Sunday, June 26, 2011

Review: Dynasty Warriors Gundam 3

I'm not ashamed to admit that, way back in 2007,  bought a Playstation 3 for $500 USD simply so I could download the demo for the first Dynasty Warriors Gundam spin-off title as soon as I could. With Turn A, Wing Zero, and ZZ, I could not resist. The console generation was still new, and there were precious few games on any platform worth a second glance, let alone a purchase, but I knew it would be worth it just to see my favorite mobile suits in glorious HD.

I'm also fairly certain I was chanting, "Turn A Turn! Turn A Turn!" for a while there after watching the first PV.

But times have changed. The Playstation 3 now has one of the best, most diverse libraries out of any gaming platform in the medium's short history, and there are now much better Gundam games to choose from than mere Musou spin-offs. And now, four years later, the Gundam Musou spin-off line isn't just the most successful line Gundam games sold outside of Japan--it's also the only line of Gundam games sold outside of Japan. But... is this latest entry any good?

Yes. And no.

In quintessential Tecmo-Koei form, the latest entry in the Gundam Musou line makes numerous improvements to the old formula... but also introduces many new flaws. It's no exaggeration to say that Dynasty Warriors Gundam 3, moreso than any other Musou title, is simultaneously both the best Musou title to date, and the very worst.

Close up, in the thick of battle, Dynasty Warriors Gundam 3 presents the very best, most visceral combat in the decades-long history of the musou series. The fundamental controls are all there and are very recognizable and intuitive for anyone who's picked up a modern game before--the left analog moves your avatar, a giant hulking robot in this case, and the right stick the camera. The face buttons are used for attacks that fall into the archetypal normal/heavy/special pattern. The most impressive aspect of combat is the boost level--unique to the Gundam spin-offs, the boost mechanic allows you to quickly dash in any direction to either evade powerful attacks, or launch your own.

In rare form for a musou titles, the countless enemy grunts littering the battlefield are actually quite tough for once, even on the easiest difficulties. Not only will they attack (frequently and in numbers), but they also take a lot of hits to go down. If you're not careful, smart or quick, you'll probably find yourself killed by these nameless, faceless minions far more often than you'd expect. The challenge of these over-powered grunts is offset considerably by the new kill-mechanic for DWG3--explosions. Once you defeat an enemy, he crashes to the ground and explodes, hurling chunks of scorched metal parts out in every direction and filling the screen with fire and dust. Visually, it's impressive. Mechanically, it's extraordinarily useful--these explosions, you see, have splash-damage. Wide-area splash-damage. What that means, in a nutshell, is that you can be fighting against a mob and barely holding your own, but destroy a single enemy suit and it will set off a chain reaction of explosions, clearing out whole swaths (and sometimes entire fields) of enemies.

With the boost mechanic, combat is fast-paced and exciting. With the plethora of playable mobile suits, each with multiple unique attacks (most of which are feature some fantastic animation and effects) the game is addictive as hell and a blast to play.

Close up.

Back away from the action, and Dynasty Warriors Gundam 3 is a very different, far less appealing game. When you're in the midst of the action, the beautiful new art style and visceral combat can make hard, at first, to find any fault with the title. But after playing the first few missions, you'll begin to notice a pattern that never, ever deviates--every single mission is exactly the same.

And herein lies the greatest flaw with DWG3: it features the single most poorly-designed maps you could possibly imagine: a small square box, connected to 2 or 3 other boxes of equivalent size by a narrow corridor barely wide enough to fit through.

Oh, and that description--that's every single map in the entire game. Each map, you see, is randomly generated. The environments all change (and, let's face it, are absolutely gorgeous to look at) but the layout is constant. There are about 4 or 5 different ways that these fields are arranged, but the number of square fields and corridors (and their sizes) is pretty much constant. To alleviate the the homogenous level design, perhaps, Tecmo-Koei has incorporated special "bases" in fields. These range from various "powers" that grant status effects to any unit inside, to offensive abilities (if you occupy field A, it will fire missiles at field B, etc.) to fast travel between fields. The fast-travel locations are probably the most interesting, as they trigger brief cut-scenes of your mobile suit hopping on a catapult and being flung across the map.

Of course, the maps are so small that fast travel rarely feels necessary, and is only rarely used by the enemy A.I. And not only are the map layouts random, so are the enemies you'll be facing (though for many missions the boss you have to beat in order to win is fixed). Because every missions plays exactly like all of the others, the game quickly turns stale. The large, open battlefields with swiftly-changing circumstances are gone. Don't expect to find your position flanked, or a group of enemy units to suddenly launch a major offensive--don't expect to have to think at all, really. Just weigh in to the fray and kill stuff, because the moment you look away from your saber's next target is the moment you realize that maybe, just maybe, level design this bad ought never be forgiven.

