Review by MuertePerro
"Play This One First, or You'll Never Want to Play it at All"
Gundam Battle Tactics, released in Japan and Korea in 2005, is essentially a port of the style of gameplay present in the already established series of Gundam Vs. games. Players assume control of a mobile suit of their choice and work their way through, mission by mission, a campaign that encapsulates part of the One Year War scenario. The game was followed by three titles, each of which improved upon its predecessor in significant ways: Gundam Battle Royale, Gundam Battle Chronicle, and Gundam Battle Universe. Each successive title added more missions, a lengthier campaign, and more unlockable mobile suits, with Gundam Battle Universe having a nearly complete roster.
Section 1: Interface
Perhaps the most important aspect of Gundam Battle Tactics is its very Western-friendly interface. Almost all of the important sections of the interface are in English, giving this title much more accessibility over the other titles in the series. Anyone who wishes to import this title should do so without fear of being left in the dark with regards to the various commands and functions present within the game. Mobile suits are easily recognizable within the game, and the small graphs next to each easily and succinctly illustrate the advantages and disadvantages of each model. Likewise, when creating a custom pilot for the campaign, his/her statistics are shown in a hexagonal diagram that increases depending upon the fighting style of the player - for instance, using more special attacks will increase SP regeneration, using more melee attacks will increase their effectiveness, etc. While each statistic is in Japanese, it becomes intuitively obvious to the player what is increasing as it increases: As the player progresses, they can easily see which areas are barely or not increasing at all and adjust their behavior accordingly.
The in-game HUD is informative and is mostly in English as well, allowing the player to very easily understand how much ammunition for each weapon they have left, where the enemy is located, what their objective is, etc. Pressing START will display a full map, giving the player even more of a heads-up on the status of the battlefield. Everything is very neatly arranged so as to keep from obstructing the player's view. The mission screen is almost entirely in Japanese, but is extremely easy to understand, given that no new missions will appear until the player finishes the ones present.
Section 2: Audio/Visual
Considering when the game released, the graphics are impressive, capturing well enough the look and feel of each mobile suit, and the surrounding (though usually barren) terrain. One minor complaint I would raise with the game is that machine-gun fire is very minimal in terms of visual presentation - it is extremely hard to spot incoming and outgoing fire when in the midst of battle, because the rounds are extremely small and lack a real "tracer" kind of quality. Needless to say, it can become problematic in later levels, because being able to spot and dodge attacks is one of the fundamental skills required in order to win. Beam weapons and melee, while they do have the same sort of minimal presentation, are more easily spotted and move more slowly, so this issue does not prove to be as apparent with them. Mobile suits are very easily seen in the field, and their movements can be tracked closely - while the PSP may have a small screen, the targeting system, combined with good design of the models, the player will not find themselves struggling to spot the enemy, even when in the middle of a pitched battle with another.
From an audio standpoint, Gundam Battle Tactics adopts the same style of its cross console predecessors, using non-vocalized versions of several main themes and battle themes of the original Mobile Suit Gundam during battles. While nothing spectacular, there aren't any tracks that do not fit, and the music unique to the game keeps in line with everything else well enough. Weapon and mobile suit sounds are appropriate, if a bit on the soft side. Ace pilots, as well as your own custom pilot, are fully voiced, and their anime portraits appear frequently during the game when appropriate.
Section 3: Gameplay
While it may have been the first of its kind on PSP, Gundam Battle Tactics suffers from more than a few minor flaws regarding movement and execution of specific goals within the campaign. The beginning mobile suits understandably move slow and lack the ability to quickly dodge and attack, but their lack of ability comes across as almost ridiculous in this particular title, given the short time limits placed on some missions. Even late-game Gundams feel just a little bit too slow, and the AI (both enemy and ally alike) seem to go after one another at a very slow pace. More than once, I witnessed Zaku II's attempting to destroy particular targets by standing next to them and swinging their axes once every 3-4 seconds. While that may not seem like a long time on paper, in game it feels extremely primitive, and it is very easy to overtake and overwhelm the enemy AI once a proper understanding of the controls has been established. Towards the end of the game the pace picks up a bit, but to put it simply, it wasn't until the very last, bonus mission of the game that I felt any kind of real stress to try to dodge and get an attack in.
Mission variety exists, but is somewhat minimal. Most missions involve destroying a particular number or group of enemies, and that's it. You're usually given a time limit of 100 minutes in which to accomplish this task, meaning you'll never lose due to being entirely too slow. Other missions involve simply moving from point to point, targeting specific objects and getting near them to accomplish a task. To better illustrate: One of the opening missions requires the retrieval of several containers scattered throughout the level. Collecting them involves simply getting near them. They disappear, and the player is free to move to the next one. The same holds true for disarming time bombs scattered throughout another level - essentially, just fly to five different points, and that's it. One can't help but wonder if it was really too difficult to input more mechanics, such as carrying containers to a retrieval point, or an animation and timed event for disarming the bombs. Each mission is cleared with a particular "rank" depending on (usually) how quickly the mission was accomplished and how much damage the player received. In my experience, having full HP at the end of a mission almost always guarantees an "S" rank (the highest) no matter how much time the mission took.
It is through these ranks that players unlock more content, and the content awaiting them, while small overall, is a good contribution to the game. Given that the game takes place over around 15-20 missions, having an extra 5 or 6, percentage wise is a very good boost to content. The entire game is admittedly very short. The initial playthrough for me lasted around 6 hours, with a following playthrough taking around 2. Players have a choice of playing as either the Earth Federation or Principality of Zeon forces during the first half or so of the One Year War, and the length of each campaign mission-wise is around the same. Given the small size of the game, especially in terms of data (it's around 300mb, on a 1.8gb UMD), it is no small wonder as to why the creators restricted the content. For any Gundam fan, it's a little disappointing to get through half of the One Year War and suddenly be greeted with credits!
Section 4: Replayability
As stated before, my total play time was around 8 hours. Once the controls are mastered, the game becomes a breeze, and it is incredibly easy to complete the opposing side's campaign once the player has "S" ranked all the missions of their first one. In my own playthrough, I was able to achieve an "S" on several missions in the very first attempt, meaning there was little point to returning. There are no ways to alter or upgrade mobile suits, so other than for preference's sake, there's literally no point to using early-game mobile suits at any stage later than when they are replaced. While it might prove interesting to attempt a run-through using only the initial units, the game awards nothing for such an achievement, and there is no way to modify the difficulty (each mission has its own difficulty rating).
Section 5: Conclusion
Gundam Battle Tactics is a working beginning of a series that eventually grows into a much more fast-paced, action-packed thrillride. Unfortunately, this particular title really has not aged well; anyone who has played the later games will sadly find this one more than a little lacking, both in presentation and in control, though as stated before, at the very least the interface is almost completely in English, which really speeds along gaining an understanding of how to play. Would I recommend it? If you have not begun this series of games, then by all means try it out. It is not a bad game in the least, but it will make you dearly appreciate the enhancements and added content of the games that succeed it.
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 01/06/10
Game Release: Gundam Battle Tactics (JP, 09/22/05)
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