Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Shin Super Robot Wars (PS) Review

Shin SRW was the first original Playstation entry, attempting to make a big splash as the series new vision. It's one of the few SRW titles to be re-released on the Japanese PSN as a digital download. It uses the same engine created for 4th SRW G but but includes a number of UI and control improvements. Shin SRW represents more of a leap in graphics than in gameplay or plot. It plays very similar to an easier, less eventful 4th SRW.

The campaign is split into two long routes which basically make it two games in one, adding up to ~71 total scenarios. While the core gameplay is fairly solid SRW fare, there's not much variety to be had throughout the campaign. Almost every scenario is completed using the same basic strategy with few alterations for scenario events or unique challenges. For most of the game you'll find yourself in massive, nearly empty maps with only a token amount of enemies. The kid gloves come off a bit near the end of each route, but by that point the you've gone through so many uneventful scenarios using the same strats that it might not feel worth the effort. It hasn't aged particularly well compared to other older SRWs. It doesn't help that the pilot and robot roster is relatively small compared to 4th, and it doesn't have much at all in the way of new seishins, skills, or unique features. Not to say that you can't get some enjoyment out of it, but if you're spoiled on modern SRWs, you'll probably be bored.

Graphically Shin SRW uses non-super deformed art. This works well for some robots designed to look realistic, but others look ugly or strange when not shrunken down. Shin SRW also adds cut-ins, close up face portraits, and long cutscenes to its attack animations. This turns out to be a double edged sword because like all older SRWs up until SRW Alpha, animations are still unskippable. When running at default speed the load times and animations are atrociously long and unbearable. Unless you have a way to speed them up in an emulator I don't advise playing Shin SRW. Much of the poor reputation of Shin stems from its slow load times and absurdly long, unskippable animations.

The seishin search menu, first added in SRW Gaiden, now lets you select multiple pilots with the same seishin and activate them all at once. This is a big improvement over past SRWs where you could only activate one seishin at a time.

The Shin SRW Special Disc was an encyclopedia or compendium of Shin SRW. In it you can view attack animations, FMV, tons of profiles, and listen to music. There's also a simple concept scenario where you can deploy a wide range of pilots and units, some of which you couldn't control in the main game.

Overall Shin SRW is hobbled by a fairly bland campaign and unskippable animations with long load times. It's not a surprise that any sort of sequel to Shin was aborted and replaced by the Alpha series. Only the most dedicated SRW fans should bother checking it out, and even then only if you can speed up the attack animations to 500% or greater of normal speed.

Reviewers experience:  Challenge conditions: No upgrades, no units destroyed, low turn counts, and no save/load spamming for low chances to hit or dodge. Total turncount for both routes + final mission: 295 turns / 71 scenarios.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Super Robot Wars Review/Guide Compendium

Last updated: Oct 24, 2011

SRW (Gameboy) - Completed it. Not too much to say here. I wasn't recording turn counts or trying to avoid deaths, in fact I sacrificed a few units when I saw better robots to recruit. Unlike most SRWs it seems losing units is a natural part of the game as there are always more recruits available. I didn't take this game too seriously as it plays so different from anything else in the series.

2nd SRW (Famicom) - Completed with no units destroyed and no teleport seishin, 243 turns. I wasn't aware that teleport could be used to shorten some levels so I didn't get an amazing count here, but I don't really feel like going back and replaying it. The last couple of levels were a pain to keep everyone alive, with powerful bosses and aggressive reinforcements.

3rd SRW (Super Famicom) - Completed with no upgrades, no units destroyed, low turn counts, and no save/load spamming for low chances to hit or dodge. 159 turns, 34 scenarios complete. Fairly easy until you start running into double act Inspector bosses and huge waves of double act grunts. Again the endgame is the most difficult with multiple powerful bosses that take a huge beating, have double act, and can one shot most of your units. Wrote a challenge run guide here.

SRW EX (Super Famicom) - Completed with no upgrades, no units destroyed, low turn counts, and no save/load spamming for low chances to hit or dodge. 200 turns total for all 3 episodes. Very easy game, only a few tricky stages. Good for beginners though. Wrote a challenge run guide here.

