Review: R-Type Command (Sony PSP)

R-Type Command
Publisher: Atlus USA
Developer: Irem
Genre: Tactical RPG
Release Date: 05/07/2008

R-Type is just a hair below Gradius as the most successful and well-known 2-D shooter series in North America. Unlike Gradius however, R-Type was ended by Irem with the appropriately named R-Type Final in 2003. Irem promised it would be the last of the Shoot ’em series, but here we are five years later with a port of R-Type Tactics, brought over to North America under the name R-Type Command.

It turns out Irem has kept their promise, as R-Type Command is not a shooter, but a side-to-side tactical RPG. This is such an outside of the box idea that R-Type fans were both thrilled and scared . One one hand it was a new R-Type game. On the other, the closest Irem has ever come to making an RPG was the mediocre (at best) Bumpy Trot, known in the US as Steambot Chronicles

As for me, I love tactical RPG’s like Shining Force, Dragon Force, Ogre Tactics, and even the more recent Dungeon and Dragons Tactics for the PSP. For the most part though, I feel there has been a severe decline in the quality of the genre. The recent Fire Emblem games, the Advance Wars series, Rondo of Swords .have taken a sharp decline in quality compared to the SRPG’s published before 2003. Here we are with a game that promises to be a cross between my favorite style of RPG and my favorite genre of them all – the 2-D shooter. How could things possibly go wrong?

Let’s Review

1. Story

Here’s the thing: Irem is well known for not putting any plot what soever into the R-Type games. In fact, the reasons for the war between humanity and the enemies in the R-Type games, the Bydo empire isn’t explained until R-Type Final. Otherwise it’s just been “Humans vs. Aliens. Go kill things.” Sadly, R-Type Command is no different.

The game’s story consists merely of some journal entries from your unnamed main protagonist. To say that the character is two-dimensional at best is a massive understatement. The character seems clueless, insecure, and dim-witted in his entries, and it practically unlikeable. None of the other characters you command have any personality or background attributed to them. They are merely mindless cannon fodder at your disposal. Beating the game isn’t even anti-climatic as there is no depth or real story to tell. It’s probably the most lackluster ending I’ve seen in a SRPG. Hell the GUIDE contains more story than the game itself, which for a shoot ’em up is fine, but for an SRPG? No. No no no no no.

Here’s what Irem failed to realize. The SRPG genre is about the story and characters as much as it is the gameplay. As tactical RPG’s are so slow compared to the other genre variants, you need to care about your characters to make the game feel faster then it really is. Without those personalities and attachment, the SRPG’s can be boring as hell. Which is exactly what Irem has given us here. Even when you beat the game and can now play as the Bydo Empire, it is a hearty disappointment due to the lack of characterization and plot.

I can honestly say I’ve never encountered a tactical RPG with worse story or character development, which makes me quite sad.

Story Rating: Worthless

2. Graphics

This is a beautful game. The cut scenes are easily the best I have seen on the PSP, and the gallery is jaw dropping. I love that you can take the unlocked gallery pics and mix and match for your loading and title screens. The in game graphics on your grid map are some of the best I’ve seen in any SRPG, which really isn’t that hard as the genre is known for its shoddy graphics. Even though those in game graphics are only mediocre for the PSP, they are still in the upper echelon for the genre.

A point of contention with the game seems to be the battle footage. You can have this on, off, or randomly occurring. If you mark it to on, you will have some severe loading times between each battle. Considering how slow moving this game is already, I advise against it. The scenes are well rendered and fun to watch the first dozen times, but they get old quickly due to the visuals being the same nearly every time. I suggest putting it on random as that way you get the attack footage infrequently and it makes it a bit of a treat. The graphics are that well done that you SHOULD view them on occasion, but you will get frustrated with the loading times.

Is this the best R-Type has ever looked? Of course not. This is a SRPG, and there is no way the graphics in that can compare to the beauty of say, R-Type Final. The cut scenes are indeed jaw dropping at times, so the game is probably the only tactical RPG ever that I can describe as “visually stunning at times.” The gridmap graphics bring the final rating down a bit for obvious reasons.

Graphics Rating: Great

3. Sound

I really hate the music in R-Type Command. One thing that used to be a constant for Irem games, whether they are Bumpy Trot or Lode Runner is that the music is amazing. Not so with R-Type Command From the opening title music to the in game noises, everything sounds like it was made on a CASIO keyboard from the 1980’s. The music is appallingly bad and rather na insult to the classic R-Type games that came before it.

Sound effects are fine. There is nothing new or noteworthy to speak of here. Explosions, laser fire, missiles going boom and so on all sound like one would expect. The speed of their occurrence has been drastically reduced due to the genre change,

Play the game with the sound off or your Itunes on instead. That’s all I can say here.

