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Reviews: Gundam Side Stories (6/10)

Posted on : 01-06-2014 | By : | In : Reviews

Hardware:

10

gunside_cover1Some 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.

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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.

Tamashii: 6/10

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Comments (10)

My question for you guys is, are the “full” narratives of the sidestories in these games or are they just skimmed over?

The narrative is all there, despite the reduced mission count. Though there is a bit of re-visioning going on, plus more than a fair few call outs to the Missing Link storyline. If you want a purer narrative delivery then just play the original games.

I have a few of the games but I’m not exactly into buying a SEGA Saturn for 3 games so I think I’ll pick this up when the price drops to 20-30 dollars (where that gunpla game is at right now).

You can buy the Blue Destiny trilogy set quite cheaply now though – http://page8.auctions.yahoo.co.jp/jp/auction/h188737797

I think there’s a call out in each individual side story to Missing Link, and I think the first trailer for Missing Link actually had a possible shout out to 0081 with the GM Command Space Type watching Amuro and Char fight.
Interestingly, Cross Dimension is played from the Zeon perspective, but there is only one ending to that story this time around. Zeonic Front is missing numerous characters (Swaggard, Sandra, and Fran, with Renchef getting only a mention), and shoehorns Agar into the early missions for honestly no good reason.
I think the telling thing for me with this game is that the reused animation from the PS2 Zeonic Front opening at the end of the Zeonic Front campaign looks honestly better than the new footage they added to it in this game. The gameplay is fun, fast, good for quick little bursts of play, but not good for really long campaigns (Marchosias really felt like it was dragging). Overall, I’m enjoying it, but if rental were an option, I’d have gone with that.

Oh, thank you very much for your detailed explanation.

Well, I finally got the game and gave it a whirl. It seemed fun, but nowhere near as good as Senki. So, after reading your review, I thought maybe I was letting nostalgia get the better of me–I did, after all, consider Senki to be the single greatest Gundam game of all time.

So I went back and played some Senki.

And I still stand by that opinion. I think you, perhaps, need to refresh yourself on Senki. The gameplay, visuals, and core game design were all much, much more polished than Side Stories. The only real areas it suffers in comparison to SS is it’s lack of space combat and long loading times–but then again, SS has fairly long loading times, too.

I really, really hope the Senki team is working on the PS4 game, because if the PS3 generation taught us anything, it’s that those guys are the only people capable of making a good Gundam game.

SS and 0081 had the same teams. SS is a more taut arcade game than 0081, which is more analogue and open. From a design standpoint, this is more polished in terms of the core gameplay mechanics (as there are more of them and balanced to a greater degree). 0081 just has a lot more production value and more varied missions, as well as being more tactical. 0081 is the better overall game but SS plays better.

I just can’t agree. Side Stories is an action game that frequently forces the player to combat large number of enemies… enemies who are largely passive–and probably have to be so passive because the inconstant framerate would probably sink to single-digits if they became more aggressive.

I’m talking pure mechanics here, not the implementation in terms of mission content (as that is crap, as I pointed out). The controls and game system are a lot more taut and developed compared to 0081’s. 0081 is still the better overall game but the core game is definitely less developed, as it’s more analogue (plus the beam rifle charge short is pretty irksome too).

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