It was the year 2201 AD. The Earth had been mostly united under the United Nations and the outlook for peace was just around the corner...until they came. This army, called Who Forces due to their mysterious nature, attacked the Earth from all corners at once with such advanced weaponry that the UN was defenseless to stop them. As the war dragged on, the UN realized that they must find some way to match the invaders' technology and soon. This break came for them relatively early in the war, when the UN managed to force a WF scouting party to retreat before they were able to retrieve the prototype mecha that was to be warped in on their position. Now that they have the unit, the only question that remained was how to utilize the technology...
Future Zero, the first (and only, since their Website is down) RPG by Osis, is a turn based strategy in the vein of the popular Super Robot Wars series. Broken up into two storylines with about 26 episodes each (the typical length of a TV series in Japan), Future Zero appeals to the mecha anime fans who would like to see an original series that feels similar to the shows that they grew up watching in the late 70's and 80's.
Future Zero succeeds admirably in their main objective: to create a game that has interesting gameplay while delivering a story that is corny enough to fit pretty much 99% of every stereotypical mech show in its heyday. You have the Super Robot story line starring the Valtos team, while on the side of the "Real-Robots", we see a group of advanced mecha (Tracers) called the Hercule.
Each of the storylines has its own cast of main characters and bad guys, and while many of them have similarities, such as having the same group of bad guys for both storylines and keeping many of the supporting characters the same, each story manages to feel different enough to make playing the game on both sides worthwhile. The Valtos story line involves a transformable super robot and is derived completely from 70's mecha anime and has all the good stuff like aliens, internal strife, Valtos' weak point, and more. On the flip side of things, the Hercule story feels more like Gundam or VOTOMS with the story concentrating more on a military group fending off an alien attack than a superhero teamish feel that Valtos has.
The setup for most of the game is very similar. You have the adventure section where the story unfolds (with 100% vocals for everything!), the gameplay section, the intermission where you can load or save, and then back to the adventure section. The gameplay itself is set up like a typical turn-based strategy game. It uses a 45 degree map where you can move or attack, and when a battle occurs the screen cuts to a close up battle scene, with the two units duking it out while shouting various battle cries (also with 100% vocals).
One aspect in which the game tries to be realistic is the directions. Your accuracy and damage is affected by the direction you (or the enemy) are attacking from, with the back attack being the most favorable. In addition, the distance you're attacking from is also taken into account, so you'll probably try to get up close to deal the maximum amount of damage even if you're attacking with a ranged weapon.
Unlike most games of its kind, Future Zero does not allow for any upgrades or leveling up of the robots at all, which adds significantly to the challenge of the game. The only leveling up that takes place is with the pilots and even there is not a big chance. The leveling up of pilots mainly affects the amount of TP points each pilot has. TP is basically a statistic modifier, which affects the basic aim and dodging stats of the robot that pilot is on. When you take a hit, your TP decreases, so basically, the worse you do, the worse off you are.
The graphics of Future Zero probably suffer the most. Like 95% of all Japanese PC games, Future Zero uses 256 color VGA graphics for most of the game, with special CGs making use of a full palette. What we get is a game that looks like it came out in the early 90's for most of the game, with CGs that looks like it came out of a recent adventure game. It's something that I've gotten used to after playing so many of these, but people who are accustomed to high quality graphics everywhere will probably have a hard time stomaching it. On the bright side of things, most the attacks are well animated, unlike the older Super Robot Wars game.
If the graphics of Future Zero are so lackluster, then why the dual CDs? Aside from the 415 megs (I counted) of vocal tracks, Future Zero also has CD audio, which is heck lot better than the MIDI files you're stuck with otherwise. Of course, you can only access the CD audio if you have all the vocal files installed, but it's probably preferable to have a full installation than be stuck with a crappy sounding sound track while playing the game.
All in all, Future Zero is a pretty decent game. Any mecha fan will probably just eat it up, and the game itself is deep enough for strategy game fans to get into, and the game is actually challenging without resorting to super power units. Give it a try if you ever get the chance to run by it. >