Imagine, if you will, that Square Enix’s Kingdom Hearts series expanded massively over the next decade. Over a dozen titles were released, allowing for hundreds of Disney and Final Fantasy characters to be introduced to the series. To keep up with the ever-twisting, ever-convoluted plot necessitated by this mish-mash of cameos, Square Enix also created upwards of fifty original characters.
Then, imagine that a “Kingdom Hearts: Original Generation” was released. Though the premise of all previous titles was to incorporate Disney (and FF) characters, this game took the many original characters (Sora, Kairi, and plenty of new ones) and put together their own story that was devoid of any outside sources to help move things along. It would feel… different, wouldn’t it?
Banpresto’s “Super Robot Taisen” series, though plenty older than Kingdom Hearts, operates from the same premise. Except, instead of Disney films, the unifying force in this “world of worlds” is classic mecha anime. Mazinger, Macross, Gundam, Evangelion, GoShogun, and lots more are represented in the SRT lineage (which is larger than I can care to tell). So, it came as a bit of a shock that when the series finally hit US shores (thanks to Atlus), the main draw for the series was thrown out the window and gamers were introduced to a whole cast of new characters rather than experiencing the staple of, well, lots of classic mecha.
That, and it’s on the GBA.
The plot of Original Generation is essentially a revised and rehashed combination of the varying plots in the SRT (and SRT Alpha) series. The game was intended for a Japanese audience, which already knew and loved the original cast of the SRT series, all the way from Adler to Zonvolt. The script was written for an audience that would already know plenty about each character; so we Americans are at a huge disadvantage when we try and come to the series so late in the game. Fortunately, those who tough it out will gain plenty from the game’s story, particularly in the realm of character development.
Another mitigating factor for US fans is Atlus’ translation, which (if you check the original script) is fairly loose. Some of the more complex character details were left out, and in place of them were usually some more basic details to help the player learn more about particular characters and events. In other words, Atlus did a great job in helping the US player to ease into the series nicely. Without them, it would have been like taking your typical modern Japanese teenager and converting them to Orthodox Judaism and expecting him or her to pick up on every little nuance in the first week. Purists may be upset when some grace and leeway is given for a “n00b” audience, but I was pleased with how Atlus handled the translation; they were certainly above the old standard of publishers who would just re-write the dialogue from start to finish.
When beginning the game, the player is forced to choose one of two protagonists, and this choice affects the game’s “path” drastically. The first half of the game is entirely different depending on which character you choose, and the second half, while generally converging (the non-chosen protagonist and his crew join your team), has plenty of variations depending on who your main character is.
The first choice, considered the “main” route, is that of Ryusei Date. This teenage boy is, strangely, quite similar to your typical SRT fan. He has a near obsession with mecha anime and he loves to play video games with mecha. Should you choose Ryusei’s path, your game begins with Ryusei playing at a national tournament for a mech simulator called “Burning PT.” While at the tournament, however, some fighting breaks out between rival factions in a war and Ryusei is hurried out of the building and thrown into a PT (Personal Trooper) of his own. He joins a military group known as SRX, led by Major Ingram, and soon learns that he was chosen to pilot the mech based on his abilities in the game “Burning PT.” In fact, Burning PT was essentially a recruiting tool for mech pilots, and Ryusei finds himself pitted against other “Burning PT” champs (such as Tenzan) who joined rival factions. For those wondering, yes, this is the exact same premise as the cult classic film “The Last Starfighter.”
The other choice, a “back story” route that gives a little more meat to the supporting cast, stars one Kyosuke Nanbu: a mech test pilot who slowly but surely learns the dark secrets behind a few of the many organizations that manufacture and use mecha for military purposes.
Speaking of, since this a military sci-fi sort of story, you need to be ready to memorize a whole lot of acronyms for organizations. They include, but are not limited to, the following: DC, UCC, EOT, EOTI, EFA, ATX, OOC, SRX, and (of course) SRW. The first half of the game (regardless of path) pits you against the DC, “Divine Crusaders,” who wish to unify the Earth under their banner to take on an impending alien threat.
The exposition may stink of cliché, but for me to demonstrate the finer points of the game’s plot would be to spoil the fun. I was surprised at how deeply I began to follow the many plots and subplots surrounding each and every character, be they friend or foe. Despite the similarity (particularly in gameplay) to other mech strategy RPGs (like the Front Mission series), the dialogue and events help to make a game that is really one of a kind. I give kudos to any handheld RPG with a strong plot, and this one really stood up to the challenge: hence, a 90% story grade.
Contrasting the high quality plot are the low quality graphics. Granted, this game is four years old (more thanks to Atlus for being willing to publish a title in 2006 when it was made in 2002). However, I personally own plenty of early-generation GBA titles with graphics that far exceed what I saw in this game.
The worst of the worst is the battlefield map; with the exception of gradiated colors, these graphics could easily be reproduced for the NES. I have seen screens of battlefields from SNES and PSOne SRT titles, and all of them fared better than what is on display in this game.
Battle animation is certainly better than the map, but it’s still not very impressive. One mech shoots a gun at (or charges toward) another mech, and after damage is taken, the other mech will return the favor. These animations are pretty choppy, and the “effects” of guns and laser beams being fired aren’t anything to be excited about. Sometimes, if an important character is doing a special attack, a still shot of the character piloting the mech will appear on the screen; but again, it’s not really “animated” at all.