4th SRW (Super Famicom) - Completed with no upgrades, no units destroyed, low turn counts, and no save/load spamming for low chances to hit or dodge. 146 turns, 44 scenarios completed, 3.31 turns per scenario. Starts out a fairly difficult, but drops off a cliff once you get lots of ultimate attacks and Awaken/Re-Enable spam. Bosses are high HP punching bags, there are no waves of double act grunts that you have to deal with, and it's easy to get double act for almost all of your pilots including super robot pilots. If you use upgrades and Revive seishin it's even more broken. It's still fairly tough in the early-mid game before Awaken/Revive/MAP/ultimate attack spam. As an example, you can complete the last 6 scenarios of the game in 1 turn by fully utilizing those features. Wrote a challenge run guide here.

2nd SRW G (Gameboy) - Completed with no upgrades, no units destroyed, low turn counts, and no save/load spamming for low chances to hit or dodge. 106 turns, 25 scenarios completed. Easier than the NES version with the exception of Bain. Bain has an extremely high hit rate, double act, can one shot any of your non-upgraded units, and has tons of armor/HP. Guide here.

4th SRW S (Playstation) - Played through the first couple scenarios. I don't plan on doing a full playthrough of this game since it's nearly identical to the SFC version. Added a section for 4th SRW S to my previous review. Good enough! I might play through the Super route someday.

Super Robot Wars Gaiden/OG Saga (SFC/DS) - Completed with no upgrades, no allied units destroyed, low turncounts, and no save/load spamming for very low chances to hit or dodge. Wendy Route: 221 turns, 45 scenarios. Baravia Route: 218 turns, 45 scenarios. Shuu Route: 232 turns, 43 scenarios. I felt this SRW was overly simplified and too RNG heavy. It has some fun moments but generally the randomness with pilot skills is too irritating. Guide here.

Shin Super Robot Wars (PS) -  Challenge conditions: No upgrades, no units destroyed, low turn counts, and no save/load spamming for low chances to hit or dodge. Total turncount for both routes + final mission: 295 turns / 71 scenarios. A bit of a boring SRW even when you can speed up the animations in an emulator. Guide here.

Super Robot Wars F/FF (PS) - Completed with no upgrades, no units destroyed, low turn counts, and no save/load spamming for low %. (Space/DC): 401 turns / 79 scenarios = 5.07 avg, (Space/Guest): 403 turns / 78 scenarios = 5.16 avg. A great SRW, challenging as well. Definitely the best of the classic SRWs. Guide here.

Super Robot Wars Gaiden/OG Saga (SFC/DS) Review

SRW Gaiden is the last SRW title to be released for the Super Famicom and was recently ported to the DS in 2010. It's developed by WinkySoft, not Banpresto, which explains why it's very different from the rest of the series. It's more like an entirely different game that just happens to use SRW characters. The DS version has some interface improvements, skippable animations, plot alterations, and a new game+ feature, but the game play itself is nearly identical to the SFC original.

SRW Gaiden ditches the 2D overhead view for a 3D isometric view which happened to be all the rage in 1996.
As in most 3D isometric tactics games, height difference and unit facing plays a role in accuracy and damage. Zone of Control was added to make it more difficult to maneuver behind an opponent. Terrain bonuses, penalties, and movement rates are entirely removed.

In addition to EN and Ammo, a third weapon resource has been added called Prana Points, which are used in MAP and ultimate attacks. Prana Points work like EN except your robot loses stats such as HP, EN, and mobility when the points are used. When put into practice, though, Prana Points aren't much different from EN and they add little to the games depth. MAP attacks are still around but they are far less useful than previous SRWs. There aren't big groups of enemies to MAP anymore, MAP damage is fairly low, and MAP attacks share Prana Points and EN with ultimate attacks which need to be conserved for high HP bosses.

Weapons can be upgraded into new forms with improved properties aside from more damage. A rock paper scissors style elemental system and "caste" system was introduced so that certain unit types deal more or less to others. Pilot skills including double act are learnt at a range of possible levels instead of at a fixed level. Other minor changes from previous SRWs include EXP gain for healing, unused SP at the end of a scenario granting EXP, enemies capable of using seishins, and enemy stats no longer being hidden.

SRW Gaiden is one of the most shallow games in the series in terms of depth and customization. You can't switch pilots between units and there are no items to equip, unlike previous SRWs. The only thing you can do is upgrade your robots stats and weapons. You don't get to choose deployment spots until mid-late in the game and even then you can only choose 4-6 units. Similarly, SRW Gaiden only has about 40 combined allied pilots and robots compared to 4th SRW's count of almost 200. Enemy and ally counts during scenarios are significantly reduced, further lowering the games complexity.

