I am Gundam
To say it’s been a rough generation for Gundam games would be putting it lightly. Despite starting strong with SD Gundam G Generation Genesis and Gundam Breaker 3, every subsequent game seemed to get worse and worse. This was due to basic issues that could have been avoided like the online quality in Gundam Versus, or a complete lack of quality control in New Gundam Breaker. At times, it was genuinely hard to have faith that SD Gundam G Generation Cross Rays wouldn’t share the same fate.
Luckily, the three years since the release of Genesis were put to good use.
SD Gundam G Generation Cross Rays (PS4 [reviewed], Switch, PC [reviewed])
Developer: Tom Create
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Released: November 28, 2019
The story of SD Gundam G Generation Cross Rays, which will be referred to as Cross Rays, is radically different from its predecessor Genesis. Where the previous title focused on 17 entries in the Universal Century timeline of the Gundam franchise, instead we have 13 from the timelines of Wing, SEED, 00, and Iron-Blooded Orphans. It goes without saying, but this game is just providing abridged versions of the storylines included. This means SEED Destiny is still the same awful mess as it was before, and the game does not try to hide or change that.
There is also one other included entry that I can see being an issue for many. From the 00 timeline we have 00F, a spinoff manga that takes place alongside the first season and during the time skip. While it’s not necessarily a bad entry – though I will admit I’m not huge on how it’s more reliant on the main show than the other included side stories – it’s the absence of other materials that hurt it. The story and characters frequently refer to events that occurred in 00P, which was a prequel manga and whose story is not included in the game. What’s more, the storyline doesn’t really have a conclusive ending for these side characters, which feels like it is trying to push people to read 00I to find that out. As that story is also not in the game, it makes 00F arguably the weakest entry for anyone that has no exposure to the side materials for that timeline.
Despite these two bad eggs however, Cross Rays does show improvement in portraying these stories. With more stages per series, for a grand total of 82 stages, the pacing is able to more closely follow the original material, and less has to be cut out as a result. For the most part, the manga entries and movies made it over fine, regardless of the missing entries for 00F, while Wing, SEED, and SEED Destiny have a couple of stumbles. However, 00 and Iron-Blooded Orphans made the transition pretty well, due to having 13 and 12 stages respectively. While obviously the source material is still king, I’d have far fewer issues with referring this game to someone who had never seen these entries before.
That being said, the presentation does leave something to be desired at times, and this was an issue with Genesis as well. While cutscenes and battle animations are often used for major moments, such as Mu’s sacrifice to save the Archangel, other moments that do not get the same treatment, being reduced to basic slash and explosion effects on the map. Instances such as Louise killing Nena in order to finally get revenge for her parents’ murder, or the infamous moment of Shinn shooting down Kira, are given the same treatment as a group of grunts being one-shotted. Not only does it undersell the gravity and importance of the moment, but at the same time, what is the point of all these models and animations if the developers aren’t going to use them?
The dialogue is in the same boat. There is a lot of screen real estate left unoccupied when it’s not showing the map and units, instead using a background image to show a location or scene to help give context as to what’s going on. This could be something simple like a generic office, or something specific such as Fareed finding the beat-up Todo in his underwear in IBO, as seen earlier in the review. However, the generic backgrounds get far more usage, and some are used across multiple timelines such as an empty government building. As such, many of these moments just blur together. Even if character portraits were moved from the bottom left corner to the middle of the screen, like how Super Robot Wars presents itself, that would go a long way toward fixing this issue.
As for the formatting of missions, since Cross Rays is a strategy RPG, it’s identical to Genesis. Missions will generally have two halves: the first is comprised of units assigned by the story, while the other half contains story-units and lets players deploy a custom squad. VIP units need to be protected while players try to complete both mandatory and optional objectives, with the optional ones being closer to the source material. The strength and abilities of a unit are determined by the combined stats of the pilot and the machine, and permadeath is in place for the machines so reckless plays can be punished.
Not all missions are made equal, however. While the manga, movies, and Iron-Blooded Orphans have a solid variety and pacing for their objectives, Wing, SEED, and SEED Destiny’s later halves have a problem. The main objective frequently turns into “defeat all enemies,” which normally wouldn’t be too bad except many of these later missions have a total enemy count of around 75 units or higher. While Wing does have a potential solution for players to find, as Gundam Aquarius can disrupt Mobile Doll enemies, the other two do not have simple solutions. As a result, many of these missions can feel tedious and long in the tooth.
