Look! The east is burning red!
It’s a tricky thing to maintain a long-running crossover franchise. On one hand, you need to take measures in order to attract newcomers. Whether it’s changing up the roster or lowering the barrier of entry, there are steps developers can take to attract these crowds. On the other hand, you also have to cater to franchise veterans. Quality-of-life changes, keeping the experience feeling fresh, and considering fan demands are among the many things they have to consider.
Super Robot Wars T succeeds in its attempts to appeal to newcomers, but stumbles appealing to fans of previous games.
Super Robot Wars T (PS4 [reviewed], Nintendo Switch)
Developer: B.B. Studio
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Released: March 20, 2019
So, let’s start off with the biggest difference from the previous two games. While Super Robot Wars V and X focused on storylines with multiple dimensions involved, T takes the opposite approach. While there’s an exception for a few series like Rayearth and Dunbine, the entire story of the game takes place in one singular dimension. No multiple timelines, no dimension warping, none of that is present. Just a nice, simple plot of “Hey, this threat impacts all of us, therefore we have to work together.”
In addition, unlike both previous games, there is no ‘singular’ series being heavily pushed like Yamato or Wataru that dictates the overall flow and tone of the game. As a result, the pacing feels more like an organic blend among the series included, and more approachable to anyone interested. It also helps that since it’s a singular world, and everything is resolved in-game, all these series feel like they have stakes and that their events matter, unlike many of the series in X.
As for the story itself, it’s one heavily routed in the backstories of several series. The year is New Universal Era 200, and humanity is in the middle of the Twilight Age. It is an era of decline, corruption, and war, with the hopes and dreams of space exploration from the previous Golden Age having being shattered by the discovery of the Space Monsters from Gunbuster outside of our solar system. A depressing age defined by the wars and events of Gundam, Mazinger Z, Might Gaine, Tryder and Nadesico.
Our story follows the staff of Special Section 3, a department of VTX Union, the largest and most respected company in the world. Their goal is the development and refinement of the Tyranado mech, in hopes of having it picked as the next mass-produced weapon by the Federation. In order to achieve this, they are initially assigned as an escort to the winner of the 13th Gundam Fight, and along with a few chance encounters, things quickly escalate from there.
To summarize my thoughts: This is the best story of the translated trio hands down. Every series has an active role to play in the story, whether it’s major or minor. None of them make me question why they were even included, like Crossbone Gundam in X. The conga line of cameos that was absent from that game is back this time, with familiar faces populating the world. If I had to recommend one of the Super Robot Wars games to a newcomer for the story aspect alone, this would be it.
The presentation of the story has been given further refinement as well. In addition to the improved scenario, more unique portraits exist for characters to help convey the context of a scene. Whether it’s Ed and Ein hunched over a computer, Domon summoning his Gundam, or an entirely separate set of portraits for Van when piloting Dann of Thursday, these help immensely. It’s fantastic to see the team continue to improve this aspect from X.
As for the gameplay, well, it’s almost identical to the previous two games. It takes place on a grid-based map, with players moving and attacking with units to achieve objectives. Units are comprised of a ship/mech and at least one pilot. Both sides contribute to the stats and abilities that a unit has, with attacks being mech-based and relying on various ammunition types. Pilots, regardless of main or sub-pilot status, have access to spirit commands, which are abilities they can use for a temporary boost, such as increased accuracy for a turn or healing.
In between stages, players can go through their roster and make changes and upgrades as needed. They can purchase passive abilities for pilots with TacP, or they can spend Funds to upgrade their mech. Pilots can be sent on sub-orders, which nets currency, levels, and kills for pilots involved, the last of which unlocks an ability when a pilot obtains 60 of them. In addition, certain machines such as Scopedog can have optional equipment switched out, while most of the machines from Gundam can have their pilots swapped around.
However, Super Robot Wars T introduces a new mechanic that seems to be an answer to the problem X had with certain series: What do you do when multiple major characters don’t pilot mechs or ships? The answer arrives in the form of Supporters. Acting like a separate Spirit Command pool that can be accessed by any unit, this is where those characters reside. This is where you’ll find characters like Ed from Cowboy Bebop or Wendy from Gun X Sword. It grows and shrinks as the story progresses, and is impacted by route splits, which helps it feel like a genuine addition to the roster.
