Some of the finest Gundam games ever made have been the “gaiden”, or side story, entries. These are on the whole admired by fans of the Gundam saga, as they place the player as grunts on the front lines. Understandably, when a collection such as Gundam Side Stories was announced many people were obviously overjoyed. As modern day remakes of these classic games would be a wonderful thing indeed.
It then transpired that these classic games wouldn’t actually be remade, instead they would use a new game setup and only be recreated in a narrative sense. Despite this obvious disappointment, the new game is actually rather good but the overall package is very patchy and inconsistent. As such this is one of the more challenging games we’ve had to review over the years.
The main focus of Side Stories is a new campaign called Missing Link. This ties into many of the other side stories, most notably that of Blue Destiny, and shows the early origins of where the EXAM system came from. It also nicely ties into events from Char’s Counterattack and later Gundam Unicorn. It’s missions also make up the bulk of the game’s content.
This is where we get to the general issue with Side Stories. The game engine is clearly based upon that of Gundam Battle Operation’s. This was a free-to-play multiplayer only game and as such the transition to a singleplayer only campaign focused game hasn’t done it much favours. This is not to say Side Stories doesn’t play well, as it is actually pretty good on that front (though more of that later), but the sheer amount of content has caused unfortunate issues with the overall production quality.
It’s likely the engine origin isn’t the main cause of the problems. It is more likely that the sheer amount of content required meant that for the majority of the cutscenes, of which there are a great many, required other members of the team to handle their pacing and animation. This is to say that designers probably had to fill in the gaps in terms of the cutscene scripting, as animators were clearly busy on other parts of the game. Coupled with the Battle Operation code base makes us think that the cutscene toolset was already pretty basic to begin with. As that obviously had no need to do cutscenes so the functionality was likely hacked in on top (never a good thing that).
What transpires are laughably bad cutscenes for the majority of the missions across the game. This is made doubly worse when a few of the cutscenes actually had proper animators involved and those look jarringly great.
So the cutscenes are bad, who cares? Well, it’s not just the cutscenes. This excess of content has also harmed the variety and polish of the environments as well as the mission scripting, with the latter being very generic.
The bizarre aspect to all this is that the core gameplay mechanics are actually good, we’d even go far as to say better than Gundam Senki 0081. In that, we have an interesting amalgam of some of the classic side story games via a third person view. With the speed and pacing of Lost War Chronicles mixed with the unit swap of Zeonic Front. The latter is interesting, as the units act as your lives. So when your current unit “dies” you switch over to a healthier one as your wingman recuperates. If all units are killed then that’s game over. Whilst this is a nice setup, the game’s pacing is too fast for this to be used all that strategically but it’s still interesting nonetheless.
There’s also a nice sense of weight added to the mobile suits, with inputs and attacks having to be dialled in somewhat. This means you have to think ahead a bit and can’t just rush in some of the time. That said, the game is by no means hard and you can just plough through missions pretty quickly. This is partly because the missions are all quite short but more because the mission scripting is pretty simple.
Mobile suits also have a variety of specials and these can be quite potent indeed. Though for the most part you don’t actually need to use them, as the speed and fluidity of the combat means you be more focused on just using your basic attacks to dispatch them as quickly as possible. On bigger enemies and bosses the specials can be very handy indeed though.
Whilst the combat is fast and fluid, it is also more restrictive than the likes of the Gundam Extreme Versus games. This is mostly down to the sense of weight the units have but also because the framerate can get a bit erratic in places. Normally when lots of particle effects are kicking off in close proximity. This is a classic fill rate issue and again shows that there weren’t enough staff on the game (as this is a basic optimisation pass).
The other and more pressing final aspect to all this is that the side story remakes are a mixed bag. This is not because the gameplay isn’t fun but that these games had their own unique functionality that has now been lost in this package. Both Blue Destiny and Rise from the Ashes were handled in the first person, Zeonic Front was a brilliant pseudo-RTS and Cross Dimension 0079 was a turn-based strategy game. Admittedly Lost War Chronicles and Space, To the End of A Flash are okay but they are closer to the Missing Link game setup anyway. The fact that the original gaiden classics haven’t been functionally recreated is definetly saddening but there is a lot of very cool fanservice at least.
It’s also worth clarifying that much of the non-Missing Link side stories have had their mission counts reduced somewhat. With multiple missions often being condensed into one. Weirdly though Blue Destiny now gets a short Zeon side playthrough, which is something at least.
Overall then, this is a fun game marred by the fact that it tries to offer way too much content. They clearly had the budget for one good Gundam game but decided to try and make seven instead (as well as a huge amount of VR missions too). So whilst the core game is competent the overall package is lacking in terms of production quality. As such it’s a weird collection of games to review and difficult to outright recommend. However, if you can enjoy the core combat as well as the fanservice but overlook the lacklustre visual elements then you’ll be pleasantly entertained.