Saturday, December 31, 2011

Tactical Insights 2011 Awards

Welcome to the 2011 Tactical Insights awards. You'll notice there are import as well as localized games given awards. However, I'm not averse to rewarding the same game a second time in the future if it's localized for North America. Each system will have a winner and a runner up, with some other deserving nominations mentioned. Unfortunately, systems like the PS3, 360, and Wii frequently only have 1-2 games per year, so I've combined them. Some systems will also have a "Dunce Cap" award. The Dunce Cap award is not necessarily for awful games, as you can find those in abundance, but awful games that have been given undue prominence or praise.

Please note that the scope of these awards only covers turn based tactical level strategy games, generally keeping within the guidelines of the frequently updated tactics game list.

3DS/DS: The 3DS hasn't been out for long, but the tactics games are already coming in. Expect the 3DS to be a haven for tactics games in the coming years. The DS is on its last legs, but remains one of the best systems for tactics games.

2011 Best 3DS/DS Game: SD Gundam G Generation 3D (3DS), Trailer

SD Gundam G Generation 3D is one of the best yet in the G Generation series, the best tactics game on the 3DS as of yet, and a good SRPG in its own right. It plays a lot like a modern Super Robot Wars game with spirit commands (seishins) for pilots, a morale system, and generally similar stats and combat mechanics. You'll find plenty of content variety, depth, units, pilots, equipment, and overall mechanics. Several challenge conditions and end of mission rankings help encourage efficient play. Other features include unit capture, group assignments, MAP attacks, and building your own space colony/base. While there's no chance of this arriving in NA, it would be nice to see a port to a region free system such as Vita, PSP, or PS3.

2011 3DS/DS Game Runner Up: Devil Survivor 2 (DS), Trailer

This sequel to the original Devil Survivor on the DS is a bit formulaic and doesn't change the core game play much. What you do get is a new storyline, new characters, skills, demons, enemies, and everything else that comes with a numbered sequel. Devil Survivor 2 includes the improvements from Devil Survivor: Overclocked including an end of game ranking system, easy mode, and demon compendium. If you loved the original Devil Survivor, you'll find more to enjoy here. Devil Survivor 2 will be arriving in NA in 2012, which will almost certainly be the DS's last tactics game hurrah. More than likely you'll see Devil Survivor 2 awarded again next year when it's released in North America.

Other 3DS/DS nominations: Devil Survivor: Overclocked (3DS)

PSP: The aging PSP is still a tactics game powerhouse even in its twilight years. If you're a tactics game fan and you don't own a PSP, what's wrong with you? The PSP easily had the largest amount of quality tactics games in 2011. Unfortunately, almost all of the good PSP games are still unlocalized. Next year NA gamers can look forward to Sting developed Gungnir, which is a fairly good, if somewhat generic, SRPG. Let's just hope we don't see too many copies of Gungnir in the 2012 end of year bargain bins, as it seems like quite a gamble on Atlus' part and not consistent with their recent sales strategies.

2011 Best PSP Game: 2nd Super Robot Wars Z Hakai-hen (Trailer)

2nd Super Robot Wars Z is polished, accessible, and features some of the best tactics content on the PSP. The 2D battle animations are so good, I even found myself watching them occasionally, which is something I almost never do. It has great production values, a polished UI, a wide variety of units, pilots, skills, skill points, and mission content. Difficulty can vary depending on skill points much like Super Robot Wars Original Generation, so beginners can get through the game fairly easily. From what I've read, the plot is decent as well, if you're into giant robots and hot headed (blooded?) pilots.

2011 PSP Game Runner Up: Senjou no Valkyria 3, (Trailer)

Valkyria Chronicles has a tragic history here in NA, a history familiar to tactics game fans. A game in a moderately successful franchise is released that isn't quite as popular as previous games, sales plummet, and the publisher decides to stop localizing future games regardless of quality or demand. It's happened to Fire Emblem DS, Front Mission 4, and now Valkyria Chronicles 2. But on to the game itself - VC3 adjusts issues that fans had with VC2, including the class upgrade system, small map and deployment size, schoolyard drama plot, and repetitive mission content. It adds several interesting features like special abilities that allow you to run around with multiple units at once or use powerful attacks. Overall it's a better game than VC2, about on par with the original VC, and it's a shame it wasn't localized.

