Inside Pulse 12

Review: Super Robot Taisen OG: Endless Frontier (Nintendo DS)

Super Robot Taisen OG: Endless Frontier
Publisher: Atlus USA
Developer: Banpresto/Monolith Soft
Genre: Turn-Based RPG
Release Date: 05/01/2009


Mash-ups. They are a video game fan boy’s wet dream. Characters from different video games come together to kick butt and fill message boards. Probably the best known of these games is the Super Smash Bros, although until SSBB, that series only used Nintendo characters. There have been great mash-ups, like Capcom Vs. SNK, Namco X Capcom, Marvel. Vs. Capcom, and X Edge (which lacks Capcom in the title, but rest assured, there are Capcom characters in it). Of course there have also been bad mash-ups like Chaos Wars, but the less said about that one, the better.

One of the best mash-ups in Japan is the Super Robot Taisen series, where the emphasis was not on video game crossovers, but robots and mechs from various anime and manga series. You could see say, Mazinger Z go up against a Gundam, for example. The series is very popular, but due to copyright laws and the rights for the characters within the series being divided up amongst American publishers, the only games we’ve ever gotten stateside from the series are Original Generation 1 & 2 for the Nintendo Game Boy. Alas, these games lacked the familiar characters and instead featured generic characters and mechs. Sure American fans were disappointed that they weren’t going to get to have an Evangelion take on Big O, but the OG games were fun in their own right.

Now we have the third SRT to make it stateside, and the first for the DS. Unlike the other Original Generation games, Endless Frontier still manages to mash things up, just not with famous robots. Instead, SRTOF:EF brings us characters from Namco X Capcom, Xenosaga, and a few other lesser known games. Even the development of the game was a mash-up bring together Banpresto (who gave us the highly under-rated Tenchi Muyo! RPG and the previous SRT games) and Monolith Soft (who made Namco X Capcom, the Xenosaga games and the Baiten Katos series). Can these two popular development studios manage to make a Super Robot Wars game that manages to appeal to fans of the series and new gamers…even while it has very few robots in it?

Let’s Review

1. Story

Both the story and characters of Endless Frontier are pretty generic. Various worlds are seeded with a “Cross Gate” which lets you travel between them. There was a big war and now there is peace. However, now there are people who want power for various reasons, and your characters come in to play here. You start off as a simple lecherous Bounty Hunter and his split personality android with a mysterious past shrouded in amnesia. Like I said, VERY generic. As you travel through worlds, you end up teaming up with two princesses: Kaguya and Suzuka. The former is your super big boobed ditz and Suzuka is basically a dancing version of Nagha the Serpent from Slayers mixed with the Beastmen (in this case a woman) from Lunar: The Silver Star. Your main four characters are pretty messed up individuals and for the first half of the game it is hard to separate them from the bad guys. Even your eventual companions from Namco X Capcom, Xiaomu and Reiji, comment that their new traveling companions are insane and possibly evil.

Your characters cross paths with some fairy generic bad guys, most of who are were-women in some way. You go through a VERY linear progression of traveling to a dungeon and engaging in random battles on the way to battling through a dungeon with random battles. Insert a few boss battles, then fight random battles to a town and then proceed to your next destination. The game is SO linear that you can’t really explore. Trying to deviate from your assigned route will find objects are closed, even if you go to your next destination and find out the one you were just at was the next piece in the chain.

Then there’s the writing. Now I don’t mind guttural humour at times. I still chuckle at the Blue Oyster Bar scenes in all the Police Academy films. My favorite video game series is Sakura Taisen which is a dating sim with steampunk mechs. I’m used to anime and manga making jokes about girls will small breasts. That being said, HOLY HELL I HAVE NEVER PLAYED A GAME WITH SO MANY REFERENCES TO BOOBS IN MY LIFE. Jesus, every dialogue scene features at least one boob joke or a character talking about another character’s tits. Seriously, what the hell? Who the hell finds this entertaining? A joke here or there, sure. But in every piece of dialogue? How much blood can you squeeze from a stone people? This got old two hours in and by the ten hour mark, I just wanted to skip the story because it was generic boring padding interspersed with hooter references. Honestly people, for all the crap Working Designs got for localizing rather than translating, Endless Frontier is a perfect example of why that approach is superior on several occasions. I really enjoyed my time with this game, but bloody hell, the plot, dialogue and characterization felt like I was playing a game written by a 16 year old who had only ever watched Porky’s films.

