"The [graphics] provide a welcomed immersion into some of the visual novel storytelling and 2D map environments, edging it out just enough to show what Cross Rays is attempting to sell everyone on."
The day I learned one of the longest running Gundam series, SD Gundam G Generation, was being localized for a Western release, my mind went into overdrive and strived for as much information as my brain would allow. While I've never actively partaken in the series, I knew Bandai Namco was taking a chance. The previous SD Gundam G Generation Genesis did
have English localization yet did not get the official go ahead to be released beyond its eastern regions. By simply bringing this over with an official western release, they are (strictly my opinion) testing the waters and seeing how well their beloved SRPG series fares with a new audience.
SD Gundam G Generation Cross Rays is one of those games where your first impression could easily be "am I going to understand this?!" Quite the loaded question. Not to beat around the bush, Cross Rays does assume you have an elementary knowledge of what Gundams are; otherwise, you would have to take a blind leap of faith knowing you're purely here for the strategy aspect of the game. Maybe you have a good idea what Gundams are, yet are simply confused by their huge heads on tiny bodies. Supposing your Google-Fu isn't strong, the term "SD" is known as "Super Deformed," meaning don't expect to see your beloved mobile suits in their lumbering forms. This is a known trait the Gundam series can easily turn to in order to simplify complicated actions, as well as steering toward more of a cute factor.
Getting past first impressions, the game holds much more content than I was bargaining for. Story-wise, simply put, there isn't one per se. To explain further, the G Generation series is not known for their Super Robot Wars level of unique story building, so you will not find this series mixing in with others. G Generation has a habit of strictly focusing on a certain "era" of Gundams: in the past, they had limited it to the original Mobile Suit Gundam series' Universal Century timeline. Instead of expounding on the classics, Cross Rays emphasizes the other eras, most notably between the Wing, SEED, 00 and Iron-Blooded Orphans.
The stories are played out in an episodic fashion, so you have a choice of going through any of the 13 different scenarios, each consisting of a retelling of a single specific series. While the main series are the longest, taking anywhere from 7 to 9 chapters, shorter ones are available if you're looking to get your feet wet. All chapters are treated more or less like a visual novel: 40% of it being voiced over with Japanese voice actors and the rest having to be read before getting into the maps. Understandably, if you're looking for English beyond the text, you will not find any setting for this yet.
For those not acclimated with the series, each scenario offers an excellent cliff noted experience, going over the major events and providing a nice summary of what happens. One part of me believes the game carves the fat out of some of the series to make it easily digestible, while the other part finds it slightly disjointed, having omitted critical information while making you believe they are modestly rushing through it. To be perfectly clear, I do not see this as passing negative judgement on the game. While I understand having a firm grasp upon Gundam assists with the experience, you can effortlessly go into these stories knowing nothing about the genre and still have a great time while coming out with a better understanding.
Looking into the meat and potatoes of this game, Cross Rays offers three different difficulties. The higher level will net you greater rewards while having to rout tougher enemies. Each map plays out its respective scenario, gaining control over your "hero" characters as well as the supports you will manually add in. You can launch with a raid group, consisting of eight mobile suit slots, or a warship which can house nine mobile suits plus the use of the warship in itself. Believe me when I say you want as many suits as you can muster on the field, because toward later missions, it becomes...lengthy. Even with a fully loaded map of your raid/warship groups, a typical map can range from 20-120 minutes depending on the difficulty, suit capability, and overall strategy.
There is one thing I must stress before anything else in each map: THERE IS PERMADEATH. While your characters may not be the ones getting deep-sixed, the precious little suits you put so much effort into making will be prime real estate for demolition, so make gratuitous use of Quick Saving if feeling paranoid. This mechanic is greatly appreciated, as the game really wants you to focus on not losing anyone and making solid judgment calls. There is healing, but it comes in various forms, which adds further strategy to things, tasking you to always bring in a balanced team. Also, the game dictates when the map is over as it's going, so be fully prepared to have additional swarms of enemies bum rush you at a moment's notice.
There are a few things within the game which I thought gave it an interesting spin. Terrain plays a large part in how suits are able to deploy, meaning if your suit's terrain capability doesn't match the map, you won't be able to launch with it. Another concept taking me by surprise is some maps forcing you to fight in different areas, going as far to split your attention between two separate fields. On a side note, it was quite entertaining to know that if you do enough destruction, enemies will surrender, allowing you the opportunity to capture their suits. Performing unison attacks with your respective raid/warship group and getting enough kills to put them into an "overcharged" state adds overwhelming firepower on targets, easily turning the numbers in your favor, or, as the game puts it, overkilling your opponents.
An annoying part about some of the map content is how repetitive the flow of turns can be. Given how long you might've spent in a given stage, things can get less engaging and more tedious to watch over and over. Don't get me wrong, I love the battle animations — they get the blood pumping when engaging the enemy — but depending on how long you already spent, you may find yourself wanting to skip directly to the battle results. Thankfully, as if others felt similarly, you can adjust a surprising number of settings to make the map as quick or lengthy as you want.