Other PSP nominations: Legends of War: Patton's Campaign, Gungnir, Gloria Union, SD Gundam G Generation World

2011 PSP Dunce Cap: Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together

Let's take a mediocre party building/sandbox RPG, slap it on a grid, give it an awful UI and slow combat pacing, and let all the RPG players who've never played anything other than Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre call it the best, most deep and highly tactical SRPG ever! Tactics Ogre also wins the award for the 'most overrated SRPG of 2011'. I could go into detail about how it's a poor quality game, but you should probably just read my review for that.

PC: The PC continues to be one of the best systems to find tactics games available in English. There's also plenty of operational or strategic level games to b e found on the PC. Although I don't cover operational or strategic level games much at all, I'll give another mention to Unity of Command for being a quality operational level game that's known for having a crafty AI.

2011 Best PC Game: Panzer Corps, (Trailer)

The developer and publisher Slitherine Games has kept the torch burning for top quality turn based tactics PC games, rising above the piles of indie games and the like. Developed by The Lordz Games Studio, Panzer Corps is a particularly great game that has everything you'd want in a tactical military simulation. It's inspired by the classic SSI Panzer General and contains many similar concepts. It's a 2D game so almost any PC should be able to run it, even netbooks. It's already got 3 expansion packs, with a 4th one arriving in 2012.

2011 PC Game Runner Up: Frozen Synapse, (Trailer)

Frozen Synapse isn't technically a turn based tactics game of the type I normally cover. In Frozen Synapse both players move at the same time after issuing commands. Combat takes on a more predictive nature, assuming that your opponent is going to move or fire here, so you'll want to counteract them from there. While the concept of both players moving at the same time isn't new, Frozen Synapse does it with a refined style and efficient UI that makes it an excellent example of its style of play. It's also a bit more exciting as a competitive game than the usual player/enemy turn based style, since both players are allowed to issue commands on every turn.

Other PC nominations: Age of Fear, Field of Glory expansion packs. Unfortunately, due to the size of the PC market, I may have missed a good game or two. If you feel that's the case please let me know.

2011 PC Dunce Cap: Grotesque Tactics 2

Holy crap this game is awful. An entirely unnecessary sequel to the rather bad Grotesque Tactics, Grotesque Tactics 2 improves in neither game play quality nor managing to tell any better jokes. It's the equivalent of watching Scary Movie: The Tactics Game, a poor self-parody that only manages to fall flat on its face and cause awkward glances around the room in an attempt at an escape strategy. It's inexplicably on Steam for $19.99, despite belonging in the doldrums of obscure shovelware. The only steam rising from Grotesque Tactics 2 is not the kind you'd like to get a whiff of.

2011 PS3/360/Wii Game Runner Up: SD Gundam G Generation World (Wii), Trailer

I would have given SD Gundam G Generation World the award in this category, but I felt giving one G Generation game an award was enough. It's a great tactics game, of course, but G Generation games are not particularly import friendly, due to their more complex mechanics and management features. It's also available on PSP with identical content and gameplay.

Other nominations: None

2011 PS3/360/Wii Dunce Cap: Record of Agarest War Zero

Apparently the hideously bad Record of Agarest War sold well enough that Aksys decided to localize the next game in the series, Record of Agarest War Zero. It's the same awful Grindea Factory crap, of course. Playing like a shovelware PC hentai/porn game hastily ported to consoles and stripped of the reason anyone played it in the first place, Record of Agarest War Zero is as bland, boring, repetitive, grindy, and ronery as the original.

iPhone: There's a constant stream of English language tactics games for the iPhone. Unfortunately quite a few of them can veer into shovelware territory, but there are usually a few good ones. The iPhone tactics library might have slipped a bit in quality this year, but you can still find something worth playing for the price.

2011 Best iPhone Game: Squids, Trailer

Squids is an interesting cross up between turn based tactics games and pool. You send your seafood flying into enemies and other objectives to complete the map, making it as much about accuracy with a pool cue as it is choosing the right targets to aim at. The controls aren't perfect, but it throws in enough variety to be interesting, and also includes an end of mission ranking. It's a good example of the kind of innovation going on in the iPhone platform, and thankfully proves that western tactics game developers aren't quite dead yet.

