I find the number 2 to be the magic number in sequels. Most of the time, the 2nd game in an RPG series tends to be the best, showing what the series can really do, making it a fun game along with having the some of the best plot and/or characters in ones opinion. If it’s a long-running series, games after the 2nd often felt like they were never able to recapture what made the second one so great. Suikoden II (2), Dark Cloud 2, Arc The Lad II, Lunar 2, Star Ocean 2 and Digital Devil Saga 2 are some examples of excellent games that surpassed their predecessors in every way, and in Suikoden and Arc The Lad ‘s case felt like it failed to relive the same wonder in the future sequels.
In the same way that the second game can make a series, it can also break it. Xenosaga II, Alundra 2, and other RPGs exemplify this well; though a poor second game doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the series (see Final Fantasy II).
Super Robot Taisen (SRT): Original Generation 2 (OG2) falls under the former category. It’s a direct sequel to the first game that was originally released in 2002 (Japan) and later in August 2006, thanks to Atlus. OG1 was a stepping stone in the series for being the very game in this 15 year old franchise that ever made it to US shores. SRT is a Strategy RPG by Banpresto (who are slowly gaining ground in the US) that puts together characters and mechs (giant robots) from various anime onto one game, creating a coherent story while re-enacting various moments from their respective anime; and in the later games, they’ve include their own original characters to mix things up. Original Generation is an SRT series that features only original characters, and thanks to that, there are no license issues to deal with. This sequel was released in 2005 (Japan), then in November 2006 (US), published by Atlus once again. I expected a lot from the sequel, given how much I liked the previous game, but it turned out to be a much more worthwhile experience than I initially thought. Three years made quite a difference.
The story takes place 6 months after the events of the first game. Our courageous heroes took down the Aerogators in an epic battle, later referred to as the L5 Campaign. Prior to that, they had defeated the Divine Crusaders (DC) who had declared a civil war on all Earth factions. Remnants of the DC have remained since then, led by Colonel Van, following the late Bian Zoldark’s wishes to create a sole military force, mighty enough to take down the invaders and any others who stand in their way.
You start off as Kyosuke Nanbu and the other ATX members, Brooklyn (Bullet) Luckfield and Excellen Browning, along with the new captain of the Shirogane, Lee Linjun. Their job was to go and track down the DC Remnants (later known as the Neo DC), and defeat them once more in the name of Justice. During one of their encounters with the remnants, they rescue a woman piloting a very strange mech shaped like an angel who goes by the name of Lamia Loveless. Shortly after, she joins the ATX team to help them defeat the remnants. In secret, she has covert orders from an unknown faction.
Eventually, you will reunite with some of your old comrades from the first game, along with a number of new ones either fighting their own battle against the remnants or dealing with strange encounters. Despite how badly the DC got beaten in the first game, it’s unusual how they have so much firepower in such a short amount of time. Behind the scenes, there are a few people who joined the DC and managed to supply them with not only a lot of weaponry, but with advanced technology to boot. On the surface, it seems to merely be another war between the Earth Federation Army (EFA) and Neo DC, but there are much bigger threats watching, plotting from the shadows.
Unlike the first game, there is no character to choose from before starting, and instead, there will be a few route splits that occur throughout the game. You are given choices on which route to follow when the time comes, and will be able to see different viewpoints of the story. Each route has a fixed number of missions, and occurs three times in the game. It’s not like in Square’s Final Fantasy VI where you get to do all routes and progress. You can only pick one route, and the only way to play the other is by playing the game again. It’s a cheap way of giving the game more replay value, but I’m not going to complain.
I personally enjoyed the story a lot more than in the first game. The amount of text in the game is enormous, but it maintained my interest nonetheless. The plot has taken a darker tone this time around. The “Save the world” premise is still the main point, along with a lot of comedy bits between the characters; but there is more complexity in the story, featuring a number of emotional moments. You have to deal with four enemy factions this time around: some just want you dead, others desire the extermination of humanity! There are also new revelations on characters we know and love, and a couple of the characters who had a small role in the first game have received some needed development. You are able to fast forward any dialogue by holding R + A, and it’s a very nice feature if replaying a mission, not forcing you to go read through the dialogue again. If you use this feature because you are a totally lazy reader, then shame on you.
