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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Super Robot Wars Compact 3: Maji? Maji desu.

Yeah, this isn't exactly an anime I'm reviewing, but considering how the Super Robot Taisen/Wars series of videogames pretty much lives off of anime, Original Generation series games aside, I'll let it slide. Anyway, for those who aren't familiar with the series, the very first Super Robot Wars was released on the good-old original Game Boy back in April of 1991, and the major idea of the series is that developer Banpresto takes multiple mech anime series, with the occasional manga and video game being used at times, fixes up the stories so that they can all work in unison and throws them into a very addictive strategy RPG game series. The great thing about the series is that different games can have different game battle systems, some of them use 3D polygons rather than 2D sprites, but the best thing is the sheer amount of mech series are used. If you have a favorite mech series that's at least a couple of years old then you might be able to find it being used in an SRW title. In 2003 there were a number of smaller name series making their debuts across four different games, but there's one game in particular that truly represents this focus on smaller name titles, and its name is Super Robot Wars Compact 3.

The Bandai Wonderswan debuted in Japan in 1999 and was the very last thing that the legendary Gunpei Yokoi, the man behind the Game Boy and many Nintendo series, ever worked on before his untimely death via a car accident. It later received a color upgrade unit, called the Wonderswan Color and later the SwanCrystal, where it was able to maintain a small portion of the handheld market in Japan, mostly due to it being home to the very first ports of Final Fantasy I, II, and IV. But there were also five (technically six) entries in the SRW series on the handheld, called the Compact series. The original game was released twice on the handheld (the second version being a Color-exclusive upgrade), and the Compact 2 series, named so because it was made up of three games that linked together, was later remade on the Playstaion 2 under the more well-known SRW Impact name. But when 2003 came around the handheld was definitely on its deathbed; any Wonderswan game released in 2003 and beyond command high prices now on the second-hand market and this game is no different. I'm going to guess that Banpresto, and SRW producer Takenobu Terada himself, likely knew that the game wouldn't be a big seller in any way so for Compact 3 the development team went for something different and that's heavily obvious just from the line-up:

-Mobile Suit Z Gundam
-Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ
-Mobile Suit Gundam Char's Counterattack
-New Mobile Report Gundam Wing Endless Waltz
-Aura Battler Dunbine
-New Story of Aura Battler Dunbine (a.k.a. the Dunbine OVA)
-Vision of Escaflowne
-Mazinger Z
-Great Mazinger
-Getter Robo G
-Shin Getter Robo (Manga ver.)
-Choudenji Robo Com-Battler V
-Gasshin Sentai Mechander Robo
-Makyou Densetsu Acrobunch

Sure, you have some of the usual suspects here (the Gundams, the Mazingers, Getter Robo, and even Com-Battler V to an extent) but the others are certainly interesting. Dunbine is only occasionally used in SRW, though it pretty much was a staple of the Compact games, and though the mechs in the Dunbine OVA have been used before in previous entries as cameo units, Compact 3 is the first, and only, time the actual characters and story of the OVA have been used. And then you have the rest. Betterman, Escaflowne, Mechander Robo, and Acrobunch are definitely obscure mech anime in Japan and have actually never been used again since their Compact 3 debuts. In fact, Banpresto knew that these were obscure series and the commercial for Compact 3, which can be seen here, is literally just the equivalent of the company saying "Yes, this is the line-up.  No, we're not joking." But how is the game behind these obscure entries?


As in most SRW titles there are "Banpresto Original" characters and robots, and Compact 3's story seems interesting enough. Folka Albark is a member of the Shura, a race of warriors, and recently defeated his brother Fernando is a battle to the death to see who would become the newest member of the Shura Generals, who are the strongest people in the Shura, with the exception of the Shura King. But instead of finishing off Fernando, Folka runs off, feeling that this isn't the way the Shura should continue to live. He ends up transporting to a mysterious world, Earth, but the Shura are right behind him. Now wait a minute, wasn't Folka that awesome guy from SRW Original Generations and OG Gaiden for the PS2 that reminds one of Kenshiro from Fist of the North Star? Well, yeah, Folka and the Shura had to come from somewhere, and in this case they came from an obscure SRW game that is now fairly hard to get. If anything, consider it another reason to check out this game if you liked Folka in OG Gaiden. Since I can only read so much Japanese I could only understand so much of the story, but it did look interesting and OG Gaiden did alter the story a good bit, so it's not like they tell the same exact story in the end.