The thought that there is someone out there that might actually find this game witty, urbane and engaging scares the feces out of me.

Story Rating: Bad

2. Graphics

Now that my little rant is over, WOW is this a pretty game. Sure the overworld map looks like something out of a Genesis or SNES game (Honestly, I had Shining Force flashbacks.), but the battle graphics are amongst the best I’ve seen on the DS this year and it’s a contender for some of the best on the system – period.

The character designs are amazing, even if the games doubles as boob-o-rama. Whether it’s an anime version of a major player, or their in-game sprites, everything is fluid and crisp without the slightest hit of slowdown. The latter is quite noteworthy considering you pull off up to 200 hit combos late in the game. When you use a special move or support skill you do get very brief anime scenes with the character. It’s always the same two per character but they are stunning, especially compared to what usually appears on cart based games. The only real complaint I can offer is that there are jaggies around the characters where they touch the rendered backgrounds.

It’s quite odd how the overworld graphics are a little below average for the DS, but the battle graphics are breathtaking at times.

Also, there’s a robot that bears more than a passing resemblance to the Pokemon Groudon. Cute.

Graphics Rating: Good

3. Sound

The score of the game is one of the best I’ve heard all year, and it’s a shoo-in for a “Best Audio” nomination come the end of the year. Even better, the soundtrack comes prepackaged with the game, giving you ten tracks from the game. Sure you pay an extra five dollars for the game (compared to other DS games) in order to get it, but trust me, it’s worth it. The only problem is that my favorite song (The music for a certain catgirl shopkeeper) isn’t on it. Why do they ALWAYS do that?

The CD is also only 18 minutes, so only audiophiles will probably appreciate it, but I can’t deny that I was listening to this CD at work and it finally got Exile’s “The Next Door” and “TU4AR” out of my head. Can you tell what games I’ve been playing in my spare time lately?

The voice acting is Japanese only, which will put off a lot of gamers. Yes, I know, there is a loud minority that likes to be able to flip between dual language tracks, but the DS can’t handle it. Publishers have to choose. Look at Rhapsody for example. They too went with the Japanese language over the English and Nippon Ichi was CRUCIFIED by their audience for doing this. Nippon Ichi fanboys make Atlus fanboys look sane and rational by comparison so if THEY were upset about the lack of English language, I can see this being a pretty big problem for Endless Frontier. However, in the case of Rhapsody there were a few other insane issues with the game and the original English dub was considered superior to the Japanese version, even by purists, so SRT OG: EF might not get the same level of backlash.

Of course, Atlus made an even bigger faux pas by leaving in the Japanese voice acting and then not including subtitles to translate what the characters were saying. Never, and I mean NEVER does a character speak where you can understand what they say unless (like me) you speak Japanese or a word happens to be in Engrish. This is such a blunder that I have to wonder what is going on with Atlus these days. This is a huge red mark on an otherwise well done game whose music and voice acting is amongst the best for 2009.

Sound Rating: Classic

4. Control and Gameplay.

Both Chris Bowen and I noted that this game felt oddly like a Sci-Fi Valkyrie Profile game, even though it’s hard to say why. You have four characters and you time your attacks for combos like Valkyrie profile, but they can’t all attack at once in Endless Frontier like in that game. You also build a power meter for an Overdrive much like how you would build for a Finishing Strike in VP, but in Endless Frontier you only get one Overdrive per meter fill unlike VP where you can get as many as you can pull off. In all, Endless Frontier felt somewhat like a second-rate Valkyrie Profile, but considering I think VP is the best game ever made (not my favorite, just the best from a design perspective), that’s actually a left-handed compliment being given to Endless Frontier

Like in most turn-based RPG’s, Endless Frontier, your team wanders around the world from location to location, engaging in random battles. I’ll admit random battles are one of my biggest turn-offs for an RPG, especially if they happen frequently. Although nowhere as frequent as say, Thousand Arms, there are still a lot of random battles in Endless Frontier. Of course, this means your team gains several levels between boss battles. On one hand, I love that this means you don’t have to grind, which is another aspect of turn-based RPG’s that I hate. On the other, it means that there are so many battles (and such a poor quality story), I generally had to take a break every hour or two because the game just dragged.