The drama primarily comes from the number of major deaths that occur throughout the game. Yes, people do die in war, that’s inevitable, but there’s bound to be characters you felt attached to that die, even from the first game. It can be heartbreaking when a character you liked kicked the bucket, never to shine again. There were villains I have also grown attached to, and it’s really unfortunate on the cruel fates they’ve received. Some, I felt deserved to live, not because I simply think they were cool, but because some were very honorable or had unfair circumstances. Not everyone gets a happy ending.
Regardless, the characterization and deaths were very well-done (partly thanks to Atlus), and when a game manages to get me emotional, then I consider it to be a winner in my book, and it does not happen very often.
The pacing was also well-done, having no filler or pointless missions whatsoever. Despite double the amount of enemies and complexity of the plot, it fit everything well onto to the small GBA cartridge, managing to tie up all major ends and more. Among the main plot, there are a lot of side-plots also tied to the main scenarios whose purpose was to give new insight or to flesh out a couple of characters. These plots fit well with the main story, and they never feel like they were out of place. The game’s ending left a lot of foreshadowing for some future events.
Like the first game, Atlus has published and localized the game, doing another solid translation job. They managed to translate a complicated script quite well, and they have made all the characters interesting, just like in the first game. Having to localize it to an American market, there are a number of mechs, characters and weapons that got translated, and hardcore fans of the series who’ve only been playing the imports (like there is much choice) are certainly not pleased. One prime example is that Sanger’s (Zengar) mech is called Dygenguard, NOT Daizengar. Despite Banpresto artbooks calling it Dygenguar (Atlus added a D), Daizengar is what fans call it, and being exposed to the fan translations for so long, a lot people will remain stubborn to official translations. I initially thought it was a weird name too, but it’s only a name, and it didn’t decrease my enjoyment of the game. I like the translation job Atlus has done, and it’s nice just to have the game to English in the first place.
The plot and characters may be fairly cliché, but what matters is how it was executed. At the end of the game, I felt the execution of the plot and characters was superb, and surpassed its predecessor.
Graphics are easily the biggest improvement in OG2. The mechs are still chibi (little), so for those who dislike the style in the first, tough luck: it’s been a tradition in the series since the first game, excluding one SNES game. The mech designs have vastly improved, each of them having sharper quality and more unique style. There are some which I thought were so-so, primarily some of the Huckebein models. Also, the Gespensts are a bit too chibi, though it’s no big deal. There are also a lot of great-looking new models featured to excite over.
While the map environments and backgrounds during conversations are still on the dull side, they are all sharper, and there are some interesting new locales. Character avatars got a lot of improvement, though it’s mostly little touch-ups. There are also effects on the avatar, like it becomes static when a character is talking through a monitor, or it fizzles out when an enemy or ally is defeated. Small touches like that are always welcome.
What really make the graphics shine in the game are the amazing battle animations. They are honestly the best animations I have seen on any GBA game that I have played. While the first game had interesting attacks, it felt clunky, stiff and limited, unable to fully show the “oomph” of these attacks as seen in some of the console SRT games. It was originally a 2002 game though, and did good for its time. Three years later, the difference is night and day.
The attacks are much more impressive, flowing like a river, thanks to excellent frame rates. The models have much more flexibility, being able to show a lot more different variety of attacks. It also managed to blend in the cut-ins (showing close ups of a mech) a lot better, and even the cut-ins are well animated.
For the attack themselves, you still got your number of generic missile, gun or beam attacks, but even those look good. With such a heavy graphics update, you’re bound to be pleased with something in this version, be it the wild Super Robot anime style attacks, or more realistic looking moves. If you get tired of the animations, you can always turn them off or skip it with a press of a button, but it’s still worthwhile to watch them occasionally.
Looking at the beauty of OG2 afterwards, it’s difficult to look back at OG1. Banpresto really went above and beyond showing what the GBA can pull off. Bravo!