There are other quality-of-life touches present in Super Robot Wars T. A small but notable one is a nice “shoot down” indicator that appears if an attack will be fatal, helping players to know when to spend resources to secure the kill or if they need to act to save their unit. The other major one has to do with sub-orders and who can use them. In previous games, any pilot that had just been deployed would not be eligible for sub-order deployment. As a result, accidentally neglecting a unit during deployment would mean being unable to use the feature to provide those missing stats to a degree.
In T, that restriction has been lifted. Any pilot, regardless if they had been deployed or not, can participate. While this is great for an extra flow of funds, it does render secrets based on kill count and number of aces to near-mindless levels. The other addition is special orders, which are limited in number and single-use. These orders are unlocked by achieving certain requirements and provide unique benefits such as Stat increases and larger-than-normal rewards. However, only one pilot can be used for the order and only one can be used per intermission, so holding onto them is less than optimal.
Speaking of requirements, hidden unlocks return once again. Just like previous Super Robot Wars games, we have secret missions, units, early unlocks, and an alternate ending route. However, the unit variety has taken a dive this time around. While an early unlock for Eldora Soul and possibly obtaining Master Asia are in this time, the rest have been done before. Black Might Gaine was already a secret in V, although his unlock is tied to the same criteria as Eldora Soul. The rest are from ZZ Gundam and Char’s Counterattack, meaning if you don’t care for those two Gundam entries, there is little to nothing in this department for you.
Now, while T does has similar balancing issues as X, it does still have expert mode, which has made some adjustments to the difficulty. However, expert mode has a major problem I failed to notice with X, and that has to do with SR points. SR points are optional objectives that are present in every stage and affect the difficulty of the game based on how many you’ve done. These objectives can range from “take out the boss in only one attack” to “defeat all of one type of enemy in three turns and then defeat these four bosses in the same turn.” On expert, these are converted into a generic “beat the stage” goal, which in some ways makes expert easier than the regular difficulty if you like attempting the optional objectives.
However, what drags Super Robot Wars T down the most for those who played V and X is actually the music and battle visuals. Now to make it clear, most of the new sprites and animations for this game range from good to great, with G Gundam, Cowboy Bebop, and Rayearth clearly getting the most attention and care. However, GaoGaiGar is the exception to this grouping. It looks stiff, attacks lack impact, and it is poorly animated at times. To make matters worse, multiple side characters such as Goldymarg and Mic Sounders are summon attacks for the King of the Braves. As a result, this drags down the series as a whole.
The bigger problem in this aspect is the returning series. Despite their role and content in the story being changed up from previous entries, there’s still a major sense of overfamiliarity due to reused sprites. For instance, most of Might Gaine’s sprites have been in three games, and there’s nothing really new to see for those familiar with V and X. However, my first game was the Z3 duology on PlayStation 3, not V. So, for me, this is the third game where I’ve seen most of the animations for Scopedog or Gunbuster, the fourth for Shin Getter Robo, and the fifth game in a row for some of the Gundam units.
So now the result is not only am I getting a bad sense of déjà vu, some of these returning units are not consistently animated. For instance, let’s take Shin Getter Robo, which was also in V. The new addition for the unit in T is a pilot cut-in for Ryoma, which features a static face, but the clothes and hair are shifting. It honestly looks bad and is made even worse when the pilot cut-in from V is on another attack, and that one looks more polished in comparison. For better or worse, while some units like Zeta Gundam still hold up due to consistency, a complete overhaul of the animations would resolve this issue for veterans.
This problem also extends to the music. As per usual, Super Robot Wars T has its own original music: some completely new, and some recurring songs that have been redone. As you’d also expect, there’s the usual covers of songs from the series included. Just like the sprites and animations, some are completely new, and some are reused. As you can expect, the same series that reuse animations also reuse music from the same games. That being said, Votoms and Getter Robo are using covers from the Z2 duology, which was on the PSP. This means that those songs are now five and six games old, respectively. Since I was lucky enough to be reviewing the PlayStation 4 version, I immediately used the custom music feature to replace those songs and a couple others because I am sick and tired of hearing them. If GaoGaiGar and Dunbine can get new covers despite last appearing in 3DS games, why can’t we move on from ones that debuted last generation?
Super Robot Wars T is in a weird place for me critically. If I had to pick a game in order to introduce someone to the franchise, this would be it. It sports an excellent roster with a broad appeal paired with the best original story of the translated trio, along with all the gameplay improvements X had, regardless of its difficulty issues. From a veteran’s perspective though, the asset reuse only reinforces a tired sense of déjà vu. Combined with the lack of effort on fixing the balance and difficulty, it’s hard to recommend to a veteran hoping for a more complete package.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]