“Super Robot Wars”, Banpresto’s annual package of their successful range of mecha-based crossover games, is back. Straight after their latest PS3 extravaganza last year comes their handheld niche in the form of Super Robot Wars UX, their debut title for the Nintendo 3DS.
Unveiled about a month after the release of the 2nd SRW OG, and being a Nintendo handheld title, SRW UX steps into uncharted territory once again with the introduction of mostly new series to mix with a few fan favourites of past years. Joining the cast and crew from Soukyu no Fafner, Dancougar Nova, Aura Battler Dunbine, Ninja Senshi Tobikage and Gundam Seed Destiny are units, plots and characters from:
- Mazinkaiser SKL
- Gundam 00: A Wakening of the Trailblazer
- Soukyu no Fafner: Heaven and Earth
- SD Gundam Sangokuden Brave Battle Warriors
- Macross Frontier: Itsuwari no Utahime
- Macross Frontier: Sayonara no Tsubasa
- Wings of Rean
- Kishin Houkou Demonbane
- Linebarrels of Iron (manga version)
Also included is the special appearance of Hatsune Miku in the form of the Katoki Hajime version of Fei Yen HD from Virtua On.
With a totally revamped and a much younger cast, Banpresto aims to draw in the younger crowd of mecha lovers to tie join in with the older generation, the old, improving upon them , and introduces new gameplay elements to the series.
As with all one-off titles in the SRW series, the plot heavily favours the TV and manga plots for all the series involved. That being said, the major focus of this game, leading to the world building, is heavily leaned towards Tobikage, Fafner as well as Gundam 00. The other series also have their time to shine in the initial stages as well as during the route splits along the way.
Like all SRW games however, there are always some series that do not really factor into the game story. In this case, Gundam Seed Destiny and Dancougar Nova are set after their series finales, but that does not mean they have zero impact on the story. The writers have taken the liberty to create a post-story scenario for the series, giving players a fresh and unique take on the lives of the characters (eg. Shinn Asuka becomes a mentor for the Fafner kids, the D Team return to their normal lives with memories wiped).
Plot-wise, the game cleverly weaves different series from different universes together, giving only slight clues as to how they come together. The political background sets the ground for the struggling protagonists as well as they meet and find new allies in their cause, initially in JUDA’s (Linebarrel) name, and later as their own entity.
The main character’s story is much better fleshed out than in previous handheld titles. Instead of having multiple partners, Agnes Berge starts off with his buddy Jin Spencer as test pilots for the experimental Riot series. After a series of events, he eventually will team up with Saya Kruger, with her father Richard Kruger leading the mercenary UX brigade as they assist the world government in cleaning up messes caused by the sudden influx of hostile aliens, building up a fierce rivalry with Jin in the process.
Split into three major acts across over 50 scenarios, the main theme of the game is “Communication”, and the ways the characters represent themselves is clear for all to see. Fafner characters will follow Kazuki as he searches for ways to communicate with the Festum; Setsuna leading the line to better understand the ELS with his Innovater ability; the Frontier crew as they struggle to know why the Vajura are attacking them; Aesop and Lyx’s attempts to stop her father from brining war to Japan again; Both sides of the Linebarrel conflict will attempt to find a common ground as they inevitably head towards the foretold end of the world, amongst others as our heroes ultimately head towards an understanding of the workings of this unique universe…
In their previous Nintendo release, SRW L, players could choose any two units and group them up into a Pair Unit (PU) or allow them to run freely as a Single Unit (SU). The advantages of Pus were that you had Support Attacks and Defense coming from the partner unit, as well as the added advantage of unique status bonuses to both members of the PU in lieu of optional parts.
UX not only utilizes the building of pairs in the intermission, but it improves upon that by allowing paired members to be swapped with an adjacent pair. They also improved the Support Defense mechanism where adjacent pairs can now also join in to help defend others, while Support Attack is limited only to SUs. They also removed the need to ground flying units when paired with a land-only unit, and the distance a PU can move is directly based on the leader’s distance coverage. Conversely, SUs lose their ability to do chain attacks to multiple enemies, but they gain the ability to use Continuous Attacks (a second action) if pilots are equipped with the skill.
While they reduced the overpowering PU bonuses in the previous game, the game decides to add in the advantage of increasing the bonuses when its pilot hits Ace rank (100 kills).
