I’ll be honest right off the bat- I am really not much of a mecha (giant robot) fan in general. While I do enjoy some of the more mind-boggling mecha anime such as RahXephon, comedic action dramas such as Full Metal Panic!, or plain ol’ old school antics, such as Mazinkaiser, I find the genre to be too dense and technical for my overall enjoyment. As a fellow strategy RPG fan, and hearing about the Super Robot Taisen (more referred to as Super Robot Wars) series, I gave this game a shot. Despite my lack of interest in the mecha genre, I wound up greatly enjoying the game; it definitely came as a pleasant surprise during this RPG infested year.
If you haven’t heard of the developer Banpresto, than I don’t blame you. None of their games have reached American shores until now, despite having a fanbase. Their flagship series, Super Robot Taisen, has been around since the Game Boy generation in 1991. The franchise became popular by putting several licensed mecha anime into one game while also forging a solid story. The mecha craze has been huge in Japan since the ’70s, making this every mecha fan’s dream game. Who wouldn’t want to go play as their favorite Gundam?
The series spawned numerous games adding in more and more different mecha series along with the plots getting more text-heavy. As timed passed, Banpresto has been developing their own original characters and mechs to add to their games. With the increased interest in the original characters along with a growing library, Banpresto has developed the Original Generation series in 2002, and later on, Original Generation 2 in 2005. Moving forward to 2006, Atlus licensed the rights to both Original Generation games to be released here making them the first of the series to be released outside of Japan. Now here I am talking about the 1st of the Original Generation games. Like the title implies, this features ONLY original characters, and mechs so don’t expect any Gundams, EVA’s and all the other licensed mechs to be featured at all.
Long ago as humanity began the space era, two meteors struck Earth around the start of the 21st century. This caused turmoil among humanity and shaped the way it became later. In the year 179 of the space era, there was a 3rd meteor that struck the Earth. That meteor contained advanced alien technology, dubbed Extra-Over Technology (EOT). Due to the technology from that meteor, the Extra-Over Technology Investigation committee (EOTI) was formed by Dr. Bian Zoldark in order to study the technology more. Upon investigation of the EOT, Bian discovered an alien plot to invade Earth. Bian informed the Earth Federal Government (EFG; there are a lot of abbreviations) of this recent discovery and thus began the development of mechs, dubbed Personal Troopers (PT) in order to fight the impending threat.
Years later, the buglike aliens (called Aerogators) emerged, though they didn’t put up much of a fight, thus drawing suspicion among the EFG. Despite the lack of hostility, the EFG are still prepared to take them out by any means. It was during the time of the Aerogators’ appearance that a civil war was started by the Divine Crusaders (DC), led by Bian to take on Earth’s various factions.
You get two choose between two lead characters at the start of the game. The first choice is Ryusei Date: a hotheaded, energetic fellow, who is also the biggest mech fan in the universe. He won a national gaming tournament playing Burning PT (A mech simulator). Nearby, the Far East Brigade (a military faction) did readings on all the contestants and showed interest in Ryusei. Ryusei willingly joined the military and was assigned to the SRX team teaming with captain Aya Kobayashi and Raidiese (Rai) F. Branstein. The three are led by the enigmatic Ingram Pliskin. Your other character choice is Kyosuke Nanbu. He is a calm and collective soldier with sharp instincts who transferred to Langley base, sometime after the mech he was testing got destroyed. He became part of the ATX and befriended his teammates, Excellen Browning (the biggest flirt in the universe), Brooklyn (Bullet) Luckfield, and the head honcho, Sanger Zonbolt, as well as a few others within the base.
Both heroes are fighting the same war from varying perspectives and overcoming their own trails. After a series of events, both groups eventually team up and defeat any evil that stands in their way.
The story concept isn’t very original since we all heard the whole good vs. evil, and saving the world concepts in many other RPGs. While lacking in originality, the execution was well done. It made good use of plot twists, and though I could predict some events that would happen later, there were still some unexpected surprises in store. At first I felt like I got thrown into the story a little too quickly, feeling a little lost as to what was going on. I did manage to pick up quickly, but it can be issue to some. Beware that the game is very dialogue heavy and with no voice acting, you have to read a lot of text. There is a balance between dialogue and action so it is not like Namco’s Xenosaga where it feels like there more story than actual gameplay. It is worth reading through the interesting dialogue so there is no need to skip them (not that you can.) If you do not like to read than I would wonder why you’d play this genre in the first place.