The audio department is more of the same, with a lot of worthy songs added, along with greatly improved sound effects to create a pleasing experience for your ears.
While there are a lot of the same songs intact, the quality has improved, making it an even more enjoyable listen. Added to the song roster are lots of new theme songs, and some decent background music. Many of your new allies come with their own songs, each a have a unique style. A lot of the new songs I enjoyed most came from the villain side. To me, they have much more interesting and memorable songs, and a couple of times I just leave the game on as their themes are being played (since there is no OST for the game). It was nice how a lot of villains got their own songs, unlike in OG1 where most villains didn’t have unique themes. Among the villain songs, I have enjoyed Axel’s, Vindel’s and Ouka’s themes the most, and I highly anticipate full quality PS2 versions of their songs (from Original Generations). When you beat the game, there is a hidden sound test option when playing on a New Game + (more on that later), so you can listen to all 52 songs in the game. Why make it hidden? Who knows what Banpresto was thinking, but it’s there at least.
The sound effects of the game have greatly improved, and complementing with the attack animations, it gave all the attacks a lot more impact to them. These two elements truly made all the attacks dynamic.
The controls are exactly the same as the first game, which I found to be perfect. A to confirm, B to cancel, Start to go to the menu, Select for map, L and R to select a unit. You can also soft-reset pressing A, B, Start and Select together. Can it honestly get any simpler than that?
I’d like to also mention the improved interface. While the menus remain the same overall, there were some added sub-categories to improve organization. Starting from the menu during battle, the battle mastery (more coverage in the gameplay section) has its own section now. In the first game, you have to go to the mission’s option and scroll right to see the condition. It’s simple, but there was no indication to know it was there, thus a lot of players never figured it out. Having its own section helps tremendously, and also indicates when battle mastery conditions changed.
The main interface improvement comes from the character customization. When you go spend Pilot Points (PP) on a character, it splits into categories. The three main ones are raising stats, skills and terrain adaptivity. The skill section is the most organized, splitting different skills onto subgroups (attack, defense, special, etc.).
The gameplay itself remains the same, and I am content with this. It still has elements of Fire Emblem and Front Mission. Fire Emblem portions come from the battle mechanics, individual characters, and more. Front Mission portions come from customization without actual replacement of a mechs parts. Those who played the previous Original Generation, or about any other SRT game would instantly get into the game. Most Strategy RPG gamers will be able to pick up the game quickly. There is no tutorial to speak of, so novices have to figure it out the hard way.
For those who are new to the game (or a greenhorn in S-RPG), here are the basics. Like all other S-RPG, you are on a grid that has both you (allies) and the enemies, with an occasional neutral unit. You take turns to move your respective units, and get close enough to engage the enemy (depending on your weapon’s range). When attacking or being attacked, it displays the percent on how accurate you and your enemy’s attacks are. Aside from a few special attacks, an attack depletes either ammo or EN (Energy). Each character also has something called spirits (6 each). It basically enhances a pilot’s performance, usually by gaining temporary boosts. Good usage of spirits can easily turn the battles to your favor.
Example: Alert enables the unit to completely avoid even a 100% hit attack for 1 battle, and it’s a lifesaver.
Spirits also provide support to other units in various ways.
Example: Bless doubles the money an ally earns in the next attack, and Bless doubles the EXP earned in the next battle.
There are also a couple of combo attacks unique to the game. In the first game, there were only two combos, and while impressive, it felt like there was not enough or they don’t feel that essential. The combos are back in the game, this time with four additions, totaling to six. They are certainly welcome additions, and proved to be very useful. One of the new combos included is an infamous one from everyone’s favorite duo Sanger and “Ratsel.” They become essential by the end of the game, tearing through very difficult bosses, bypassing some barriers, plus they look awesome to boot. Upgrade them well, and you will love them.
Objectives are usually straightforward “kill all enemies” or “kill off the boss,” though sometimes just beating the boss or a certain boss (if more than one) will give you a mission complete even if it does not say in the objective. Among objectives, you have extra objectives called battle masteries: these relate to some secrets and a special bonus level that leads to the true ending. It gives you more to do during missions, but they are usually not hard either.
