Threads of Fate (1999)

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“Men are not prisoners of fate, but only prisoners of their own minds.”
–Franklin D. Roosevelt

 

 

The 90’s saw some of the best RPGs ever made across multiple platforms, first with the Super Nintendo dominating and then moving into the PlayStation era the industry continued to deliver with Final Fantasy VII as the definitive popular choice in ’97. As far as gaming goes, the 1990’s were a gift to humanity. But wedged in there right at the turn of the millennium was an optimistic and obscure little title with bright graphics which stood in opposition to the muddier, more mature and industrial look of several other games.

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Known as Dewprism in Japan, Threads of Fate was released in October of 1999 and saw its North American release in July of 2000. In a way, its positioning in gaming history couldn’t be more appropriate. While RPGs in the 90’s were still characterized by turn-based combat and class systems (generally speaking, of course), in the coming decade the genre would come to be reinvented in more action-oriented terms by largely dismissing the slower turn-based battles for quick time events, button mashing, combo chaining, and hack and slash methodology which all previously belonged almost exclusively to foreign genres. Again, this is generally speaking, but even if you look at the dramatic shift in tone of the Final Fantasy series, you’ll see what I’m suggesting. We’re talking in terms of popularity and demand.

With this in mind, I think of Threads of Fate as a bridge between two millennia.

It’s a turn of the century kind of game. Though it never made the kind of splash or had the kind of influence that its contemporaries enjoyed, it should remembered for its charming tone, its friendliness and accessibility, and the innovative pioneering it brought to the table (alongside others) in developing the action-RPG as a formidable new form of the classic role-playing game. In some instances, I’d say the action-RPG must even take preeminence over the original type since I’ve heard younger gamers who describe the former with delight and the latter as “boring”, “tedious”, “old-fashioned” and “too slow”. There’s a part of me that sheds a tear.

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Threads of Fate
follows the interweaving stories of two protagonists. That alone places it in a unique club. At the start of the game, the player chooses between either Rue or Mint. While both characters have similar goals and destinies, and face similar enemies in similar areas in the game, the two of them play differently from each other.

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Rue is a quiet, gentle, and dignified traveling youth. By contrast, Mint is a loud, haughty, manipulative, and boisterous ex-princess with an irrational fear of pumpkins (actually known as cucurbitophobia). Rue wields a huge ax-like weapon (the Arc Edge) and has the ability to transform into beasts and animals, taking on the forms of the last enemies he’s defeated. Mint, on the other hand, carries some golden rings and is steeped in the magical arts and can use her arcane expertise to mix spells together to create new ones.

As their stories unfold, we discover that they’re both searching for an enigmatic and powerful artifact, “the Relic” aka “the Dewprism”. Their paths cross during the game but each character’s narrative stands distinct from the others.

Rue was created by Valen, a powerful magician who created the Relic in order to give himself omnipotence. Valen died, however. That’ll rain on anyone’s parade. But before he died, he created several organic dolls who were instructed to find the Relic and revive their master. Rue was one of those dolls. He awoke from hibernation alone and confused in a temple, and he was eventually found by a woman named Claire, who cared for him. Unfortunately, Claire was killed when another servant of Valen’s (Doll Master) found Rue to recruit him. Rue was enraged at Claire’s violent death and mourned for her. He fused her soul with his and set off to find the Relic and use its powers to bring her back to life. He comes to the village of Corona in search of the fabled Relic and meets Mint. Rue must confront his dark destiny and rise above it, and come face to face with the monster that killed Claire.
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Mint’s tale isn’t nearly as grim and she serves as a kind of comedic relief for Threads of Fate. As the Crown Princess of the East Heaven Kingdom, Mint was heir to the throne, but she was dumbfounded when she discovered that nobody liked her for her personality and the throne was instead given to her younger sister, Maya. Maya is sick and tired of Mint’s arrogant behavior and so she plans to use her new royal powers to make her older sister’s life miserable. Mint is unable to fight her sister, who possesses a powerful magical artifact, and so she forsakes her kingdom in search of a more powerful item, the Relic, the Dewprism, to increase her sorcery and defeat her sister. She arrives at the village of Corona, where the Relic is said lay buried nearby, and bumps into Rue (who she hates immediately for his humility). Mint must face many hardships and wear down the sharp edges of her cruel personality if she hopes to attain the Relic and regain the throne for herself.