Graphically speaking, the game will make some feel on the fence. If this is your first time with SD G Generation, be prepared to experience everything in 2D with minimalistic actions. Not going to lie, my initial impressions of the stages almost made me feel as if someone whipped out RPGMaker and created all of the assets with it. This is not to say it's terrible, but it seems uncanny given the nature of what Cross Rays wants you to get excited about. They do an awesome job making sure all of the suit and character graphics look amazing, so I have to give them credit there, but the gallery where you can view each suit individually feels lackluster when you only get to see their 2D art. However, and this is a rather hefty "however," do not skip out on any of the battle animations if at all possible.
Compared to the other games in the series, every suit and warship has their own specific and improved battle animation with their respective attack, all executed in 3D. These battle moments feel cinematic, as the camera will cut back and forth to the pilots engaging into their actions and then show off full attacks, melee or beam, in all of their glory. For example, when you send Wing Zero Custom into the field and have it fire its twin buster rifles, then witnessing it FIRING AGAIN, seeing the suit slowly malfunctioning just like in Endless Waltz, it's a purely amazing moment. Strangely enough, map attacks seem to be the only moves not rendered in 3D, but this at least gives us a mini show of sorts to show how useful it is. Overall, the 3D aspect provides a welcomed immersion into some of the visual novel storytelling and 2D map environments, edging it out just enough to show what Cross Rays is attempting to sell everyone on.
Up to this point, you would think the game has shown all of its cards, but you would be gravely mistaken. To my surprise, the game adds in what I can only refer to as "suit evolution." Now, I should reiterate I'm not an expert in the series, so I cannot vouch for the other games; however, when your roster consists of at least 480 unique suits, 90 warships, and 440 characters to pilot them, your jaw is likely to be on the floor. Each suit comes with their own stats and moves, as well as unique traits. Characters will also come with their own stats and the ability to spend points to improve them as they level up, as well as attach skills and other stat boosting modifications to make them better.
Both your characters and suits will level up depending on how much action they see. The mobile suits can develop into better and BIGGER versions of other suits after gaining a few levels. Depending on their "era," they can work their way to being a better grunt mobile suit or eventually one of the main Gundams from their respective series. Once you get that suit, you can always purchase another one using the credits you obtain throughout your journeys and start developing it into another path of other units. A downside, though, is finding the correct time to keep on leveling/developing a suit verses switching it out for another one you may fancy. There's a bit of micromanaging and tailoring to how you want to set up your teams, but there isn't a right or wrong way to go about it.
This brings me to another item of game play as addicting as the suit evolution: group dispatches. Cross Rays encourages what I feel is "taking a break" but still playing the game via their group dispatches. In these timed quests, ranging anywhere between 2-12 real world hours, you can net additional experience, money, suits, and parts for completing them. These quest will require some kind of prerequisite in order to increase your odds of success, but allow the player to work with one or two groups on a map stage and have the other two dispatched. What I've personally done between work and sleep is dispatch as many quests as I can, then come back after an extended time to reap the rewards. This concept is ingenious for people looking to level up underdeveloped units while still enjoying other things in life as you wait for their return.
The music is about as good as it can be, honoring all of the series' memorable soundtracks, but I believe they are not the original tracks. They sound different, yet it might be my brain playing tricks on me. There is a fix to this, though! Say you (legally) own MP3 versions of music you want to incorporate: the game allows you to select the target folder and will import those tracks so that you have as much free rein as possible.
Additionally, there is a spot within the game allowing you to custom make your own character. While you can scout from available people within each series, you can create your own pilot in whatever image you like — right down to their blood type, which actually does have stat changing properties. These custom characters can be given a unique voice, background music, and profile biography. The only drawback is they have middling stats and do not come with any unique skills compared to higher-tier scouted characters. You can spend money and manipulate their stats in the long run, but it might be worth your time to purchase certain characters that you are aiming to fit into your party.
Lastly, I would be cautious about your input/controller choice for this title. Cross Rays is not taxing to modern computer systems by any means, but the controls are a tad different than what some are used to. Since I play with a game controller rather than keyboard/mouse, it was surprising to know the game adopts traditional Japanese button layouts that reverse the A and B buttons. This could lead to some habit-breaking tendencies, but given Cross Rays is on Steam, you can change the button configuration as much as you want. I did try out the keyboard for a bit to get perspective, as it oddly felt good. With a little bit of input change, I could definitely see myself getting accustomed to it.
Ultimately, SD Gundam G Generation Cross Rays was something I needed in my life. This is largely due to my dedication following this pop culture phenomenon since I was a kid, but I also believe Gundam deserves more recognition beyond Japan. While the game has some faults and can't compare to most modern SRPGs out there, it's a game which doesn't require a tremendous amount of attention to get into nor any background knowledge to understand. Cross Rays may push away people from its initial look. However, I challenge those who claim they have an interest in SRPGs to give this game a chance. The sheer amount of content jammed into it is astounding at the least (even before DLC), but more importantly, it could pique your interest in something much larger than itself.
This review is based on a free review copy provided to RPGFan by the developer. This relationship in no way influenced the reviewer's opinion of the game or its final score.