Review: Gundam Breaker 3

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What if I use horse legs to make a centaur with dual swords? Or what if I take this part which has a skirt, combine it with the wings, and create an angel with a giant bazooka? Oh oh, what if I use tank treads, and give it a massive backpack and weapon, making it look like a piece of artillery?

But wait. What if I mix all those together, resulting in a half-angel/half-tank with a unicorn-head abomination that’s loaded to the teeth with weaponry? Truly the Mona Lisa of our time.

When that line of thought crosses your head, you know you’ve got something special on your hands.

Gundam Breaker 3 (PS4 [reviewed], Vita]
Developer: Crafts & Meister
Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
Released: April 28, 2016 (Standard) May 2, 2017 (Breaker Edition)
MSRP: $59.99

Gundam Breaker 3 is a hack ‘n’ slash game centered around Gunpla, which are model kits depicting various Mobile Suits from the Gundam franchise. Due to its Gunpla heritage, the game puts a heavy emphasis on customization and core gameplay first before anything else. In a way, you could say this goes back to the good old days, where the plot of beat-‘em-ups and hack ‘n’ slash games was mainly just a reason to run around and wreck anything in sight that moved.

As a result, the story is simple and at times bare-bones. The player is a nameless person that’s new to Gunpla Battle, an extremely popular arcade game that people all over the world play. They encounter the main supporting character, Misa, after the first mission. Misa recruits them to her team due to their talent, hoping that by succeeding in the local tournament, she can bring attention to the local shopping street which has been struggling lately. As one can expect, things escalate from there.

The plot may not seem like much, but it gets the job done and it is enjoyable for what it provides. For what plot there is, it does a fantastic job of establishing that you, the player, not Misa nor anyone else, are the one causing things to move along and bringing success to the team. It really felt empowering. The ally NPCs are not painted as incompetent, but rather the player is on a whole other level from them.

This minimal approach to the story carries over to the mission structure as well, unfortunately. While there are a few variations, the majority of the time the objective ends up being going from start to finish in order to fight the boss. This isn’t helped by a limited range of locations, with some of the more interesting environments being criminally underused, often only once or twice throughout the entire game! While the time of day does change between missions, it doesn’t help hide the blatant recycling. To make matters worse, one of the more common areas, a war-torn space colony setting, suffers from frequent stuttering and slowdown. It’s a real shame given how smoothly the rest of the game runs.

Those shortcomings are made up for by the variety of enemies any single mission has, which is the whole focus of Gundam Breaker 3. The game contains Mobile Suits from over 20 entries in the Gundam franchise, resulting in over 150 mobile suits being included. As such, the game is able to constantly introduce new units, each with different weapons and abilities. As the difficulty rises, earlier enemies are brought back into the rotation as well with full use of their arsenal, leading to fresh experiences.

What’s more, there are curve-balls based on how the player is performing. A mini-boss squad of a specific unit could be auto-spawned, like multiple Goufs or Zeta Gundams, which often are not among the standard enemies for that mission. Enemy ‘players’ may also spawn. These are very convincing custom Gunpla that look like another player may have actually made them, and often change on replays of the same mission. As a result, the player won’t know immediately what these enemies are capable of, and will have to adapt on the fly as their arsenals are slowly revealed.

Bosses also benefit from this variety to a much greater extent. A boss could be a specific Gunpla, which gets a grand entrance for its arrival while a track from its home series plays for the battle. The player may encounter ‘Perfect Grades,’ massive Gunpla that require a different strategy to take down than other enemies. On top of this are Mobile Armors, such as Big Zam, which also appear infrequently. While they are few in number, they are on a different level from the Perfect Grades, and with one exception, provided quite the thrill to battle against.