The real strength lies in the colorful cast of characters. Once again, Atlus has done a great localization job and expressed the individuality of the characters well. You might wind up relating to one of the characters, or at least having a favorite or two. The characters types are mostly typical, expressing such traits as cool, macho, shy, arrogant, diva, flirty, nerdy, sweet, perverted and more. We may have seen these kinds before, but they were done with style and were memorable, with fun battle quotes. Two standouts for me were the flirty girl who hit on anything that moved, friend or foe, and the chivalrous guy with a horrible sense of direction. There were some interesting villains too, mainly Tenzan Nakajima who is also a gamer, who would call people weaker than him n00b’s, and saying he will grind (extreme leveling) in order to defeat his foes and rule the world. With this large cast of allies, characters with smaller roles didn’t have much character development, though the bigger characters were well done. The game had a nice sense of humor as well; the characters would often joke around with each other, but the game would get dramatic at the right moments. There is a good balance between comedy and drama overall. It would’ve been much more difficult to enjoy the plot if the characters were soulless and one-dimensional, as in other sci-fi games.
With two stories to choose from and 41 missions each (42 if you are qualified for it), the game is quite lengthy for one side of the story alone, and going through another as well as a new game plus, adds a lot of replay value. While the plot and characters may lack in originality, the execution was well done, still making it engaging and enjoyable.
The graphics of the game is the weakest link, unfortunately. To be fair, the game was released back in 2002, though by today’s standards, it shows its age. Starting with the positives, I liked the various mech designs. There were a variety of unique mech designs for both the heroes and villains. The cool designs plus a good color palette made the units look distinct and interesting. Of course, with many of the same mechs at your disposal, be prepared to witness a lot of Gespenst and Messer models, though in different colors. It is no surprise that the enemies use a lot of their same units numerous times as well. Keep in mind as well that all the other games in the series, robot designs are super-deformed. If you are turned off by the style, then this won’t change your mind.
There are many battle animations too and some are quite flashy. Unfortunately the animations for some of the attacks are choppy, thus feeling dated. The animations for the weaker, more common weapons feel pretty generic too. From here, it goes downhill. The maps themselves are very plain and there is not much variety between them; typical sea, forest, space (lots of lots of space) battles with some touch-ups here and there, but it feels flat. Your allies are displayed using little head icons of their respective mechs, but the problem is that a lot of the mechs look a little too similar with most of the others. The issue becomes more apparent when you are controlling up to 20 mechs at your disposal. The dialogue scenes before and after fights are presented in an empty room with avatars of the characters speaking in the corners. The character expressions and designs are nice, with a fairly good range of expression. The rooms themselves lack in variety, often being recycled even when you’re told you’re in a different place. The graphics are good for what they are, but a downer overall.
The sound of the game is positive, over all. There is no voice acting whatsoever on the game so you have to read through all that dialogue. This was back in 2002 when the Game Boy Advance was still fairly new so that’s passable. I found the music to be enjoyable. There was a good amount of music being played throughout the game fitting the scenes very well. What I found nice was that a lot of the characters had their own battle themes, thus adding more variety to the music available. It also gave more understanding to the personality of the character; the manly men got manly songs while more fun characters got quirky themes.
Despite the various theme songs, my personal gripe is that a lot of the characters share the same theme song. It mostly comes from minor characters, and it is understandable that the GBA can’t hold a giant amount of songs. Even so, there are some characters with a semi-large role that should have had their own song. A prime example is Bullet who was one of the major ATX members as well as one of the more important characters along Kyosuke’s route. He wound up sharing songs with the minor characters. The character theme songs were still good and memorable, though.
What I found to be surprising was the quality of the music. There were very few bleeps and bloops overall, so it did not sound like a Game Boy Color game or weak MIDI. The good quality made the music even more interesting to listen to. Check out Banpresto’s Summon Night as an example of low quality MIDI music, though even that music sounds good despite its low synth quality.
The weakest part of the sound department has to be the sound effects. They get the job done with all the weapon and power up effects sounding proper. Lasers sound like lasers, missiles sound like missiles, guns sound like guns and so on. The technical limits of the GBA make the sound effects sound pretty cheap, but still proper. The main issue is that the sound effects sound weak on impact during battle animations. They lack “oomph!” when the attack hits the target. That and the choppy animations degrade the impact of attacks. Over all, though, the sound is good thanks to the memorable, high quality music.
If you have played one strategy RPG, than you pretty much played them all. This game does not provide anything radically different from other games in the genre. But that doesn’t stop the game from being fun. The gameplay is a mixture of Fire Emblem and Front Mission, while having some of its own elements.
