If there is one thing that Tecmo Koei has taught us with its Dynasty Warrior series is that it is not afraid to shove in more characters than humanly possible. It makes perfect sense as it was originally based off a novel with over 500 characters. So when tasked to take on the Gundam universe and give it the same treatment is it a match made in heaven, or is it an unneeded milking of their proven formula?
TK decided to give the player the bare minimum of modes in Gundam Reborn for the PlayStation 3. There are only 2, official and ultimate. Official mode allows you to play through the key points of the original Mobile Suit Gundam series and Gundam Seed series, along with their respective sequels. Sorry Gundam Wing fans, no love this time from the developers. The stages are the key battles from the show but in-between the battles is an in-depth glossing of the story. Without even watching a single episode you will come away with a good general knowledge of everything that happens in the canon.
In ultimate mode there are over 20 different original story arcs created for the game, allowing all characters unlocked to be used that are not designated as story characters for that particular arc. For example, one arc involves the Gundam Wing cast and thus none of them can be selected for use. Beat one and more are unlocked, each with increased difficulty, but what is more enticing is that each arc has a theme that makes them feel fresh and original. One involves a time limit that crosses stages, while another requires beating missions to gather repair parts. Some of those challenges, like the time limit, also generate pressure for the player because if they are failed then the game is over and it all has to be done from scratch.
Leveling in Gundam Reborn is handled in a very grindy way that will be the boon or bane for those looking to test the waters for the first time. Pilots have their own leveling system, not unlike any Dynasty game – whereas the individual Gundams can be upgraded with parts retrieved from completing missions and defeating enemy aces, aka story characters.
This is part of the grind as the parts generally correspond with the Gundam you’re piloting and those the enemies are piloting, with no more than two or three parts for a single model at a time. The Gundams also have a limited number of times they can be upgraded, and limited number of stats that can be upgraded, making for some hard choices at times. Combine arms so your shot gets a huge boost but the other slot is taken up by extra unneeded defence, or go with the melee and deal with the same consequence?
The graphics in the game are surprisingly not that good compared to other Dynasty games. Granted, this game does push the amount of enemies on screen to a level even diehard fans would think is ridiculous. Killing 2000+ enemies a stage is common, easy, and also needed to meet a lot of the card challenges that the game offers as a way unlock more Gundams and pilots to use. Where it shines is the anime art that is true to the source material. With the exception of some modern brush work and touch-ups, the characters are themselves. No added pomp. Sadly there are no English voiceovers, so purists will be enthused with the combo.
While combat is the typical hack-and-slash button masher, what they added to spice things up was partners. Mostly taken advantage of in ultimate mode, the player has the ability to choose a partner that will add an extra kick to their special attacks. With so many characters each having their own special, it allows for a lot of customization. Reborn also takes a page out of the DW8 playbook by allowing for four other characters to be selected as favorites, thus giving them a quarter of the skill points gained from battles. This helps alleviate the grind of character leveling with such a huge cast, with so many challenges to complete.
Where this game is lacking is in the stage design. Compared to others in the Dynasty series, the environments feel generic and uninspired. I didn’t feel like the fate of the Earth was in the balance as I fought around a meteor cascading into the atmosphere. All the stages felt and looked like cheap knock-offs of each other which is a shame considering the uniqueness of the franchise being used. The music is also a bit of a downer considering how TK loves its overly dramatic rock ballads for Dynasty Warriors. There was one song that gave me any sort of emotional response to the gameplay. Take that out and I’d have been better served to have the DW8 soundtrack on repeat from my computer instead. In fairness you can upload your own soundtrack into the game to compensate for this. Want to hack and slash enemies to the theme of Gundam Wing? Now you can.
What is disappointing about the game is it feels like it is relying solely on fan service to succeed, as it is missing some of the shine that TK is known for. Dull environments and an overall surprisingly lackluster soundtrack keep what should be the best Dynasty game ever made to date from achieving its rightful potential. The game modes and addictive content unlocking qualities make up for it. I hope that for the obvious sequel – cause this is Tecmo Koei we’re talking about – that they fix those two issues while leaving the core intact.
Gundam and Dynasty Warriors fans will have a field day with this game. The fan service alone is enough to warrant a purchase. Those who have not already bought into the tried and true formula will find an easier, more arcade-like game that can be done in spurts. Hardcore detractors of the series will still consider it a mindless button masher.