2011 iPhone Game Runner Up: Tactical Soldier - Undead Rising, Trailer

Tactical Soldier - Undead Rising is a solid tactics game involving lots of guns, zombies, and guts. Maybe not the most original tactics game, but it has high production values and is a fairly entertaining game. Unfortunately combat pacing does tend to be on the slow side.

Other nominations: Metal Brigade Tactics, Great Little War Game, Hunters: Episode One, Ravenmark: Scourge of Estellion. Unfortunately, due to the size of the iPhone market, I may have missed a good game or two. If you feel that's the case please let me know.

And there you have it. All the best (and worst?) tactics games of 2011 squared away. Look forward to a preview of what's coming in 2012.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Dec 2011 News

2011 has been a pretty good year for tactics games. It's encouraging to see indie developers continuing to give the genre a try, and if you're willing to import you can play some fairly big releases. Working on an end of year award post for the next few days.

This Gundam Guy post covers lots of gameplay details about SD Gundam G Generation 3D. I'd like to play this but I don't feel like shelling out for a Japanese 3DS at this time. Maybe when Fire Emblem 3DS is released. It's the only noteworthy tactics game this month that I'm aware of.

Super Robot Wars Masou Kishin II 10 minute trailer.

Info on the Vita Disgaea 3 port.

Atlus is localizing Gungnir for NA, estimated 6/12/2012. Here's some gameplay footage. It's a fairly generic SRPG. Hopefully I don't see too many copies in the bargain bin next year. Maybe they'll announce Blaze or Gloria Union next? Or maybe the PS3 Super Robot Wars.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Introducing Strat

My brother Chris and I have been working on a turn based tactics game called Strat. Each level in Strat is separate with no growth system between levels, and the entire game is deterministic (non-random). It's definitely more of a pure strategy title and much closer to a puzzle game than an RPG. There are 18 playable units with 5 abilities each, along with a number of CPU only units and bosses. Each class has a defined role with unique and balanced abilities that are all useful in certain situations. It's a far cry from your typical imbalanced powers based tactics game where the majority of classes or abilities are inferior or useless. There are lots of mechanics in Strat like multiple objectives, doors and panels, triggers, reinforcements, teleports, terrain status effects, custom scripting in each level, etc. in order to keep combat varied and interesting. There is of course a scoring system as well as a real time limit per turn to keep the pressure up.

While I've been able to give feedback and advice on Strat's development, I don't have the final say on what goes into it, so I don't necessarily agree with every design decision. Most of my work on Strat has been designing and scripting the levels, which are later edited by Chris. Even with my experience playing tactics games, it's often a challenge developing and testing quality content. Please give the development build a try and let us know what you think.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

November 2011 News #2

A bit of year end news incoming. I'm trying to get my hands on some more 2011 tactics games to give out some end of year awards, but I'm sure you can already guess FFT, Disgaea, and TO won't be on the list. My playtime and writing time on games has been stalled for a couple weeks because I've also been working on a turn based tactics game with my brother. It's coming along well. I'm designing most of the levels and giving feedback on balance and gameplay issues. I'll be making a full post about it soon.

SD Gundam G Generation 3D is a new entry in the long running G Gen series. Don't think for a second that a game with this level of effort and production values will stay on the 3DS. I guarantee you they'll be porting this to Vita minus the 3D. New screenshots here.

New screenshots for Super Robot Wars: Masou Kishin II. From what I can see, it's going to play very similar to the original game, with the same low unit counts and low depth relative to other SRW games.

Super Robot Wars F/FF are now on the PSN. I recently played through F/FF and thought it was the best classic SRW. You can't speed up or skip the animations in the PSN version, unfortunately, which I don't have the patience for.

Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars announced for iOS. It looks like a straight up port with no attempt to address any of the issues I had with the game on the 3DS. Hopefully it's at least less crashy and buggy.


A new iPhone game by Robot Entertainment called Hero Academy has been announced. It's a PvP game with emphasis on simplicity and fast paced action. Smartphones are a great platform for mobile turn based gaming since they are always connected and you can take your turn whenever you have a spare moment.