Costs for seishins are so expensive that even near the end of the game you can only expect to use 3-4 seishins before running out, further removing strategic options from the player. Formerly cheap seishins like Flash now consume 30-50% of a pilots SP pool early in the game. The only strategy the player has control over is unit positioning, taking advantage of elemental weaknesses, conserving ultimate attacks for bosses, and using a tiny pool of seishins. The added directional facing, ZOC, and a simple rock paper scissors damage system doesn't make up for all of the other things removed or reduced. It's a shallow game compared to 4th SRW. There are still some scenarios in the game that push the available depth to its limit in terms of difficulty, but such scenarios exist in 3rd and 4th SRW as well.

SRW Gaiden adds a significant amount of randomness in the form of new or changed pilot skills. Branching (bunshin) is now always active instead of only active at 130+ morale. Double attack is easily the worst skill added to Gaiden, allowing any unit to attack twice for full damage. Bosses that can double attack will usually kill any of your units in two hits. If you unintentionally double attack, you might waste ammo/EN you were trying to conserve, or kill an enemy you were just trying to weaken for a lower level pilot. This is exacerbated by the low dodge rates of your pilots, the high cost of seishins, and the lack of a Focus (30% hit/dodge) seishin.

Bosses appear early in the game with many pilot skills before your pilots have any, leading to highly random and uncontrollable situations. Mid-late in the game every enemy pilot including the low level grunts have branching, block, double attack, and double act. The combination of simplified customization, low unit counts, and highly random pilot skills makes this the most dumbed down, RNG heavy SRW yet. The developers could have made changes like making double attack only deal 25% of normal damage, branching only at 130 morale, and make it so you can't block attacks from behind. Then the game would only be simple, instead of simple and uncontrollably random.

The scenario flowchart is complex with 3 ending routes and dozens of variables to keep track of. There are about 100 total scenarios, but quite a bit of that is filler. Much like SRW EX, there are a lot of heavily scripted "event scenarios" that are merely formalities. A good number of scenarios are simply mirrors of other scenarios with minor changes due to plot branching or feature reused maps. Even though the scenario count and branching looks intimidating, there aren't any more unique missions than you'd find in 3rd or 4th SRW. However, it is impressive how they managed to cram so much content and plot branches into an SNES game while avoiding game breaking bugs.

As usual the interface continues to improve. You can now check a list of enemies as well as allies. There's a new list of seishins which you can select to see which pilots currently have that seishin. By holding down select then pressing L or R, you can switch between enemies on the map instead of allies. This turns out to be very useful because you can't zoom out to a minimap view, likely a limitation of the isometric map. As usual animations cannot be skipped in the SFC version, so I suggest the DS version.

Reviewer's experience: Completed with no upgrades, no allied units destroyed, low turncounts, and no save/load spamming for very low chances to hit or dodge. Wendy Route: 221 turns, 45 scenarios. Baravia Route: 218 turns, 45 scenarios. Shuu Route: 232 turns, 43 scenarios.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

2nd Super Robot Wars Gather (Gameboy) Review

2nd SRW G is a retelling of 2nd SRW for NES with new characters and scenarios. While some map layouts are reused from the NES version, there are so many other changes and new maps that it feels like a new game. Despite being released after 4th SRW and being based on the NES 2nd SRW, almost everything about 2nd G's mechanics are identical to 3rd SRW. Three major features from 4th SRW are weapon upgrades, and being able to select attack/dodge/defend when attacked on enemy phase, confirmation of hit/dodge rate before committing to an attack. Even the sprites are mostly downgraded versions of 3rd SRW sprites. Basically you're getting another serving of 3rd SRW with the addition of weapon upgrade and full upgrade bonuses.

New to SRW are full upgrade bonuses which reward a fully upgraded unit (7 points in HP, EN, Armor, and Limit) with extra stats or abilities. There are a few minor bits that made it from 4th SRW such as being able to quickload by resetting and holding A. One annoying limitation of the hardware is that you can't see whether a unit is flying or not on the map. On a related note, air/ground capable units can't land, probably a limitation of the game engine or hardware.