What passes for the "plot" of the game is just about as generic as you would expect. If you've played one Japanese crossover game, you've played them all. A mysterious force drags heroes from various universes to a strange new world, and they fight each other. There's... not much more depth than that. Fortunately, there's the execution of this paltry narrative is quite a bit better than it was in the previous Dynasty Warriors Gundam title, chiefly due to the friendship system. As you fight with allies (who, like your enemies, are chosen at random), you'll increase a friendship-gauge. Become friends unlocks new pilots and operators (think bridge bunnies--the characters who jump in to say, "Wow, you took out 1000 enemies? Cool.") and mobile suits and missions. Interaction between characters is handled in the Terminal via a mail system, as well as in pre-and-post mission dialogs, all of which play out with illustrated cut-outs of the various characters slapped at either end of the screen, on top a dialog box. It's all fairly generic and not too exciting, but the additional dialog and interactions between various characters (like Haman Karn and Garrod Ran) goes a long way into providing the typical Gundam fan with the fanservice that he or she bought this game for in the first place.

There are about a half-dozen or so different categories of missions, all of which are "shared" by all of the pilots--so if you beat mission 14 with Loran, you've also beaten mission 14 with Seabook. The only exception to this being story missions (the original story): here, the cast is first divided into two groups, both of which later split in half, giving a total of 4 different story paths. (Don't worry, they all reach the exact same, horridly underwhelming ending). Pilots of the same route share missions, but that "color" mission cannot be accessed by pilots of a different "color." (Read: faction). For the much-vaunted "history missions," which ostensibly allow us to play through important missions in the histories of certain pilots (Amuro and Char in the One Year War, etc.)... again, can be accessed by any pilot--but once you start the mission you're stuck with a specific pilot in a specific mobile suit. This is a bit odd, because content-wise, it's very difficult to distinguish these history missions from any other mission. They're just as random as everything else--the only thing fixed is the final boss unit.

Most of the "meat" of the story is handled through the Terminal. Presented as email messages between various pilots, these short dialogues allow a small amount of interaction between the player and the large cast of the game--but more importantly, they allow for the more light-hearted, fan-servicy dialog to shine through. And while much of the dialog can be quite cliche-ridden (Christ, every single word out of Kira's mouth) there are quite a few scenes that are a lot of fun for fans. The Puru sisters steal the show, and the new Wing cast (notably Treize and Duo) add a nice bit of diversity to to the cast, and help move certain conversations in interesting directions. The actual story tying everyone together may be pretty goddamn weak, but the various character interactions (all fully voiced, by the way) can be a real treat for incorrigible Zekes like myself.

Sound-wise, once again, all of the music based off anime tracks have been cut from the NA and EU releases of the game due to licensing issues. This isn't too big of an issue, because those "anime tracks" weren't actual tracks from the various anime series', but rather (awful) techno remixes, done in the style of traditional Musou music.

And there's lots of traditional Musou music.

And it all it all sucks. I don't think I have to say any more than that, except to dash your fervent hopes to tell you that no, there is no custom-sound track feature in the PS3 version, because Tecmo-Koei spent a lot of time and money on that original music (hint: sarcasm) and you're damn well gonna listen to it.

Fortunately, the game has dual-audio! This means you can play the game with either English dub voices (some returning from the the anime dubs, like Kira and Duo; others new, like Domon) or the original Japanese voices. The English dub can be rather hit-or-miss (I find Lacus' voice to be absolutely intolerable, myself) but the Japanese dub, as one might expect, is spot-on. The audio quality and voice acting are all top notch, and the audio quality is fantastic.

Ultimately, Dynasty Warriors Gundam 3 is a damned fine game, with some painfully big flaws. Atrocious level design and a lackluster story mode can make the game tedious, but the fast-paced, fun combat and impressive visuals do a lot to make up for that. Giant boss battles return from DWG2, and are far less tedious this time about, which helps (a bit) to break the monotony of 30-second missions. The fanservice-filled CGI cutscenes and dialog can be pretty fun for fans to watch, but if you're not familiar with all of the people or shows involved, you probably won't gain much from the experience, and the game doesn't care. DWG3 is a game for Gundam fans, and no one else.

The sheer number of mobile suits and pilots, the fantastic new cell-shaded art style... everything melts together to create a very, very fun game that seems intent on reminding you that it could have been so very much better. If you're a gundam fan, or a fan of Musou games, you'll find a lot to love with Dynasty Warriors Gundam 3, even if it ends up not being as good of a game as it ought to have have been. Unfortunately, if you're not familiar with the Gundam franchise, you'll find very little here to capture your interest. While the game may be visually striking, the shallow narrative and pathetically simple, homogenous mission structure will likely prove impossible to overlook.


  1. Had mine pre-ordered for months.

    How do the new suits play? (Specifically, the new Wing units and Unicorn stuff).

  2. sounds good. All i need is it to be better than 2.

  3. Playing it in Japanese a couple months ago. Almost all of the new suits are really fun, with the notable exception of Heavyarms, which is pretty trashy. Unicorn specifically is one of the best MS in the game, and NTD mode is an absolute blast.