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Saturday, November 17, 2012

Super Robot Wars GC & XO: Texas Mack Makes Everything Better... EVERYTHING!

What other way to celebrate Mecha Month than to get Super Robot Wars involved, right? I haven't done a game review since Ring ni Kakero on the Super Famicom back in June of last year, and the last SRW review was Compact 3 further back in February. Compact 3 was a perfect SRW entry to review on this blog, due to its absolutely obscure series additions, like Acrobunch, Mechander Robo, & Betterman. Well, this review isn't too much different, but the twist is that I'm going to be talking about two games! But, unlike when I did the TwinBee "Double Feature", this is only counting for one review, because these games are essentially the same exact thing, only the second one is a HD version of the first. Welcome to Super Robot Wars GC & XO.

Excuse the lesser quality of the XO title screen; it was the best I could find.

SRW GC was released in Japan back in December of 2004, and was a GameCube-exclusive entry in the series (obviously). It did a number of things differently, with the biggest one being the use of 3D models instead of the usual 2D sprites; the last time SRW went 3D was SRW Alpha for Dreamcast. Two years later, in November of 2006, the game was remade into HD & given online multiplayer with SRW XO for Xbox 360. GC/XO was made with a laser-tergeted focus: To celebrate mech anime of the 80s, and that's obvious from the line-up:

-Blue Comet SPT Layzner
-Dancougar - Super Beast Machine God
-Heavy Metal L-Gaim
-Ginga Senpuu Braiger
-Ginga Reppuu Baxinger
-Ginga Shippuu Sasuraiger
-Mazinkaiser (OVA)
-Metal Armor Dragonar
-Mirai Robo Daltanious
-Mobile Suit Gundam
-Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team
-Mobile Suit Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket
-Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam
-Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ
-Mobile Suit Gundam: Char's Counterattack
-Saikyo Robo Daiohja
-Shin Getter Robo vs. Neo Getter Robo
-Muteki Robo Trider G7
-Matchless Raijin-Oh

The line-up here is similarly obscure to what was offered in Compact 3, with most of the entries making only their second or third appearance (Dragonar, Daltanious [it's only console appearance], Layzner, Shin vs. Neo [same as Daltanious]), their first appearance since the original "Classic Series" (L-Gaim), making their first appearance in general (Mazinkaiser [only console appearance], Raijin-Oh), or even making their only appearance in the franchise (Baxinger, Sasuraiger, Daiohja). The entire line-up just screams 80s (Gundam debuted in late-79, so it's essentially an 80s show), and the non-80s entires (Mazinkaiser, Shin vs. Neo, Raijin-Oh) at least maintain that similar feel. Regardless, this is definitely one of the more original line-ups in SRW history, and that helps in making a recommendation if you want to play a SRW title with a more eclectic line-up. But, anyway, is there any meat to this game, i.e. story, gameplay, & visuals?

GC/XO's original story stars Akimi Akatsuki (you're choice of male or female), who gets involved with a battle with a group called Gadisword, lead by the evil Hellruga. Akimi pilots his/her giant robot (real robot Soul Gunner -> Soul Lancer or super robot Soul Saber -> Super Soul Saber) alongside Fairey Firefly, a former member of Gadisword who defected from the group and took with her the mysterious power source CUBE (renamed XENON in XO). Fighting on Gadisword's side are Sieg Altreet & Sally Emil, two of Akimi's childhood friends, as well as the mysterious Regianne Josephine, a woman who seemingly only loves battle. The story itself may not have the instantly cool style that Compact 3's Fist of the North Star-inspired Shura had, but GC/XO definitely has interesting characters & mechs, and that's what counts in the end. Both Soul Gunner/Lancer & Soul Saber aren't exactly the most-detailed or intricately designed creations in SRW, but they still look really nice, and that's certainly helped by the fact that mech design legend Kunio Okawara created them.

As for how the anime series are utilized, GC/XO actually uses almost all of them to a certain extent, which is great. Across the 59 stages in the game, the first 20 focus on the first half or so of the original Gundam, mixing in Dragonar's story with it, while mixing 0080 & 08th MS Team into the One Year War, with Trider G7, Raijin-Oh, Daltanious, Dancougar, Braiger, & Shin Getter vs. Neo Getter getting introduced & included as playable units. After that, the gang gets teleported to another galaxy, where L-Gaim, Baxinger, Sasuraiger, & Daiohja are introduced. After about another eight or so stages, everyone teleports back to Earth, only to see that the One Year War has been altered so that Zeta Gundam & Gundam ZZ fit into the story (i.e. Char becomes Quatro & Lalah is still alive, but Amuro is still a kid & White Base is still a viable battleship). Along with that Layzner gets introduced & Mazinkaiser goes into full-steam, after making occasional pre-story appearances in the beginning. From there everything continues on, and it actually makes for an interesting storyline overall, though Char's Counterattack is only there for Nu Gundam (piloted by young Amuro), Sazabi (piloted by Quatro), & theme song "Beyond the Time".