2nd SRW G's campaign is fairly short, taking 24-25 out of 33 scenarios per playthrough. Most scenarios can be completed in 4 turns. Difficulty is fairly easy overall - don't expect any harrowing challenges. Most of the bosses are lightweights except for the final boss, who has some fairly intimidating stats. Any experienced player will have no problem destroying the campaign in 2-3 days. The pilot and unit roster is tiny compared to 3rd and 4th SRW, and there are no equippable parts, so you'll be doing little party management throughout the game. Unlike 4th SRW with its 80+ pilots and robots with equippable parts, you can figure out which pilots and robots are worth using in 2nd SRW G in a couple minutes as opposed to hours.

With that said, it's still easily one of the best single player tactics games for the Gameboy, if not the best. Cramming a miniature but fully functioning SRW game into the Gameboy is no small feat. It looks good and animates well for a Gameboy title. The user interface is good and they manage to cram an impressive amount of features, including using the select and start buttons to sort units by HP/level. Give it a try if you love retro gaming and tactical strategy.

Reviewers experience: Completed with no upgrades, no units destroyed, low turn counts, and no save/load spamming for low chances to hit or dodge. 106 turns, 25 scenarios completed.

Friday, September 16, 2011

TGS 2011 news

Disgaea: Netherworld Unbound announced for Android. Microtransaction based, so it'll probably be the most profitable Disgaea yet.

Disgaea 3 Return will be named Disgaea 3: Absence of Detention in NA.

A Super Robot Wars press conference will take place on the 18th at 02:30 EST or 15:30 JST.

Update: A new trailer for 2nd SRW OG for PS3 was shown. They also announced another 20th anniversary event "soon". New trailer is here.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

PS Vita games announced

Announced today for PS Vita, based on this press release PDF:

Alpha-Unit Co. Ltd. developed SRPG (working title). Presumably the same SRPG as announced for 3DS.

Marvelous Entertainment Inc. Simulation RPG (Working Title).

Super Robot Wars (working title). Likely to be a port of some kind. However, the genre is listed as "TBD" in the press release, which means it might be an action game spinoff or something.

Shin Megami Tensei (working title). Could possibly be a Devil Survivor title. Maybe not, though.

Moe Moe Daisensou Gendaiban ++. Already announced.

Makai Senki Disgaea 3 Return. Already announced.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Nintendo 3DS: Fire Emblem and SD Gundam G Generation

New 3DS Fire Emblem announced for 2012. Battle animations are in 3D (sorry 2D fans). It looks like you'll be able to engage in 2 on 1 fights with a nearby ally. It looks like there's some sort of overhead map similar to FE Gaiden or Sacred Stones. Official website here.

New SD G Gundam Generations 3D for the 3DS on 12/22/2011. This was the previously announced SD G Gundam Generations game. Official website here.

Unfortunately the 3DS is region locked so most of us in NA are screwed.

Early Sept 2011 news/updates

So there was a fairly large dead period earlier this year. This was mostly due to me playing different games that had nothing to do with turn based tactics, and because I've been writing for other web sites which has been taking up my spare writing time. I've been volunteer writing for and I've been able to work with some helpful and friendly editors and improve my writing by reviewing genres and types of games that I don't normally play. With the year closing out I'm thinking of doing a best of 2011 tactics games sort of article.

TGS 2011 is coming soon and you can expect some Vita announcements. We've already got two tactics games for Vita announced: a Disgaea 3 remake and a Moe Moe Daisensou remake. I'm expecting a Vita Super Robot Wars title to be announced, likely also a remake.
We might also be getting some news on 3DS tactics games with the Nintendo 3DS press conference in a day or so.

There's only one tactics release I'm aware of this month, Disgaea 4. It has a level editor which is pretty neat. I'm sure players will invent more challenging content than the developers ever have. It seems to be pleasing series fans.

A new SD Gundam G Generation title was announced recently. This series doesn't get as much attention as Super Robot Wars but it's by the same developer/publisher Namco Bandai.

I kind of overlooked this game from earlier in the year, but Legends of War: Patton's Campaign is worth a look. It plays almost exactly like Valkyria Chronicles except it's an overhead perspective instead of a third person behind the shoulder perspective. It's a WW2 game with historical weapons, infantry, and war machines, but don't feel too intimidated. It's a very accessible game with 5 difficulty options and ranking.

New Hostile Sector trailer. This is a squad level PvP tactics game for PC played in an online persistent world.

