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The 2nd Super Robot Wars OG

20:1209/01/2013Posted by Raymond Webster5 Comments

The 2nd Super Robot Wars Original Generation embodies the psychedelic excess associated with video games in a way which few games – even the landmark destruction orgies of the Call of Duty series – match. It is a game where robot samurai ride robot horses to attack giant aliens, a schoolgirl and her pet talking moles launch boulders at the enemy while quoting cartoon shows, and a red-and-gold robot can take an orbital laser shot full on and receive no lasting damage. Everything about it is larger-than-life, primary-coloured and loud, a very exuberant sensory overload which comes as quite a surprise set as it is in a fairly in-depth strategy RPG framework.

This entry in a long-running (26 years old now) franchise, the first on the PS3, does not make any major gameplay changes compared to previous ones, instead marking the move to HD home consoles with increased emphasis on graphics and length – taking the Super Robot Wars games that keep players returning and simply expanding on it in every aspect. This is, generally speaking, a good thing; two lengthy campaigns (which intersect for some missions and then diverge again) and more available units than a player can ever use at one time, plus unlockable difficulty levels, challenge modes, secret units and other bonuses, in addition to a New Game Plus mode, mean that even though a single run-through is likely to take a good few dozen hours there is incentive to return and have a largely fresh experience.

Since the franchise’s inception on the Game Boy, its emphasis has been on the sort of school-playground power level comparisons of cartoon heroes – could Batman beat Superman, could James Bond beat the Terminator – but drawing on classic anime heroes and giant robots. Many of the games use as a kind of baseline an “Original” unit – the protagonist, drawn from none of the licensed series and generally used to provide a central conflict around which different factions interact. Many of these units and characters – early examples including the Black Gespenst, the Elemental Lords and Fighter Roar – became popular in their own right and a number of sidestory adventures focusing more heavily on them were released (for example the Lords of Elemental games on SNES and PSP, and the Gameboy Advance Original Generations titles) and then in a display of impressive transmedia savvy, these homages to existing characters got their own cartoon series in time; Divine Wars, Lord of Elemental Cybuster and The Inspectors.

The result of this is that one can play 2nd OG without any knowledge of specific anime or indeed knowledge of previous entries in its own continuity; the characters are broad-strokes cartoon character homages embodying different hero archetypes and mashing together the whole gamut of giant robot cliches, grouping together in teams based on which subgenre they represent. Such a disparity in units and styles works; many SRPGs like Fire Emblem and Advance Wars have little more than cosmetic differences between most of their units – you may have a green axe knight or a red sword knight, but they look largely similar. In 2nd OG, however, your units range from flying brick-like battle fortresses and avatars of Chinese gods to huge armoured mechanical women.

This absolute chaos of disparate units clustering together in sub-plots becomes a little hard to follow in some ways if a player is not fluent in Japanese, but again the roots of the franchise – in children’s cartoons – make it comparatively easy to follow. Heroes and villains are easily paired up and identified, much of the plot is simple and can be worked out by context of who is fighting who and where. All that is really lost – and this is something of a shame – are the personalities of the characters. The voice-acted attack animations give an idea of these but some of the non-plot-relevant interactions between missions are amusing but hard to follow without some language knowledge.

In gameplay terms, though, 2nd OG is very friendly to a player importing it. Menus are largely self-explanatory and those which are not such as the upgrade system are explained in great depth on a fan-made website for the franchise (akurasu.net). In missions, the UI is heavily standardised, with core options like movement, attacking and ending a turn always using the same quickly-learned symbols; indeed, to help remember these the game’s hand-holding (yet thankfully optional in a move many modern games could do well to imitate) tutorial systematically explains each of them with visual examples. Even those specific game mechanics which are not so easily explained – such as the “Maximum Break” special move – are not vital to completing the base game and really only needed for advanced play such as completing the EX Mode unlocked after successfully completing the campaign. Obviously, learning the idiosyncrasies of an import game does require a period of trial-and-error and effort – and unlike a game such as Another Century’s Episode: R which had entirely English menus, 2nd OG does require some more memorisation of menu options.

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