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Drone Tactics
Platform: Nintendo DS
Publisher: Atlus
Developer: Success
Genre: Strategy RPG
Format: Cartridge
Released: US 05/12/08
Japan 08/02/07
Official Website: English Site



Scorecard
Graphics: 83%
Sound: 88%
Gameplay: 88%
Control: 90%
Story: 65%
Overall: 81%
Reviews Grading Scale
 
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Design customization, right down to the pixelated details.
 
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This means the enemy is going to die.
 
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Your base can only level up by purchasing upgrades.
 
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3D combat on your DS? Yes, please!
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Patrick Gann
Drone Tactics
06/14/08
Patrick Gann

Atlus USA has truly hit it off well with Japanese developer "Success." The people behind "Izuna" and "Rondo of Swords" have really helped the RPG library on the Nintendo DS. The latest Atlus/Success title to come our way is "Drone Tactics", known in Japan as "Konchuu (Insect) Wars". Though it may look like the sort of game that appeals to children by way of exploiting a popular franchise, Drone Tactics works with an original setting and characters.

Story

In Drone Tactics, you control an ever-growing party of children, youth, and adults in a faraway planet called "Cimexus," where the only inhabitants are sentient, peaceful insects. These insects claim that there world was established by humans long ago, and they are happy to see their masters return. However, one such master comes with evil intention.

Yes, insectologist Dr. Gidoh decides that he will use the creatures of Cimexus to conquer earth. How, you ask? The Cimexian variety of bugs come with a special power, apparently established by humans in a prior age. With the use of almost magical–though technically electronic–"Master Cards," the tiny insects of Cimexus transform into giant mecha-bugs with incredible strength and an arsenal of weaponry. During this time, the insect loses its ability to act on its own, and its "master" maintains full control of the mechanized creature as its pilot.

If all of this sounds a little far-fetched, or simply too corny to take in, know that you're not alone. Nearly every game critic has said the same thing about this game's plot. However, I find myself obliged to come to the game's defense, if only because I enjoyed the story. The plot itself is terribly weak, but the characters (mostly children) are solid, and the dialogue as rendered into English by Atlus is simply top-notch. Between every mission, if you want to get to know characters better, you can opt to talk to them while at your base (similar to the Super Robot Taisen GBA titles, also released by Atlus).

The plot is completely linear, with no alternate endings, even if you play on different difficulty levels. One run through the game gives all the plot you could ever want or need; of course, most people don't want or need this game's plot anyway. Let's talk about the good stuff now.

Gameplay

The meat and potatoes of this Strategy RPG is exactly like what you'd expect it to be. The basics are as follows. Turns are separated by player, then enemy (with a third "support" party acting separately if they exist for that particular battle). Every unit has three types of attack: melee, gun, and cannon. The first two are short range, the third being the only long-range option. If the player wants to maximize a unit's capabilities in one field, equipment slots for the other two types can be used to boost strength, accuracy, defense, HP, etc, instead of being able to use all three types of attack. Furthermore, when you are being attacked, you can choose to counter, defend, or evade. Generally, ground units use melee or cannon, and flying units use guns. Each unit type (based on a different type of insect) has some sort of hidden, correlating effect. For example, the grasshopper can move before and after attacking, and the butterfly can heal for double the normal amount. Along with the required "base" unit (a giant snail), you are allowed to bring a maximum of eight other players into the field.

What makes combat special in Drone Tactics are the cards. You can bring a deck with a total of 16 cards into the battle, each card able to be played once during the battle. There are two card types: field and battle. Field cards vary from healing and enhancing to really unique options like unit transport, allowing an ally to act again, or even putting up physical barriers. Battle cards, however, are different. Their success or failure rely on your ability to succeed in one of four different mini-games requiring the use of the touch screen. Yes, I know it sounds like a big gimmick, but it's actually fun! One game is a simple "tap the screen as fast as you can." Another allows you to either swat flies or, if you're the one defending/evading, dodging the enemy's fly-swatter for five seconds. A third involves strategic bomb-hurling over a line, and the last one is a simple "whack-a-mole" game. Battle cards have effects like dealing higher damage for each attack type, adding effects to the enemy (such as lowering defense or evasion), and there are special cards for counter-attacks, defense, and evasion.

Cards are generally obtained by finding them in treasure chests on the field. A few rare ones can be obtained by memorizing rune-like "crests" found on the actual battle maps and then drawing them in a special menu. Still others can only be obtained by synthesizing a bunch of lesser cards into a greater one (this can be done with recipes or by experimenting in a "free mix" mode).

Because the number of cards you bring into battle are limited, two key strategic decisions must be made. First, which cards will you bring? Second, how will you use them? There are a few cards that will allow you to decimate your opponents, but you have to decide which opponents will receive the one-shot and which will be taken down the old-fashioned way. This adds to the challenge, regardless of the difficulty level you're playing at. That is, just like the story, the content is the same on all difficulty levels.

There are just under 30 missions in the game's linear plot, but each battle takes a while, so you're looking at a minimum of 15 hours. If you need the extra experience points (I know I did, and I played on easy...), you can enter "The Badlands" between missions for some classic level-grinding.

Outside of combat, customization is emphasized as being important. Color schemes and emblem design can be customized for each and every giant insect on your team. I had a lot of fun playing around with this system.

Drone Tactics takes a simple, successful formula for Strategy RPGs, and then it tacks on just enough extras to make it stand out from the crowd. Believe me, if you like Strategy RPGs, you'll really enjoy Drone Tactics.

Control

The touch screen is always functional as an alternative to D-pad and buttons for menu navigation, and the control on the mini-games works great. The user interface is excellent for pretty much every menu in the game, including the customization/design menus. I was impressed.

Sound

You know what surprised me about this game? I played it from start to finish without knowing who the composer was, and then was shocked to discover, in the end credits, who was behind it all. As I played, I thought, "wow, this game has a pretty decent score!" Are you ready for the bombshell? ... Motoi Sakuraba.

Yeah, Sakuraba. The guy who writes more VGM than any normal human should be able to. The guy behind almost every tri-Ace soundtrack. The "Tales of" head composer. The man whom I have loved and hated so many times for his heavy drum-and-bass music. And here's the really crazy part: this soundtrack is nothing like any of the aforementioned titles' soundtracks. The battle themes are nothing like what you'd expect. If anything, I would've guessed this to be the work of Hitoshi Sakimoto and his friends at Basiscape. To have discovered this almost unknown work from Sakuraba was a pure joy for this audiophile.

But even if I hadn't seen the man's name, I'd be praising the soundtrack. The only problem is the lack of content: I'd guess there were about twenty songs written for this game. Considering the game's length, that's a fair amount, but if Sakuraba had kept composing songs in this style, I'd be happy to hear it. Maybe a sequel is in order?

Graphics

The game's graphics are generally functional. Simple 2D still portraits have been made for each of the human characters, and we get some decent 3D animation for battle sequences. That's about it. No real complaints here; I've certainly seen worse on the DS, but I haven't seen much better. Still, when was the last time you were excited about the graphical prowess of the Nintendo DS? Exactly my point.

Overall

I wasn't expecting myself to enjoy this game. My goal was to plow through it and write a review for a web site, likely saying "yeah, this is another mediocre game from Success and Atlus." But, in my opinion, this title beats the pants off of the last Success game Atlus brought us (Rondo of Swords), and if you can swallow the weak plot and the obvious appeal towards younger gamers, what you have left is an excellent Strategy RPG for everyone's favorite handheld device. Don't hesitate to try this one!



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© 2008 Atlus, Success. All rights reserved.


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