Review by LordShibas

Reviewed: 09/11/08

A Game That I Admired More Than I Enjoyed

I’d like to start out this review by saying that I’m not a huge fan of SRPGs. I’ve tried to play quite a few SRPGs in my life, but I usually get bored with the games due to either their slow pace or goofy stipulations which are introjected into the gameplay. The only SRPGs that I have been able to play and enjoy were Shining Force, Shining Force 2, Shining Force 3, Shining Force CD, and Dragon Force. Plenty have tempted me into trying them, including Disgaea, Final Fantasy Tactics, Vandal Hearts, and many others.
With so many missed attempts, I kind of buried the genre in the back of my mind and ignored it for a good long while.

Yggdra Union is an Atlus game that came out for the GBA a few years ago. I remember watching videos of the gameplay and thinking to myself that it reminded me of Dragon Force due to the battles and strategic gameplay/RPG hybridization. Seeing how the game is getting a re-release on PSP in a few weeks, I decided that it might be worth checking out, so I decided to give it a shot.

I’ll first explain the game the best I can. It’s an extremely complex game, explaining everything would take a long time so I’ll try to keep it short.

Yggdra Union is a SRPG which does a great deal to deviate itself from mainstay SRPGs. You will have an overhead map of the battlefield much like the Fire Emblem games. When you engage in combat, the screen switches to a side scrolling view of the action where you get to see the skirmish unfold. The battles actually remind me of Dragon Force a bit, which is one part of the game that I really liked.

Between battles, you will have interactions between your characters and the enemies. These will push the story forward and attempt to give meaning to all of the madness. You will also be able to equip characters with weapons and items between battles to make them more robust. During the battles you will be able to visit villages for advice and items, much like in Fire Emblem. Sounds pretty simple so far doesn’t it? Well things get much more complicated from here, read on my young apprentice.

You will have a limited number of spaces you can move on any given turn, but the amount you can move is not dependant on your character at all. It’s dependant on which card you choose and how much movement the card has. Yes, there is a wonderful card based system in Yggdra Union, which ends up making the game incredibly unique, but also incredibly annoying at times.

When you choose a card, the movement that the card provides must be split between your units. So if you have a card with 8 movement, you will only be able to move one of your characters 2 spaces, another character 2 spaces, and your last character 4 spaces. This does indeed make moving around the map and acquiring position quite a chore. It also requires quite a bit of planning in advance.

Each card lasts 1 round and will be used for the offensive portion of the round and the defensive portion of the round. If at any point of any battle you run out of cards, you instantly lose the battle and have to restart it.

Eh, this is a little harder to explain than I thought. Okay, so while on the map and moving your characters, you will only be allowed to have one character attack per turn. How on earth are you going to defeat entire armies with a limited card supply and only being able to attack once per turn? With the “Union System” of course.

The Union System allows you to link multiple units together to form a battle squad for battle. For male units, it’s formed in an “X” pattern and for female units, it’s formed in a “+” pattern. Any units that are positioned within the link will join in the battle. This is how you can have multiple characters attacking per round. I can’t stress this enough, the Union System is not an option, it’s an absolute necessity. If you don’t like the idea, then don’t bother playing this game.

The enemies are able to utilize the Union System as well, so the battles will often be 3-4 enemy units squaring off against 3-4 of your own.

There are standard weapon affinities. The most basic are “sword beats axe”, “lance beats sword”, and “axe beats lance.” There are many, many other weapon types which weigh in during the course of the game, but these are the most basic. Affinities are another critical part of the game which you must know inside out.

You will also gain the ability to use skills of two forms, get attack and counterattack advantages, summon monsters, change tactics at any moment of the battle, and many, many more things that you must take into consideration during any battle.

Units do not have a standard set of hit points, they have “Morale.” Morale is very similar to hit points, but morale goes down over the course of many battles and needs to be completely depleted for a unit to be killed. After a unit is defeated, their moral will go down based on the card that their opponent was using during the fight. After the fight, the card’s abilities and powers will go up a little bit. So not only do you have to level your characters, but you must level your cards as well, which is actually more important than leveling your characters IMO.

Okay, I’m not explaining anymore, just let it be known that this game requires that you consider a lot of things before, during, and after every battle. Yggdra Union has a steep learning curve, and friendly tutorials will be displayed for a good portion of the game to slowly ease you into the in-depth gameplay. (I’ll explain a bit more in the gameplay section)

Now on to the review, I’ve already talked way too much.

Graphics 8/10

Graphically, Yggdra Union is sometimes the best looking GBA game I have ever seen, and it’s sometimes pretty bad. The overhead battlefield map looks like it could be done on the NES and contains little detail in yours and the enemy’s units. However, you will be able to distinguish one unit from another.