However, it’s in the stats and abilities that we start to see some of the changes Cross Rays has made for the better. In Genesis, leveling up a mech added a flat bonus to all stats on top of choosing what stats players wanted to invest points into, with two points needed to improve a stat initially. This has now been reworked for a better balance, with the flat bonus being removed. The number of points needed to improve a stat is based on how high the stat is rather than how many points were already invested, meaning units with lower starting stats have higher initial growth rates. As a result, the gap between starting units like the Leo and endgame units like Gundam Epyon is smaller than before.
Pilots have also had a change in their passive abilities and how they are obtained. While they may have some preassigned ones, like Coordinator or Alaya-Vijnana System, every pilot has five empty slots, with a sixth opening up after beating the final stage. During missions, elite enemies will have abilities that they will drop upon defeat, with different abilities being found in harder difficulties. If a unit from the custom squad defeats an enemy with said ability, they will be able to equip it right there for free. Otherwise, it’s sent to the inventory, where players will have to fork out funds for someone else to equip the ability. It should also be mentioned that there are abilities and parts that can stop experience gain, which is a good tool for those not wanting to break the game balance.
The base mechanics of development – the process of changing one unit into another when they reach a specific level – has not been changed overall. Neither has design, which unlocks machines in the store by combining two mechs, or exchange, which is trading a leveled-up unit for an equivalent one. The only tweak is that the development trees for the original units exclusive to the SD Gundam series, such as the starting unit Phoenix Gundam, are now able to develop into non-original ones such as the Tallgeese. This means players can access the units they came here for faster, and that’s a good thing for a game focused on letting players build their dream squad.
Unit deployment has been given some variety as well. The battleship group, complete with a custom crew for the ship, returns from Genesis. However, there are now Raid Groups, which can be seen as an attempt to emulate the deployments from Wing and 00. This formation ditches the battleship entirely, and instead units heal and regain energy while adjacent to other squad mates. They also have access to the raid link-up attack mechanic, where multiple enemies can be attacked as long as they are within range of any raid unit. It’s definitely a different beast, and it opens up possibilities that the battleships can’t utilize.
There have also been numerous quality-of-life changes. Battle sequences have been improved, with all attack animations now being 3D models, and it’s miles beyond anything in Genesis. Furthermore, post-battle dialogue, special intros, and dodges have been added, on top of every piece of dialogue now being subtitled. This part of the game now feels complete, as special dialogue like all the Trans-AM activation variants for the cast or what-if situations like Neil Dylandy battling Anew Returner can now be experienced since the voice-over is Japanese only. Personality for pilots not featured in the story can shine through because of these changes, meaning all those Astray and 00 spinoff characters, along with the SD Gundam original characters, are now more distinct individuals.
Other areas weren’t left out either. Menus have received a fresh coat of paint, and attack ranges can be viewed outside of missions. The Get Gauge, which allows for units to be unlocked by a separate method through feeding them kills, now carries over between stages. Segments that are exclusive to story units can be skipped on replays, potentially saving time on replays for grinding or quest purposes. Speaking of quests, which are over 280 side tasks that unlock pilots, parts, and certain machines, there’s now a list that shows only the ones relevant to the current mission.
The biggest quality-of-life addition however is the new dispatch missions. These are timer-based missions that players can send squads on to gain money and experience, as well as the chance to obtain units, abilities, and parts. As someone who had to go to work during this review, having my units level up while I wasn’t playing was a huge benefit, as it helped reduce the amount of time I spent grinding in comparison to Genesis. These missions drop variants of units that are exclusive to the story, such as the last-stand version of Gundam Gusion Rebake Full City. Overall, it’s a very useful addition to the game and a smart choice on the developers’ part.
Finally, let’s talk about the platforms and release regions. Cross Rays was released internationally on PC, and outside of not being able to fiddle with the model and texture quality, it’s a solid port. Having run it on a couple of machines I had access to, I’m finding that those with specifications lower than the recommended ones may experience some performance issues with battle animations. So, keep that in mind before purchasing, as while the game is fully playable otherwise, a lot of unique dialogue is exclusive to those sequences. On the other end, the PlayStation 4 and Switch versions were only released in Asia, but they do have English translations. The PlayStation 4 version runs fine on the base console, with no issues encountered. While English versions do exist and can be imported, remember that any DLC will need an account matching the region the game is from.
At the end of the day, Cross Rays still has room to improve for both presentation and gameplay elements, but the new changes result in a better game. In an era where many Gundam games are failing to improve over their predecessor, seeing Cross Rays try and succeed to be a better game is a much-needed sight. Hopefully the team at Tom Create keeps the trend going with the next one, because they have the foundation needed to create something special, especially if they make it a crossover entry.
[This review is based off of two copies of the game. The retail build of the PlayStation 4 version was provided by the publisher, while the retail build of the PC version was purchased by the reviewer. ]