Sound Rating: Bad

4. Control and Gameplay

I’m going to get the elephant out of the room right now. The game is at times unbearably slow. It is the slowest moving SRPG I have ever played at at times I was bored to tears with the slow moving gameplay. It’s made exceedingly worse by the constant load times that make the game feel like it takes forever to play a single battle. An average load time is twenty seconds. Now imagine you have the attack animation turned on and well, you’ll see how the time adds up with this game in a very negative manner.

Let’s talk about the rest of the game, which is actually a pretty solid tactical RPG. One strike against it is that your characters and ships will NOT earn XP or any sort of enhancement. Instead your pilots earn skill, which is awarded or subtracted depending on if the character survives the encounter or not. This is rather silly because it means your refueling ship will inevitably be where your best pilot hangs out as it never gets attacked by the computer AI so it always survives. Skill has so real noticeable value as characters with only one skill bar seem to attack and dodge just as well as my best R-9 pilot, Roy Fokker (Ha!) who has his skill maxed out. As most RPG fans pretty much demand a reward system, this will no doubt be viewed as a big negative against the game.

Like most tactical games, you choose from a series of characters (ships) and it’s game over if your leader (flagship) is destroyed. Each battle has different win requirements ranging from “Kill them all!” to “Retrieve this document/important supply” or “Take over this base.”

The goals of the mission are as simple as the missions themselves. The maps for each combat resemble a typical side scrolling shooter level as they are completely horizontal in nature. This means that most battles play out exactly the same save for the occasional piece of terrain in your way that you have to avoid or blow up. The real lack of variety in maps and in combat just add to the grueling nature of the game.

Controls are quite solid, and with nearly 100 types of ships/warriors to choose from between both the human and Bydo sides, you have an amazing amount of options for what to send out. Of course, you need to actually build new ships in R&D in order to use them, and that requires supplies that you’ll pick up on each battle map. Supplies are limited and there’s not enough to go around, so build your ships carefully.

It’s also interesting to note that each pilot actually represents a cluster of five ships unless they are a specialty ship like a refueler or a flagship. Single ships have a hit point system, while groups of ship continue on until they are depleted. If things look bad and you’re down to only one ship from your cluster, just head on back to the flagship and dock inside. A turn later, you’ll be completely refueled, rearmed, and your cluster size will be maxed out again.

In the end, the game plays exceptionally well, which is a hallmark of the SRPG genre. Things fall apart though when you factor in the horrible loading times and the unimaginable amount of repetition in the game. It’s a solid game through and through but the sheer slowness and time it takes to play the game drag it down to where only the real diehard tactical gaming fan will enjoy the gameplay.

Control and Gameplay: Good

<B.5. Replayability

There are approximately 60 missions, with 30 for each side. By completing missions you can recruit new pilots, gain plans for new ships and get supplies to build new fighters. You can also unlock skirmishes for player vs player mode, which requires both PSP’s to be connected via the net and that each player has a copy of R-Type Command.

The game also keeps archives of how you have done, high scores for each mission, and has gallery portraits that you can unlock. If you can get past the obvious issues with the game (and my god is player vs player ungodly slow due to the wi-fi connection), there is a lot to come back for here. I really loved the idea of playing as the Bydo, I just wish the game let you have that option outright instead of forcing you to play through the human side of things first. Most gamers will be fed up by the crawling pace of the game and the loading times (have I beaten this dead horse enough yet?) and will never experience the neatness of this idea. Of course, most American gamers aren’t shooter fans, so the neatness is probably lost on them.

Still, high marks here for the ability to replay missions and all the unlockables.

Replayability Rating: Good

6. Balance

R-Type Command is by far the easiest SRPG I have ever played. It makes games like Brigadine or Kartia look like Shining Force 3 Premium in difficulty. Honestly, after your second mission you should have figured out how to keep a single troop from dying. All you have to do is send your injured fleet bang into the flagship’s hangar and let them sit out for a turn. They return back well rested and fully healed. It’s insane how easy this game is.

Worse yet, there is no AI whatsoever. The computer is exceptionally easy and will often not even bother firing on you even when you are in range. It always falls for the decoy abilities of your refueling ships (explosive holograms) that allow you to set up ambush after ambush. It’s just sad how mentally retarded they Bydo empire is in this game after four generations of consoles haveseen how insanely tough R-Type games are supposed to be.

Every single battle is a cakewalk, the max turns you have are so laid back that you can beat each mission without any worries. This game is simply pathetic in this regard.

