Publisher: Bandai Namco Games
Reviewer: John Rien
Overall: 7 = Good
Dynasty Warriors: Gundam Reborn is bursting with mobile suits. Through five campaigns that span five different series, players can’t swing a laser sword or shoot a rocket launcher without blowing up dozens at a time. It’s this concentrated mass destruction, set as it is within a rich, decades-spanning franchise, which gives Gundam Reborn the momentum to see it through a handful of shortcomings.
The main menu is something of an illusion. Seeing only two gameplay modes—Official and Ultimate—gives the impression that there’s not much to this download-only entry. Players will quickly find the opposite to be true, as one takes them through five oft-connected storylines within the universe, and the other offers a massive mish-mash of characters and gundams from several more spin-offs. Official includes five lines: Mobile Suit Gundam, Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam, Mobile Suit Gundam: Char’s Counterattack, Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn, Mobile Suit Gundam Seed, and Mobile Suit Gundam Seed Destiny. Added to these are more pilots and mechs from Mobile Suit Gundam Wing, Mobile Suit Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket, Mobile Suit Gundam F91, and more in Ultimate Mode. In short, there are a lot of bots.
While navigating the different series and the ever-increasing roster of pilots and mechs is easy enough, keeping track of who’s who and what’s going on is another matter altogether. The earlier series start off slowly, with the characters being introduced at a regulated pace to ensure that newcomers can quickly grasp the sides, the pilots, and their respective motivations. Once the ball gets rolling, however, it becomes difficult to sort out what’s going on as the stories become increasingly truncated to fit within a few dialog boxes of exchanged between characters over a handful of slides and a few marginally animated overviews of each faction’s decisions in the ongoing war. Things get worse around the time of Unicorn, as characters begin re-appearing with new names or in alliance with previous enemies, who have also changed names. Significant events are dealt with so quickly that those unfamiliar with the original anime will find themselves lost in process. For instance, a character will be introduced on the second screen of a story sequence and die on the fourth, and for players who aren’t well versed with the universe, the impact is minimal; however, in the lore, it’s actually a catalyst for a plot that won’t be resolved until several series—and, at the time of their release, actual real-world years—later. Several characters look alike as well, which isn’t as easy to keep track of in Gundam Reborn given how quickly events move along, unlike the series themselves, in which the viewer has hours to become accustomed to any changes in old characters or those recently introduced. Further adding to the confusion is that several of the similar-looking characters are also voiced by similar-sounding Japanese voice actors, and being that this appears to be something of a quick port, there are some typos and textual flubs as well. Thankfully, the major points can be followed, and players new to the series should stick with it as some interesting themes are explored, albeit tersely, while longtime fans will enjoy taking part in so much of the early universe.
The campaigns are made up of connected areas that host the missions representing many of the key points within their respective storylines. As in the previous Gundam-themed Dynasty Warriors, the areas are broken up into points defended by hordes of enemy grunts led by handfuls of captains and other special units. Defeating these stronger units results in the grunts losing much of their life and shorting out for a few seconds, which gives players the chance to rush through and cut down vast swathes of them at a time. Every so often, the special unit is a spaceship capable of taking extra damage, or one of the major characters, who frequently retreat several times after being defeated before finally being permanently disabled. A few sudden objectives pop up throughout the missions, frequently based around allies who are under attack or a preventing a capture point from being taken, but by and large, all of the missions play out the same. Completing missions unlocks cards that represent pilots, partners, and mechs that become selectable, and for most of the storylines, finishing a campaign opens up access to side missions that put players in the role of the antagonist, which then unlocks them for use later. These optional missions play out the same as the primary ones, but the mechs tend to be much larger and more destructive.