When the game cuts to the battles via the close up view, it’s quite a treat. The 6 on 6 battles look amazing and the fluid animations and busy screen will make you wonder if this is a GBA game. Everything looks fluid and only gets better when you get the ability to use skills, which also look incredible.

When the characters chat back and forth, they have nice, big anime portraits which look great. A combination of the anime portraits and the witty dialogue really gives every character a personality of their own and they feel much more alive than standard cardboard anime cliche characters.

At times, Yggdra Union is the most visually impressive GBA game I have ever seen, and would most definitely have gotten a 10 in this category if the overhead battlefield map didn’t look like crap.

Sounds and music 8/10

The music is incredible and every track begs to be noticed. Even the music when you are browsing the menus sounds great.

The sound effects are another fantastic part of this game. When battles are going on, you will hear the clash of the weapons ring out, spells will shake the heavens, and everything else sounds fantastic for a GBA game. Some of the best I have ever heard on the GBA.

Story 8/10

The story follows Princess Yggdra, who is a matriarch of the Kingdom of Fantasinia. She flees the kingdom after an attack from the Empire of Bronquia, led by Emperor Gulcasa.
While fleeing, she runs into a thief named Milanor, and together they will be getting pursued by the Empire. The story goes on from there and new characters will be added to the party at intervals.

The story evolves over the course of the battles and new story information is given before, during, and after battles.

The story holds up pretty well, and keeps things interesting by always having a crisis for you main force to deal with, which usually involves a battle of some kind. New enemies are introduced in every battle, so there is never a battle which just feels like it’s there for filler, which is nice.

So the story is good, but some see it as being kind of cliche, so take that for what it’s worth.

Gameplay 5/10

It really pains me to give this game a 5 out of 10 for gameplay since it does so much right and is extremely innovative in battle options and presentation, but some features of the game end up being quite a hindrance.

First and foremost I must tell you all that Yggdra Union is tenaciously difficult. From about the third battle on, you really need to know what’s going on, or you will not get far. The tutorials help a good bit, but practice is needed to get used to the Union and Card systems. I would say I had the hang of things by battle number 5, and there were still things that confused me. While the tutorials are pretty good, some things just flat out are not explained and you must figure them out on your own.

Overall, the gameplay is highly addictive and feels very fresh and inviting at first, but every new battle seems to add a new barrier that you will need to overcome. These just keep compounding and you end up with a game that barely gives you the resources you need to get the job done.

If you lose a battle, you can redo it as many times as you want to, and your cards will retain all of their experience, but the cards level up pretty slowly, so you will need to put a lot of time into this game to get to a comfortable victory. Every time I won a battle it seemed like I just squeaked by. I don’t know what the deal is with the developer’s infatuation with beating the snot out of you, but it’s apparent from early on in the game, and does not let up one bit, in fact it gets worse as the game goes on.

Another problem I had with Yggdra Union was the lack of onscreen indicators that let you know how the flow of the battle is going. During battle, the units do not have life meters, they just kind of swing at each other and cast spells until one side drops. Sometimes it doesn’t even seem to make sense when you lose, which makes me wonder if your stats really garner the outcome or if it’s just a fabrication.

The Union System is really cool, but it shoots itself in the foot when you factor in the limited card movement. Half of the game you will be trying to get your units into Union formation, but you just won’t have the movement for it.

The actual battles are really cool and the initial clashes feel epic every time, even with a paltry 6 units per side. Casting skills is as simple as charging your gauge and pressing or holding a button, and battles are usually decided pretty quickly, which is nice, since there are so many of them.

Yggdra Union is an incredible experience, and the gameplay is unique and inspired, but the problems that surface on a per battle basis may be too much for most people. The new and unique gameplay features may polarize fans into severely liking or disliking this game.

Longevity and Re-playability 7/10

This game is mammoth. There is so much to do, so many cards to get, a mesmerizing 48 maps to complete and 2 different endings to shoot for. This game could easily keep you busy for 40-60 hours. However, I don’t see too many people investing the time to make it all the way through. Only the most persistent people out there will have what it takes. Dealing with the brutal difficulty and gameplay restrictions will grate on you soon enough.

While reading a review for Yggdra Union on another site, the reviewer said the following: “Yggdra Union is a game that I admired more than I enjoyed.”

I didn’t understand what he was talking about at the time, but after playing Yggdra for a good long while, I agree with this statement 100%. Yggdra Union is just incredible on so many levels. Even if you don’t think you will get through the game, I suggest playing it, just to see how overbearing a GBA game can be.

Rating:   3.5 - Good

Product Release: Yggdra Union: We'll Never Fight Alone (US, 11/21/06)

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