60 years have passed since the big cataclysm, which is of course referring to our nice and green looking earth being completely scorched by an unknown energy blast. Nature, has meanwhile regained its grasp on the land with wood and forests that cover most of the globe. This is the setting for the latest title of the Gundam series, moving from the action to the RPG genre with a brand new storyline; Two kids miraculously survive the slaughter of a poor orphanage and vow revenge on the evil black gundam mobile suits. The bad guy, coincidentally, happens to be plotting the conquest of Earth, which kind of makes you the worldâ€™s savior, but this is of course only auxiliary to the revenge of the poor orphans. Add to that a poor alien girl trying to recover her memory, and you have the ingredients for the ideal plot. The move to the RPG genre presents some graphical issues (the game looks somewhat ugly), but it makes up for it with its huge customizable set of mobile suits, weapons and upgrades. The story might start out a little flat, but as in many RPGs, it manages to suck you in after a while, thanks to the two annoying brats that seldom stop to show their brotherly affection.
The gameâ€™s graphics are, to say the least, under par. The game would have been a great looker on the original PlayStation, but it leaves much to be desired on the PS2, specifically considering the graphical quality of the other games of the same genre that have come out in the past few years. The title starts with a nice cell shaded intro movie that is very reminiscent of the latest Dragon Questâ€™s visuals, but it fails to show anything else but barren landscapes with isolated buildings or machinery protruding from ground. Some kudos need to be given to the villages and cities though. The detail level of the characters and buildings is well tuned and the environments really seem to be living and breathing. The same cannot be said for the mobile suits however; it seems as though all the details were placed into the city and charactersâ€™ clothing, leaving the bigger mechs with only spare polygons. The models are simple, and boring, but worst of all, the big mobile suits that should be fierce and powerful looking have been transformed in cuddly, chubby robots that bear far too many similarities to the Bomberman protagonists. Nonetheless, despite their humongous heads, all the mechs are loyal representations of the original anime models, so the aficionados of the Gundam series will not be disappointed. A great plus is the world map, which has become a rarity for most RPG games.
The voices in the game are featured only in the cutscenes, and are surprisingly not as annoying as in many other titles of the same genre. The absence of vocals in battles actually comes as a relief for those that are not so fond of hearing the same two or three catch phrases repeated over and over when trying to level up your characters with random fights. The acting in the cutscene is quite passable and you come to like the little brats trying to talk the talk and walk the walk. The music is light and rather enjoyable, no irritating epic songs, nor overly sweet serenades, and it doesnâ€™t wear on you, even after several hours. If something needs be said, there are no annoying tunes that will pop into your head for years to come; Nintendo or Squaresoft style. Whether this is a good or negative aspect, itâ€™ll depend on the player.
If youâ€™re expecting a Gundam-like type of action in battle, you will be disappointed, the game sports the standard turn-based combat system found in a majority of RPG games. A nice feature though, is the energy gauge that fills up during each turn. Different weapons use diverse amounts of energy, which makes it worthwhile to spend some time deciding the best weapon set for each mech and devise the best battle strategy. Energy is also used to perform special â€œboostâ€ moves; the characters have special techniques that allow them to heal, repair, defend and paralyze friends or foes at the cost of so called â€˜Technical Pointsâ€™, which take the stead of spells and magic points. Throughout the dungeons and the world map, youâ€™ll encounter random battles that will usually end quickly. The boss fight though, can be pretty tenacious and lengthy; no half hour long clashes against ultimate weapons, but you might still have to keep going at them for a good ten minutes. The true strong point of the game is the mobile suit customization; besides the plethora of weapons and armors that can be equipped on each mech, and trying to fit them into their variable sized equipment slots, each mechâ€™s power, armor and speed can be upgraded and tweaked. In addition, thereâ€™s also the option to swap body parts between suits, such as grabbing the Zâ€™Gok Claws and putting them on instead of the standard Zaku II arms, or adding wings and replacing the legs with a nice mecha-skirt. When youâ€™re done, paint everything in shades of vermillion or purple or whatever color suits you best (Iâ€™ll have to confess that my black squadron of mobile suits were a fearsome sight, if I say do say so myself). If this is not enough, you can collect materials from all over the world to build special parts and equipment yourself. The learning curve is pretty steep, after 3 tutorial skirmishes youâ€™ll know everything youâ€™ll ever need. For experienced RPG players, the game never gets too difficult. Make sure to pack a dozen repair kits for the bosses, which are the only really challenging enemies, and you should never have to despair and revert to a previous save game. The save points also have the nice habit of repairing all your characters, which make them very nice headquarters for XP farming. In reality, if you rush through the story mode, youâ€™ll encounter several difficult brawls, but you wonâ€™t find yourself trapped in a dungeon with no safe way out. When a character levels up, youâ€™ll really feel a difference in their power, as opposed to other games, where a â€œPlayer X has leveled up!â€ bears little to no difference to the actual fighting abilities of said character.
For those who base their first impressions off a gameâ€™s graphics, they may find themselves rather discouraged, but if you can overcome the aesthetic obstacle, youâ€™ll find that the level of depth and customization, the upgrading and the combat system are fully satisfactory for a RPG. The story is sufficient and the mood is rendered amusing by the countless puns and stings exchanged between the main characters. If you love the genre, this title wonâ€™t leave you disappointed, and if you love the Gundam series, this game will allow you to enjoy the mobile suits and weapons from the entire series. If youâ€™re new to RPGs, itâ€™s a nice way to discover the genre in all its complexity, especially due to the infinite ways you can tweak and twist your mechs.