Review: Dynasty Warriors: Gundam Reborn

The Dynasty Warriors series catches a lot of flak for its supposed lack of gameplay variety and innovation between entries, but the franchise is also adored by many gamers who particularly enjoy its crossover titles. The latest of such games, Dynasty Warriors: Gundam Reborn, is clearly intended for a specific audience, but it’s also a surprisingly deep game that offers a wealth of content and fun for anyone willing to climb in the cockpit.

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For those unfamiliar with the franchise, Gundam encapsulates several anime and manga series, all featuring human-piloted mechanized robots, or mobile suits. These weaponized machines are the primary method of combat in the Gundam universe, both on land and in the depths of space. The series’ often feature complicated political themes and dramatic character conflicts, but it’s always been the mobile suits that people identify with the Gundam franchise. As such, a crossover with Dynasty Warriors sounds like a good plan on paper, with Tecmo Koei’s popular action game providing a convenient venue for large-scale mobile suit battles. And it’s obviously translated well, too, as Gundam Reborn is the fourth Dynasty Warriors: Gundam title.

Variety isn’t often a word associated with Dynasty Warriors games, and Gundam Reborn is no different. In fact, there are only two different gameplay modes: Official and Ultimate. Gameplay between the two is largely the same, and it’s really only the story elements that differ; Official lets players choose from several  popular Gundam series and play through their respective stories, while Ultimate collects characters from throughout the Gundam universe and throws them into a set of scenarios unique to Gundam Reborn. They’re both fun frames for the Dynasty Warriors formula, and suit the source material nicely, but I do wish there was a bit more to set them apart from each other.

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BNGA_DWGR_screenshot_08As convoluted and dense as the Gundam universe may appear, Gundam Reborn does a surprisingly good job of presenting each series’ plot and nuances in a digestible, yet faithful, fashion, and by the end of the game even players brand new to the Gundam franchise will have a fairly comprehensive understanding of the important events and characters in several key series. Gundam fans will find even more to enjoy, with loving recreations of iconic and memorable events in each series presented on an epic, cinematic scale throughout the levels, and well over a hundred popular mobile suits to pilot throughout the game.

Gundam fans also will appreciate the detailed and authentic portrayals each series and their characters receive, with each unique art style translated beautifully into the game. Granted, many of the stills used are taken directly from the shows themselves, but the character art is nothing if not authentic. Unfortunately, that same care was not taken in the level design, as bland, forgettable environments plague most of the stages, and they never really do justice to what has always been a distinctly stylized universe in its television interpretations.

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The authenticity of the package is bolstered further by the default Japanese language track, which passionately portrays each character with full voice acting. However, the Japanese dialogue is not only the default, but also the only audio setting, which means there’s a lot of text to read throughout the game. And while that’s normally not an issue, you’ll have to remove your focus from combat to properly comprehend story and tactical information in the midst of battle.

Luckily, Dynasty Warriors: Gundam Reborn is a game that doesn’t require your full attention or focus to play. Combat consists of simple melee and shot attacks, combos, and unique special moves, and while there is enough variety to avoid instant monotony, it inevitably becomes repetitive. After quickly familiarizing yourself with the controls, it’s extremely easy to zone out and neutralize hundreds upon hundreds of enemies without much thought, and still succeed in each level. But there is something inherently cool about commanding a powerful, stylish mobile suit against an army that well outnumbers you, and once that hooks you it can be hard to remove yourself from the action.

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The game’s repetitive nature is only compounded by the formulaic level design. A typical battle looks something like this: claim territory by destroying a certain percentage of enemies, move to new area, repeat, defeat specific enemy/boss character. Each of those steps can be repeated any number of times, and there are of course some exceptions, but ultimately most of Gundam Reborn‘s levels are lacking any memorable or creative elements that set them apart from the pack. But this is nothing new to the Dynasty Warriors franchise, and fans will know exactly what to expect, so in that respect Gundam Reborn delivers in spades.

Dynasty Warriors: Gundam Reborn isn’t the most visually impressive game, and definitely not the best looking Dynasty Warriors game, but where the environments underwhelm the detail and modeling afforded to each individual mobile suit is quite impressive. Fans will love seeing their favorite Gundams move fluidly around each stage, and while the game does suffer from some serious slowdown once several enemies appear on screen, the experience remains intact.

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However, even with its uninspired level design, repetitive gameplay, and performance hiccups, Dynasty Warriors: Gundam Reborn is irrepressibly fun. Sure, I wish the content was a bit deeper, more detailed, and more varied, but obliterating wave after wave of enemy units is an oddly addictive enterprise, especially when the characters and plot developments start to take real meaning to the player. Each mobile suit boasts its own unique arsenal of attacks, and the special moves are always satisfying, epic displays of power usually involving some sort of enormous eruption of energy. You feel a real sense of strength while piloting a Gundam, and with so many to choose from, it can be easy to experiment for hours on end.

Gundam Reborn is a game that begs for casual indulgence, an outlet after a long day or an easy destination for a hefty slice of virtual action, but that isn’t to say it doesn’t offer a deeper experience for those players looking for something more. The game’s upgrade system is quite impressive, as players can boost Gundam performance in several areas, earn pilot skills that translate into combat, and unlock an all-star roster of partner pilots. On top of that, multiple difficulty settings and an already lengthy campaign means there’s an enormous of replayability in Gundam Reborn(if your square button isn’t completely worn out after one play-through).  There are also several DLC packs available, offering exclusive mobile suits and extra story-based scenarios to play through. The game also supports two-player split-screen co-op both off and online, adding yet more value to the package.

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Closing Comments:

It’s unfortunate that the Dynasty Warriors formula couldn’t have been better tailored to such rich source material, as there was tantalizing potential for Gundam Reborn to be the definitive interactive Gundam experience. But it succeeds at what it aims to be: an action game full of epic displays of power and an endless supply of enemies to destroy, despite little variation in gameplay. Gundam and Dynasty Warriors fans will inevitably enjoy it most, but it remains approachable with streamlined storytelling and the subtle allure of stylish mobile suits. It would have been nice to have seen more equal representation of other popular Gundam series like Gundam Wing and G Gundam, and a more ambitious realization of each specific battle, but overall Dynasty Warriors: Gundam Reborn is a game brimming with content and replayability, and it’s hard to ask for more than that.
score3.5

 Platform: PS3