Fighting in the early Gundam battles, like Jaburo, with mechs like Neo Getter Robo is a neat concept, and the second half of the story has the really cool mix of some evil groups teaming up while others battle for territory. But that's not all, as mixed in with the 59 stages are 20 "sub-scenarios", which are available after finishing certain stages, that add more story & battles, effectively making the game 79 stages long. These sub-scenarios are definitely worth playing, as they tend to have secret units, pilots, & even attacks in them, and, as long as you don't start the next main stage, sub-scenarios can be played over and over in order to gain more experience & money. While that might sound like it breaks the game by allowing players to "farm" stages, I'm pretty sure that each repeat play is harder than the last, and there is obviously going to be stage fatigue if you do it too often.

The gameplay is your usual SRW title, so it's based around moving your units around on a grid-based movement system, one at a time, and fighting in your usual strategy RPG form. The biggest change in GC/XO comes from a battle system that's exclusive to these games: A multi-health meter system. In your usual SRW title, a unit has a simple health meter and when that's fully depleted the unit is destroyed, but in GC/XO there are now four health meters: Body, Head, Arms, & Legs (some units, like Big Zam, don't have a Head or Arms meter). This multi-health meter system has two purposes, with the primary one being that damaging a tertiary meter enough actually affects the unit that it happens to: Losing the head reduces aim accuracy, losing the arms removes most attacks from use (though some attacks do use the head or body), and losing the legs reduces normal movement down to one square. Please note that losing a body part does not result in any actual visible damage to the unit, outside of smoke & some sparks appearing, which is a little disappointing. A side effect of this system is that unit size (S, M, L, or LL) actually becomes a big factor in battle, unlike in other SRW entries which simply have it act as a damage modifier. For example, a S-size unit normally won't be able to attack a L or LL-size unit's main body until the Head, Arms, & Legs meters are all depleted, unless that unit either has the "Snipe" pilot skill or casts the "Snipe" Spirit Command; also, M-size units can't directly hit LL-size units normally. In fairness, L or LL-size units have attacks, usually their strongest ones, that can't target S-size units, so it does balance things out. Overall, this helps add some extra depth & strategy to battles, and makes it so that you have to consider who will attack who; it also gives "Snipe" extra importance that it normally never would have.

The other purpose of this system is that if an enemy unit loses all tertiary health meters, it can be picked up by your battleship. After battle any units you pick up can either be used in future battles with one of your pilots, exchanged for an equippable item/part, or sold for money. While, in theory, this system adds in a neat way to gain some extra items/parts or money, in reality it's usually more of a pain to focus on doing it, as it simply takes longer to drain all three meters while not destroying the unit outright, since main body attacks also do varying amounts of damage to tertiary parts. Also, you're limited to only being able to pick up specific units, usually grunt units that are useless to pilot and aren't exactly worth much; also, most super robot anime grunts are impossible to salvage, so you're stuck with real robots. It's not a bad idea for a SRW title, but I do think that it could have been implemented in an easier method that's more worth worth taking advantage of. Finally, instead of the usual Pilot Points (PP) system for upgrading your pilots' abilities, GC/XO uses a Skill Parts system, where special pilot skills, like stat boosts, "Snipe", "Counter" or "Hit & Away", are equipped like items. This system would appear in other titles, like SRW K.

The graphics are kind of tough to properly talk about, mainly because one of SRW's most well-loved aspects is its notoriety for having nicely-detailed 2D sprites & all sorts of crazy animations for some attacks. In contrast, GC/XO uses 3D models, powered by Criterion's Renderware engine, which means that while there is some nice extra detail added in that for 2D would be too hard to include in every frame, like the word "Alex" on the Gundam Alex's shield, at the same time the animations aren't quite as detailed & insane as the 2D sprites have been known to be. Still, the 3D looks pretty nice, though XO crushes GC in this aspect overall. GC's look is admittedly a little bland, and for XO Banpresto added all sorts of extra details, like added lighting effects of units when beam or energy-based weaponry is used and cleaner & nice looking models in general. My favorite extra detail in XO, though, is that every major pilot, both on your side & the enemy, has a cut-in shown for their strongest attacks. It's kind of a minor addition, but it just adds to the feel of the game, letting the pilots show themselves in more than just a simple image next to their text, and allowing for some really cool looking group shots, like the Baxinger cut-in above.