Let's look at one of the games coming out in early 2012. Daisenryaku Perfect: Senjou no Hasha is a port of the PSP game of the same name. I tried the PSP game but it seemed to suffer from a lot of interface lag and loading time. For a little history, Daisenryaku is the only hardcore tactical level turn based military simuator still being produced for consoles. It's similar to PC military sims that most console gamers run screaming from, featuring hundreds of realistic military units, dozens of real world nations, complex combat rules, and long and difficult scenarios. The PC version of Daisenryaku Perfect will probably remain the definitive version of the series, IMO. At the very least the PS3/360 versions should have less UI lag and load times that the PSP version suffered from.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

November 2011 News #1

The latest turn based tactical level video game news! Even the stuff Andriasang turns its nose up on! The only web site on the planet that covers both console and PC turn based tactics games! Why both camps largely ignore each other like the other doesn't exist is beyond me.

New SD Gundam G Generation 3D screenshots. We get a good look at some of the combat screens. It looks like there will be timing prompts to get bonus accuracy or damage or something. This is also the first G Gen game to feature seishins (spirit commands), probably as an attempt to make G Gen more appealing to the larger SRW playerbase. You'll be able to take on optional missions for funds. There's a skill point-like system called 'break trigger' or 'challenge mission'. It looks like break trigger is the easier skill point to achieve, while challenge mission is a harder version of the skill point. While G Gen 3D still retains some of the series quirks, it seems like the most SRW-like title yet, which should help broaden its target audience. Unfortunately the 3DS region lock will continue to be a sore point for the system. (note: my analysis may be completely wrong since I don't read fluent Japanese)

Here's an article going into detail on Rainbow Moon, a PSN exclusive SRPG. It's made by the developers of Soldner-X and X2, quite a change from shoot em ups to tactical RPGs. It looks like it will be more RPG than tactics game, so FFT and TO fans should start rejoicing. "It’s a strategy role-playing game (or, for short, “SRPG”) with a strong emphasis on exploration, character development and turn-based battles." Nothing about an SRPG means it has to be a traditional RPG with a turn based grid slapped on it like FFT and TO. Fire Emblem and Super Robot Wars are both SRPGs that follow a linear campaign with little or no exploration and grinding, not to mention they usually have useful scoring systems. However, there is a "ranking" tab on the Rainbow Moon official site, so we'll have to see what they come up with.

Article on Unity of Command, a turn based operational level game. While I don't usually cover operational or strategic level strategy games, this one stands out as having a very smart AI and a good mix of tactical action and operational style supply and support lines.

Panzer Corps DLC #1 is out.

Battle Academy: Operation Sealion expansion announced.

Frozen Synapse is coming to iPhone/iPad in 2012.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together (PSP) Review

Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together for PSP is a remake of the original Tactics Ogre released in late 1995 on the Super Famicom.  Tactics Ogre is not the "inventor", "innovator", or "the grandfather of" the tactics genre. Series such as Front Mission, Fire Emblem, Super Robot Wars, Langrisser, Daisenryaku, X-COM, Shining Force, Nectaris, Jagged Alliance, Panzer General, Famicom Wars, and well over 200 other turn based tactical level video games were released earlier than Tactics Ogre, and did just about everything TO did first. Nothing important about Tactics Ogre's game play was particularly new or innovative in 1995, let alone in 2011.

So how well does this remake stand up to the sleek, efficient, and well designed modern tactics games of today? Not very well. Tactics Ogre fails in its combat pacing, tactical variety and content, strategically meaningful depth, user interface, and difficulty.

Tactics Ogre is lacking in content variety. Almost every mission is completed by killing the enemy leader with a few token trash mobs strewn about. Almost every map is a hill gradually rolling from bottom to top. There are almost no scripted events or interesting things going on to speak of.

Almost all of the games depth - its physical attack and element types, skills, stats, statuses, spells, races, tarot signs, terrain, height, directional facing, finishing moves, battlefield conditions, and etc. can be soundly ignored in favor of a few simple strategies that are repeated ad nauseum. Tactics Ogres depth is strategically meaningless in the face of easy, simple, overpowered strategies. It doesn't get any more difficult or complex further into the campaign, either. As a result most fights are boring, easy, and repetitive.

Due to the poor level design and variety, I don't think TO challenge runs are particularly appealing. Not to mention you'll need to restrict yourself from using almost everything available, and the game will still be pretty easy regardless. Just like there are better tactics games to play, there are better tactics games to do challenge runs on.

Much of TOs depth is needlessly convoluted and confusing, on top of being mostly useless in favor of archers, TP, damage boosting skills, etc. Learning and casting spells is a convoluted process involving scrolls, skills, and "arcanas". Making one skill per enemy race and status effect only serves to pad out skill lists with useless chaff.