If you can't tell, I've been playing all of the Super Robot Wars games in chronological order, starting with the very first one. It's been quite a trip thus far. I do enjoy retro games and challenging content so the older SRWs are a good combination for me. I've been on a bit of a SRW kick lately. I recently realized that SRW is one of the most prolific and long lasting series of tactics games and will likely outlive many more. So it's not a bad series to throw your hat into if you're a fan of the genre.

Monday, September 5, 2011

4th Super Robot Wars (SFC) Review

4th SRW is a sequel to 3rd SRW, furthering the original SRW storyline. It's once again based on the engine used in 3rd SRW and EX. 4th SRW was the largest SRW yet, including 69 scenarios and about 80 pilots and robots.

4th SRW represents a modest increase in complexity from previous titles. Additions include a customizable hero pilot whose choice of robot affects the plot, special pilot abilities, equippable robot parts, hidden items on the map (not seen since the original SRW), more seishins, and new stats such as crit rate and robot size. You can finally choose reactions to enemy attacks during enemy phase on a fight by fight basis instead of issuing general orders. Another major change is that almost all enemies have their stats hidden until you fight them. This added depth means you'll be spending more time figuring out optimal strategies and team setups.

The campaign starts out a little more difficult than usual. It's more difficult to earn levels early on and you don't start with any very strong units. Even Getta isn't a powerhouse until mid-late game. Around the mid game you get handed a bunch of MAP attacks and extremely powerful ultimate attacks, causing the difficulty to plummet. The ZZ Gundam is especially ridiculous with a MAP attack that covers half the screen and can kill almost any grunt in the game with one attack. Upgrades are quite simply too effective, nearly doubling the base damage of a weapon, which becomes even more ridiculous when combined with the Soul seishin that multiplies damage by 3x. Finally, the Revive seishin breaks the game by allowing you to suicide your pilots just to revive them again with full HP/EN, full Spirit Points and 100 morale. The Awaken and Re-Enable seishins are also too cheap and spammable. It's sad when you can finish the last 6 or so scenarios in 1 turn by making full use of the above features.

The endgame is easier than 3rd SRW by far. Bosses are easily blown up by fully upgraded MAP attacks and fully upgraded ultimate attacks. They are essentially big harmless punching bags that go down in a couple hits. In 3rd SRW an end game boss would take the combined might of your entire team to kill while remaining very dangerous, while in 4th SRW they aren't much more of a threat than the high HP grunts surrounding them. Even some SRW EX bosses were more dangerous. There are no waves of double acting grunts like in 3rd SRW, either.  Overall the early and mid game have some decent SRW style action, but unless you are playing a no upgrades and no units destroyed playthrough, expect the late game to be a joke.

Once again there are some UI improvements. Units in the unit list can be sorted by HP or level. The new powers menu shows a list of which pilots have which seishins. You can quickly load your mid-battle save by holding select after soft resetting. I was left pining for the modern seishin interface where you select which seishins to activate and they all occur at the same time, instead of going into the menu each time to activate one seishin. There's far too much seishin spamming and it gets tiring.

The color palette is even darker and more muted than SRW EX. Robots on the map are low contrast and blend in too easily with the background. I'm not sure why they did this since SRW EX was a good balance between the overly bright simplicity of 3rd SRW and the low contrast 4th SRW. As usual animations can't be disabled so I recommend using an emulator with a speedup toggle.

4th SRW is a solid entry to the series, but the developers were unable to properly balance all of the newly added features. Much of the difficulty and depth ends up drowned out by overly powerful attacks and seishins.

4th SRW Scramble was a port of 4th SRW for the Playstation, also the first SRW for Playstation. Thanks to the larger save size, you're no longer forced to scrap or dismiss units as the campaign progresses. There are some subtle changes to pilot, unit, and weapon data, mostly buffs to your stats to make the game slightly easier. A few extra missions are added, and some reinforcement and enemy layouts have been altered. 4th SRW S also includes a few interface improvements such as L2 and R2 to switch between enemy units. If you've already played 4th SRW for SFC inside out, it's not really worth a second trip. On the other hand, if you haven't touched either game, 4th SRW S is considered the more balanced (read: easier), less buggy version.

Reviewer's experience: Completed the campaign with no upgrades, no units destroyed, low turn counts, and no save/load spamming for low chances to hit or dodge. 146 turns, 44 scenarios completed.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Overclocked (3DS) Review

I've written a review for Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Overclocked for Take a look here.