Review by Flarebringer
"A brilliant but not perfect sPRG from Riviera's makers."
Before I begin, let me say a few things about this review. I'm writing this from the perspective of a veteran Fire Emblem player, and one who enjoyed those games. I will make references to the English-released Fire Emblems, so if you hated those, this review may not be the best one to look at.
Overview: Hey, what can I say? This is Yggdra Union, a SRPG made by Sting and Atlus. It has a high pedigree, coming from the same companies who did Riviera (I will defend that game to the death against Golden Sun fans, but that's a different story) and Disgaea. I heard about it, and managed to beg and borrow an imported copy of it. Does it live up to those expectations? Heck yeah. This game has no major glaring problems, though like any game it has its rough edges and flaws.
Alright then folks, there it is. YU in a nutshell.
Oh good grief, Ceej, that's a review! It has a number score and everything!
Graphics: 8.5/10 Might as well get the unimportant stuff out of the way. I'll say this: Yggdra Union's graphics are pretty well done. One of the issues I have is that to someone new to the game, the unit sprites look the same. I've lost a few battles because I thought that an enemy units was a _____ when it actually was a _____ (fill anything in for the blanks). But that's more of a gameplay issue, and should become less of an issue when the English version allows us to read the unit name thing that pops up when you float the cursor over the sprite. Also, the character art is awesome, at least if you like Riviera's style. Unfortunately, it's a little too awesome: the extreme complexity and flashiness of the art makes for a few problems. First off-well, when I first looked at Milanor's sprite, it took me half a minute to figure out what was him, what was his clothing, and what was his weapon. This is exacerbated by the fact that the GBA screen is tiny: all that minute detail was starting to strain my eyes long before games like Fire Emblem did. Nevertheless, those flaws are minor after the first few hours of gameplay (after you get used to everything), and there is no evidence of sloppy graphics design.
Sound: 7/10. Right from the beginning, I'm going to admit that I never got the hang of evaluating GBA music. I just don't get it. That said, I suppose Yggdra Union's music sounded okay to me. It's a bit tactless at times, but overall it does a good job of conveying the emotion you're supposed to have. It ain't Chrono Trigger, but it's passable. Some people, however, who likely have better taste in GBA music than I do, will defend this game's music to the death, so I'd take my own opinion with a grain of salt here. If you're really concerned about this, Lacrima Castle (http://lacrimacastle.net/), has the Yggdra Union soundtrack up last time I checked. Give it a whirl.
Gameplay: 10/10. This is what makes Yggdra Union. The gameplay is excellent. Very good. Did I mention that it rocks? Anyways, it's a grid-based SRPG, so think FFTA or Fire Emblem and cross-apply the concept here (people whacking other people around on a grid-based map). Combat takes place in a separate screen with a simple, mostly automated flow (though you can control the aggressive/passive style of your troops). The loser of automated combat takes a hit to morale, when morale hits 0, the unit's gone. Incidentally, unlike Fire Emblem, characters don't croak permanently. This game introduces a card system, in which you build a "deck" of cards before the battle begins. At the beginning of each turn, you choose a card from that deck to preside over each turn: different cards grant you a bonus to the amount of morale damage you do, increases the number of moves you can make, and grant certain abilities in battle. Only one unit can attack per turn, but each of the starting combatants can draw other units into battle based on a geometrical pattern, and soon there'll be massive 5-on-5 melees going on each turn. Overall, this is done smoothly: as an indication of how smoothly, I don't read a word of Japanese and figured everything I wrote up there by trial-and-error since it was all the natural thing to do. That's the good side. There are a few flaws, but they're rather minor.
Most of the gameplay mechanics are unlocked over the course of a few chapters. This is good the first time around for newbies, but on a second playthrough, not being able to Union or trigger card abilities for a long time gets on one's nerves.
Maybe it's because I started this game via trial and error, but sometimes this game gets insanely hard. Of course, I was playing the Japanese version, and it'll probably get dumbed-down for us idiot Americans, but still. The big issue here is that units don't heal after battles unless you sacrifice items to them, which wouldn't be an issue if I wasn't so darn perfectionist and wanted to keep everything.