The insistence on obscurely naming every spell some sort of pseudo-latin gibberish is particularly ridiculous. It feels like an attempt to browbeat and befuddle the player with similarly strategically meaningless options that have little applicable effect on the game. Many times the shop and crafting list will flood with items and gear for classes you can't even use yet.

It's telling that mid way through the game the developers give up and hand you spells that cure all buffs/debuffs instead of creating an individual spell for each effect. The "Tactics Ogre is so deep!" emperor has no clothes.

The AI is incompetent, coded to run forward recklessly and hit the target that they'll do the most damage to. Even worse, the game constantly saddles you with uncontrollable, badly behaved AI allies. Your guest allies will ignore your own breakable crowd control such as sleep and won't exorcise undead.

When trying to save potential NPC recruits units that prefer to run away from you and not heal themselves, it's completely random as to whether they'll survive long enough for you to rescue them. Not that recruits are particularly valuable since they'll almost always have a worse skill set than what you can build onto the troops you begin the game with.

The developers require the player to grind to experience most of the games famed "depth". Classes all level up at once, but you can't level a class if it isn't used during a mission, and new classes start at level 1. Since level 1 classes tend to be very weak beyond chapter 1 you'll have to cripple your team or start grinding if you wish to bring a new class up to speed. This means any new class you get past chapter 2 is going to be a dead weight on your team unless you spend time grinding.

In addition, any new characters you get won't have the same skill point base or optimal build that you've developed with your older ones, putting them at a significant disadvantage. it's more efficient, in terms of time spent, to stick with your initial roster that you begin the game with.

Playing Tactics Ogre "any way you want" is only possible if you're willing to put in the hours grinding new class levels and new recruit skills. Of course grinding isn't necessary to complete the game, but then you're highly limited in the amount of depth you can explore because grinding is required for so much of it.

Random encounters are frequent and encourage the player to grind, although you can thankfully avoid fighting random encounters and run away. Optional areas exist solely to pit players against randomly generated enemies with no other purpose than more repetitive filler battles. Clearing these areas even once will over level your party for the next story battles. Recruiting units is a boring, repetitive grind consisting of surrounding a weakened enemy and spamming the recruit skill until they yield.

The pace of combat is slow and tedious for no good reason, with no way to skip any animations. There are additional, intentional delays when the AI targets something or moves or performs any action at all. The slow combat speed makes an already repetitive and boring game even worse.

Moving on to the user interface, it's outdated and lacking features. There's no L/R function to switch between viable enemy or allied targets in target selection mode. There's no way to rotate the camera to anything but an overhead view - a huge issue for an isometric 3D game.

The menu tree is a UI disaster. Instead of a context sensitive cursor that intuitively speeds up the battle flow by allowing you to move, attack, etc. without going into a menu, you'll have to have to select move, attack, or wait every time. A common series of actions like moving then waiting takes 4+ extraneous button presses due to the poorly designed menus. Abilities, skills, and items are inexplicably split up into different menu trees for no particular reason. Multiply that by the tens of thousands of times you'll have to navigate the menus to perform the simplest action and combat speed is significantly slowed down.

The shop and party management screens are similarly cumbersome. There's no way to see a spreadsheet list of character stats, instead you're forced to view one stat at a time. You can't check whether your classes are at a given level to wear a piece of equipment or learn a spell from inside the shop - meaning if they're unable to equip a piece of gear, it doesn't tell you what level they have to be in order to equip it. Nor can you compare shop items and currently equipped gear.

The description text in the shops scrolls by at an agonizingly slow pace. Having to jump back and forth between the shop and party management screen when you're trying to outfit 12+ units is tedious.

There's no indication of what's new in a shop as the story develops, forcing you to scroll through absurdly long item lists hoping that you spot what's new mixed in with the old. This of course ties in with the attempt to befuddle the player with long lists of mostly useless items, gear, and skills.

On to the battle preparation interface, there's no way to preview the upcoming battle during preparations or see how your unit placement grid relates to their positions on the map, nor can you save during the placement grid screen. You're unable to change the battle party grid on the world map. You can't save during preparation while doing a series of linked missions inside a fortress, forcing you to do your party management all over again if you want to restart.

