SD Gundam Battle Alliance is a fascinating game. Not only is it a part of a new wave of Gundam games releasing in the West, it feels like two separate games: one is multiplayer, a blast with friends, and the other is single player, and, well, it feels a bit rougher.
No matter how you play, the major details are the same. SD Gundam Battle Alliance is an action RPG with a bit of musou DNA, but with a focus on defense. You’ve got basic light and heavy attacks, but along for the ride are a ranged attack and two sub weapons unique to each of the dozens of available mobile suits. Guarding and dodging with perfect timing are crucial skills, as they can prevent huge amounts of damage, refill your boost gauge, or even trigger a powerful counterattack. There’s plenty of mindless fun hack-and-slashing through grunt units, but bosses require a careful eye and some execution of defensive options to succeed.
The trappings around battle, meanwhile, are a bit low key. The story is primarily an excuse to pull dozens of Gundams together in a way that allows a full toybox of mechanized brawlers. The world of G: Universe is a digital recreation of various Gundam series’ histories, but for some unknown reason, those histories are twisting and merging together. Your job is to restore the canon timeline before these changes affect the real world. This is, of course, accomplished by hopping in a mobile suit and blowing up other mobile suits.
The story isn’t without a few twists, but it never really deviates from “play a level, get a small story drop, play other levels until you can play the canon version of that level.” It’s a repeating cycle that works well enough as an excuse to fire off a few beam cannons, but the most interesting parts are simply the explanations of the much more interesting Gundam anime series added to a library viewer when each one unlocks. There are dozens of these movies, and each one serves as a gateway to a different Gundam series. While the wealth of playable mobile suits and deep-cut references scream that this is a game for fans, the friendly primers on each series make the game welcoming to newcomers. I’ve yet to find a player, existing fan or not, that hasn’t been interested in watching at least one series after spending time in G: Universe.
But the thin story means the focus is placed on two primary gameplay mechanics: fighting battles and upgrading your mobile suits. The success of the two varies from moment to moment.
See, SD Gundam Battle Alliance was clearly made to be played with two friends. A focused team with well-balanced stats and a thoughtful game plan can overcome the strongest challenges ahead. A solo player, like I was? Well, I had to be prepared to kick any given mission down to easy because the alternative meant hours upon hours of grinding to make up for the relative uselessness of my AI partners. One of our staff members completed the game multiplayer and shines a bit more light on the multiplayer experience. In their words:
Before I even started playing SD Gundam Battle Alliance, I had a friend rallying for me to buy it and play it with him. I was impressed that we had a Japanese game that was built around co-op without any caveats, such as mission progress tracked on the host, or co-op partners only able to play partner gundams. SD Gundam Battle Alliance’s co-op allows you to join lobbies, progress your own story missions, help others, and generally go at your own pace. More importantly, multiplayer is how SD Gundam Battle Alliance was meant to be played.
While much of SD Gundam Battle Alliance can be played solo, the AI isn’t cut out for challenges. Prominent characters from the Gundam franchise at your side are no match for an actual person, sadly. When you have actual humans piloting other Gundams, regular missions become much easier and chaos/difficult missions become possible. Though solo play is certainly an option, I highly recommend playing SD Gundam Battle Alliance with a multiplayer focus because it becomes an infinitely more enjoyable experience. Likewise, with a recent update that improves multiplayer functionality, it’s an even better experience than it was on launch.
That’s not to say that the game is unplayable solo, but there are a lot of caveats. Obviously, difficulty is the primary concern, as the sheer overwhelming numbers of opponents and the tight perfect-guard timing make enemy aces a chore. But perhaps more limiting is the progression system.
There is a single currency, capital, for leveling your mobile suits. Mobile suits do not develop with use, nor do any mobile suits start at higher levels later in the game. This means your easiest path to progression is to pick a single mobile suit from one of the early stages to beat the entire game with, even though most fan favorites are locked in later stages. Leveling a new suit for story use always means grinding the newest levels multiple times to gain enough capital to catch up a lagging level, which discourages experimentation with the huge roster during the main playthrough of the game. And without friends to grind with, replaying old stages gets old quickly. Few stages offer any significant gameplay difference, so even playing new stages can feel a bit repetitive, much less replaying the same ones.
The whole critical path seems to hold you back every time you want to open up and run. As a lifelong Gundam fan who wanted to use some of my favorite suits, I had to dedicate multiple play sessions to leveling my favorite suits with no real progression in the core game. It adds up to an uneven experience, one that plays far better with friends, one that demands a lot of your time and attention, and one that feels excessively grindy. This approach will certainly work for some fans. After all, I’m a huge musou fan, and grinds like this are perfect relaxation for me. But being blocked from using fan-favorite suits until you grind with a completely different suit is a bitter pill to swallow.
Luckily, for every moment you dread another repetitive mission, you find three where you discover a new series, find a cool new mobile suit, or find a hidden conversation to delight longtime fans. There is a competent core game and an amazing celebration of the entire Gundam series here. You just have to survive a lot of grinding, frustrating bosses, and poor AI to find it. Take our advice: this is a ride you want to take with a friend.