June 4, 2009

[Game Review] Super Robot Taisen OG Saga: Endless Frontier (DS)

Filed under: Anime — jroxas @ 11:11 pm
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Haven’t written one of these (or, in general, lol) in a while. First, the tl;dr translation and some numbers:

Narrative: 6/10
Characters: 9/10
Setting/world: 5/10

Battle system & controls: 10/10
Interface: 9/10
Difficulty: 9/10

Visuals: 8/10
Audio: 7/10
Localization: 8/10

Overall: 8/10
Completion time: approximately forty hours

I’ll do my best to avoid spoilers. Since the title is pretty lengthy, for the sake of brevity I will refer to it simply as Endless Frontier.

Endless Frontier’s narrative can be described as reasonably adequate, but generally lacking in substance. Not unexpectedly, it’s a saving-the-world adventure story, but this isn’t where the problem lies; it is, after all, pretty difficult to write a fantasy adventure story that doesn’t involve saving the country/world/universe. The biggest problem with Endless Frontier’s storyline lies within its execution– none of the story’s events carry much of an emotional impact or drama, nor does it ever really provide any sort of broad “worldly” urgency.

I’ll elaborate a little more on that second point. While the scope of the main party’s actions is seemingly a large one (saving not just a world, but an entire multiverse of worlds), the game generally fails to provide any real sense of scale. The player is exposed to only a woefully small number of people other than the party members and antagonists, resulting in an experience not particularly fitting to the implied scope of the storyline. Basically, Endless Frontier falls pretty short in the world-building department.

The strong point of Endless Frontier’s storytelling is its cast of characters, which quite nearly makes up for the lackluster narrative. Each member of both the main party and collection of antagonists is unique and interesting with clearly-defined character traits. These traits are continuously developed and reinforced over the course of the game. The dialogue in general is pretty well-done, even if the story being conveyed isn’t the greatest. The characters constantly interact with one another; a good percentage of this consists of them taking verbal jabs at one another, tossing insults left and right. This provides a healthy level of comic relief as well as a sense that the characters are really getting to know one another. The conversations also flow pretty well, providing adequate amounts of detail and development without ever dragging on for too long or losing the reader’s attention.

Why, then, didn’t I give the characters category a perfect ten? Simply put, it’s a good thing that the characters are all well-executed, as there aren’t many of them. As previously mentioned, there is a notable lack of NPCs, but even among the major characters the population isn’t very high. You end up fighting the same set of antagonists at least twice and sometimes three or four times over the course of the game. This naturally provides those characters with more than adequate development time, but it also doesn’t provide much in the variety department.

Impressively, Endless Frontier’s characters also manage to avoid falling within the usual cookie-cutter character archetypes. You won’t find the quiet and dedicated healer princess or main character’s charismatic womanizing best friend here. (You will, however, randomly find KOS-MOS, along with some other more obscure cameos.)

In contrast to its underwhelming narrative, Endless Frontier’s gameplay is simply phenomenal. The battle system is generally self-explanatory to any seasoned RPG fan, and yet there are a number of subtle elements that make the game a fresh experience. The interface is more or less flawless; both all of the relevant information and options for actions are easily visible and accessible. My only real gripe here is the items window, which should have been larger and/or sortable in order to save time finding items after you’ve accumulated a large number.

The timing-based attack system goes a long way towards preventing that “argh, grinding” feeling typical of the genre, as it keeps the player constantly actively involved in combat. The battle system also offers a healthy degree of strategic flexibility. The player can choose from a number of basic battle plans, including optimizing the damage out of normal attack strings, trying to build up the Overdrive meter as quickly as possible, creating incremental advantages with buffs and debuffs, or some combination of these things and more. I’ll skip the details, but basically the system is built to discourage large amounts of repetition; you aren’t going to be able to simply pick a handful of the most damage-efficient actions and repeat them over and over to get through the game.

Endless Frontier’s difficulty level is pretty much perfect. Even the mundane random battles are difficult enough that you can’t really sit there pressing A while watching TV and navigate through the dungeons. At the same time, you will pretty much never have to go out of your way to grind for levels to clear the game, and any regular RPG player should be able to complete it without a ‘game over.’ There is a hard mode option available for subsequent plays-through.

The outside-of-battle visuals of Endless Frontier look right out of an ancient SNES game. This might seem pretty terrible, but there’s actually a good reason for this: to make room for the absolutely spectacular (for the DS) in-battle graphics. The character sprites and animations are all crisp, detailed, and well-drawn (yes, including the scantily-clad females with jiggling breasts for which this game has earned some infamy), and there is zero lag. The various animation sequences for overdrives, special skills, and such are all fun to watch and visually appealing, but also are brief enough that they don’t excessively break the pace of combat– no Final Fantasy forty-second summons here.

Endless Frontier works pretty hard trying to avoid raping your ears, and succeeds. The music tracks, while nothing to write home about, are generally fun and entertaining, and there’s a healthy variety to prevent you from getting sick of anything. The voices are left in the original Japanese, and each attack/spell/etc has at least three or four different spoken sequences attached to prevent excessive repetition. While I would normally be joyfully ecstatic about this, there is a slight flaw in the execution here: the inter-party banter during the battle sequences aren’t subtitled or anything. While none of it is integral to the storyline or anything, it still would have been nice to know what they’re saying, especially considering how interesting what they usually talk about tends to be. Outside of this, the localization is excellent, with very few glaring errors in grammar and spelling. (Off the top of my head, the only glaring error I noticed in this department is “Shuuto” in an attack name. Come on, seriously?)

I would highly recommend Super Robot Taisen OG Saga: Endless Frontier to anyone looking for a solid RPG for the DS. It is immensely enjoyable game, even given the weakness of its narrative. This is not a statement to be taken lightly coming from me; I generally prioritize the narrative above everything, which is why I discuss it first. From beginning to end, its small but endearing cast keep you entertained with its playful banter, with engaging gameplay completing the experience.

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