At long last, I get to talk about one of my favorite series of all time: Super Robot Wars. True, I did do a review of SRWJ, though that was a translated game not released in the USA. Today though, we have two of three SRW games in English that were released for USA, and with such rarity, such a daring move to take a not-so well known series and turn into a star, it was released on…the Gameboy Advance, sadly. There are console version of the SRW games, but only released in Japan. Releasing something you want to get major sales for on a smaller gaming device is a bit risky in my opinion, as sales between portable and console games usually showed consoles getting the bigger profit.
However, considering the things some people usually expect, like English voice actors and such, odds are it might have turned a few people off from the game. I’m not one of these types, but I can understand people not liking the idea either to save money. Hey, if the game manages to come over, like Project X Zone, they could speak like the people in Okami, and I wouldn’t care. Plus, the Original Generation console games weren’t released until 2007, and these games were released in 2006, and pretty close together too, and the GBA wasn’t known for a lot of voice-acting. And we are able to enjoy this game thanks to Atlus publishing and translating them, and this wouldn’t be the first time they did something like this, as we’ll get into with another game. Anything developed by Banpresto, we have to pray really hard, or we’ll never get it. Rather than look at one, we are going to dive into both since they are kind of almost the same game, using the same concepts.
The story of both games is simple enough, though it does tend to go with its plot-twists here and there. The first game actually has two routes you can go with: either pick the life of Ryusei Date, and basically have the same plot of a lot of other giant robot games of him thrust into the life of piloting robots, and is also a huge nerd and loves super robots too. This route I admit, while cliche, certainly isn’t bad. It’s definitely the easier of the two routes, given the tutorials, and while I am not a fan of Ryusei (not saying I hate the character), the route does at least contain one of my all-time favorite characters and mechs: Masaki Andoh and his robot Cybuster, one of the fastest mechs in the world, and he has starred in his own spin-off series known as Masou Kishin, which is pretty awesome. Overall, it tries to balance the seriousness and humor, and does it well for the most part. Sadly, the side pilots tend to be terrible, statistically at least. The Kyosuke Nanbu route however steals the show for me. Not only do you gain the signature mechs much quicker than Ryusei, but it does contain what I feel are the best characters. Kyosuke certainly reminds me of Heero Yuy with his stoic attitude, and is usually meant to be the “cool” character of the group, though I admit his appeal comes more from in combat with his machine, the Alteisen. Coupled with his gambling attitude, it makes for pretty entertaining stuff as he takes chances with high-hitting low ammo shots. He shines more though when paired with his other teammates, like Excellen and Bullet. Still, there is one character that stands above them all, or at least a good majority of characters.
You sadly don’t get to play much of him, but for good reasons I won’t spoil. Overall, Sanger Zonvolt is meant to be that more quiet, yet extremely fierce character, his attitude similar to that of a knight or even a samurai, especially with his techniques. He certainly shines more in the second game as that has a much bigger focus on him. I can’t really say much about these characters, otherwise you’ll be sitting there for hours, but needless to say about all of them, their personality seems to shine brightest in combat, and the story segments help, both in one and two. All you really need to know about Sanger Zonvolt is once you hear that theme song, and see him cleave robots in half with his own giant robot and the ridiculously large sword, Colossal Blade (usually called Zankantou and the better name in my opinion), you will know why I like this guy a lot. Maybe one day I can get more into his personality with another Characters with Character.
Story-wise, both routes connect, and has you usually dealing with an invading force heading towards Earth, but at the same time, other factions are aiming to conquer the planet. Sadly, saying any more of it is spoiler territory. The sequel deals with the aftermath, but at the same time, deals with dimension-traveling, as a new entity known as the Einst have taken over, and leading them is the mysterious Beowulf, who sadly doesn’t even get a boss fight in this game, unless you find the Axel Almer hacked rom (that is also in Japanese). And on top of that, of course more factions also go into it to make things harder/more complicated, and all as you are trying to find the the real cause and problems with each character. Some characters do feel underused, but that’s kinda expected, especially with some having more of a role in the first game.
The second game however, instead of only having two routes, has one, but has diverging paths. And both games have the opportunity to unlock different mecha and weapons. The best news is that there are actually anime versions for each game, and are actually better told than in the game, in some aspects. So if you are only interested in the story, I can recommend them. The animation for the first is pretty low, but improves dramatically in the second series. In fact, the second one I recommend more as it does have information you’ll need to know about certain characters, since there were revised versions, and they were never released in the USA, thus kinda screwing up continuity for those only playing certain SRW games. This won’t be the last time either sadly.
At least in terms of quality, a lot of characters are done justice, though I did feel some scenes were pointless, particularly in the second game, but that’s probably because the sequel is in Japan. I am referring more to the whole political debate, and since the impact can sometimes be rather low, I tend to skip those conversations. Cheap I know, especially coming from someone who values story a lot, but I don’t like having my time wasted either. Jokes and character personalities though do flow well, even with filler bits every now and then, but it does have the feeling like I am playing an anime, and that is a good thing too. Outside of some of those pointless political bits, I was entertained all throughout the game, and it’s a shame I can’t really comment on it. Still, of course the game uses pervert jokes and whatnot, but those are always outshined particularly in dramatic moments, either when the situation becomes worse, or when the characters get their moment of badass.