Other than that, the dialogues that take place in-between battles are the only thing seen graphically. A background “room” will be presented behind the dialogue, and there are very few of these designs in the game (I’d guess less than ten). The text itself looks blocky, and the character portraits beside each bit of text aren’t exactly high resolution.
Graphically, the game suffers a critical blow. Of course, one shouldn’t be looking for superior graphics in a handheld game. So don’t be shocked by the 65% I just handed out.
There’s a lot of music to go around in the SRT series, mostly in the form of character themes that are played when a character makes an attack. This helps to keep the music varied while playing the game, though even these can make the audio overbearing by the end of the game. In terms of quality, I was very impressed. The “tinny” audio criticism, leveled against many GBA RPGs (particularly from Square Enix), holds no grounds against this game. That’s really impressive, considering the game was made in 2002.
Sound effects were decent, and there were plenty of different sounds to match the events of the game.
I’m glad to say that this aesthetic department didn’t do nearly as bad as the graphics. There was zero voice acting, though, but that’s not a big surprise considering the game’s age and platform. Sound gets an 80%.
The Super Robot Taisen series operates on a very successful formula. It is not just a Strategy RPG, but a breed of turn-based strategy that Japanese gamers have recognized as its own genre, with roots in games like Fire Emblem and Shining Force. The basics are pretty simple: you have your troops and enemy troops. There’s the player phase, then the enemy phase. During your phase (or “turn”) you move and attack, with a variety of weapons or abilities that have different range on the grid. When you attack, the enemy has a chance to counter or defend, and the same goes for you when it’s the enemy’s turn.
The difficulty level in Original Generation is up there. Outside of the basics, the real trick to surviving each of the 41 (or 42, if you’re good) episodes of Original Generation is knowing when to pull out the big guns. That, and character growth. Though HP, energy, and ammo are all replenishable by returning to the mother ship, the pilot’s SP (Spirit Points, your typical “ability” gauge) generally does not replenish. There are some invaluable skills, most of which affect the player for one turn only. They can increase your movement, guarantee a hit, guarantee an evasion, double damage, allow a second turn, heal allies, double money/exp earned, that sort of thing. But each character is severely limited in how many times these can be used. I lost many a mission because I used my best moves on regular troops and was then unable to defeat an overwhelmingly difficult boss (usually ones that regenerate HP after every turn).
There are some cheap methods to compensate for the game’s difficulty. Quicksave is available (though “quickload” is not), so you can keep attempting the same attack over and over until you get the desired results, regardless of your chance of success in a given move. Also, should you fail the mission and continue from the beginning, all money and experience earned in the failed mission carry over, so you can stock up pretty nicely from the beginning if you play your cards right.
Each mission has an objective. The usual winning and losing conditions are “kill all the enemies, and if you all die you lose,” but there are plenty of other objectives throughout the game (including one dreaded escort mission). SRT also features “battle masteries,” which are like bonus objectives. With these, you’ll have to finish the round in a short amount of time, or defeat an optional boss, or finish the round without losing any allies. Earning battle masteries actually increases the game’s difficulty level. That’s right: instead of choosing easy, normal, or hard, the game continually changes which of the three modes you’re on depending on your efficiency in conquering your foes. Should you still be on “hard” at the game’s end, a secret mission is unlocked and a more complete ending is shown. A word of caution: most players will be unable to do this in the first playthrough without a strategy guide.
Speaking of “playthroughs,” the game takes a fair amount of time to complete. It’s safe to say that I spent over 40 hours on the game, and I beat it while only passing minimal requirements. After completing the game, a “new game plus” mode is available, but you only carry over a few things (equipment, money, secret unlocked mechs). The game’s length was surprising.
In sum, the gameplay is definitely addictive, and for most gamers, it will probably be frustrating too. Paying attention to detail in character growth and mech customization only gets you so far: the rest is pure intuition on each map, or else reading a strategy guide to know what’s in store. Gameplay earns an 80%.
There’s not much to say, since this game is the epitome of non-action orientation. My chief concern is menu navigation, and I will say that it’s daunting from the get-go. Furthermore, there are no in-game tutorials for this complex menu system, and it takes a lot of trial and error to figure out what each of the four buttons (A, B, L and R) will do in any given menu. When a game has good control, most people are inclined to call it “intuitive.” These controls were not quite intuitive, if you ask me. And, since you’re reading this, I’d say you did ask me. 75% here.
If you like the turn-based strategy RPG genre (such as Fire Emblem), you’re almost guaranteed to enjoy this game. Be prepared to do a lot of reading, a lot of thinking, and a lot of losing. With that mindset, you can really enjoy this entry in Banpresto’s long line of mecha SRPGs. Despite having a deep love and respect for this game (and the series in general), my more rational and objective side recognizes that the game is far from perfect, and it isn’t entirely suitable for a casual gamer. For these reasons, the game is going to get a 78% overall from me. Those who choose to be hardcore about their gaming preferences, and those who are willing to go the extra mile to learn about the games they play, are definitely going to have a better time with this title and its 2005 sequel (released only a few months after this one in the US from Atlus). I’d say it’s a good rental, but considering how long the game is, you really may be better off buying it!