Sunday, August 21, 2011

Super Robot Wars EX (SFC) Review

SRW EX is the fourth SRW game, coming after 3rd SRW. It's more of a side story meant for series beginners. SRW EX is split up into 3 episodes featuring Masaki, Ryune, and Shuu. While stats don't carry over, some choices you make in one episode can affect other episodes. There are about 61 total playable scenarios and you'll go through most of them in a single playthrough due to the game being fairly linear with few route splits. By comparison, a 3rd SRW playthrough has 34-39 out of 58 total scenarios.

SRW EX uses a modified version of the 3rd SRW engine. Like most side games built on a previous games engine, SRW EX doesn't change things up too much, but does make several changes for the better. You can choose individual unit response during enemy turn, but you still can't choose your response per battle. Pilots no longer have a power stat, so damage is mostly increased by weapon upgrades. Robot attacks need pilot skill level in addition to morale level.

You can now move and attack with certain ranged attacks (marked with a P). Certain ranged attacks are still movement limited, though, and some ranged attacks now have dead zones. Just about every robot has a decent melee attack, unlike 3rd SRW where ranged attacks dominated. MAP attacks return in SRW EX and they come in a variety of unusual shapes, sizes, and directions. This makes aiming them a little more interesting. Once you have multiple MAP attackers most of which can cause friendly fire to eachother, it can be tricky to lay down effective coverage without blowing up your allies. Enemies are also more likely to use their MAP attacks on you.

SRW EX was the easiest SRW yet. It includes a tutorial mode and it's a very forgiving game overall. It's likely a reaction to the unforgiving difficulty of 3rd SRW. With the addition of weapon upgrades, upgrading your MAP attacks and EN capacity allows you to make short work of the game. Most scenarios can be completed in 5 or less turns. While there are a few tough spots here and there, they are mostly optional and easy to avoid.

Controls and UI mature a bit further in SRW EX. Most importantly, you can view the percent chance to hit and miss an enemy before committing to the attack, which was a big issue in 3rd SRW. In control improvements, you can switch between allied units with L/R, switch between enemy units in target mode, and Y brings up the overhead map. You can see most of the active seishins on your pilots. Finally, you can now move diagonally with the cursor. There's a bit of lag when navigating the menus due to slowness in fading in or out unreachable terrain when selecting the Move command, which is annoying and unnecessary.

The ISS (interactive scenario system) allows you to import a previous episode save file into a new episode, altering some scenarios and routes. SRW EX is the first SRW with a plot that isn't completely bare bones. It helps that you get to see the perspective of the games events from 3 different characters. It's a little more fleshed out and interesting than the previous "Londo Bell vs DC vs Inspectors" of 3rd SRW.

Graphically, one of the first things you'll notice is the muted palette and magical, fantasy oriented theme. It's not hard to mistake the forest and mountain terrain for a medieval fantasy RPG, not an ideal setting for super powered robots blasting one another. Talking animals, fairies, spirits, and magic powered robots are frequently spotted. Attack animations are still unskippable. Even the MAP attacks have cutscenes. This isn't a big deal on SFC SRWs that can be run on an emulator with a speedup toggle, though.

Overall SRW EX is a good entry for beginners with its mostly easy difficulty, tutorial, and hand holding. There is a partial translation patch available but no full one.

Reviewers experience: 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.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Aug 2011 Tactics News

What's good this month in the world of turn based tactics games? Or rather, what's still alive and kicking?

Devil Survivor Overclocked is seeing NA release this month. This is one of the very rare cases where NA is getting the game ahead of Japan. Maybe it sold better here? Overclocked is a 3DS remake with additional demons, missions, voice acting, and an enhanced new game+ feature.

Final Fantasy Tactics for iPhone was released. Just like Tactics Ogre, the amount of delusion and false beliefs over the FFT series is ridiculous. Most especially people claiming that these two series 'invented' or 'originated' tactics games.  I really should finish that Tactics Ogre PSP review sometime. Or at least write a nice long rant.

A new Gundam tactical/strategic level game titled "Mobile Suit Gundam: New Gihren's Ambition" was announced. The Gihren's Ambition series is fairly unknown in the west compared to other games with Gundam in them like SD G Generation or Super Robot Wars.