For each character you have a set of “Skills” Each skill is worth a percentage of your command bar. One attack might cost 10%, another might cost 25% and so on. By setting your skills, you can do up to either five attacks or when you have used 100% of your command bar, whichever comes first. It’s interesting to note that a skill at 20% be better than a skill at 25% or 20%, so you have to check each skill’s damage and how much it raises your frontier gauge to ensure you’re getting the best bang for your buck.

You’ll also find that you can chain skills together to make a long running combo. The higher the combo, the higher your critical hit rate rises. You can also swap out a character (as long as they are next in the initiative line) to keep the combo going. Be careful though, as if you mess up your combo, the enemy can hit you with a “Forced Evasion.” This ends your combo , your character’s turn and usually gives them a counter attack to boot. This means you have to time your attacks JUST right, making this akin to a TBRPG like Shadow Hearts. This is a lot of fun but, as you might imagine, the more powerful attacks have a higher chance of triggering the Forced Evasion due to what the timing they require.

Although only four characters can be on your active team, you’ll get up to eight characters at your disposal at once. These other four characters become your support team and can be called into to do a supplemental attack akin to a striker in King of Fighters or Marvel Vs. Capcom 2. I find that this is a great way to use characters like Suzuka who has great attacks but very low hit points, or Reiji who is powerful but has low TEC, Speed, and DEF compared to other characters. This means you get his attacks but without the loss of initiative or health. It’s all a matter of planning your team. Hell, there is even a Test mode so that you can test skill combinations and even formations. Nice touch!

There are also spirits, which act like magic spells in other games. Even better, spirits don’t take COM points away, unlike item usage. Stupid items.

In all, I actually really enjoyed the battle system. Most turn-based RPG’s are mindless pabulum where you just press a button and they require little to no strategy. Endless Frontier really breaks from the pack, making sure each battle involves both your full concentration and excellent hand to eye coordination. Although the game overdoes it with the sheer amount of battles, every one of them is a solid experience.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Classic

5. Replayability

Sadly, Endless Frontier is a very linear game. Every single time you play the game, things will unfold in exactly the same way. There are no branching paths or story decisions. You can’t explore. You are just pushed along your inevitable path without any room to breathe. About the only thing you can do is use a different formation if you play the game again. As such, there is almost no replay value except for those that love the battle system enough to give it a second go.

I wish the story had been better or that you could have done something except follow the straight line set before you. It is a short RPG, as it clocks in at about 30 hours unless you grind. As much as I enjoyed actually playing the game, I can’t say that it’s one I’ll ever pick up again.

Replayability Rating: Bad

6. Balance

I don’t know why, but I was expecting a much harder game. I beat Endless Frontier without losing a single battle. This is a bit unusual for me, as I refuse to do the power-mongering munchkin grind so that my characters are maxed out and no battles are a challenge. I don’t have time for that. I run my characters through the game and if I need to power up down the road, then and only then will I. Yet, there was never a battle that offered me any real challenge. Sure a character might die in a boss battle, but then it was only ever one (Usually Suzuka) and I got through the game without any difficulty. It could just be my years of preferring fighters and traditional shooters that let me master the battle mechanics so quickly, but really, I just think the game is too easy.

Enemies do a lot of damage, but with spirits not taking any of your command bar away, you can heal with impunity and even get your Com bar maxed out if you have a character that knows that spirit. I like the idea of the game’s magic equivalent not taking anything away, but when you can heal your party to 100% health with a single spell and then still have all your characters with a full com bar that same turn, it makes things distinctly in your favour.

There are a few things that are unbalanced against you how ever. The first is the sheer amount of random battles, as I mentioned earlier. The other is the scarcity of save spots. If this was a console game I’d be fine with it. However, the DS is a handheld. Handhelds are supposed to make gaming easy and accessible in short spurts. If I’m on the metro and I’m in the middle of a dungeon, it will be very hard for me to find a save spot when I get to my stop. Same with if I’m playing in a car or on a boat or whatever. Personally, a handheld RPG that doesn’t let you save at anytime, show that the developers completely miss the point of handheld gaming. Let’s say you’re in a car and you’re quite some distance from a save spot but your battery is about to die. What can you do? I realize limited saving is supposed to make a game “harder,” but again, that works for consoles, not for handhelds. Very bad design decision here.