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Both of them are led down paths where they meet various and interesting cartoonish characters: treasure hunters, thieves, archaeologists, eventually encountering the master-wizard Valen himself and battling for control of his Dewprism. Threads of Fate is a huge adventure with two different points of view, two different personalities and motivations, but each hero will face different bosses, challenges and dungeons. Alone, they are each one strand, but together Rue and Mint form the fabric of the Threads of Fate.

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The 8-Bit Review
visual Visuals:
8/10
We all know that the 3D era of gaming was not the prettiest at its outset. It first enjoyed the mere novelty of 3-dimensional graphics and polygons without actually making those graphics good. Rendered visuals often skewed and skipped and created bizarre, rough-edged angles, even on character’s faces, making environments and people alike tough to look at. Virtually none of that is present in Threads of Fate. The characters especially are cleaned up and smoothed out with barely any pixelated edges. They’re bright, candy-colored clothing and anime faces are flexible plastic, far from the crude shapes of the early 3D action games. The backgrounds, likewise, are a tremendous improvement over early, rudimentary-textured blocks, making the in-game graphics better than some of the CG cutscenes from contemporary titles. Threads is cinematic without cinematics.

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The emphasis is on clarity rather than detail, which gives Threads its simplistic and childish appearance. But that also helped it to age much better than its peers. Now it possesses a kind of colorful grace and consistency that’s lacking in other jarring 3D games from the PlayStation One. Somebody give the art director a clap on the back. They understood how to craft something that would last, that feels difficult to place in time, that evokes an emotional response when needed, that never devolved into something clunky and scarred by 3D’s infancy.

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audio Audio: 6/10

This theme that introduces the game firmly says that it’s an action piece, even if it sounds more Capcom than Square to me. The soundtrack fits the divided storyline and thus features tunes that more fit the role of Rue and those that seem to match Mint better. There are mellow and wistful tracks, and then there are happier and more upbeat tracks. It’s both thoughtful and rambunctious. The OST however does feel slightly average, with no themes that really stand out as truly iconic or even memorable, or any recurring ideas in the music, really. There are, however, a few exceptionally beautiful songs here. CD quality soundtracks had come into their own by the turn of the millennium and Threads of Fate features an OST with a grand-lighthearted feel. Below are two tracks exemplary of the dual nature off the game:

gameplay Gameplay: 7/10
Square must have been tinkering with the seeds of Threads of Fate with the Secret of Mana and that whole franchise. Some of the elements of those older games make their way into Threads. It’s got a real-time combat system and RPG number crunching that isn’t too intense to put off casual players drawn to the kid-friendly aesthetic. There is also a bit of platforming and puzzle-solving to be had. One example of a puzzle is selecting a water-based attack to raise a plant as a platform to climb on and reach the next area.

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Most of the PS1’s 3D action games (and the N64’s, too!) had horrible controls and suffered from excruciatingly bad camera movements. Threads of Fate has almost eliminated that problem.

Stats are raised through use, rather than classic experience points. Rue or Mint’s HP will raise over the course of enduring battles. Likewise, their MP gets a point by point boost through using magic abilities. Other stats like strength and defense can be raised in a shop in Corona, by purchasing better equipment.

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Rue uses a slew of different attacks with the O, X and /\ buttons (the last one costs MP upon use), and [] will allow him to select from a short list of monsters he can transform into (the last four that he has defeated). When in monster form, Rue gains different and unique abilities. He’s a walking bestiary. Sorceress supreme Mint attacks with a pair of golden rings with the same buttons, only she can’t change into monsters. Instead, she chooses from a list of spell types, and then subsequently selecting the unique effect for that spell type. For example, Mint can choose red magic (fire) and then augment that basic selection with normal, wide, hyper or powerful modifications.

