Review by buruburu1

"Nice turn-based strategy innovations"

Graphics (28/30, judged by era)- Broken into three categories, the graphics are a mixed bag of great and so-so. In-game art, with regards to the many characters that appear and such, are fantastic. Very nice designs and rendering there. Much of the game takes place on a top-down grid, with small icons for characters—similar to Fire Emblem in this way. Whereas this usually results in minimalistic graphics, the purpose is often clarity over resolution—with lots of small characters on the map, it's important to be able to distinguish between types. Here, Yggdra does not quite match Fire Emblem, and you may sometimes find yourself moving units to attack thinking they were another unit, often with bad results in-battle. Beneath the clearly-gridded map is an underlay of terrain and such, basically a portion of a larger world map. However, it is zoomed-in on and quite pixelated. This is something that could easily have been resolved by redrawing these maps for each battle, in higher resolution, or starting with this high-res version then having a lower-res for when the camera is backed out and you're seeing more of the world map at once. It would've done much to alleviate some of the map-portion eyesore.

The last notable section is in battles, and here almost all is forgiven. Yggdra union features side-view battles of up to 12 units at once. They are all well-drawn, well animated, and interesting to watch. Backgrounds in these areas are well-presented, spanning to the left and right, and above the main screen for effective pans when needed. As well, spell effects are many and are generally quite interesting to watch. You'll spend more than half your game time in this battle mode, so it's important that they look good, and they certainly do.

Sound- FX/Voice (7/10) The majority of the effects work here is in battle mode, and there it is very well implemented, with the myriad sounds of many units battling at once making for an exciting soundscape.

Sound- Music (8/10) So late in the GBA's lifespan, it's a real shame that the music is presented in mono. It's such a shame because the soundtrack to this game is excellent—very well composed, and quite varied. So to not hear it in stereo really does it a disservice. At times, some of the tracks have the feel of the Tactics Ogre series, always a plus in my book.

Gameplay- Length/Replay (15/15) The main quest comes in at about 40 hours, which is plenty good. While the last couple of battles do seem to overstay the welcome just a little, individual battles are not overly long so it's not much of an issue. The vast majority of the game is well-paced.

Gameplay- Story: (4/5) Though it definitely starts as many other similar games do, the game does start to delve further into the choices one makes in war, including what happens when the righteous insurgent is forced to become the aggressive conqueror.

Gameplay- Game Design (24/30)- Yggdra Union definitely takes a little getting used to. The game is introduced bit-by-bit with good in-game tutorials. It's a lot to get into in a review, but battles are a combination of effective map positioning of units and in-battle controls—as opposed to Fire Emblem, in which battles are hands-off. Units follow similar rock-paper-scissors rules for effectiveness, but you create stacks of characters to fight in a string of battles by positioning them in places where they can join into one long battle. This alone provides for good changes in strategy and innovation.

The next important consideration is the use of "cards" in the game. Each card is chosen at the beginning of each turn, and is usable by certain characters or all. It provides the baseline damage you can do in battle, and each card levels up with use, eventually becoming damage-inflicting powerhouses. At the beginning of each level, you choose a set number from your deck, and these are all the cards you can use for that level. Each card also dictates how many spaces you can move all your units, combined. This is where some faults begin. Most of these cards provide an average of, say, 7 moves. That means that many battles which have 4 characters mean you cannot even move each character 2 spaces. This wouldn't be so terrible except that you're limited in how many cards you can bring into battle, and if you run out of cards your game is over.

Levels are usually multi-part affairs, with your chosen cards refreshing at each sub-stage. However, the triggers which will set these refreshes off aren't usually explicit, and sometimes you don't know they are coming at all. This greatly hampers your ability to manage your inventory of moves, often leading to game overs during some longer stages.

Battles are controlled affairs in a basic sense—you choose whether your units attack aggressively—utilizing your power-up bar, or more passively—increasing it. Filling your bar allows units to use card-based powers in-battle. Often these have great results, but getting to know each card's effectiveness takes awhile. This minimal control might seem like window-dressing, but when battles are stacked 6-7 long, the decisions you make on how you manage your power gauge become increasingly important.

Unfortunately, what could've easily been a 30/30 in gameplay—because the game is really quite unique and innovative—is held back by some very cheap moves. A couple have been listed above, but add in a couple of mission objectives which are basically wrong, or enemies you can get down to one health and then are magically protected from being killed until you hit a certain trigger in the game (or aren't meant to be beaten on that level at all, nevermind you used cards trying to, and maybe lost some ally characters in the effort), and you get some very frustrating scenarios on occasion. It's unfortunate that these gimmicks were used, and I do hope future installments leave them out.

The game has a lot of randomly found items. Item management is a little on the clunky side, with them either being equipped normally or being used to heal characters between levels, because you aren't healed automatically. So you end up using items for their healing properties far more than you equip them—this is doubly painful when your characters burned through thousands of HP trying to defeat an invincible foe, and you're forced to using many items to repair their HP.

**Final Thoughts- A good game that definitely deserves to be played by any turn-based Japanese strategy gamer. However, it's not without some faults. I do think that this game could and should blossom into a serious contender in the genre with some refinement.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 02/23/09

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

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