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Thursday, November 24, 2016

Super Robot Wars (HD): Peer Pressure Can Be a Powerful Tool

On April 20, 1991 a Japanese game developer & publisher named Banpresto released Super Robot Taisen/Wars on Nintendo's handheld system, the Game Boy. Originally founded in 1977 as Hoei Sangyo, the developer would then be renamed Coreland in 1982 & existed mainly to assist Sega's arcade division. When Bandai bought the company in 1989 it was given the now iconic company name (& eye mask logo) & put straight to work at making games based on licensed properties. While crossover games were a part of Banpresto's DNA ever since the Bandai purchase, Super Robot Wars wound up being something different. It became the main series that defined the company, so much so that Banpresto is still essentially identified as the developer, even though that technically hasn't been the case since about SRW Neo on the Wii (which was the last physical SRW game to sport the logo on the cover). Therefore, to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of SRW, let's see how the original game fares after it finally received a complete remake.

Remakes of older Super Robot Wars games are in no way a recent concept, with the first one being Super Robot Wars 2G, the 1995 Game Boy version of the late-1991 Famicom original; it updated the game by being based on SRW4's interface & systems. Since then we've seen remakes of 2, 3, & EX on the PS1 via 1999's Complete Box, Masou Kishin - The Lord of Elemental on the DS & PSP, the Compact 2 trilogy on the PS2 via Impact, Alpha 1 using polygons on the Dreamcast, A on the PSP (rather lazily, though), the first two Original Generation games on the PS2 via OGs, & one can even count F & F Final as a two-part remake of 4 (though those are more outright re-imaginings than simply remakes). The latest remake in the franchise, though, came about on April 24, 2014 (just four days after the 23rd Anniversary), when first printings of SRW Z3: Time Prison Chapter on the PS3 & Vita included download codes for a complete remake of the very first SRW as a digital-only release; shortly later it saw a general release on the Japanese PS Store. Considering how much the franchise has grown & evolved in the years since the original game, was remaking the first SRW an example of making a good game only better & easier to play in modern times, or is it nothing more than an outdated game given a fresh coat of paint?

A blue planet is home to a variety of super-deformed robots of varying types, looks, & style (super or real), and though they may not see eye to eye, they all generally seem to co-exist. All that changes one day, though, when an alien creature known as Gilgilgan comes to the planet & lets out a force that instantly makes many of the robots pledge allegiance to the creature. Only one group of robots manage to avoid being turned & decide to fight back, hoping they can also convince those they once called friends to rejoin them in the battle against Gilgilgan & his ally Picdoron. But even if they manage to save the planet from these two monsters, can they do it a second time when the God of Battle God Noah challenges them, along with a revived (& later mechanized) Gilgilgan & Picdoron?

Compared to the massive, multi-series line-ups that are generally thought of when people think of the franchise, the original Super Robot Wars has a rather small line-up, featuring only three main franchises:

-Mazinger Z
-Great Mazinger
-Getter Robo
-Getter Robo G
-Mobile Suit Gundam
-Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam
-Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ
-Mobile Suit Gundam: Char's Counterattack
-Mobile Suit Gundam F91

Adding to that are the two movies that Gilgilgan & Picdoron come from, Great Mazinger vs. Getter Robo & Great Mazinger vs. Getter Robo G: The Great Clash in the Sky (respectively), plus the inclusion of Cybuster in the remake; God Noah is an original creation made solely for the remake. In terms of story, SRW is absolutely sparse, only featuring a short text intro & outro for each stage. There are no giant swaths of speech between pilots, and that's because there are no pilots to be seen whatsoever here, as all of the robots are sentient, ala SD Gundam. The game is also much shorter than your traditional mainline entry, with the campaign against Gilgilgan only lasting 13 stages. The remake adds in a second campaign, which is where Cybuster & God Noah are used, which doubles the length to a total 26 stages & makes it even with Classic Series starter SRW2.

In terms of gameplay, the remake plays mostly the same as the Game Boy original, with only a few changes. After choosing an initial team (Gundam, Mazinger, Getter), which kind of also doubles as an initial difficulty select (i.e. Team Gundam gives you seven units, while Team Getter only gives you four), you start off with a literal "you versus everyone" stage. However, unlike the usual SRW style, which is usually about taking out all of your foes (or at least a boss unit), the original game's stages all end when you take over the enemy's main base, which is guarded by a "boss" for each stage. If you really want, you can focus on simply destroying the boss & then putting a unit onto the base, which would finish the stage, but then you'd miss out on the rest of the game. Spread out on each stage are about four or five unmanned towers which you can take over, many of which give you items to use on your robots in between stages. There are also a few items hidden on the field in each stage, usually in spots that are visibly odd compared to the surrounding land. Overall, it doesn't change the general gameplay compared to what would come later, but it does result in a static end result, i.e. defeat the stage-specific boss & take the base.

As for the robots themselves, the remake does differ in one notable way by giving every unit spirit commands, the franchise's equivalent of spells, to utilize. In the Game Boy original, only the player specified "Hero" was able to use a total of three commands, but in the remake every unit can get up to three by leveling up. To compensate, the selected Hero unit instantly has access to three more commands, giving it a total of six, though these extras randomize every turn. You only have access to twelve commands here, but the usual standards (100% accuracy for 1 turn, avoid one attack, 2x damage, etc.) are here, plus a couple that I haven't seen elsewhere, like having the Hero bring one other unit to its side from anywhere on the map. Really, though, the biggest gameplay system for the original SRW is persuasion. Unlike all of the later games, where you gradually get more units as the story progresses, the original game requires you to persuade enemy units to your side, lest you purposefully want to stick with only the initial team you have; a Team Getter-only playthrough is perfect for those who want a real challenge, I'd say. In future games, persuasion is a rarely seen option & usually requires the player to do specific things throughout the game to make available for short periods of time, but in the original it's a regular option.