Another nice thing about the use of 3D models is that scale is actually fairly noticeable in this game. In most SRW titles scale between units is completely all over the place due to the use of 2D sprites, with a good example being SRW W, which features characters like Tekkaman Blade & Detonator Orgun looking only slightly smaller than giant robots, which is completely ridiculous since they're supposed to be human-sized characters. GC/XO, while not completely accurate in scale, does still maintain it for the most part, with something like a battleship obviously looking larger than a smaller unit like a SPT from Layzner. A personal favorite example of scale in this game is Dancougar's DanKuuKougaKen attack, which is so big that you can roughly estimate that the beam of light itself is the height of five Dancougar's... And Dancougar is not a small unit by any means. Like the extra cut-ins in XO, it's a small detail but it does add up. Also, one final extra is that XO features a few extra units & attacks, such as a a new final attack for Sasuraiger & a revamped Final Dynamic Special that utilizes Shin Getter, Mazinkaiser, & Great Mazinger (GC's FDS only used Shin Getter & Mazinkaiser, though it's kept in XO as simply Dynamic Special).

Another thing to bring up is the music, which features some excellent remixes of each anime's respective music, and also has one of the best remixes of "Beyond the Time" I've heard in a SRW title; "Fire Wars" from Mazinkaiser even features all of Hirobonu Kageyama's random Engrish from the start of the song. But probably my favorite song in the entire game is also, in my opinion, the greatest remix ever in SRW history: "Hontou no Kiss wo Okaeshi ni", the 2nd OP to Dancougar. Seriously, listen to the original song, which is a nice-enough 80s J-Pop song, and then listen to what Banpresto did to it in GC/XO... My god is that amazing! That version is up there with "Shakunestu no Ikari" as one of my go-to favorite Dancougar themes, and I would never say that about the original song. Also, there is voice work in this game, with everyone doing a great job overall, like Kazuki Yao's Shinobu and, especially, Tamotsu Nishiwaki's Jack King & Chieko Atarashi's Mary King (GREATEST...  ENGRISH...  EVER!!!!); in fact, Laynzer villain Ru Kain is reprised by the late Kaneto Shiozawa... After he died. From what I could find out, Banpresto literally just reused the work Shiozawa did for the character back in Shin SRW for the PS1, kind of making this a performance from Shiozawa from beyond the grave. The only other time I think this happened was with Gundam's Bright Noa in SRW Z, which came out after Hirotaka Suzuoki's death & simply reused his Alpha 3 work.

Finally, while GC is a single-player game, like most SRW titles, XO did add in an online multiplayer mode, called Super Robot Competition (the Japanese title for the mode, Super Robot Taisen, is a pun, as the kanji used, 対戦, is pronounced the same way as 大戦, which is what the series is normally spelled with). Unfortunately, there seems to be no one playing this online anymore so I can't talk about it much, but from what I can tell from screenshots, like the one above, each player chose two units, likely from whatever they had available to them in single-player, and competed against each other. It probably wasn't much, but multiplayer in a SRW title is a rare thing, and I'm sure it was a fun-enough mode, though the lack of anyone playing it kind of makes it nigh-impossible to earn any of the achievements that required one to play it enough times.

Super Robot Wars GC & XO are probably two of the more original entries in the SRW franchise, with an 80s-focused line-up, multi-health meter system, 3D graphics, and, in XO's case, online multiplayer for the very first time. The only other title similar to this would be SRW Neo on the Wii, which is a spiritual successor that has an early-to-mid 90s-focused line-up and utilizes a radial-based movement system, with geographical obstacles, rather than the usual grid-based system; it truly felt like an evolution of what GC/XO started. Between the two there is absolutely no contest: XO is better than GC in every way. XO literally has everything that GC has and more, and if you're interested in checking this game out I would encourage one to play XO, as long as you can play a region-locked Japanese Xbox 360 game (why lock it, Banpresto, why?). Unfortunately, XO is also the more expensive version of the two, with GC easily being available for purchase in the $20 range, while XO, even with a Platinum Collection re-release in 2008, tends to hover around the $45-$60 range. Still, that's certainly cheaper than the $200+ that SRW Compact 3 tends to go for. Anyway, if you want a console SRW title that's a little off the beaten path in terms of line-up and offers a fairly original style of gameplay then I fully recommend GC or XO, and I'm sure that you won't be disappointed.

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