Get in the robot Shinji
Picture this: an enormous purple and green giant stares down a black titan, its pilot intent on putting a stop to the rampage in the middle of a city. With a bestial cry, the out-of-control machine leaps at the defender, pinning it down as it ferociously tears into it, oil spraying in all directions. However, it is not enough to defeat the guardian, who is left with a sliver of health. Flying towards his assailant, the pilot calls upon the power of the almighty Zeus to defeat his foe. Proudly proclaiming the power it now has, the machine changes, becoming a divine golden fist. With everything it has, and a triumphant cry of “Big Bang Punch!”, Mazinger Z slams into the Evangelion, quickly raising it into the atmosphere with a giant explosion, ending its rampage once and for all.
Welcome to Super Robot Wars V, where that’s only a taste of the crossover fun within.
Super Robot Wars V (PS4 [reviewed], PS Vita)
Developer: B.B. Studio
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Released: February 23, 2017
The gameplay of Super Robot Wars V is one you’ve likely seen before. Taking place on a grid-based battlefield, players will deploy their favorite characters, mechs, and ships to engage in battle in order to accomplish a variety of objectives. Upon choosing their target, players pick from any number of attacks a unit may have, or if on the defense, choose to guard or attempt to evade an incoming attack. At any point during this players can use activated abilities, known as ‘spirit commands,’ which act as buffs or debuffs to help turn the tide of battle, whether it’s healing yourself or decreasing the enemy’s accuracy.
Every attack uses up to two of three resources: energy, ammo, and focus. Energy is a shared resource, with even some abilities utilizing it, while ammo is on a per-weapon basis. How reliant a unit is on either of these can vary. For instance, Mazinger Zero is more reliant on energy for its attacks, while Nu Gundam is more ammo-based. Focus, on the other hand, is unique and can also be viewed as morale. Most pilots are deployed with 100 Focus by default which will increase and decrease based on the flow of battle. Oftentimes the stronger attacks and abilities of a unit are locked behind high focus requirements. For instance, Unicorn Gundam’s Destroy Mode is locked until its pilot, Banagher, reaches 130 focus. That being said, focus rarely, if ever, decreases so it’s rarely a concern.
In regards to stats and abilities, however, it’s divided between the machine and the pilot. Both sides contribute to the overall defense, offense, evasion, terrain rating, and accuracy Some stats are handled solely by one side, with health, energy, and ammo attributed to the mech, while focus, spirit commands, and non-unique passive abilities belong to the pilot. Anything unique, such as the Lambda Driver or the Newtype passive ability, could be on either the pilot or the machine. In addition, machines with more than one pilot — such as Shin Getter Robo or the Yamato — will have a main pilot along with sub pilots. They don’t contribute to the stats or abilities but have their own pool of spirit commands to use.
The result of all this is each unit has a distinctive feel and role. To give a contained example, take a look at the main units from Evangelion. On paper, they should be identical, and yet they end up being different. Every unit has the energy-restoring umbilical cable as well as the defensive AT field, along with the Synchro Rate subsystem that determines its effectiveness. However, Unit-00 has a smaller amount of attacks, better armor, a shield to further decrease damage upon guarding, and the ability to heal. This is combined with Rei’s spirit commands, further emphasizing the tank/support role. Unit-01 and Unit-02 are more offensively oriented, with Shinji’s commands focusing on evasion while Asuka focuses on being a damage sponge. If at any point Unit-01 is shot down it will respawn as an enemy in berserk mode just like the show. Unit-08, on the other hand, has a small weapon pool and has a greater emphasis on mobility, ranged support, and as an assist to help others guarantee kills.
In between stages players will be given the opportunity to maintain their army of machines and pilots. They can spend various currencies to upgrade the mechs and ships, train the pilots, and buy skills. Upgrade parts can be equipped for a stat boost, and optional parts, such as the Full Armor equipment for Unicorn Gundam, can be equipped and unequipped. The game allows you to take up to 20 pilots you did not previously deploy and use them for an extra boost in funds, as well as grant them experience. It’s also generous about giving you a heads-up on what units will be a mandatory deploy on the next stage, so you can take the steps needed to prepare them.
With the stage set, let’s talk about where Super Robot Wars V thrives and excels: the fanservice that oozes from every part of it.
Unlike similar games like Project X Zone, the plot of Super Robot Wars V is made up of the stories of the featured series. Whether it’s going through them like the original material, an altered series of events, subverting them, or exploring the aftermath, the majority of it is from one of the series included. The sole exception is the original characters of the game, and even then the writing treats them more as a part of Yamato 2199’s material rather than a unique entity.
Speaking of Yamato 2199, it is easily the biggest part of the plot, from start to end, and if you wanted to call the game “Yamato and friends go on a trip to Iscandar to save Earth” you wouldn’t be wrong. The game opens with the initial launch of the titular ship, and of all the series included, it has the most influence on how the plot of the other series goes. I would talk about this in greater detail, but that would go into spoiler territory on multiple fronts. While there are other standouts — such as Might Gaine, or the dynamics between characters like Embryo from Cross Ange and Leonard from Full Metal Panic — nothing quite compares to what the legendary space opera brings to the game.