If you’re a tactical RPG fan, you’ll probably be insulted by the lack of difficulty, as will long time R-Type fans. Remember the key to domination is to keep your flagship close, use decoys and have a refueler or two. You simply can not lose a single ship this way. If you somehow manage to, don’t even bother trying titles like Arc the Lad or Shining Force.

Balance Rating: Dreadful

<B.7. Originality

A great idea in theory and on paper, but it’s executed pretty damn poorly. Still the idea of a shooter turned tactical RPG is a great idea and I would love to see Irem crank the difficulty and speed of the game and make a sequel. Yes, I’m that blindly loyal to R-Type.

This isn’t the first RPG/Shooter hyrbid. A few years ago Sigma Star Saga came out, and even though that game had some pretty big flaws, it was still a superior game to R-Type Command. SSS ended up winning Best Shooter and GBA awards from us in 2005. R-Type Command will be lucky to even get a nomination.

SSS did it right by using the deep story and leveling up system of an RPG combined with the gameplay of a shooter. R-Type Command did it wrong by trying to force the lack of story and depth onto RPG fans and an extremely slow paced gameplay onto shooter fans. Congrats Irem, you’ve just alienated both your core audiences.

The first shooter/tactical RPG game that I can think of R-Type Command has some innovation. But this is not the first time this genre cross over has been tried. The ideas are solid. It will just take some time for either Wayforward or irem to get it right.

Originality Rating: mediocre

8. Addictiveness

This is one of the most boring video games I have ever played. My god, I feel so dirty saying that. I love R-Type. I love tactical RPG’s. I love Atlus. How could things have gone so hideously awry?

It’s too slow for a shooter, it’s too dull for an RPG, and the AI is too deficient to pose a proper tactical challenge. I damn near quit playing after the first two missions (which are training missions) because they were amazingly slow. At points in the game I wish I HAD, because said missions were also the toughest. Ouch.

I have not been this bored playing a video game all year. In fact I don’t remember the last time I was THIS bored playing a video game. Honestly the most fun I had with the game was renaming all my human troops after characters from Robotech and my Bydos after Zentradi. “Go Rick Hunter! Save Max Sterling!”

Addictiveness Rating: Worthless

9. Appeal Factor

This is a hard one. The game’s very core design is such that it has the exact opposite traits (speed and challenge) that generally attract shooter fans, and is missing two of the three key traits (Story and difficulty) that attract tactical gamers. I can’t imagine who would actually enjoy this. Sure there will be hardcore fans of Atlus, R-Type and SRPG’s that will love this game simply because it falls into one or more of those three categories, but hold R-Type Command up to any title from either the R-Type franchise or a quality SRPG, and the flaws in RTC will shine far brighter than any quality aspect of the game, of which there is little.

I can’t think of a single person I could recommend this game to. I can see the frothing fan boys now though.

Appeal Factor: Dreadful

10. Miscellaneous

Middle of the road here and I’ll tell you why. First, I was pleased that the game came with a little “do it yourself” model of the R-9. This is a great pre-order extra and is one of the coolest I’ve ever seen. Thumbs up to Atlus for doing this. Man, how sad is it that the thing that excites me most about this game is a model of an R-Type ship that is the size of my thumb?

On the other hand, a big middle finger to Atlus for price gouging on this. $39.99 was the retail price for this. Ten dollars more than pretty much every other PSP title’s MSRP. What the hell? The game is pretty bare bones and there is little to no localization needed seeing as there is practically no text or plot! This cost twice as much as R-Type Final when it was first released on the Playstation 2! Not only is this a lackluster bare bones slow as molasses mentally retarded game and a slap in the face to one of the oldest running franchises in gaming, but to slap on an extra ten spot to the cost for this insulting piece of crap? Seriously Atlus, what the hell has happened to you over the past five years? Atlus of Japan should be ashamed of how you’re using their name. Bad game, bad price, bad publisher.

Miscellaneous Rating: Poor

The Scores
Story: Worthless
Graphics: Great
Sound: Bad
Control and Gameplay: Good
Replayability: Good
Balance: Dreadful
Originality: Mediocre
Addictiveness: Worthless
Appeal Factor: Dreadful
Miscellaneous: Poor
FINAL SCORE: (Poor Game)

Short Attention Span Theater

$39.99 for a portable piece of crap that is a kick to the genitals of Irem’s most beloved franchise and SRPG’s as a genre? No thanks. It’s a pretty game, but you’ve got to be Rip van Winkle to put up with all the pauses and loading times. This game is best left on the store’s shelf. Download a REAL R-type from the Vritual Console, Xbox Live, or Playstation store instead.

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