There's no button to immediately remove every person on the battle party grid, instead you have to do it manually. The skip cut scene button(s) are annoyingly inefficient. You'll need to use it multiple times times just to get through what should be a single cut scene. Post-battle results features a distracting and annoying flag waving around - seemingly a symbol of how little thought was put into the user interface in general.

The crafting system is tedious, obtuse, and needlessly time wasting. First, you can't check the stats of anything you want to craft, so you won't know whether it's worth the time and effort. Most materials needed to craft items are found in the store, which then need to be synthesized into more refined items. Why bother making the player combine base items into refined items when they could just sell the refined items instead? Although there are certainly some materials that are only obtainable from random encounters (read: more grinding).

After an eternity of repetitively clicking and watching a little jar shake around turning your store bought materials into refined materials and combining those refined materials together to finally make an item, you'll usually find out it wasn't even worth crafting in the first place. Even worse, there's a chance your crafting effort will completely fail. You can save/load until you succeed, but then why bother with a sadistic failure rate in the first place?

There are a series of mostly meaningless "titles" added to the remake, most of which are vapid "gimmie" awards and have little or no relation to the players skill level. The ever present level and skill grinding makes any sort of challenge completable by patience instead of skill.

An autosave system going by the gimmicky acronym of "chariot" is present in TO, along with unlimited quicksaves that make the autosave system fairly meaningless. There's a title for not using the autosaves, but then you can use quicksaves to achieve the same effect, so why bother with a "no autosave" title in the first place?

Some of the titles are more a reward of patience than skill, such as "Finish the game without ever retreating." Not retreating from optional battles makes the game easier to complete due to higher party stats. It's ironic when it takes more skill to deliberately avoid getting an "achievement" than it does to earn it.

Like most RPGs it's so riddled with flaws and loopholes that allow the player to avoid difficulty that it's pretty much useless as a measure of player skill. Tactics Ogre is useful as an emotional experience only.

The plot is a JRPG take on medieval history and legends, with the typical teenage melodrama, ham fisted morality, and evil villains you'd expect from a JRPG. The faux-olde English translation seems like a desperate attempt to give the plot some sort of authenticity and hide its JRPG trappings. I happen to like my medieval fantasy without the JRPG conventions.

Tactics Ogre is a traditional RPG shoehorned onto a turn based grid while failing to take advantage of the added potential depth that the turn based tactics genre offers. If all turn based tactics started playing like Tactics Ogre/FFT/Disgaea, the turn based tactics genre would be almost entirely pointless, and all that would be left is a lot of RPG-esque, grind heavy "sandbox" games. For that reason, Tactics Ogre is a series that would be better off as a traditional RPG, instead of making a mockery of the turn based tactics genre.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Namco-Bandai announces SRW Masou Kishin II for PSP

In the newest Famitsu magazine (Scan 1, Scan 2, Scan 3, Scan 4), Namco-Bandai has announced a new Super Robot Wars entry titled Masou Kishin II. It's a sequel to the original Masou Kishin released on SFC and recently remade on the DS, which I recently reviewed. It's being developed by Winkysoft, who last made SRW F/FF and Complete Box for the Playstation. Hopefully they figure out how to add animation skipping this time!

Masou Kishin II will also come in a limited edition bundle with Masou Kishin DS remade for the PSP. They're taking the DS version and adding additional voice acting and better animations. Masou Kishin for PSP will only be available in the limited edition bundle, not standalone.

Release date is Jan 12, 2012. Trailer coming on Nov 1, 2011. Official website here.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Super Robot Wars F/FF (PS) Review

Super Robot Wars F/FF is the final entry to the classic SRW storyline, meant to replace 4th SRW. It's loosely based on the plot of 4th SRW, but is otherwise an almost entirely new game. SRW F and FF have a combined 78-80 scenarios per playthrough and over 100 total scenarios. It was longest continuous SRW campaign at that point and isn't for the fainthearted.

You can again create your own main character, although you have less control over which seishins they can use. The disparity between real and super MCs is quite large, which leads to super MC having a far easier time in F compared to real MC. The affinity mechanic makes its first appearance in SRW F, allowing two pilots who are friends or lovers to gain a stat boost when standing close to one another. While it's undocumented and fairly useless in practice, it shows how SRW continued to progress even in the classic series. Not to be left out, several mechanics from SRW Gaiden reappear in SRW F. This includes EXP for unused seishin points at the end of a mission and EXP for healing. Items are dropped by enemies instead of being hidden on the map, a trend that thankfully continues into modern SRWs.