In all, Endless Frontier is fun, but it’s bordering on cakewalk most of the time. Some ideas that sounds great in production really keep the game from reaching its true potential.

Balance Rating: Bad

7. Originality

Not only is Endless Frontier the latest in a long running saga, but there’s not much here that makes the game stand out from the pack of other sci-fi RPG’s. The battle system is pretty nice, but everything else about the game is pretty generic. The characters, the plot, the linear progression. It’s all standard fare that brings nothing new to the table.

The game doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but of course, it’s not trying to. It’s just one of those fun titles that is worth a one time playthrough but is pretty nondescript afterward.

Originality Rating: Poor

8. Addictiveness

Even though I have some very valid complaints about this game, it still doesn’t change the fact that I both enjoyed the game and got sucked into it pretty easily. No, I couldn’t play it for long periods of time, but I’d play for an hour or two, walk away, catch myself humming one of the songs, and then came back to it. This went on for several days until I had finally beaten the game. Endless Frontier kept drawing me back to it like a siren singing her song of doom. I knew after an hour I’d be sick on non-stop fighting, but yet I hit the power switch and began another dungeon or short walk to a dungeon.

Although TBRPG’s are my least favorite sub-genre of RPG’s, I still enjoyed my time with Endless Frontier and I think people who prefer TB over Tactical or Action RPG’s will find themselves spending much of their free time hunched over their DS.

Addictiveness Rating: Good

9. Appeal Factor

Sadly, there are a lot of strikes against this game being a success. The lack of subtitles for the voice acting. The boobie obsession which will turn off far more gamers than it amuses. The lack of a quicksave for on the go gaming. The fact when I went to pick up my copy, no one in the bloody EB Games had even heard of the game. Ouch. These are all omens of ill portent for mainstream success. Of course, Atlus is the king of niche game publishing in the States, and so no doubt this game will find an audience through their fanbase and those who have imported SRT games in the past.

If you know what you are in for and can overlook a pretty lame plot, you might find this game worth purchasing, but as the game has a lot going against it AND it’s higher priced than your average DS game, you might want to wait for the eventual price drop or the corresponding Amazon.com deal to show up. They seem to have something going with Atlus.

Appeal Factor: Poor

10. Miscellaneous

Okay, so we have a fairly generic game. It’s got it’s issues , including some interesting developer decisions and gaffes. However, it’s got a great engine and a killer soundtrack. These things balance each other out. It’s five dollars more than the average MSRP for a DS game, but it also comes with a soundtrack. Here though I can quibble. CD’s are like pennies to make and it’s missing the best track in the game. Curse you Atlus!

At the end of the day, this edition of Super Robot Taisen actually doesn’t have that many robots in it, and will probably be forgotten months from now save for the soundtrack. There’s just nothing here to really draw attention to itself or make the game memorable. It’s too bad, as I loved the engine and would have loved to have seen this with more interesting characters, a less paint by numbers plot, or a little more substance.

This is by no means the best entry into the SRT series, but it is an acceptable one. That’s what matters.

Miscellaneous Rating: Mediocre

The Scores
Story: Bad
Graphics: Good
Sound: Classic
Control and Gameplay: Classic
Replayability: Bad
Balance: Bad
Originality: Poor
Addictiveness: Good
Appeal Factor: Poor
Miscellaneous: Mediocre
FINAL SCORE: DECENT GAME

Short Attention Span Summary
Super Robot Taisen OG: Endless Frontier boasts some amazing graphics and one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard all year. However, it’s also bogged down by a generic story, linear progression and there are some odd decisions about both the development and localization of the game that will turn off the average gamer. If you’re in need of a mash-up, you’re better off waiting for the PS3’s X Edge to finally hit US Shores next week. For those who just want a fun but nondescript game involving a neat battle engine, you could do far worse than this game. I’d suggest waiting for the price to drop however.