A few years back, Japanese developer, Sting, (known for games such as Riviera, Baroque, and the Dokapon series) brought out a game for the GBA that many considered to be a spiritual successor to the previously mentioned Riviera. Despite having a completely different system and world, gamers, myself included, found there to be a certain similarity in feel between the two. They were both possessed of a cutesy art style, featured worlds liberally sprinkled with terms from Norse mythology, and were both on portable systems. More importantly, however, both were considered niche titles, and not too many people in the US bothered with them. Fortunately, with the re-release of Yggdra Union on the PSP, Americans can get another shot at this hidden gem.
The game opens with Yggdra, the princess of the kingdom of Fantisinia, fleeing a brigade of the Empire’s soldiers, led by the Valkyrie Aegina. The Empire, led by Gulcasa, had invaded Fantisinia, killed the king and queen, and was generally evil. Cornered, Yggdra hides out in the fortress of a group of bandits led by a thief named Milanor, and when Aegina burns it down to smoke Yggdra out, Milanor sends them packing. When Yggdra agrees to give Milanor her castle once she takes back the kingdom, the journey begins to oust the Empire from Fantisinia and regain the throne.
You’re not going to find anything particularly new in Yggdra Union’s story, but you will find some unexpected philosophical conflict over the inherent righteousness of a cause which I found to be refreshing. In addition, there are multiple story paths to take based on the choices you make in battles, although don’t expect something on the level of, say, Ogre Battle. Most of the choices you can make are minor, and the only really major plot-changing stuff doesn’t happen until the end of the game.
On the whole, though, Yggdra Union has an interesting plot and some decent dialogue. Add to that some fun, albeit stereotypical, characters, and you’ve got something that, while it isn’t literature, is certainly passable.
Yggdra Union is a strategy RPG, make no mistake about it. However, it sells itself as a card-based game, which, while technically being true, may give people the wrong idea about it. For example, I, for one, haven’t had good experiences with card-based RPGs, and would have probably avoided the game like the plague if I hadn’t known what it was really like.
To start with, the game is made up of a series of maps, themselves made up of squares linked to other squares to form paths, almost like the floor plan of a building. At the beginning of each turn, you select one of your cards, each of which has a movement value. That value indicates the number of squares your party members can move in aggregate. If you end a character’s movement on certain tiles you will find items which can be equipped for stat bonuses or used to increase morale.
In addition, cards also have a weapon association: sword, axe, spear, etc. Each character is proficient with a certain weapon, and certain weapons are strong against some and weak against others in a sort of rock, paper, scissors system. Selecting a card with a weapon type that corresponds to the character’s weapon type allows them to be the “ace” for the turn in battle and use the card’s associated skill. These skills come in very handy, as only one character on each side can instigate an attack each turn.
Now, if this sounds limiting, it’s really not, due to something called Unions. Unions occur when other members of your side are lined up with your character, allowing them to attack the enemy subsequent to the instigating character. Male instigators can form Unions with units in an X shape, while females can form Unions with those in a cross shape. Using this method, you can attack with up to 5 characters one after another. And each time a unit is attacked in a turn, their HP, represented by the number of troops in the unit, is reduced. So if you can’t beat an enemy in an 8-on-8 duel, maybe 8-on-7 or 8-on-6 will work out better.
And players will need to use this strategy most of the time, as some enemies have lots of Morale. Morale is the real measurement of hit points for units. Each time a unit is beaten, that unit loses Morale. When the Morale gauge is depleted, the unit is finished.
Right now, your head may be spinning, but honestly, picking up the game is quite easy, and there are some decent tutorials that gradually ease you into certain aspects of the game. The really nice part about it all is that, despite the simplicity, the player MUST rely on these gameplay elements to create effective strategies and ultimately win. Since most of the time your Morale level carries over to the next battle without being replenished, you need to make sure you lose as infrequently as possible. I really appreciated the gameplay in Yggdra Union, and it will appeal to a range of ability levels, from the novice to the expert.
Graphically, Yggdra Union improves upon is GBA predecessor, thanks to the PSP’s superior abilities in that regard. There is a beautiful opening cinema, and character portraits are big, colorful, and detailed. The super deformed art style goes way over the top pretty much all the time, but I learned to live with the gigantic heads and small bodies of the characters. The non-dialogue sprites are very small, however, and come in three colors: blue (your units), red (enemy units) and green (neutral units). None of them are particularly well detailed, and I felt they could have benefited from more. Fortunately, in battle, the sprites are bigger and more detailed, with smooth animation quality.
Before I get into the music in Yggdra Union (which is fine, really) I need to comment on the amazingly good voice acting present in the game. Milanor has got to be one of my favorite voice acting jobs ever, and all the other characters are superb as well. There is no overacting, as every character sounds just right, even the high-pitched, energetic Undine Nietzsche.
The music is decent, and in many ways reminiscent of Riviera’s score, which shouldn’t be surprising, since Minako Adachi composed both. The tracks are very synthy, however, much like the graphics, the sound quality got an overhaul thanks to the PSP. I wouldn’t say that it’s a great soundtrack, but it’s certainly decent enough for the game, and doesn’t really get tiring. Good job.
The controls function well enough, although for some reason keeping the L and R buttons separate from left and right on the D-pad kept being a problem for me, due to sometimes awkward captioning in the game. Still, this is made up for with a “fast forwarding” button for battles. Making them go twice or, with a certain option, 4 times as fast saved my sanity and kept the battles from dragging severely. The PSP may not be the most comfortable thing to use, but Yggdra Union makes good use of the layout of the buttons.
For those of you who liked Riviera, or who are looking for a strategy RPG to pass the time, there should be nothing stopping you from picking up Yggdra Union. With simple, yet strategic gameplay, excellent voice acting, cute graphics, and decent dialogue, all improved from its GBA counterpart, it’s definitely worth the pickup.