Another minus in my opinion is a lack of seeing the character’s full bodies. This had me googling them in order to see what they look like. We do at least get character portraits, and they are thankfully good, but not a great substitute, especially when action is going on in the middle of it all. At least sound effects work, but sometimes even just a simple picture of the characters in the middle of something would help. Instead, all we usually get is a location shot. While you can get away with a lot of things, without better character portraits to at least be able to see the top half, especially with all the perverted jokes going around, really does harm your game in this aspect, and feels cheap and lazy.
If you are familiar with any Fire Emblem game, the gameplay should feel similar. Much like with SRWJ, you can only see the heads of each unit throughout the map, and while the quality is a bit lower, attacks are still interesting with machines animated or even getting pictures to help convey their power, at least in the first game. The second one takes this out and replaces it with brighter visuals and more animated scenes for combat. Yes, there are anime speed-lines, but for the GBA at the time, these are still entertaining to watch. And of course you can choose to turn the battle animations off if you want to complete the game faster. Standard counter, defend, and evade options are still available, as well as certain other actions like being able to defend a unit. Sadly, while some units can be pretty weak in both versions, some even not worth training, the ships and their captains seem to almost be worthless aside from small bonuses. While I know about how the robots are meant to be stronger than any warship, for some bizarre reason, when you think of a warship, you would think that they could take care of several robot fighters with advanced weaponry. Here, I’m lucky if they can take down grunt units.
The bad news comes in the difficulty. Skill points are collected, and often the way to gain extra weapons. However, gaining more also increases the difficulty of the game, while having less makes it easier. The first, I hardly noticed a difference, but that immediately changes in game two, difficulty borderlines on impossible at times. For a lot of stages, you are set with certain units with no customization time, leading to possible gameovers and failing to get the skill point. And unlike the first game, if you fail a stage and choose to play it again from the beginning, that skill point is gone forever. You don’t need all of them to unlock the secret stages though. The problem here is that the first had a standard difficulty that some might see as easy, but the second is going to be merciless, not even a tutorial, so those not skilled in SRW are going to die horribly. This mixed difficulty is another drawback for the game for me since it just feels inconsistent between the both of them. Sometimes, I even felt like I had to grind on other stages, particularly with skills just to make things easier.
The good news is that each machine does kinda feel unique, with some similarities here and there. Aside from difficulty, each stage feels pretty good and fleshes out well enough, combining the story to pull off good fights, if not some extremely tense ones too. This helped by themes for each situation and character, and really help shine in the middle of the situation, like when all things are desperate, you hear a character theme, see them rush into battle, and cut-down an enemy robot, it all feels awesome! As I said before in previous reviews, character themes help make that person more identifiable and less generic. Yes, a badass theme does help, but having multiple for each character simply makes things more exciting and keeps that one theme from getting stale. Not every character has a unique theme, and you can only change the theme in the second game.
And customization, while did praise it in SRWJ, it is done perfectly in this game. Pilots can not only level up, but gain pilot points after beating foes, and those can be used to gain unique skills to help boost their ability, or even boost individual stats. Robots can still be equipped with a certain number of accessories as well to help boost their stats. You can use money to increase the overall health, armor, mobility, etc of your machine, and upgrade your weapons too, but here’s where the similarities end. Instead of upgrading every weapon, you can upgrade individual weapons, whether you want sheer power or to save energy by leveling up weaker weapons with cash. For certain robots, you can even add or take away certain weapons, so short-range units can do a bit better with extra firepower, and whatever floats your boat. Want that long-range Black Hole cannon? Equip it and fire it up! Like that giant sword? Give to the little guy and watch him destroy stuff! Much like in Resonance of Fate, I friggin love tuning up my guns!
The second game expands on this concept more than the first thanks to the number of pilots and suits, as well as skills available, and even secret weapons and robots as well depending on your choices and route. The first game though has little of this, but still enough to prove entertaining, and challenging as these tasks aren’t easy, especially if you want to get the most out of your playthrough. There are even secret stages on top of the normal 41 stages available, only stage 42 in which you fight the ultimate boss of the game..
Overall, both games go together pretty well, and are a lot of fun. Some may be turned off by some easiness in the first game, and the sudden spike in the second, but in the end, the characters and story are enjoyable and memorable, the music is one of the greatest things about it with character themes helping to add to it all, and it’s simply a must play for those that love giant robots in tactical games. Oh these games have flaws, huge ones, but not enough to warrant a pass. It’s a shame continuity is hopeless thanks to the other games in Japan constantly changing things, and the anime is one of the only hopes for us to keep up unless someone translates the games.
Super Robot Wars Original Generation 1 and 2 get a 4 out of 5. With that out of the way though, we can finally dig into a sort-of sequel to the game that was released for the DS: Super Robot Wars: OG Saga Endless Frontier.