Review: Mytran Wars (Sony PSP)

Mytran Wars
Developer: Stormregion
Publisher: Deep Silver
Genre: SRPG
Release Date: 10/26/09

This past August, I attended a Deep Silver press event accompanied by fellow writer and boyfriend Chris Bowen, where we were able to to play preview copies of Mytran Wars and four other titles, including Cursed Mountain. Chris noted that while the game seemed to have potential, the pacing felt slow and online play was excised completely. Now we can see how the final product turned out and whether it lived up to that potential.

The story of Mytran Wars is set in a world where corporations rather than government rule. Natural resources have been tapped out, and the corporations control distribution of what’s left. Needing other ways to acquire natural resources, one of the corporations, Kondor Corporation, take to interplanetary travel in search of other habitable planets to conquer. One planet they find is Pythar, and the leader of the expedition is eager to demolish everything and everyone already on the planet and take everything. Naturally, the Mytrans do not take kindly to this, which erupts into the titular war that kicks off the game. Naturally, there’s the pacific dissenter to throw things into an uproar. Just so things don’t get too one sided, you do also get to play as the Mytrans later. While it’s not the worst premise ever, it’s something that’s been done many times before, and the plot twists are predictable. Really, does anyone expect diplomacy to work in a game with “war” in the title? Though I do admit there’s a couple of mildly entertaining bits, such as the character “Jon Remedy” (if that name sounds like who you think it is, it likely is) and the following exchange:

(bunch of scientists in a group hug believing they’re about to die)
“John, I’m so sorry I slept with your wife”
“That’s OK, I dated your daughter” (communicator goes off saying help’s on the way)
“So…you slept with my daughter, huh?” (second guy is wide eyed and has sweat dripping down his face)

Aside from the requisite single player mode, there’s also skirmish and, naturally, multiplayer. In multiplayer mode, there’s last mech standing, cooperative, and deathmatch. Last mech standing is essentially musical chairs with giant mechs that can blow each other up instead of energetic children and hotspots instead of chairs. The objective is to get each of your units on a hotspot in three turns or they blow up. The caveat is that there is always one less hotspot than the total number of units, ensuring at least one unit will blow up at the end of those three turns. You’re not required to fight the opposing team, but you can if you want. In cooperative, you team up with another player against a strong AI opponent. Deathmatch is exactly what it sounds like – raze the other team. While one person is taking their turn, the other person can play mingames to boost their units’ stats while waiting for them to finish: quiz (answer Mytran Wars related questions within a time limit), air hockey (I don’t think I need to explain that one), and linker (connect identical icons). If you lose in any of the minigames except linker, your troops’ stats will deprecate for a turn. You can either play with someone by connecting via Ad Hoc or Hot Swap, wherein two players pass the PSP back and forth. Note that you can only play with preset armies in multiplayer. While this puts everyone on equal ground, it also means that all your souped up mechs from the single player mode won’t carry over.

The mostly CG rendered introductory cutscene looks fairly good, though it doesn’t quite fit with the comic book styled cutscenes that are scattered in the rest of the game. The story cutscenes are also nice to look at, though most of the animation in them look like paper cutouts being moved. The in-game graphics do look reasonably detailed, and there are little details like birds flying away upon a unit walking into a forest filled with them and changes in equipment being rendered on the units. The attack and movement animations are slow and drag down the pace of the game, even with the “skip” option enabled. The game can’t seem to remain consistent with actually skipping animations. Units firing shots and said shots hitting their target are still shown, though sometimes damage is displayed before the animation begins. There are also times when you’re about to deal the final blow to end a mission, it skips right to the “YOU WIN” screen, then cuts back to that animation. The soundtrack is decent, but not particularly memorable, and after a while I’d stop noticing the music. The voice acting is pretty standard fare. The sound effects consist of the expected clanking as units move and shots being fired, and they do the job.

Each mission has three objectives: the main one, the optional one, and a secret one. Only the main and optional objectives are displayed; the secret objective is only shown when you’ve managed to do it. You’re not given any hint as to what it is, so it does take some guesswork to figure out what it is. It can range from destroying every enemy unit on a stage to reaching a certain landmark. You only need to complete the main one to finish the mission, though you do get more credit and research points for completing the other ones as well. In some cases, you can even unlock secret missions.

Battles play out much like any other SRPG: you and the enemy take turns moving your units. One note about moving: once you’ve had a unit move somewhere, you can’t cancel out of it. You can, however, back out of attacks and such, which helps if you want to gauge how effective a given weapon would be before going through with it. I don’t see why there would be that discrepancy, especially given you’re allowed to cancel anything else. If you try to scroll to another unit in the middle of issuing commands to one, the one you were previously on will go into “wait” status. It doesn’t help that the O button is used both for canceling out of actions and switching between units, which means you could end up switching to another unit by accident.

Terrain also plays a role, as some terrain will reduce movement. When tracing the path you want your unit to move, going through terrain that lowers movement will also shorten the distance you can move, so watch out for that while moving units. In stages with fog of war, you can only see as far as the sight range of your units. Units can hide in forests, where they are rendered invisible and sight range is reduced to one. Keep in mind that none of this applies to maps without fog of war. Your units can also capture buildings, though this takes up a turn, and the unit doing the capturing cannot be controlled or counterattack, and also incurs -20% damage reduction. Captured buildings regenerate units standing on them, which helps if any maintenance kits on that unit and/or repairer kits on another unit are cooling down.