Between missions, there is time to upgrade mechs. While it is very expensive to upgrade them all, there are nice bonuses to look forward to. You can also enhance your mech units by equipping them with parts to give them stat boosts, increase accuracy, along with a bunch of other equips. There is a slot limit to them, and stronger mechs tend to have fewer slots. Weapons are upgraded similar to mechs, but only increases damage.
There are a couple of nice additions to the game, including customization bonuses, hidden “relationship” boosts in battle, and other things that aren’t addressed in-game but will help you if you attempt to utilize them.
While the gameplay remains the same, the game is much harder than big-brother OG1. It’s also considered to be one of the hardest SRT titles to date. Regular enemies are stronger and meaner: they hit harder, more accurately, and about anything else that will give you a harder time. You can still crush them with ease if you do it correctly, but if they got some good hits on your guys, say bye-bye. They also have a tendency to score hits on very low odds. I had moments when my character gets killed by a lucky hit.
Bosses in the game are much more deserving of being called bosses. While some were tough in the first game, a lot of them felt like they were mini-bosses and could be destroyed easily, like most regular enemies. It was not until late in the game that you’d see bosses breaking the 5 digit HP barrier (with their HP appearing as ????? until you knocked it below 99999). This time around, there are at least 5 times as many bosses that broke the HP barrier, and they make all the OG1 bosses look like wimps. Fortunately, the majority of them do not have pesky barriers, but they are very dangerous regardless, and some can kill even an armored unit in one blow. They even appear early in the game to make things more difficult for you, so be very careful. Luckily for you, they do retreat most of the time.
With tough enemies, and dangerous bosses, you are also given crazy scenarios, especially in the latter half, going against odds that are nowhere near in your favor. Sometimes a little patience goes a long way, and you will begin to see the light to victory.
Despite all the nagging on the difficulty, I never felt it was cheap or unfair. Your skill as the player is what really determines how the battles go. Even if your mechs and pilots are beefed up, it won’t mean a thing if you can’t make the best use of them. With great power comes great responsibility, and it is your responsibility to make the best of what you are given, and turn the battle to your favor. It might seem overwhelmingly difficult, but it’s never impossible. Most of the missions, putting your units in the right positions can really make a difference, and can help earn your masteries. The last few levels feel like a gauntlet run, pitting you against a lot of very difficult foes. It becomes a survival of the fittest, and it’s quite intense, but fun in its own right. A lot of times after a difficult mission, I felt very satisfied by how I managed to accomplish my objectives. Making excellent use of your characters’ spirits and giving your pilots proper skills can also lead you the realm of victory. In the end, what determines victory or defeat lies in your own skills.
Upon completion of the game there is a New Hame + feature. It basically accumulates a certain percentage of money and PP you have earned through the previous game onto the new game, enabling you to customize the good stuff earlier, and try characters that you didn’t make much use of before. An EX-Hard mode is also unlocked for completing the game, which is an even more vicious difficulty of an already difficult game. This caters for the most hardcore strategy fan. Upon completing EX-Hard (I applaud you), you unlock Special Mode, and unfortunately, I don’t know anything about this mode.
I found the first game to be one of the best gaming surprises of 2006. I expected just another strategy game, but with robots, and that turned into a bit of an obsession for me instead of a normal gaming experience I expected a lot from the sequel, though I tried not to hype myself up for it. Fortunately, OG2 not only met my expectations, but far exceeded it, and it was a great experience. Even if the sequel is far superior, I still recommend playing the first game to introduce the characters, plot and gameplay. It would also make you appreciate the beauty of OG2.
One final note: later this year, there will be a release in Japan featuring major remakes of both OG games on the PlayStation 2 entitled “Super Robot Taisen: Original Generations.” It is made to celebrate the series’ 15th (soon to be 16th) anniversary. I am really hoping Atlus will license and localize this beauty, especially considering that both games are already here, and they will again be able to avoid licensing issues with the anime that accompanies most other SRT titles. I want to see more of this great series in English.