Posted on : 17-03-2013 | By : Cacophanus | In : Reviews
Hardware: PlayStation 3
What with all the hybrid BluRay Macross movie releases, it was obvious that Bandai was funding Artdink’s R&D for a bigger PS3 game. Considering Artdink’s pretty damn solid Gundam and especially Macross PSP games it made sense that they’d make the leap to PS3. However, Artdink is a small studio and one that’s thrived on maximizing the most out of previous generation’s console hardware. The Hybrid games they produced were functionally competent but technically very far behind.
Their latest effort, an ambitious open world “flight action RPG”, is again functionally competent and even quite progressive too but it is sadly marred by Artdink’s technical inexperience. That said, it remains a surprisingly compelling game throughout.
The game starts a year after the events of Macross Frontier and we join the action with the game’s protagonist, an SMS variable fighter pilot called Leon Sakaki. He’s currently investigating the mysterious planet Ouroboros and in doing so is attacked by a mysterious variable fighter. Crash landing on the planet he teams up with Aisha Blanchett, part of SMS’s Ouroboros Branch. Due to something called the Ouroboros Aurora, Leon is unable to leave the planet forcing him to help Aisha and find out what’s going on. Not long after this they discover a mysterious sleeping girl called Mina Forte and all sorts of time warping shenanigans ensure. This is the backdrop for the open world RPG setup and this is where the game gets very progressive in a functional sense.
Set across three main hub areas (an island chain, a desert and a glacier) you undertake quests. These fall into two categories; story quests and Hunter Guild quests. The former are basically linear and drive the narrative forward, whereas the latter are more open ended and often award parts once completed. In each hub level you’ll have bandits and all other manner of enemies flying around. Destroying these will net you cash and experience. Whilst each variable fighter can be upgraded, the real potency stems from the player’s level in relation to their enemies. So killing large bandit ships, for instance, will net you a lot of cash and experience. In turn leveling you up quicker. Normally the bandits congregate around small towns, shown normally as simple structures, and once destroyed you can use that town’s shop and Hunter Guild setup. Town shops offer all manner of items, from repair kits and ammo boxes (more of the latter in a moment) as well as blueprints for more variable fighters.
If you’ve played any of Artdink’s Macross PSP games then the basic functionality here will be very familiar. However, what’s very different is the game speed is drastically reduced and you have a finite amount of ammunition for your sub-weapons. To clarify, your gunpod has two firing modes; rapid and sniper. It is also blessed with infinite ammunition. The Macross staple of missiles though are treated as finite sub-weapons. This means you can spam missiles but you’ll run out eventually. How quickly depends on how many ammo boxes you have with you.
Controls-wise there are three options and we went with a new third person shooter centric setup. Unlike the PSP games, there isn’t the same kind of fixed lock-on system. You have a lock-on window and holding down L1 will pick a target to orbit around. However, you still have to aim as the gunpods have recoil now. This makes the dogfights great fun and, due to the fact the game runs at a slower pace, makes the combat more than manageable with this setup. In addition, as the game doesn’t really have any space combat to speak of (bar a few special case missions), the flight controls are very planar in focus. This means you almost always know which way is down and that keeps handling the shift in controls between modes more logical. The latter is again very similar to the PSP games in approach, so quite standardised across all three modes basically.
Whilst the gameplay is quite compelling, Macross 30 suffers from all manner of problems due to Artdink’s technical inexperience. As a PSP developer, their approach to dealing with game data is likely to load everything into memory and reference it in game. With UMD based games on a system such as the PSP, with very little available memory, that makes sense, as you can access everything you need quickly, the assets look decent and it keeps the framerate pretty consistent. Unfortunately on consoles like the PS3 and 360, if you can take this approach the opposite is true. This is why a lot of more modern games stream the data as they need it.
What transpires are long loading times pretty much everywhere, as all the data is loaded into memory, with in-game assets that look like an HD remix from a PS2 game circa 2005. To top it all off the framerate also dies horribly when lots of missiles start flying about (which in a Macross game is a pretty likely event). The latter thankfully isn’t wholly game-breaking but it is annoying and Artdink have patched the game twice already to improve this issue, though with mixed results if we’re honest.
Admittedly the variable fighters look okay but the environments are just very bland. Not only due to the way memory is likely handled but also due to the fact that many of the dungeon type levels are built in a modular way, most likely to save production time and cost. This means all the dungeons are basically the same, just with different enemies. Now all this wouldn’t be as much of an issue in fast paced action game but this is a far more drawn out RPG. So you really notice how basic everything looks and how similar all the dungeons are.
The RPG element also feeds very much into the pacing of unlocks in the game. If you’re expecting a variable fighter buffet then prepare to be disappointed, as Macross 30 has about half as many playable units compared to Macross Triangle Frontier and that’s being generous. To top it all off, all the other characters and units aren’t playable until you’ve finished the game once. So this means you’ll be lumped with standard variable fighters for most of the game. That said, we do think the new YF-30 Chronos is something truly wonderful.
This brings us finally onto the playtime and language barrier. The game is aptly named, as our first playthrough was around 30 hours (though you can likely blitz through it quicker if you want). As this is an RPG in approach the language barrier is pretty steep. All the story will be lost on you unless you have a working knowledge of Japanese (as well as an understanding of the Macross saga obviously). In addition, managing items and understanding upgrades will require a similar level of Japanese. Most quests are pretty straightforward though, so you’ll be able to play the game at least.
Overall then, Macross 30 is a progressive game that narratively references 30 years of Macross in a really fantastic way. Functionally the variable fighter controls and combat are exemplary. However, the game is very much undermined by Artdink’s technical shortcomings and if you’re expecting something more fast paced, as per their PSP games, you’ll end up frustrated. As such we can recommend the game to gamers, though they’ll need a good knowledge of Japanese, but don’t expect Macross 30 to visually or technically impress you.