Trinity: Souls of Zill O'll

Omega Force disguises its latest hack 'n slash game as an RPG.

Publisher: Tecmo Koei
Title: Trinity: Souls of Zill O'll
Price: $59.99
Format: PlayStation 3
Players: 1
ESRB Rating: Teen
Developer: Omega Force
Release Date: 2011-02-08

Trinity: Souls of Zill O'll feels like a "role-playing game" and is in fact the latest entry in the turn-based RPG Zill O'll franchise (a franchise heretofore never given a North American release), but there's really very little role-playing to be done. Exploration is all but nixed from the equation. The player is reduced to observer when conversations occur. Towns are entirely menu-driven. The only area of the game in which the player truly inhabits the characters on the screen are in battle sequences, long stretches of labyrinth exploring and looting that just happen to involve blowing up hordes of very disposable bad guys.

That Dynasty Warriors developer Omega Force would be behind a production like this makes the approach less surprising. This is a developer that has made its name on hacking and slashing at untold masses of enemies for the express goal of hacking and slashing at bigger enemies, all leading up to the hacking and the slashing of the biggest enemy. Now seven games into the Dynasty Warriors series, hack 'n slash is a subgenre that Omega Force has reduced to a science. To expect them to mess with a good thing just because they're working with a different franchise would be folly.

What Omega force manages to do with Trinity: Souls of Zill O'll is play to its own strengths rather than try to accommodate the franchise it has been handed. It's as if once the combat engine was in place, Omega Force then spent the rest of its effort making concessions to those who might have been expecting a little bit more traditional role-playing and a little bit less blocking, dodging, and flailing.

Given that one spends a good 80-90% of the play time doing battle in Trinity, it helps (even if it's not surprising) that the battle engine is very well implemented. RPG battle tends to be a slow and sluggish affair even if it's not turn-based, and managing a party of characters in a real-time environment is often cumbersome and confusing. Trinity dashes these preconceptions with a surprisingly visceral feel for battle that offers some surprisingly good ideas in its AI.

As one might expect given the game's title, most of Trinity is spent traveling as a party of three. There is quite obviously a "main" character, a half-elf with daddy issues named Areus who is the central protagonist of this story, but a big beefy warrior type (Dagda) and an athletic mage type (Selene) are both there to alternately protect and antagonize the self-centered "hero". While Areus' companions work just fine as devices for advancing the fairly simplistic plot, they're mostly here to fight. And fight they do, though perhaps not in the way that one would imagine. If you happen upon a horde of enemies (and you will, especially if you've been walking for 10 seconds uninterrupted), you'll find that if you're controlling Areus, it is Areus who will do most of the work in slaying those enemies. Likewise, if you're controlling either Dagda or Selene, it is whichever one you are controlling that will do most of the work.

In other words, try to leave the fighting to your companions and very little will get done.

While one may be tempted to call this a failure in A.I., the apparent inability to fight off aggressors is something that the player comes to appreciate as the game wears on -- it feels more like an intentional choice than a poorly-realized implementation.

What your pals represent here are tanks. When you are not controlling them, they actually draw the attention of the enemies without doing a lot of killing them . . . or getting hurt by them. The presence of two additional "players" in the field of battle actually simplifies the experience, particularly when the number of enemies becomes overwhelming. Trying to stay alive when a swarm of bats is coming from one direction and scorpions are creeping up from the other direction is much easier when those enemies are dividing their attentions between three good guys rather than mobbing one. This, then, allows the player to take care of attacking enemies, and then going and helping out the other allies. Not only is it good from a strategy standpoint, but it also gives the player a sense of agency, of being the one responsible for the successful battle. Because you can't hang back and expect your compatriots to get the job done, you have to take responsibility even as you can usually trust them to not get killed while you're taking care of your own business.

Unfortunately, having such a successful cooperative battle engine translates to a terribly frustrating experience when you're fighting on your own. When the enemies converge on Areus and only Areus, it quickly becomes clear that their attacks can be devastating and quick; staying out of the way when a large enemy is using surprisingly quick attacks is difficult when that enemy is concentrating all of those attacks on you. The player quickly comes to miss having allies around, and combat quickly becomes a frustrating bother -- particularly when you go it alone for long (sometimes very long) stretches at a time. The "Game Over" screen becomes a familiar antagonist when combat is reduced to one against many.

In a game that spends long stretches offering allegory after allegory for race relations, this frustration might well be intentional -- in a game whose overriding theme may well be "why can't we all just get along?", a dash of "we need each other to survive" isn't all that surprising. As a message goes, it's a good one, but the lonely sections that drive that message home make an already long game feel much longer and not in the good way that RPGs particularly strive for.

Trinity: Souls of Zill O'll is a surprisingly solid and addictive game, especially given Omega Force's approach of fitting a Dynasty Warriors-shaped peg into a JRPG-shaped hole. Despite the almost necessary repetition facilitated by the game's structure of accepting quests and venturing to locales that become all too familiar as the game stretches on, there is an addictive quality to the rewards you get by completing those quests, not to mention the loot that you pick up while on the quests. Combined with the sense that when you're part of a team, you can do anything, that mechanic makes Trinity: Souls of Zill O'll a game worth putting 40-50 hours into. This is especially true when you know that in the times that the game is at its worst, it is most certainly going to get better.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.

8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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