Let’s talk about the plot as a whole. Our story starts in the New Correct Century, with the opening of Yamato. It’s also revealed this is occurring 100 years after the events of Char’s Counterattack and shortly after the events of Crossbone Gundam. As things progress, they wind up in two different worlds for various reasons. The first is Anno Domini, consisting of Gundam SEED Destiny, Gundam 00, Cross Ange, Nadesico, Zambot 3, Daitarn 3, and Might Gaine. The other is seemingly an alternate version of the history of the New Correct Century, which it refers to as the Universal Century. It consists of the remaining Gundam series, Mazinger Z, Full Metal Panic, Evangelion, and Getter Robo.
To the writers’ credit, they did a fantastic job. These three worlds feel alive and like they have a history to them, which is due to not just great writing but also an extensive glossary. There are hundreds of entries for mechs, ships, characters, items, and important events that will slowly be introduced as things progress. This in turn helps the player understand what is going on, who is who, and just what in the past is being referenced. It’s especially important as some shows, like Zambot 3, Daitarn 3, and most of the Gundams, are either occurring after their story is over or in the middle of it. As someone that has never seen some of them and needed a refresher for others, this was a huge benefit. The writers went through great lengths to ensure that the shows don’t need to be seen to enjoy the game.
This isn’t even getting into the conga line of cameos that are thrown in throughout. Whether it’s the staff of NERV from Evangelion, with Misato giving instructions to the Evangelion pilots during battle, or the support staff of the Yamato. Characters being summoned for team-up attacks like the Kurogane Five, or Might Gunner being called in to combine and form Great Mightgaine’s Perfect Mode. Civilian characters that don’t play a major role like Berah and Bernadette from Crossbone Gundam, or the classmates from Full Metal Panic and Evangelion. The worlds within the game feel infinitely more alive because the inhabitants from those works are also present throughout, rather than being a weird vacuum where only heroes and antagonists exist.
Even the battle sequences aren’t immune from the infusion of fanservice. There are over-the-top sequences recreating famous scenes and shots from the original material. Covers of iconic openings and tracks form the soundtrack for battles, helping create a large and distinct presence for each series. Unique dialogue can potentially occur before and during battle depending on the match-up, such as enemies acknowledging when they go up against a Gundam or Dr. Hell terrified at the existence of Unit-01. Combination attacks can occur between certain units if they are adjacent to each other, like Unicorn and Banshee. With every line of dialogue being subtitled, you’ll be able to take in all of it.
That being said, Super Robot Wars V respects that not everyone wants to watch the animations over and over. The attacks can be sped up or skipped with a single button press, and there’s even the option to switch entirely to a separate view that feels like an older game, using the map sprites to indicate battle. This cuts down on time dramatically, especially for those in a rush to get through a stage.
The fun doesn’t stop there, though. When any pilot becomes aced (after achieving 60 kills), they will not only receive a unique passive bonus, but also going to the store between missions will result in a cute little conversation between them and Nine, a supporting character to the protagonist. On top of that, any time you use the quicksave feature and choose to exit, you’ll be treated to a random bonus skit. These skits are filled with all kinds of references and gags, such as the Evangelion cast doing a ‘next episode preview’ for Misato, and can be viewed from the main menu once seen. The game knows what you’re here for, and it insists on giving as much of it to you as possible.
It also has a fair amount of content to encourage replays. Out of the 52 stages, you’ll have a different experience on half of them based on what protagonist you pick at the start, the group and plotlines you wish follow, and, for the final three stages including the ending, if you met the secret requirements. In addition to an alternate ending, there are secret stages, mechs, characters, and weapons to unlock. Couple that with bonus objectives to achieve, and you have a recipe for a second playthrough.
While everything seems solid on paper with excellent writing, plenty of fanservice, an amazing look in motion, and units that feel distinct from one another, there is one major catch. For the most part, the game is too easy. A big part of it is because units like the Yamato, Mazinger Zero, and ZZ Gundam which are not only tough but have the firepower and tools to effortlessly clear maps on their own. If you upgrade units as normal, without implementing a restriction on your own, then the only time you’ll ever feel at ‘risk’ is when you get a new unit, as they’ll actually be on the same level as enemies, along with the final boss. It’s a big disappointment, as it diminishes the threat that antagonists like the Angels or Full Frontal should pose to the heroes.
Super Robot Wars V is a love letter to the featured series. It’s beautifully animated, and it has fun with the shows while remaining respectful to the source material. It faithfully recreates the characters and machines in a strategy environment. It’s just a shame that despite all that, the challenge isn’t there, and for the length that it runs, that’s just not acceptable. If you come for the fanservice, you’ll have a great time, but if you’re looking for a challenging strategy game, it may be best to look elsewhere.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game purchased by the reviewer.]