The G: Universe is in disarray. Everything you know about Gundam has been scrambled and now timelines are full of anomalies, known as ‘breaks’. Mobile Suit units and characters are turning up in battles they simply have no business in being a part of, posing potential threats to the history of multiple universes. With help from a programmer, Juno Astarte, you’re tasked to put things right and uncover why such incidents are occurring. It’s all up to you, Commander.
That’s the premise of Bandai Namco’s latest offering SD Gundam Battle Alliance, an action-RPG bringing together stories and characters from every corner of the G: Universe. I don’t want to spoil too much here, but in an early confrontation the Zeon affiliated Ramba Ral of the original Mobile Suit Gundam is replaced by Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans’ Mikazuki Augus, piloting the Gundam Barbatos (6th Form). As you can imagine, it’s a nostalgic delight for those familiar with the Gundam series; getting to see the legendary moments reimagined and – eventually – recreated.
On the contrary, SD Gundam Battle Alliance isn’t geared up to ease newcomers in gently; you’re involved in timeline breaches that you were possibly never aware of in the first place. Hence, the overall plot, in isolation, is relatively dull and doesn’t do nearly enough to hook you in. There’s an over reliance on creating excitement through introducing infamous characters and memorable Mobile Suits, to the point where the voiced Japanese dialogue (with English subtitles) between missions feels like an afterthought due to the blandness of the story.
To make up for the narrative shortcomings, the onus must shift towards the gameplay and whether it can pack a punch, or not. The controls are simple enough to grasp, with two kinds of melee, a ranged attack, two sub-weapon moves, and a couple of evasive manoeuvres available. It’s easy to string combos together, which helps build towards a special attack you can unleash to cause greater damage. Everything is quite fast-paced, so not having an overly complicated configuration is useful as you can just focus on mass destruction of the enemy’s forces. The only criticism is how the reactions to inputs seem sluggish in comparison to the action itself.
Playing from a third-person perspective, piloting a Mobile Suit is the order of the day as you and up to two AI controlled pilots venture out into an area of conflict. While mission types vary slightly across the seven Directories of the campaign, the general rule of thumb is to clear out any grunts on the way to the main objective, where a boss is usually found. These boss encounters can be a slog as some are immune to ranged attacks like beam rifles, while others are more than happy to fight you from a distance.
As a result, you may find a certain type of Mobile Suit is better prepared against specific bosses and it’s worth paying attention to that if you’re having a tough time. The Infighters are ready to get up close as the brawlers bearing additional health and melee stats, whereas the Sharpshooters are fleet footed and slay from a distance due to increased range and boost attributes. And then there are the rather self-explanatory All-Rounders.
Deciding which Mobile Suit to use is quite a difficult task to tell you the truth, as there are over seventy to unlock. You could say the choice is overwhelming, however the acquisition of them isn’t instantaneous and so you’ve got the time to try out different Mobile Suits. Expect to be able to hop inside the likes of the Zaku II Type F, RX-78-2 Gundam, Reginlaze Julia, Kampfer, and tons more. The variety here deserves appreciation, providing freshness to weapons and attacks with each unit.
These are upgradeable through the use of Capital, the currency earned by defeating enemies and completing missions. Now, herein lies the first real problem with SD Gundam Battle Alliance, because levelling up stats isn’t cheap. You have to pick a couple of favourites to invest in and stick with those almost exclusively, otherwise you’ll be piloting Mobile Suits that are severely under-powered for anything after the first Directory of missions. So, while the selection is excellent, it’s kind of pointless.
I presume the idea is to grind and grind past levels to build up a huge chunk of Capital as well as acquire parts to improve the suits, which explains the short nature of each mission. Lasting anywhere from five to fifteen minutes, any repetition is a tad more palatable, but you’ll still get bored of doing it. Sadly, the steep difficulty curve means that grinding is a must as even your best units will begin to feel weak around the halfway mark.
A small mercy is the inclusion of cooperative multiplayer, allowing you and two fellow humans to complete missions together online. Although quite daunting to see folks almost at the level cap in the lobbies, the number of people playing means it’s quick to find someone to team up with. Out of the few different lobbies I’ve joined, the gameplay is on par with the offline offering in the sense that it’s smooth and bereft of connection issues.
On the visual front, the cities, desolate mountains and bases are lacking in character. They could literally be any generic environment due to providing nothing interesting to gaze at. I am quite fond of the SD (Super Deformed) style used for the Mobile Suits though, which are almost like chibi versions. Perhaps the best artwork is found during the story scenes, capturing the anime look while playing out in a similar vein to a visual novel.
Ultimately though, SD Gundam Battle Alliance is heavily reliant on nostalgia and throws a ton of shiny Mobile Suits your way in the hope you won’t notice the rather dull narrative. It would work better if the concept didn’t require so much repetition in order to be able to pilot more of the suits or navigate your way through the increasingly difficult levels. Without the grind, you’ve got an action-RPG that could be a blast in short sessions, especially alongside a couple of humans.
It’s a tough decision as to whether you should purchase SD Gundam Battle Alliance in a hurry, but it’s one you’ll have to make for yourself, Commander.
SD Gundam Battle Alliance is available from the Xbox Store