Units fall under one of three categories: a lightweight unit that’s geared more for support, a heavyweight that can act as a tank and doles out the most damage, and a middleweight that falls in between. In addition, there’s also hero units (which can also be light, medium, or heavy), which tend to be a bit sturdier and have a higher chance of landing critical hits. However, should they fall in battle, the mission will end immediately. With non-hero units, if they get destroyed in battle, they’re gone permanently and you’ll have to buy new units to replace them. However, buying and outfitting units adds up, so I wouldn’t suggest sending too many units on kamikaze missions. Units also deal more damage when attacking from the back or sides.

You can outfit each unit with seven pieces of equipment: two on the shoulders, two on the arms, and one on the body, leg and head. Heros get another slot for special Hero-only equipment. Refitting costs credits; the more advanced the equipment, the more expensive. If you wanted, you could load up a unit with defensive equipment and turn them into a walking shield, or have them act purely as support for your other units. There are three types of damage weapons can inflict: energy, physical, and explosion. Depending on equipment configurations, units can have strengths or weaknesses against any of these. Classes learn new skills in the form of new technologies developed in the research center. They fall under weapons, defense, movement, support, general (race specific), and special (hero-only). New technologies are unlocked by researching existing technologies or discovering new ones during missions. Both credits and research points are earned by completing missions, but you earn more credits for destroying buildings and more research points by capturing them.

After you’ve beaten a mission once, you can go back to it as many times as you want. In replaying missions, you can complete any objectives you missed, unlock new technologies by completing said objectives, or earn research points and credits to spend on developing technologies and upgrading and expanding your army. Theoretically, you could experiment with different setups for each of your units, . However, the story itself is pretty linear, so there’s little incentive in creating a whole new profile and play through everything again, especially since you can go back to past missions on your current profile anyway. Even if you liked the cutscenes enough to rewatch them, they’re also available for your viewing pleasure in the library at any time. There’s the multiplayer, but you would need to have local friends who either have a PSP and a copy of this game or would be interested in passing the PSP back and forth to take advantage of it. You could also play with/against yourself in Hot Swap, if such a thing amuses you and/or you don’t know anyone who’d play this with you.

Sometimes it can get difficult to distinguish what the cursor is pointing to. With weapons that have a straight line of fire, it can sometimes be hard to see who will get hit by it unless you back out and scroll around the screen or use another weapon to see who you can target. Your curative items have unlimited uses and fully replenish health. As with everything in life, there’s a catch – after using them, you have to wait a few turns before it cools down and becomes usable again. Of course, that also applies to enemies – there will be times when an enemy will completely replenish the HP you just spent time and turns whittling down. Despite the fact that you play as two different races, there’s nothing to distinguish them from each other save aesthetics and a few skills, which takes away a bit from being able to play as different races. Of course, it’d be a bit much to expect something like the Terran and Zerg from Starcraft, but just a bit more variety between the two would’ve made for more opportunities for tactical experimentations between the two races.

The game felt rather slow, even with battle animations set to skip, and as a result I only felt compelled to play through one or two battles in one sitting. At first, the thought of trying to get further in the game elicited an “ugh” reaction from me, even though I usually love SRPGs. I did eventually start to get more into the game as I played more and I was able to access the workshop and research center, but it just never quite drew me in. Waiting for the enemy to finish its moves can take a while, to the point I’d be occupying myself with something else unless I heard shots being fired, at which point I’d glance at the screen to do damage assessment. Some sort of quicksave option during battle would’ve helped, as it’s never fun to go through a long battle only to have to start it over again right when you’re about to complete it. The less than gripping story doesn’t provide much impetus to proceed through the game, though the switch right at the big twist did grab my attention, even if I saw it coming. The fact that both sides have a brash character that wants to eliminate all foreigners and a character that wants to avoid conflict seems a bit like those two archetypes were just being recycled. Though you could also look at it as an illustration that the two different races have more in common than they thought.

On the one hand, the PSP doesn’t exactly have a bevy of SRPGs, especially those involving mechs (unless you import the Super Robot Taisen games). On the other hand, among what it does have are some juggernauts that are hard to knock off their pedestal, such as Jeanne d’Arc, Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions, and the first and second Disgaea games. Those who like their SRPGs with a heaping of mechs and sci-fi and a lack of anime would probably enjoy this. Some might find the lack of online play and the fact you can’t use your own troops in local multiplayer a turnoff.

I was initially looking forward to this game, as I tend to gravitate towards anything strategy. I noted elements of other SRPGs I’ve played and enjoyed, such as the customization of each part of each unit like in Front Mission, permanent death of units like in Fire Emblem (though you can at least replace the units here), and the capturing of buildings and purchasing of units like in Advance Wars. It’s not a bad game, and can be a decent way to kill time if you’ve run out of SRPGs to play, but neither is it the pinnacle of its genre.

The Scores
Story/Modes: Mediocre
Graphics: Good
Sound: Decent
Control and Gameplay: Enjoyable
Replayability: Decent
Balance: Mediocre
Originality: Below Average
Addictiveness: Poor
Appeal Factor: Mediocre
Miscellaneous: Decent
FINAL SCORE: DECENT GAME

Short Attention Span Summary:
Mytran Wars has good presentation, but the substance doesn’t quite live up to it. While there’s a good number of customization options to tinker with, there’s a lack of unit variety, and the game’s pace dragged, which made it difficult to sit through more than one or two battles at a time. Against other SRPG juggernauts on the PSP such as Jeanne d’Arc, Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions, and the first and second Disgaea games, this pales in comparison.