Trinity Universe begins with a choice. You can either play the game as Demon Dog King Kanata or Valkyrie Rizela. Each character has their own story to follow, which investigating floating objects in the Netheruniverse. Ghost ships to pandas to giant pieces of sushi are on a collision course with Empyria.
Rizela’s solution to the problem is tracking Kanata down. See, the Demon Dog King was supposed to turn himself into Demon Dog Gem, a stone with enough energy to repel space debris. Kanata would rather eat sweets than become a gem. So, he ran away, but hasn’t forgotten about the giant rabbislippers (that’s one of the objects) looming over Empyria. With eyes sparkling for adventure, Kanata decides to knock the objects out of orbit.
This means entering objects, which are really dungeons in disguise. Kanata (and Rizela, but we’ll be focusing on Kanata) has a skill that illuminates paths towards treasure and more importantly a gravity core. Destroy this and the object you’re inside starts drifting away. A timer pops up and you have seconds to escape. Goody bag containing better loot pop up too. While you could make a straight dash to the entrance, it’s tempting to grab at least some of the bounty. If for some reason the world falls apart around you the game doesn’t end. There is a way for Kanata, Etna, and Prinny to get back to Empyria.
Yes, Etna and Prinny are playable characters. You meet them quite early on, but when the Disgaea guests join they are a lower level than Kanata. The best way to do this is grind a bit. One option is to go hunting by touching a black spot that makes monsters appear. The other is through random encounters and Trinity Universe has plenty of those.
Combat is like Xenosaga with longer, much longer, button chains. Every character has three basic attacks: rush, heavy hit, and a “magic” attack that hits all enemies. Each move takes up AP, but Kanata can unleash a bonus technique if you input the right sequence(s). Take the string of squares above as an example. The first five squares make Kanata do a chain attack. The last two squares, X and square in that sequence link together to make the DDK Swift Sword attack Kanata’s doing in the screenshot. Buttons overlap, so it’s possible to make wildly long combos if you plan ahead. Add in Fury Chains (read boost) where you can pass on the combo counter to another character by pressing R1 and you get sequences like this:
square-square-square-square-square-X-square-R1-triangle-x-triangle-R1 … you get the idea.
The button strings in Trinity Universe are way longer than moves in fighting games especially when your party members have a ton of AP. Sure, you can mash buttons, but wasting AP isn’t wise when a Lurker, a deadly monster that chases you, shows up.
The problem is these crucial details aren’t explained when they should be. Trinity Universe force feeds players all of the tutorials in the first few chapters, even though your characters don’t have enough AP to fully utilize the skill link system. In the beginning, short combos ended with a healing spell are the ticket to beating bosses. Super combos don’t come into play later in the game. Idea Factory artificially increased Trinity Universe’s learning curve with bad pacing. Here’s another example, you’re told about the make-your-own monster coliseum too when your party is too weak to fight them.
Since Trinity Universe doesn’t have an overworld you’re either exploring dungeons or watching events. Idea Factory uses floating heads, but the cast in Trinity Universe is a little more animated thanks to the active animation adventure system. While Pamela (pictured below) isn’t fully animated, she and hand drawn characters appear more lively than still art. Her hair waves, eyes blink, and she appears to breathe. Manga style reactions also pop up on top of characters during conversations.
Pamela is one of the guest characters in Trinity Universe. She and Violet (often called Vio) are from Japan-only Atelier games released by Gust.
What makes Trinity Universe really stand out isn’t its meandering mazes or galactic sushi. It’s the script. NIS America opted for a Working Designs-esque localization, which was a wise decision. Pop culture references and self depreciating humor are much better received than kanji puns where the words for gem and king flip-flops a radical. Trinity Universe doesn’t take itself too seriously, so why should its script? While there is a world saving plot, Trinity Universe focuses more on how the characters interactions. Watching Pamela spook your party, seeing Lucius teased (again) for his stereotypical cow-lick, and Etna be, well herself, are the reward for trudging through a dungeon. Events can be as long as dungeons and there is an option to skip them if you’re itching for another skill linking fight.
But, really, events are the highlight of Trinity Universe. The charming script carries the game through tedious fights and a second playthrough with the character you didn’t pick when you started the game.