The bulk of the game borrows from Fire Emblem’s mechanics. You have your overhead map displaying icons of your characters colored in blue, along with enemy icons, displayed in red. Like Fire Emblem, you don’t create or recruit characters; you are given new characters to play and level up. But unlike Fire Emblem, there are no permanent deaths. You would pay a repair fee by the end of the stage instead. Before your unit or enemy unit attacks, it displays the type of attack, both units’ HP and such along with a hit percentage. During the enemy’s attack, you can choose to defend to reduce damage, or evade to avoid taking damage all together. As for unit types, you got your powerful tanks, agile units (mainly snipers) and your well rounded types. Each work well for what they do with enough investment (more on that later) and proper use. I do find the agile units to be a bit broken avoiding enemy attacks a bit too easily, though it hurts if they do get hit by chance. I sometimes just send them to the front lines and they crush the enemies while remaining unharmed.
Weapons are not breakable, but they consume ammo or energy (EN in the game). While there’s usually enough EN to last through the stage, don’t start unleashing the big guns right away or things can get more difficult. It does not have the rock-paper-scissors format like Fire Emblem has, but there are different types of weapons, each having their own strength and weakness depending on the terrain the enemy is on. Most notable is that beam weapons are very weak against units submerged underwater. There are also missiles that lower enemy energy, armor, accuracy and such. While some can be quite useful like the ones I mentioned, there are fairly worthless ones too.
The “Front Mission” of the game comes from customization, which you can do between levels. You don’t pimp your mech by changing around the arms, legs and such. Instead you spend money customizing the individual stats and weapons of the mechs. You also improve the stats of your pilots, or make them learn new passive skills using Pilot Points (PP). Money doesn’t grow on trees and levels can vary on the amount you earn so spend wisely. With no tutorial at all, the customization options can be easily overwhelming, though with time, you’ll get used to it. There are no shops in the game so you earn new weapons as you play along with parts you can equip to enhance the stats or the performance of the mech. While you mainly customize on stats and damage, that is much more than enough especially with the increasing number of units you’ll be getting as you progress.
The enemies come in droves, but most of them are just fodder. With the right skills and some teamwork, you can crush your foes like a grape. Bosses, on the other hand, are a different story. Most of them have way more HP than you ever will and can crush your weaker units with ease while remaining untouchable or spamming barriers. Despite their advantages, they can be taken down if you use your spirit commands correctly (more on that in a bit), and teamwork.
As the pilots gain levels, they learn up to six spirit commands. These spirit commands are vital to your progress in the game. There are many different kinds from double damage next turn, to healing, to increasing hit and evasion rate for a turn, to moving an extra few spaces, and so much more. You activate these commands on the player command and it consumes spirit points (SP), which can be considered to be the equivalent of MP in a way. With good use of these commands, you can topple down any foe, and overcome any challenge. As I briefly mentioned earlier, you can teach your pilots passive skills to improve their performance or make things easier. Some come with skills naturally and improve as they level, but you have slots to learn what you desire. Some examples are skills to improve the power of ranged or melee attacks, moving if you attack first (once you attack, the unit normally can’t do anything more for the turn), regenerating SP per turn and more.
The level objectives do not have much variety. They mainly consist of defeating all units, defeating a boss, or sometimes moving to a certain point in a number of turns. Mission length can vary depending on how many bad guys are thrown at you. I found the average to be around one hour or so by the later levels. An interesting feature I found within the missions were earning battle mastery points. Each level had a hidden objective within the levels, that you can check under the mission menu by scrolling right (you really have no idea how many of my friends never figured that out.) It mainly consisted of wiping out all enemies within a certain number of turns or destroying certain units, and preventing retreat. Not only did it give you extra things to shoot for during missions, but it also determined the difficulty of the game. You don’t just select a difficulty level in the beginning of a game and just blaze through a set challenge. This is one game where you have to earn your right to receive challenges. In short, having little to no battle masteries puts you in easy mode while having a lot lets you remain in hard, and vice-versa. There are some neat bonuses in hard mode, but play through it for yourself.
It was a series that many of us thought would never come, but Atlus was awesome enough to give a taste of this long running series and so we must thank them. While most importers might already be veterans of the series, Atlus is trying to bring it to a new audience. I am one of those players who got into the franchise by playing this, and I am sure it is the same for a number of people. While there may be far better versions of the series, especially on the consoles, this is a great start. This game is definitely not everyone’s cup of tea. It would easily appeal to mech fans the most, and those who may have played the import may go through it again for the translation. This can also be enjoyable for strategy fans out there that enjoyed Fire Emblem, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance and so on. Original Generations 2 will be coming out this November, and the PS2 Original Generations is currently in development which I too hope makes it to US shores. Play the game and spread super robot awareness!