Unlike most SRWs, you’re only limited to 5 blocks of upgrades per unit status (HP, EN, Armour, Accuracy and Weapons) for the first act, and the rest of the upgrade blocks available only at the start of the second.
Another new inclusion is the introduction of Strategists and Cheerleaders. Sub-characters who are not really frontline characters like SD Gundam’s Koumei, leader pilots like Macross Frontier’s Ozma Lee and cheergirls like Cham all provide different in-battle bonuses that apply to all characters. The bonuses increase as the game continues, and by the end, these characters will have three different bonuses to use, ranging from Attack increases to Health or Energy recovery.
Skills are also improved up with 91 different skill parts for pilots to equip, giving you a wide range of status, damage or defense bonuses. Skill parts are gained upon completion of scenarios, defeating bosses, getting secret characters and clearing DLC content.
DLC – a first for Super Robot Wars
For the first time in SRW history, the game comes with the ability to purchase Downloadable Content. The DLC comes in two different types:
Tsume! Suparobo – Puzzle maps where there is usually only one possible solution to clear the specific conditions, such as defeating an enemy with 4 badly damaged units without losing a unit, or using one unit to defend an area against 6 enemies for 2 turns. This minigame was free in older SRWs, but you’ll have to pay for them in packs of 3 or 4 puzzles.
Campaign Maps – Each map gives you a fixed set of units, sometimes with different skills and different weapon attributes, and the main task is to defeat all enemies or defeat a fixed number of enemies within a fixed turn limit. The catch is that there are no intermission saves for Campaign Maps, and that each map sold separately.
The draw of the optional DLC is to enhance the gaming experience beyond the story mode. They also offer different and challenging difficulties to those who feel the main game is too simple. These DLCs also offer skill parts and additional cash bonuses. In fact, if you’re short on cash, you can even replay the maps for 2000 credits a clear.
Sound / Music
The biggest improvement for this game, and it was the main selling point when the game was introduced, was that for the first time in Nintendo handheld history, ALL the characters are voiced. No longer are we just watching animations with silent characters, but the Nintendo 3DS cartridge now has the space to cater for all the multiple combat voice clips and Dramatic Voiced Events duing the intermissions as well.
That, however, provides a different problem. Battle BGM hasn’t exactly improved for the Nintendo handheld systems, and the effect coming through the on-board speakers might jar many who have just moved on from SRW OGs2 or SRW Z2 (PSP). Using ear or headphones does limit the damage a little, but you can’t help but feel disappointed that they’ve once again failed to make a noticeable impact with the BGMs.
There’s also the other problem of interlacing the BGM with sound effects, which has always been around since SRW Advance on the GameBoy Advance. It’s better, but you can still feel loss of music layers when voices and sound effects take higher priority during many of the finishers.
Poor sound decisions aside, there are over 40 different tracks to whet your appetite, ranging from different Opening, Ending songs, musical pieces from the movies, battle tracks, even vocal tracks (since SRW Alpha for Dreamcast) thanks to Hatsune Miku.
The issue of graphics in this game is a little more complex. No matter how fun the gameplay is, the biggest selling point of SRW games are still the battle scenes. For starters, most players will definitely want to compare it with the bigger brothers in the PS3 or, more rightly so, the PSP versions of the series. Due to the nature of how the game is built, it bears a striking resemblance to the Nintendo DS versions, based purely on pixels. The battles may be smooth, but when units or cut-ins are zoomed in, the pixelation is very obvious for the few frames. This issue is further amplified if viewed through a 3DS LL, which stretches the screen and the pixels even larger.
If you look past this issue, you still have wonderfully-drawn units with flashy attacks. From regular beam rifles, to extended sword cuts, to dimension-breaking final attacks, to high-tension combination attacks, everything in this game, even the returning series, have been re-drawn from scratch. Granted, they will not be able to match the PSP level of quality, but nonetheless the handheld team is getting there, slowly but surely.
If you have been avidly watching robot anime since 2000 and is in possession of a Japanese 3DS, this is one of the games that you should pick up as an initial foray into the world of SRW. Veterans of the series will find this a little on the easy side, but it has a wonderfully woven story that will catch you unawares for the first time. The catch of needing a Japanese 3DS might be a turn-off, since it’s not exactly worth to get a system just for this software.
It’s probably hard to find locally in Singapore, but thankfully the Nintendo e-Shop removes that difficulty with a digital version for sale as well.
This review is contributed by JL Lee, who has played numerous JRPGs and has intimate knowledge of Japanese games.