A couple new seishins are added to mix things up such as Taunt and Dream, while other favorites like Rage have been removed. Formerly exploitable seishins in 4th SRW like Ressurect and Re-Enable are extremely rare and cost far more SP. There aren't nearly as many scenarios that can be finished by killing a single target like in 4th SRW, either.

Newly added series such as Ideon, Gunbuster, Gundam Wing, and Evangelion come with their own unique mechanics and abilities that help to add some much needed variety to the otherwise familiar classic roster. The Evangelion pilots have AT Fields to absorb damage and if Shinji's health is reduced to 0 his Eva will go berserk with a heavy case of the munchies. The Eva series also gets its own ending route, although it's more of a bad ending that skips the final 15 or so scenarios. Ideon is an extreme super robot that can wipe out entire maps with its Ideon Gun, or go berserk and aim at your forces instead. Gunbuster and Gundam Wing are more traditional robots and pilots without much in the way of unique mechanics, but it's still nice to see some new faces and units.

SRW F is one of the most difficult SRW campaigns, especially if you chose a Real pilot main character instead of a Super pilot. You'll frequently find yourself facing high armor, beam shielded L-Gaim, Guest, and Dunbine enemies, often on difficult terrain like forests, bases, and underwater. The two part scenarios where anyone used in the first scenario suffers a morale loss in the second scenario if their morale was over 100 are particularly brutal. In addition, you'll frequently be hounded by extremely powerful Evangelion angels and Guest bosses that are usually only possible to defeat with copious upgrades and lucky hits/critical hits. Sometimes it can get boring or annoying waiting around for these bosses to retreat if you don't feel like defeating them.

SRW FF is the direct sequel to F, allowing you to use your F save data to continue where the last game left off. SRW FF's campaign is significantly easier, with the exception of a few scenarios. Your Gundam pilots will reach double act, learn Spirit seishin, and get some decent robots with funnel attacks. Your super robots in FF are incredibly powerful and make most of the F supers look poor in comparison. Your other pilots learn a wide variety of seishins that make combat much easier. You'll often be fighting in space and not dealing with difficult earth terrain. Once you have full access to Ideon, it can make quick work of the last 10 or so scenarios.

Despite the huge number of scenarios, there is little empty filler. There's usually always some kind of reinforcement, event, retreat, or objective to keep things interesting. Most scenarios usually have multiple reinforcements and events that need to be carefully considered in any kind of efficient playthrough. There are two end game route splits of 10-11 scenarios that are both worth playing through.

4th SRW certainly had its game breaking combinations, and FF is no different. Late in FF, you gain full access to the robot Ideon which has two MAP attacks with infinite range and the maximum possible damage of 9999. On top of that, the Ideon pilots have both Strike and Spirit which guarantees the attack will always land and deal 3x damage. However, in order to use the MAP attacks Ideon needs to get attacked by enemies to raise its Ideon Gauge, and if it gets attacked too many times it will go berserk and start firing its MAP attack at anything it pleases, including your own units. In addition, if Ideon dies or is attacked too many times while berserk, you get an immediate game over.

While it's a double edged sword and requires careful management of the Ideon Gauge, the Ideon Gun can wipe entire maps clean of all enemies due to its enormous radius, infinite range, and extreme damage. The Ideon Sword is just as damaging, but is much more difficult to aim since it only fires in two straight lines instead of a huge cone. While building up the Ideon Gun or Sword isn't nearly as easy as the 4th SRW tactic of spamming Resurrect, Ideon Sword/Gun can still one shot any enemy in the game when combined with a Spirit seishin, final bosses included. Even when using Ideon to its fullest, though, the end game of FF is still more difficult than 4th SRW's endgame as the situation can quickly go bad when using Ideon.

F/FF uses the same engine as Shin, with a near identical UI. Sadly the feature from Shin where you could activate the same seishin across multiple pilots is not in F/FF. Animations are still unskippable so you'll want to use a speedup toggle to avoid sitting through them.

Overall F/FF is a great SRW entry for veterans, although a nightmare for the inexperienced. The only issues are balance between real and super type MC, Ideon being overpowered, and the usual unskippable animations.

