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StriderHoang avatar 2:31 AM on 12.09.2011  (server time)
Xenophilia: The universal language of mecha

The year is 2008 and I am staffing at Anime Expo. On one of my breaks, I stop by an intriguing booth in the exhibitor's hall to peruse their various video games. Most of the merchendise at Anime Expo are decidedly geared towards fans of Japanese animation. Wall scrolls, manga, DVDs, posters, funny hats, CDs, doujin and even hentai line the walls and booths. But video games go with anime like peanut butter and jelly, so it's not surprise. I picked up what is now known as Jam With The Band, then known to importers as Daigasso! Band Brothers DX! I was convinced such a quirky concept would never be localized here. Of course it was eventually brought over to European territories in 2010 but my second choice remains an impenetrably Japanese-only game: Super Robot Wars W.

Super Robot Wars is a somewhat obscure title to Western gamers. But most of the titles of the series that have immigrated to the west contain only original mecha designs and characters due to the multiple trademark restrictions from titles crossing from Japan to North America. Super Robot Wars is a strategy RPG game which incorporates characters and mecha from some of the most popular and famous mecha anime of all time, regularly using properties from series like Gundam, Getter Robo, and Mazinger as well as newer series like Full Metal Panic. In a situation similar to when Tatsunoko Vs. Capcom was coming around, the process of licensing so many characters from several different companies can be a logistical nightmare many publishers simply don't want to get into.

Super Robot Wars W has fan service up the wazoo for mecha fans. I grew up on Cartoon Network's Toonami when it established itself with Gundam Wing. Seeing classic Gundam models like Wing and Deathscythe plow through waves of goon-like enemies units was a very satisfying experience. All of the mecha's special abilities from their originating series was a load of fun as an amazingly cinematic experience unfolds rights on your Nintendo DS. If you've never seen the Arbalest from Full Metal Panic activate its Lambda Driver system to throw a punch which disintegrates its foe, you'll see it more or less recreated through Robot Wars amazingly articulate sprites.

The cinematic attacks, a staple of mecha anime, are reproduced faithfully in the Robot Wars series and more so on a portable system like the DS. You think you know cinematic attacks? You haven't seen anything until you've seen GaoGaiGar's final attack unlocked late in the game. An attack that involves GaoGaiGar grabbing an orbital satellite, which transforms into a weapon that can only be described as a planetary hammer which utterly crushes its enemies like a meteoric force of nature.

Luckily, the strategic maneuvering, awesome combo attacks, cinematic displays, and fanservice are more than enough for me to counter balance a large thing which should be a running theme in any blog talking about imported video games: the language barrier.

Aren't everyone using pictures like this?

Now, I'm not sure about other Dtoider's experiences with foreign languages in their games, but I don't understand a lick of Japanese and I played through the entire game, beating it's story mode, figuring out everything by process of elimination. I had to figure out the basic menu interaction, much less understand what the story of all these characters coming together is supposed to be.

So I select a unit: ok, first choice is move so check. Second choice is attack, third is defend, and... wait, why am I suddenly getting a new fourth option? Oh, so it's a combo move that only happens when this unit is adjacent to this unit. But what do these meters mean? I guess since it drains after attacking, it's some sort of energy meter.

But wait, no matter how many enemies I destroy, this goddamn mission won't end! Oh, apparently I need to move this specific unit towards this goal point and keep him there for several turns. Thank you Gamefaqs, for explaining away that mystery. I was getting tired of smashing peons with this gigantic, moon-sized hammer of mine anyways.

To many people, playing such a text heavy import without some familiarity with the native language would be tantamount to throwing your money into a shredder. But for a devoted fan of anime, watching Voltron (known as Golion in Japanese) pull out his trademark sword and slash some grunts in half was worth the price of admission. And I only discovered more interesting anime from playing through a game with such a large variety of licenses such as Mazinkaiser, GaoGaiGar, Gundam SEED Astray, and Detonator Orgun (known by many as Tekkaman Blade, who came to Tatsunoko Vs. Capcom).

"Strategy games, fighting games, whatever. I'll fit in it!"

Now if you see a localized version of Super Robot Wars, by all means, give it a try. But in all likelihood, the title you're looking at has lost a great deal of charm by losing so many licensed characters and mecha. You might enjoy strategy games if you like games like Fire Emblem but Super Robot Wars is more than the strategy of positioning your units on a field in order to flank and destroy the opposition. It's about seeing Gundam Deathscythe from Gundam Wing sweep through groups of enemies with its beam scythe. It's about watching the three M9 Gernsbacks from Full Metal Panic execute a full combo attack in unison against some hapless enemies. It's about watching the entire Hell And Heaven attack sequence from GaoGaiGar as he charges his foe head on in order to bust his fist straight into his target's chest in order to rip out its core.

Understanding Japanese would be nice, so I could have an inkling as to why all these heroes have comes together. But mecha needs no translation.

Mecha is a universal language.

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