An enhanced port of Disgaea 3 was announced for the PS Vita titled "Disgaea 3 Return". More hours of brainless grinding fun for the masses.

Field of Glory for PC has seen yet another expansion pack. This one is based on the Ottoman Empire.

The moe-ification of Japanese tactics games continues with Moe Moe Daisensou Gendaiban Plus. Take Daisenryaku and add creepy Japanese sex appeal and you get the Moe Moe series.

Some gameplay videos of the Ragnarok themed tactics game.

Science meets gaming article of the month! Super Scrabble players push brain ability beyond what was thought possible.

One more since I can't resist. IBM develops new chips that mimic biological neurons. Soon we'll be losing to computers in Street Fighter as well as Chess.

As for myself, I'm still on my quest to play as many Super Robot Wars games as I can. It's been fun experiencing how the series has developed from its humble Game Boy origins. At least until Devil Survivor Overclocked comes out, then I'll have to check that out. Devil Survivor was a decent tactics game but almost every battle was generic filler and as long as you set up a decent team you could faceroll through everything but the bosses.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

3rd Super Robot Wars (SFC) Review

Dai-3-Ji (3rd) Super Robot Wars is the third SRW game to be released. 3rd SRW experiences some growing pains as the series develops from a simple Game Boy game to a modern franchise. Major changes include a branching plotline with multiple endings, robots with more than two attacks, pilots and robots gaining separate stats, pilots able to switch between robots, robots upgraded during intermission instead of with items, weapons consuming energy/ammo and requiring morale, and pilot/robot terrain aptitude. Depending on the choices you make and your turn count, you'll play between 34-39 of 58 total missions per playthrough.

Unlike 2nd SRW where ranged attacks were a rarity, every robot you can control has a ranged attack. SRW3's game strategies start with a heavy emphasis on ranged vs melee balance. Ranged attacks are stronger than melee, but they're less accurate and you can't move and attack with them. Enemy AI is smarter than in 2nd SRW. It will often focus fire more effectively and is harder to distract or kite. I'd say this part of the game is fairly simple and balanced, much like 2nd SRW.

As the game progresses you'll be facing multiple high HP bosses that can act twice per turn and one shot most of your robots. Even the non boss enemies will be able to act twice per turn and have very high stats. At that point strategies shift to MAP area attacks that can destroy huge groups of enemies and strong single target attacks to deal with uber bosses. Your own pilots are eventually able to double act, leading to the tricky situation of both sides being able to quickly annihilate one another, with the one striking first being the winner.

3rd SRW is very receptive to speedrunning. Well placed MAP attacks can wipe entire scenarios worth of enemies in a single turn, and double act pilots can cover vast amounts of terrain to quickly engage far off enemies. Most scenarios can be completed in 5 turns or less, skipping most of the scheduled reinforcements. Your turn counts are tracked so you can see how well you're doing. It feels like there are balancing issues when so many missions can be cleared before scheduled reinforcements. Sometimes if you clear a mission too quickly you'll run into game crippling bugs or miss out on recruitable pilots, as well.

While 3rd SRW adds a decent amount of complexity and depth, in some ways it regresses from 2nd SRW. Every scenario goal is to kill all enemies with no variation. No escape missions, and no single target kill missions. It's certainly a difficult game near the end, but I felt like the constant MAP attack spam and uber bosses started to wear thin. There's just not enough depth to keep the entire game feeling fresh and varied.

Animations are still unskippable and the game is only tolerable by using an emulator speedup toggle. 3rd SRW combat is so painfully slow at normal speed that it's not even worth playing. You could go to the bathroom and make a sandwich in the time it takes for the CPU to take its turn in some of the more crowded missions. Controls are better than the FC version but they are still fairly primitive and don't even make use of all the buttons on the SFC controller.

3rd SRW is a game with quite a few growing pains and balance issues as it develops into a modern franchise. Despite its rough around the edges design, it has held up very well with the exception of unskippable animations.

Strategic Depth: Low-Medium.
Strategic Difficulty: Medium-high.
Overall Score: 7.2
Reviewer's experience: Completed with no upgrades, no units destroyed, and no save/load spamming for low chances to hit or dodge, 159 turns, 34 scenarios complete.