The game controls like many others of its kind. The player has access to two types of melee attacks, a block, an evasive move, and some option equipment assigned to the d-pad. There’s also a ranged weapon with a primary and secondary firing method, a boost mechanic, and EX actions, which are powerful actions that charge over time and as damage is dealt. The player controls how the lock-on works, flicking the right stick to change the target they are locked on to, or with a simple button press, completely turning it off and gaining full camera control. Everything was responsive right out of the gate, and not once did I feel like I had to fight the controls or camera.

There are bells and whistles to these systems that flesh them out, causing combat and customization to be much more involved. For instance, weapons can have variations among the same class, while some even have multiple variations. One Zaku machine gun might fire continuously for its primary attack with a burst for its secondary, while that same gun could also drop in with a grenade launcher. Combined with the signature sounds from the original series, details in the models, and other properties, weapons easily stand out from one another, even in the same class.

The boost mechanic is another example of this. Players are able to boost and shoot at the same time, but boosting has a limited meter that only refills when the player is on the ground, and the evasive-step mechanic is also tied to that same meter. The player’s ranged weapon behaves similarly, with both attacks using a single meter. Option equipment may have a limited number of uses or run on independent gauges that follow similar rules, while single-use EX actions can only be used after being fully charged.

There is definitely a lot to potentially micromanage, and getting the most out of everything is vital as the difficulty increases. However, at no point does the game force the player to fully equip themselves. The player get to choose how much they want to micromanage at their own pace, and that helps prevent them from being overwhelmed as they learn the ropes.

The big curve-ball of combat is the “parts break” system. As its name implies, every attack, whether ranged or melee, has a chance to break off parts from an enemy. This renders them unable to use that part until it reattaches after a brief period of time. However, should their legs be broken off, it opens them up to an instant kill attack that gives out more rewards than usual. This can also happen to the player, and when it does, it has immediate consequences. Lost the head? No lock-on. Lost the backpack? No boosting. Lost the sword arm? There goes the melee attack.

To further emphasize these consequences, option equipment and EX actions tied to the specific limb that is lost are also rendered unusable until it is reattached. Let me tell you, it can be absolutely terrifying, especially if you go down right before you were able to heal and you are surrounding by several boss-level enemies. It’s important to note that this system works differently for the Mobile Armor and Perfect Grade bosses, where it will permanently damage or break off the part.

Finally, Gundam Breaker 3 has one last little twist, Awakening mode, which it rewards after the first chapter. It can be activated once enough damage is dealt, and it results in a massive buff in speed, damage, charge rates, etc. for a limited time. It’s also where the game hides some of its greatest treats.

A variety of attacks, mainly the more powerful ones in Gundam lore, are locked behind Awakening mode, and can only be used once before the mode ends. Such attacks include the Satellite Cannon from Gundam X, and the Moonlight Butterfly from Turn A. There are even musical and visual Easter eggs for activating certain EX actions while in Awakening mode, like the NT-D EX action from Gundam Unicorn. It’s the little touches like that which make it truly shine for a Gundam fan, while also indicating to someone that doesn’t get the reference that they’ve done something special.

Now let’s dig into the customization suite. For starters, the Gunpla is broken down into seven core parts for assembly and each can be mixed and matched with no restrictions whatsoever except for one part per category. Players can save and load designs, switch between missions, and even assign their designs to NPCs for missions they’ve already cleared.

However, there are limitations in place for abilities. EX actions and Awakened Attacks are initially locked to specific parts. For example, the Satellite Cannon requires the backpack of Gundam X. Use the action enough times, and they’ll lose their parts restrictions, sometimes even unlocking a new EX Action as well. This can feel like a bit of a grind.

Option equipment on the other hand is permanently part-restricted. It’s either tied to one of the main parts, or a ‘builder part.’ Builder parts can be viewed as accessories that further boost the stats of the Gunpla or add on additional option equipment, with the limitation of seven slots. Builder parts can usually have their position specified, as they will be attached to a part of the Gunpla and will be affected by parts break.