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What you’re looking at then is an action-RPG with not one but two different battle systems. To compare it to Kingdom Hearts (which clearly took a few cues from Threads), that would be like playing as, say, Sora and then Riku with slightly different campaigns and different attack styles, patterns and magical abilities.

There is also a New Game+ feature to carry over money and items into a new playthrough, and several sidequests to occupy time outside of the two protagonists’ main quests.

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story Narrative: 6/10
The storyline for Threads of Fate gets an above average score for its use of the multiple points of view and Rashomon effect as a storytelling device, but the diverging narratives following both the emotional saga of Rue and the hijinks romp of Mint aren’t enough to keep the game from feeling slightly generic. It’s not a Final Fantasy, distinctly. Nor does it fall into any other RPG franchise. It’s a standalone story and no sequel was ever made. It has no vast amount of lore from previous entries to fall back upon and lend its world depth.

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All it has are its personalities and myths which populate its world, and the game is by no means long enough to fully flesh out these concepts and persons in the same way that a PlayStation RPG spanning three or four discs could. None of what I just said means that I believe the Threads of Fate story to be terrible. It just simply isn’t spectacular. It’s what we would expect Square to produce in the form of a non-canonical, non-franchise game. Square did produce more successful games that fit that bill (Vagrant Story comes to mind), but what Threads of Fate provides is a brief reverie and day dream escape from the more established worlds of RPG fame, with characters that do have quite a bit of personality and motivation and growth.

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Wat?

accessibility Accessibility: 8/10
The focus in Threads is on user-friendly introduction to RPG and action game basics. For that reason, it’s a great game to serve as a foray into either genre. It’s never too challenging and at the same time it doesn’t entirely seem to hold your hand to teach you its mechanisms in a patronizing way. The ease is further increased by coins players can pick up which will immediately restore health and a portion of MP upon being knocked out, rather than having to reload from your last save point.

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replay Replayability: 6/10
Both of the game’s protagonists as well as a New Game+ mode put the replay value at above average. You’ll probably play it at least twice, unless you hated it, though there are a few little tidbits and teases that will help to extend its play-life. Clocking in at around 20 something hours of gameplay, Threads isn’t too long either. It isn’t even significantly long compared to other, more traditional RPGs.

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Finally somebody said it!

unique Uniqueness: 7/10
Threads of Fate was a game that had something to say, and not just with its storytelling. It brought small but great new innovations to the action-RPG field. Playing as two protagonists in diverging narratives sets it apart as one of its defining characteristics, along with an emphasis on constantly evolving character abilities, range of emotions, and gorgeous visuals. Threads becomes even more unique when it stands in contrast to similar games on the PS1.

pgrade My Personal Grade: 7/10
As one of the early 3D action-RPGs that was actually fun to play, Threads of Fate set a standard which would shape that loosely defined genre in the coming years. The action elements kept it engaging in the moment and the RPG elements ensured it had lasting value while playing through it. ‘Twas a match made in heaven as many subsequent games would attest to. Threads doesn’t deserve the obscurity it never crawled out of, standing in the shadows of its more popular RPG brothers. It’s under-appreciated despite its distinct traits, but for those reasons it’s truly a hidden gem in the PlayStation library. Shame we never got a sequel.

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Aggregated Score: 6.9

 

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6 thoughts on “Threads of Fate (1999)

  1. This was definitely one of the games I regret missing growing up in the PSX era, and I snagged it as soon as I could on PSN. Haven’t gotten through it yet, but this write up has me kind of excited to re-fire it up soon!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey happy to help with the firing of the up! Threads of Fate has really aged well, I realized. And being as it’s so accessible, I really think it’s a good game to introduce to one’s wife/gf/mum.

      Like

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