Reviewers experience: 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

Guide here!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

October 2011 Update #1

What's good folks? We have a few bits of news in turn based tactics land.

New trailer for SD Gundam G Generation 3DS and 3DS bundle. If the bundle is cheaper than a plain Japanese 3DS + game, it's probably worth it if you plan on playing other Japanese Region Locked 3DS games like Fire Emblem, Super Robot Wars, and anything else that happens to be published.

A Sega rep confirmed what we already knew, that Valkyria Chronicles 3 will not be seeing an official English translation.

Touch Arcade review of a new iPhone/iPod Touch strategy game called Squids. In this game you take turns ricocheting sea life into enemies, a bit of a departure from the usual grid based format.

Panzer Corps expansion pack announced. This is an excellent turn based strategy game for PC that has drawn a lot of comparisons to Panzer General.

I was made aware of a card based tactics game called JollyGrim. While this isn't exactly a turn based game, it's grid based, tactical, and features a lot of strategy, so you may want to check it out.

I'm still playing through the Super Robot Wars series. I've been playing through F and F Final which combined is a 79 scenario campaign, so it's quite a long haul. Looking forward to getting into the more modern games in the series, especially animation skipping. If you would like to read my current playthrough log for Super Robot Wars F/FF check out this in progress text here.

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.

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.

Friday, July 29, 2011

2nd Super Robot Wars (Famicom) Review

Dai-2-Ji (2nd) Super Robot Wars is the second SRW game to be released. 2nd SRW was a great game for its time in 1991, and certainly one of the best NES turn based tactics games. Despite being released in 1991, it bears a lot of similarities to modern SRWs. Major differences from the 1st SRW include named pilots, repair robots, motherships, quicksaves, revamped seishins, and robots surviving a battle if defeated. 2nd SRW picks up the SRPG standard of a steady cast of characters that progress through story based missions. There are 26 missions with no branching paths, making it a relatively short game for tactics vets.

2nd SRW sticks to the fundamentals of ranged vs melee, healing, focus fire, efficient seishin use, and carefully placed AOE attacks. All units are limited to only two abilities or attacks, although later in the game most of your robots can transform and use a different set of weapons. Unlike 1st SRW, almost none of your units get ranged attacks for the first half of the game, so they are frequently taking damage. This also makes it more difficult to surround an enemy for a fast kill. To make up for the extra damage you're able to use repair robots, motherships, or seishins. About half way through the game you'll get more ranged units, but they have their own drawbacks as well. Enemy AI isn't very good at focus fire or acting in a group, so it's pretty easy to divide its attention to avoid casualties.

You'll occasionally face large numbers of enemies attacking at once, making it tricky to keep everyone alive. It's fairly difficult to avoid repair bills while keeping a low turn count in some late game missions against bosses with very high stats and frequent double attacks. In several missions it's possible to finish before certain scripted events are supposed to happen, which I doubt the developers intended. The difficulty curve is fairly uneven, which probably owes to the development teams inexperience. You'll often find yourself surrounded and/or facing nasty bosses right after a bunch of relatively easy missions. Most maps can be completed in 7-9 turns. Quicksaves are available so it's much easier to recover from mistakes than in 1st SRW, or reload for better combat results if you are desperate. There's no grinding available, so if you play poorly you may find later missions difficult if not impossible.

Items and funds are not implemented effectively in 2nd SRW. You barely get any funds and items cost a ton. Even if you avoid repair bills you'll only be able to pick up a few items throughout the game, and they are more or less insignificant anyway. Your pilots levels are far more important than upgrades.

Controls are better than 1st SRW with an added unit list, quick stat screen button, and better menus. You still can't turn off battle animations or tab between units, unfortunately. Graphics are decent, but not animated. They could certainly have put more effort into it, considering there are Game Boy SRW games with better animation.

2nd SRW is a good representation of SRW's transformation halfway between a simple Game Boy game towards a modern franchise that has spawned dozens of releases. Note that while the Famicom version shares the same name with the Playstation version, that version is a remake with altered maps and gameplay.

Strategic Depth: Low.
Strategic Difficulty: Medium-high. If you speedrun and avoid repair bills, you're in for some fun.
Overall Score: 6.8
Reviewer's experience: Finished the campaign with no units destroyed, 243 turns.