The player is also allowed to shift backpack parts and builder parts around to create a more unique look, along with painting the Gunpla. The painting portion has some sliders that allow the player to choose how much the Gunpla has been scraped up, which can look fantastic with the right paint. That said, the painting suffers a severe limitation: what is applied to a leg or arm is applied to the other one as well, meaning asymmetrical designs are not possible.

The strongest aspect of the customization system is the merge mechanic, which is used to strengthen the parts the player collects. There are four merge options: Pair Merge, Package Merge, Plastic Merge, and Derive Merge.  Each of these enables the player to level up parts by sacrificing other parts or a generic drop known as ‘plastic,’ add/remove new abilities, and increase the rarity by sacrificing rarer parts, therefore increasing the number of ability slots. The amount of control the player has over the abilities that are added or removed from a part during a merge is fantastic. Derive merge is unique in that by combining two parts, a different one is created — potentially one that only appears later on. It’s the only guaranteed method to obtain certain parts, such as Fuunsaiki.

There is also one more major part of customization: Robota. Robota is an NPC that will join the player in later missions. However, Robota is unique in that he pilots SD Gundams, with his own little customization suite. As the player progresses in their first run of the game, and completes specific missions on harder difficulties later, Robota gains different SD Gundam frames.

Each SD Gundam provides a different set of skills for Robota, and after being used enough, each one will provide the player with a unique EX Action to equip. On top of that, Robota will gain three slots for passive skills, providing benefits to the player and their allies like increased attack or drop rates. These can be swapped in and out freely, creating a Robota that is tailored to the player’s needs.

Gunpla, along with builder parts, can also be purchased through a store with in-game currency. Purchasing a mobile suit would drop its core body parts along with an appropriate ranged weapon and/or melee weapon, such as a mobile suit from the Unicorn Gundam series coming with the Beam Saber (Unicorn). Interestingly enough, for each mobile suit, it instead displays the box the Gunpla would normally come in, which is what boss Gunpla will drop in with. These are the same boxes that the Gunpla would normally come in if they were actually purchased.

Gundam Breaker 3 also has an online suite with two main modes to it: Bounty Hunter and Co-op. Bounty Hunter allows players to battle Gunpla others created in order to earn parts and money, and are able to take on multiple foes at once for a larger reward. However, all opponents are controlled by AI, meaning there is no actual PvP combat. Meanwhile, Co-op is just going through the missions with up to three other players. It’s important to note that online partners take up slots that NPCs usually occupy, meaning a party of four will entirely remove any story NPCs, including Robota. During my time online, I experienced no delay in my inputs, and the experience was quite smooth. The only hiccup I noticed was occasionally when the cut-scene played for a mini-boss squad, they spawned in one spot before warping to another, as if the location hadn’t synced among all players.

Once the game is completed the first time, the player will unlock a harder difficulty, Extreme, and unlock with the ability to use Master Grade parts. Beating Extreme then unlocks the final difficulty, Newtype. While I haven’t played Newtype myself, I am finding the difficulty is escalating at a natural pace, with enemies getting smarter, while also getting tougher and stronger to match the player’s own stat growth. Meanwhile the other reward, Master Grade parts, are essentially larger parts than what the player had access to before. While they can be freely mixed together, certain Mobile Suits and various parts are exclusively in Master Grade. Master Grades need to be unlocked separately before they can be purchased in the store, and have their own boxes as well.

Despite the fact the game is focused on plastic models, Gundam Breaker 3 feels very faithful to the Gundam material. An impressive selection of Mobile Suits, alongside plenty of little series Easter eggs, make it a must for fans of the Gundam franchise. The low barrier of entry needed for non-Gundam fans to enjoy it is also a major bonus. While there are flaws, the excellent gameplay and smart design at its core more than make up for them. If you’ve been looking for a new hack ‘n’ slash game to play, this should be on your list.

[This review is based on a retail build of the game purchased by the reviewer. The Breaker DLC was not covered in this review.]

Impressive efforts with a few noticeable problems holding them back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.

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