As for the stories of the anime series that are used in this game, the results are mixed. In the first half of the game you get a focus on Escaflowne and Dunbine mostly, with Mechander Robo story appearing here and there. Betterman gets about two stages of story, while the Mazinger, Getter Robo, and Com-Battler V stories are mostly unimportant. As for the Gundams, Endless Waltz has only one stage of story importance, Char's Counterattack is there simply for you to use the Nu Gundam, and Z and ZZ's story involvement simply amount to Jerid and Yazan coming out every couple of stages with reinforcements for you to fight until you kill them. In the second half the Dunbine OVA gets added in while Escaflowne ends at the two-thirds mark. Dunbine stays until the end, as does Mechander Robo and Betterman finally gets a focus in the second half. That leaves Acrobunch, which has a total of four stages of story importance, and the first stage they appear in isn't even all that important story wise. Yeah, Acrobunch's story is one that makes it hard for it to get a major focus, but it would have been nice to see it appear more often until you finally get to keep it after stage 21 (out of a total 32). In keeping with this game's use of obscure anime, those very series for the most part make up the majority of the story focus.

The gameplay is mostly the same as the usual SRW title: You have your units on the map, you move them where you want, and if you can attack then attack if need be. You also have "seishin/spirit commands", which are the equivalent of magic spells that allow you to do things like increase your attack power, improve your accuracy, and give you stronger defense for that turn. There is also the ability to support another character by attacking directly after them and there's also some multiple unit attacks. In the end an SRW title can be made or broken by how balanced everything is, and admittedly this game is mostly balanced but a few nagging issues did come about while I played this. First off, Folka's unit, the Ialdabaoth, is completely overpowered. It has excellent attack, great defense, and amazing accuracy and evasion rates, and I have to admit that I purposely didn't sortie the Ialdabaoth in some missions because I didn't want to simply blaze through enemies. Right behind the Ialdabaoth in overpoweredness is the Acrobunch, which is a really good super robot-style unit in general but becomes overpowered through seishin. In SRW, some units have been called "seishin banks", and the main reason for that is they feature multiple pilots, each of them having a good number of seishin "spells". The Acrobunch is a bank and then some, as every pilot in it has much much more SP, the game's equivalent of an traditional RPG's MP, than any other pilot, resulting in you being able to heavily abuse Acrobunch for super-strong attacks, double experience, double money received from enemies, and 100% accuracy. The Acrobunch is probably the greatest seishin bank I have ever seen. After those two Compact 3 feels much like your usual SRW title, where you have a mixture of solid units and those that are mostly good for certain uses, like back-up or healing.

Another problem I had with the game was that the accuracies the game told you two units had in battle didn't seem to add up. I had a lot of moments where accuracies of 70, 80, and even 90% missed very often while enemies with accuracies of well below 50% hit way too often than they should have. It became really annoying to see a unit of mine miss at 80-90% and then see an enemy counterattack with 10-20% accuracy and actually have it hit. I had to question what the accuracies really were like at times. A final problem was that the enemy grunts of the Shura were a bit too overpowered. Take, for example, a super robot like Mazinger or Mechander Robo, which generally has great defense ratings and are meant to take a pounding. When a grunt normally hits them these units would usually take a couple hundred points of damage when they're not in defense position. But when a Shura grunt, especially the bat grunts, hit them then you'd normally see damages closer to 1300 points! It got to the point that when you fought the Shura it was more like you were fighting a bunch of mini-mid-bosses instead of grunts, though these enemies could easily go down in one blow. Outside of these little issues, though, I can't really complain about Compact 3's battles.

The graphics and sound are actually very well done. Units looks great and this game really showed you that the Wonderswan Color certainly was a worthy competitor to the Game Boy. Sure, the Game Boy Advance still beat it, but you have to remember that the original Wonderswan predated the GBA by two years. There's no animation to these mechs here, but even SRW D for the GBA, released just two weeks later, had very little animation to it and it wouldn't be until SRW J in 2005 that handheld entries would actually start getting full-on animations. The sound, though, definitely surprised me. The recreations to each song sounded great and addicting, and I had no idea that the Wonderswan could pull off actual voice clips. For example, Mechander Robo's theme has a clear-as-a-bell voice clip of Ichiro Mizuki saying "Tri-Attack!" in it, and Great Mazinger's theme has the kids chanting "Chin chin chin!  Da Da Da!" that sound amazingly crisp. These voice clips sounded so good that I became legitimately angered when Com-Battler V's theme didn't have a voice clip of "V! V! V! Victory!" in it. Overall I was very impressed by the Wonderswan's capabilities here. Oh, and Escaflowne's opening theme is probably one of the most absorbing and addictive SRW themes I have ever heard, and I had already liked it back when I saw the show.

When I play a SRW game I look forward to these things: Enjoying using the mechs and seeing the story of shows that I had previously seen or at least are familiar with, enjoying the original characters and seeing how that story happens, and looking forward to seeing and learning about new mechs and series that I had previously been unfamiliar with. I must say now that, after playing Super Robot Wars Compact 3, I would love to see the Acrobunch and Mechander Robo animes, I have a new inkling to watch that Betterman Complete Collection I bought a couple of years ago, and I would definitely love to see these "Compact 3-exclusive series" used again in SRW, especially one that has full-on animation and voice work. Or Banpresto could just remake Compact 3... I'd definitely buy that as long as it's on a system I own. But, yeah, SRW Compact 3 is definitely worth playing, even if you have no choice but emulation.

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