Also, Yggdra Union takes a more fantasy approach to combat. On the realism scale from 1 to 10 where 1 is wargames and 10 is Final Fantasy Tactics, Yggdra Union is hovering somewhere around 60. This is nice if you like that sort of thing, but I prefer my games to have some link to real tactics. For example, the whole "union" thing is a great gameplay innovation, but I'm still confused about why females would Union in a straight line and males in a diagonal cross. Or why quickly switching between aggressive and passive is more efficient than just staying neutral. Or why getting Milanor to eat a sword somehow improves his unit morale. Again, this may not be a bad thing depending on how you view games like this, it's just something to keep in mind.
Story: 8.5/10. I can give you broad outlines, but detailed analysis will have to wait until the english release.
The game has two main characters. The first one is Yggdra, a princess-in-exile from a country named Fantasinia (I think) thanks to the efforts of one young, bloodthirsty, ambitious, maniac (you know the litany) emperor named Gulcasa. Who, I may add, achieved power in a coup. Anyways, Bronkia, the country of Gulcasa rips apart Fantasinia's military in short order, and Yggdra makes it out with a heirloom, the legendary holy sword Gran Centurio.
Enter Milanor. A somewhat stereotypical chivalrous thief in the mold of Robin hood. Also the most awesome avatar of total ass-kicking ever in-game, by the way. He agrees to help Yggdra regain her throne, and the first few chapters of the game have you cutting through Gulcasa's armies in a classical "unstoppable despite being outnumbered 20 billion to one" sRPG maneuver.
Then all heck breaks loose, but I'm not about to spoil that.
Opinion? Well, the storyline isn't strictly bad, it works pretty well with the game, but I have to say that it doesn't look that original to me. In fact, it looks way too much like a Sacred Stones rehash to me, and that's troubling for a number of reasons (like, didn't Sacred Stones completely suck?). Then again, we'll have to wait till the English release to pass final judgment.
Replayability: 6/10. This is where the game falls on its face. Like many RPGs, Yggdra Union has a severe lack of replayability. Granted, there are two marginally different paths, and if you want to get everything you're looking at two playthroughs minimum. However, unlike console RPGs, the game has a set ending, so even if you wanted to, you couldn't powerlevel your characters to obscene levels. There is no skirmish or trial map mode, or the equivalent of FFX's Omega Ruins or Valkyrie Profile's Seraphic Gate: no obscenely hard extra dungeon. There is no multiplayer, so there's no stimulus to assemble the perfect team like there is with Fire Emblem. Overall, this is a game I wouldn't play more than twice.
Length: 9/10. Then I looked at what I had just wrote and figured it was a bit hard on the game, so I randomly inserted this category in. You see, what this game lacks in replayability, it makes up for in length. Your first runthrough will be about 40 hours, not including the times that you replay a level because you got your head handed to you the first time around. That's long for a GBA game, and that's why I'm giving it a score in length: it would be unfair to ignore a selling point of this game.
Stability: Hasn't crashed on me yet, and I haven't lost a save file or something like that. People have managed to find bugs in the Japanese version, but most of them are minor, and stability usually improves when the game crosses the coast.
Buy or Rent: Buy. I'm serious, there is no way you're going to beat this game and enjoy it in a week or two weeks. If you don't like it return it or sell it on eBay, but you are not going to like this game if you rent it.
Overall: 9/10 pending more info on the storyline and/or any changes made from the Japanese to English localization. This is higher than the average of the scores, but the game's main strength is in its gameplay, and I consider that the major criteria for a GBA SRPG. There is no RPG for the GBA, not even Golden Sun, that I would recommend over this, and it is significantly stronger than games such as Sacred Stones and Tactics Advance.
Comparison with Fire Emblem: You knew it was coming. Anyways, I think much of the debate over Fire Emblem versus this is misconceived. Despite the superficial similarities, the two games cater to a vastly different audience. Fire Emblem is numbers-based, with clear formulae one can calculate out beforehand. This game is quite luck-dependant, with no real way to calculate out probabilities. Fire Emblem's art and graphics are clear but simplistic, Yggdra Union's gorgeous and cluttered. And the biggest difference: Fire Emblem has much more characters than Yggdra Union. It all comes down to character development versus variety. It does seem that most of Yggdra Union's characters are done much better than their Fire Emblem counterparts, but that's the price Fire Emblem pays for its many characters. Each approach has its advantages, and that would be a whole new essay in and of itself. Go with what you feel like-just remember there's no projected Fire Emblem coming for the GBA!
Best Moment: Nietzsche triggering several Mind Changes in a row on an array of enemy Witches.
Worst Moment: Getting critsplatted by Gulcasa's Genocide card. Again.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 08/25/06
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