In my 40 odd years of PC gaming (yes I am a tito of Manila!), I have never played a Japanese mecha game. Sure there were robot games for the PC, but almost all were relegated to Western franchises such as Battletech and Titanfall. Most were also real time shooters or real time strategy games (ie Supreme Commander). So when I was offered the chance to review the newly released Super Robot Wars 30 from Bandai Namco, I just couldn’t resist.
It is the year 100 NE and Earth is besieged by aliens, kaiju, extra dimensional magical beings, powerful mechas and many a villain. You are thrown into this maelstrom as an unwitting pilot of the Huckebein 30. Aiding you is the super battleship Dreisstrager and a bevy of robots and mechas from anime TV shows from the 1970s to the mid 2000’s. Together, you fight for the survival of humanity.
Super Robot Wars 30 is a turn based tactical rpg. It is the 30th Anniversary of this on going console series, and is available for the first time on PC (via Steam). Your base of operations is the space battleship Dreisstrager, modeled after the Space Battleship Yamato cartoon series; and in it, the player engages in the management and rpg-like elements of the game. It is here that most character interactions take place as manga like panels introduce the different personalities whilst pushing the plot forward. This is however a static affair as the player has no choices to make during these story driven periods. There is no voice acting here, and the player reads text; but it is very reminiscent of reading manga and, seeing characters from different Mech franchises interact with each other is a definite treat. The story incorporates many elements from the different robot TV shows (there is an extensive ingame glossary to facilitate learning more) and is quite engaging in that over the top manner typical of the genre.
Also in the Dreisstrager is the management panel for upgrading the battleship itself, training pilots, and equipping and leveling up the various Mechs in the game using resources collected during the battles. The interface has a semi retro feel to it, but it suits the theme well since many of the mechas featured in the game are from the 70s to 90s era, considered by many the golden age of Japanese mecha animation. The customization of the different robots and pilots is fairly involved, and your input in these screens will have definite effects on the tactical battle. It should also be noted that the interface is not optimized for mouse usage (although still very easy to maneuver around), as the game was designed for cross platform compatibility. After all these upgrades, the player heads over to mission selection, and chooses amongst the many available assignments.
The combat mission is the heart of the game. A tactical map of the mission area is on screen; and just like the management screens, it has a distinctive, almost pixel art, retro look to it. The player chooses the ships and Mechs to deploy for battle (usually including their own Huckebein 30 and Dreisstrager battleship) as the enemies themselves appear on map. Each player unit is then activated one by one and the unit may move, attack, signal the support team for help,use its spirit powerups, gain extra actions, and other unit specific actions (ie change pilots, magic, use installed equipment). If the unit chooses to engage an enemy unit, the play switches to a different screen where the player (and enemy), chooses specific weapons, self buffs or enemy debuffs. As the player presses the “Start Battle” button, the action is played out in real time animation, and this is where the game truly shines.
I can only describe these real-time battle scenes as the closest thing to playing your favourite show on your computer. Whereas the other portions of the game are retro looking, these battles are rendered in high definition graphics and are a joy to play on 4k. With the proper DLC, the theme song of the animated series is played in the background, while the robot itself performs its signature moves, as the characters engage in extravagant dialogue (in full audio) we all love from watching these shows. Computer graphics mix seamlessly with scenes from the TV episodes, together with amazing weapon effects bringing about dynamic battle sequences and pushing nostalgia factor thru the roof. Seeing your childhood superrobots for the first time on your pc screen is an exhilarating experience, and watching them perform those signature moves is sure to bring a smile (or a tear ). As such, I would actually recommend new players to avoid looking at trailers or online information, as I feel it is a much better experience to be surprised by robots that appear in game (although two are spoiled here). Trust me, you wont be disappointed. Also, mechas unfamiliar to me, were equally interesting, as almost all theme songs were catchy, and watching them perform their moves and one liners; and observing their different story arcs evolve was just as entertaining. And with robots from 22 animated series (and more in the upcoming DLC’s) and a couple of original designs (such as the player’s Huckebein 30), there is much variety here.
After the player’s turn, the enemy units move one by one following the same turn sequence. Most enemies come from the different robot shows too and its a rousing experience seeing your robot fight a villainous boss you recognize.
The game, however, does come with some peculiar quirks. The save/load system may confuse some, as the ‘continue’ button will only load the last saved tactical battle, while the ‘load’ option will only load the last saved position onboard the space battleship. This is probably a cross platform feature, to make it more playable in the Nintendo Switch and other mobile systems. The screenshot function in Steam will also not work in certain portions of the game; and when it works, there are copyright watermarks on the saved screen image – limited (screenshot) functionality put into the game due to copyright restrictions. Also, the robots are rendered in a semi chibi look, and some models look slightly pixelated. According to my friend and videogame enthusiast, Paolo Barcelon, this was intentionally done as it makes royalties cheaper.
As much as this is a 2D side scrolling turn based tactical rpg in the vain of the older Final Fantasy games, it is not a very difficult game at normal settings. One might wish to play it on Hard or Expert mode for a more challenging experience. But clearly, this game was not made to be the next X-Com. Also, at P2,599.95 for the base game and P4,799.95 for the Ultimate Edition, Super Robot Wars 30 is a premium product, its price likely owing much to the copyright and royalties alluded to above. At it’s core, it is a love letter to mecha fans who have always dreamed of being a part of their favourite shows, wrapped around an interesting story and engaging gameplay. In that aspect, Super Robot Wars 30 does a most excellent job.
Super Robot Wars 30 is available now on the PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Microsoft Windows (via Steam)