Persuasion can be done to any enemy unit adjacent to one of your units in lieu of an attack & relies on a few factors. While I can't verify them precisely, it looks like enemy health, the unmanned towers, & even which series an enemy is from all affect how well a persuasion works, so the most ideal thing to do is to is bring an enemy down to as little health as possible, take over every single tower before taking out the boss, & try to have the same series persuade each other; also, the Hero in general has a greater chance to persuade. Most interestingly, every single enemy outside of Gilgilgan, Picdoron, & God Noah can be persuaded to join you (& even these three bosses can be attempted for the hell of it), which means that this is the only SRW game to let the player actually take control of Dr. Hell's Mechanical Beasts, the Dinosaur Empire's grunts, & various Zeon, Titans, Neo Zeon, & Crossbone Vanguard units that are normally only fought as foes; GC/XO let you capture some enemy Mobile Suits, but not Mazinger or Getter enemies. Honestly, though, it sometimes can come off like your forces are being incessant bullies, forcing the enemy to join them or die via peer pressure. This is an especially important gameplay element because of another major change from what would be standard, permadeath. Yes, if a unit is detroyed in the original SRW, that robot is outright dead & will never come back. While it is possible to simply persuade another of said robot in a later stage, some units may never appear again, which is definitely a wild change of pace. The only other option is to use a specific spirit command to revive, but it's only available to the Hero & it's one of the commands that appears randomly.

For a quick note, on rare occasions the enemy AI will try persuade your units, which is a neat touch; never worked against me, though. The fact it will even try to persuade the Hero unit is hilarious, though. Would you get an instant game over if the Hero actually got persuaded to join the enemy?

As for what the remake itself adds to the package in terms of gameplay, it's adding in little touches that would become standard, like being able to skip attack sequences or multi-selecting spirit commands to use together. Interestingly enough, this remake also allows the player to use spirit commands right before attacking, which I've never seen before in any other SRW game; I haven't played the latest games, though, so I can't vouch if this is a new standard. The remake also adds in some new units that weren't in the original Game Boy game, like Full Armor Gundam, Boss Borot, & the already mentioned Cybuster. As for the second campaign, it's essentially the same as the first, except that you're automatically given Cybuster & allowed to choose five units to join him from the entire roster; also, space stages are added in, which weren't in the original. Also, just from a stats perspective, this game doesn't feature numbers that can go into the tens of thousands, like what is standard; HP & unit stats (evasion, defense, damage, etc.) don't go beyond 99 here. Finally, in the intermission between stages, the player can trash units that are unneeded into items (which actually sounds horrific, as they are sentient beings in this world), and items that are normally equippable in the franchise (Chobham Armor, Super Alloy Z, Apogee Motor, etc.) are actually one-time use in this game, simply adding to a robots stats. Likewise, leveling up increases a robot's stats directly, which means that there is no upgrading system since there is no money to be earned by defeating enemies.

Visually, the remake is an obvious marked improvement over the Game Boy original, but still stays true to it by being completely 2D & static; i.e. there is no actual animation during attacks, like it was pre-Alpha. The static images for all of the units look great, the Gundams return to their original SD style (a.k.a. they have pupils in their eyes), and overall there's an excellent use of vibrant colors all around; it really feels like this is how the original team at Banpresto likely visualized the game in their minds back in 1991. Similarly, there is no voice work to be found whatsoever, outside of the short samples of Ichiro Mizuki or Isao Sasaki from the theme songs they sang back in the 70s. Speaking of the soundtrack, the original music used for the stages themselves is enjoyable & catchy while playing, but overall won't stay in your mind when you're not playing, while the renditions of "Tobe, Gundam!", "Mazinger Z", & "Getter Robo" (the only licensed songs in the game) all sound great. "Neppu Shippu Cybuster", on the other hand, obviously sounds like it was simply ripped from an OG game.

Some franchises start off fine, but sometimes the first entry in particular winds up being a bit too antiquated by the time it becomes something like 23 years old. If one was to play the original Super Robot Wars on the Game Boy, it would likely feel a bit sluggish nowadays, since it would have things like unskippable attack sequences, no spirit commands except for the designated Hero unit, & overall simplified systems. Luckily, the general gameplay concept behind it would likely still hold up, and that results in the 2014 HD remake on PS3 & Vita being not just a fun game in its own right, but also a remake that outright makes the original feel unneeded. The gameplay will feel instantly familiar to fans of the franchise, if a bit simplified in some ways (there is no morale or even energy & ammo limits), and the small updates to the way it plays (skippable attacks, spirit commands for everyone, etc.) remove all of the chore that the GB original may have to modern day players. It doesn't really hide its portable origins, though, as each stage features a relatively small map & can be beaten within 15-20 minutes (depending on how many attack sequences you watch); on the whole it shouldn't take you more than 10 hours to beat the remake's two campaigns. With its fast pace & some different mechanics from the usual games in the franchise, the Super Robot Wars remake is definitely worth purchasing digitally for fans of SRW; you definitely have to buy it now, as the vouchers that came with Z3 expired at the end of last year. It currently goes for 1,300 yen on the Japanese PS Store, and since both the PS3 & Vita are region free all you need is a Japanese PSN account & some store credit; neither of those are all too hard to get, either.

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