Repeatedly undertaking the same objectives would normally be repetitive, but for those who enjoy mowing down mass waves of enemies, the Dynasty Warriors formula continues to work well. The combat system is simple and flashy, with combos building up a gauge that allows the pilots to enter an energized mode where they use faster, stronger attacks. When available, partners can be summoned before the gauge is depleted and range from gundams dropping in and doing special moves or, what I particularly enjoyed, summoning a battleship that bombards the area, doing massive damage. Missions reward with pilot points, team points, and blueprints. Pilot points automatically level the pilot’s stats, while team points are assigned to a variety of skills that unlock with progress, such as faster dash speeds, a bonus when fighting against aces, and earning pilot points faster. The blueprints, ranked from E to S, offer a variety of bonuses to the associated gundam, allowing for stronger melee attacks, more armor, and so on. The mechs can be further enhanced by using items gained during missions to exchange for upgrades to increase the power of their weaponry. If there are no decent prints to combine, then players can sell their extras for cash that can be spent to quickly earn pilot or team experience in an automatic virtual training program. The training program is a nice way to get recently unlocked characters up to speed without grinding, but for most of the game, skipping ahead levels too frequently can lead to overkill.
The combat system is simple, but it’s also fast and enjoyable. However, where the game stumbles is in its difficulty: it’s way too easy for far too long. Missions default to ‘normal’ difficulty but switching to ‘hard’ only makes the enemies more robust and not more deadly, so fights aren’t tougher; just more time-consuming. After completing all of the campaigns, I began to tackle the nearly 20 Operations in Ultimate Mode, only to find that they were just as easy. Unlike those in Official Mode, the missions gradually become more difficult, but rarely did they become challenging during the first playthrough. The missions are ranked on a scale of one to eight stars, but strangely, this specific difficulty level is locked and can only be changed after most of the mode has been completed, which can take quite a while. Numerous side missions of varying difficulty levels also open up along the way, and although branches close off once a particular path has been chosen, all become playable once an Operation has been cleared. Those wanting to tackle each scenario’s special challenges to earn reward medals (and Trophies) will find that the difficulty can skyrocket, although the game has a neat feature that allows players to send out or respond to an SOS once an area has initially been completed. The SOS feature is decent enough, but it’s overly cumbersome; players must back out to the main Operation menu to find which operation the SOS is located, and then launch the mission from a specific area via a pop-up window; afterwards, no option is given to continue playing together, as the responder is sent back to the area-select menu. A second player can join for local multiplayer, though this is only helpful later on, save for general mayhem, as their addition doesn’t increase the difficulty. The problem, then, isn’t that the game doesn’t present a challenge but that it takes far too long to get the point where it does.
The game does benefit from one verifiable fact—trust me, I’ve seen the research—which is that Gundam is awesome. I might have found myself occasionally lost during the various storylines, but that only led me to looking up more information online. Such long story arcs are rare, and while the game’s condensed presentation might make them overly convoluted at times, the source material is so rich and intertwined that it’s tough not to get drawn in. I was especially interested in Unicorn, which has a bit of a dark twist in that the machines use the pilots as a sort of high-powered processor and siphon their emotional energy for greater power. It’s the shortest of the lot, unfortunately, but there are interesting plots to follow throughout all of the included series. The gundam designs also make combat more interesting from an aesthetic standpoint, with laser swords slashing units in half and grenade launchers leveling dozens of enemies at a time. The controls can be surprisingly tough to nail down, though, due to some tricky timing, but even the simplest combos get the job done while looking great. The sheer number of mobile suits included—over 100—and pilots offer plenty of opportunities for players to cut loose and experiment. Ultimate Mode’s 150-plus scenarios also provides hours of gameplay on top of Official’s 12-ish hours. For a moderately priced title ($39.99 at launch), this is a fairly robust package.
Dynasty Warriors: Gundam Reborn is bursting at the seams with pilots, missions, and mobile suits, but it’s too easy for too long. The summarized storylines will occasionally trip up newcomers, though that’s easily rectified with supplemental reading, but the issue of having to play for hours before getting the chance to increase the difficulty beyond a token ‘hard’ general setting is persistent and makes some of the larger battles anticlimactic. The replacement of the traditional multiplayer setup with the per-area SOS system is interesting, but its implementation adds too many layers to make it more than a novelty. That said, this is sizeable entry into the series, and fans of action titles or the franchise will find hours upon hours of flashy, enjoyable enemy-mowing mayhem at their fingertips.
(This review is based on a retail copy provided by the publisher.)