and partly because the game starts you in a flash-forward. The real focus of the game is the various quests, which present themselves in a non-linear fashion. The length of the game will be dependent on how many quests you do, but many will be necessary to progress — although the required ones aren’t always obvious — while others will simply be there to help you gain experience. So expect to spend well over 15 to 20 hours on this game, probably much longer.
What is your quest?
Quests makeup the majority of Trinity: Souls of Zill O’ll, and in them you will quickly be able to determine if this game is for you or not. To accept a quest, you simply go into a tavern or the local Adventurer’s Guild, and you accept what is offered. While the goals vary and can be anything from rescue someone in a hostile area to kill a certain enemy, in reality, you are simply going to a dungeon-style map, killing your way through, and arriving at your goal. You will also return to the same area many times, and while the enemies may change, the level will not. After the third or fourth time in the same area, it tends to be somewhat tedious, and the game then focuses entirely on the hack and slash combat rather than exploration.
This is one of the biggest problems of the game, and it is one that you will have to accept if you wish to play. The dungeons are generally alright, albeit unspectacular to look at, so if the repetition isn’t for you, unfortunately it doesn’t get any better the deeper you progress into the game.
In some instances, this is a good thing, in most it is a bad. When searching for an object or a boss, you just keep your head down and fight on. When stuck in a dreaded escort mission (something that is never fun, no matter the genre, almost without exception), you generally just find them and either send them on their merry way, or head back to the entrance while they follow behind you, seemingly oblivious to the monsters. It is nice that you don’t have to nursemaid them, but it also requires you to backtrack — yet again — through the same area.
While this is a bit of a cheat from the game to make it longer by sending you back to the same areas repeatedly, there are plenty of sections, and you can usually break up the monotony by moving around a bit. It makes it bearable as long as you like the combat, but it gets tedious.
One of the best PS2 games on the PS3
This game is not big on advancements. It will not push the boundaries of the genre, nor will it offer any moments that you think will change the way you look at games. The cut scene graphics are fair, but there aren’t all that many of them thanks to the overuse of text-based dialogue and menus. There is an interesting effect the game uses, to create an oil-canvas-like look to the graphics. Around the edges of the screen, the graphics fade into what looks like a piece of a broken canvas. It is never really distracting, but it doesn’t add much after the first few times you notice it. The music isn’t bad, but again, it all feels like something you would find on the PS2, and in truth it bares more similarities in style to a PS1 game, just with better technical features.
Even the leveling system feels dated. Where the Final Fantasy games offered wildly complex and imaginative ways to level your characters up, and even games like Lost Odyssey found means to keep the leveling interesting, Trinity simply awards you points, then you spend those points on the next level of whatever attack, on whichever character you wish to upgrade. That’s it. As you get further into the game, you will have a few more options, but the core leveling mechanic is limited, to say the least.
The simple joy of bashing things
Despite all the problems, the combat in Trinity is actually the highlight of the game. It is mindless and repetitive, and deep is nowhere in the description, but there is just something entertaining about wading through dozens of enemies and smashing them all. If you are not a fan of the Dynasty Warriors types of games, then Trinity is not the RPG for you.
The thing that Tecmo Koei did, which is almost brilliant in its simplicity, is to take the same formula that they have used for years — maybe even decades — and give it a point system. For each kill, you earn points that you can use to purchase upgrades. It is ridiculously simple, and yet fans of the style will find themselves killing everything they can find to earn points. It is a bit more sophisticated of a combat system than in Dynasty Warriors thanks to magic, upgrades, and the ability to switch characters, but not by much.
The combat is built around combos that each character can unleash based on their own attack style. Areus (who while part of the “trinity”, is the real focus of the game) can use magic- and sword-based attacks. He is fast and agile, so he will typically begin with a slashing attack, then finish with a magical attack. Dagda is a brawler, large and powerful. He can smash opponents, then finish with a powered-up physical attack. Selene is the fastest of the three and can attack repeatedly and quickly before unleashing either an acrobatic or magic attack. Switching between the three on the fly offers some interesting combo potentials, and the style of attacks will be key to defeating enemies that have specific weaknesses.
The combat is a guilty pleasure — see enemy, kill enemy. It is usually that simple. The fights will vary, and you will occasionally find yourself either with just two characters or alone, but the enemies stay the same, and follow the typical RPG code of old — meaning that you will enter a goblin territory and fight goblins, all identical, and all with the same strengths and weaknesses.
Switching between characters also helps you maintain your health, and the change can make the game feel fresh, even when you know in your heart that it is not. Each character has their own style of fighting, and they actually complement each other well. Switching too often does cause the camera to go berserk now and again, but you can control it, so it is just a matter of moving it to a new angle.
It is hard to justify how much fun I had with the gameplay. I am almost ashamed at so deeply enjoying a combat system that is lacking in sophistication compared to countless other games. Even so, it became tedious after a while, and will only appeal to a very specific type of gamer that enjoys the nearly obsessive compulsive nature of exploring the same areas, over and over again just to find a treasure chest.
If this game had been released on the PlayStation Network as a $29 download, it would be worth every penny, and the score would have been 9-ish out of 10. Unfortunately, for the full PS3 retail price, there are just so many things lacking that other, similar titles have, that it makes it hard to fully recommend.
If played in a vacuum, Trinity: Soul of Zill O’ll would be a fine game, one that suffers from the occasional bout of tedium, but holds up well thanks to simple and addictive combat. But when you compare it to the leaders in the RPG genre, games like Final Fantasy XIII, Fable III and Fallout: New Vegas, Trinity is years behind. Plus, in a bit of a Catch-22, only fans of the RPG genre will like this game, but fans of the RPG genre will likely be the first to skip it, because there are simply better options out there.
Still, Trinity: Souls of Zill O’ll is a fun game. It is a step back for the genre as a whole, but I couldn’t help spending hours upon hours just wading through dungeons and enjoying myself. The game does nothing wrong, and it is difficult to measure it against other titles, then call it flawed because of things it didn’t do rather than things it failed at doing. What it does, Trinity does well, it just isn’t anything you haven’t seen before and it is filled with things that feel dated. It is difficult to score a game like this. Do you count down for the lack of advancement, or do you give more credence to the fun factor? The best comparison I could think of would be a car that was fun to drive, but it was totally stripped down inside and offered a cassette player, for the same price as a similar fully loaded car with leather upholstery and an MP3 connection.
If you are looking for the next evolution in the genre, or something that will simply knock you off your feet, there are better options. If you are looking for a fun but mindless RPG that will keep you entertained for quite a while, and you can deal with the repetitive and often tedious quests, this might the game for you.
Score 6.5 out of 10
(This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 3 on a copy provided by Tecmo Koei)