Release Date: September 29, 2005
Forget attractive humans of breeding age and direct sunlight; the real bane of any self-respecting gamer’s existence can be summed up in two horrible, ear-defacing words:
The distinctive style of Japanese animation better known as “anime” has gone from virtually unknown outside of the Land of the Rising Sun to one of the hottest trends in America. Unfortunately, video games based upon the medium (at least, the ones released outside of Japan) have largely been less than stellar. A scant few are excellent (PS2’s Dragon Ball Z: Budokai series), the majority are mediocre at best (PS1’s Ghost in the Shell), and there are far too many notoriously awful specimens, capable of inducing terror (and impotence, with prolonged exposure) in anyone unlucky enough to pick up a controller and experience them (PS1’s Vampire Hunter D).
For the uninitiated, Mobile Suit Gundam is an insanely popular long-running anime series that’s been churning out sequels since the late 1970’s. A common thread runs through most Gundam “seasons”: two opposing sides (one from space, the other from Earth) become involved in a massive, convoluted war for dominance. This is an anime series, of course, so rather that employing conventional weapons, both sides duke it out with huge humanoid robots called “mobile suits,” armed with laser swords and enormous energy-spewing cannons. The most powerful mobile suits are Gundams, made distinguishable by an increasingly ridiculous amount of ornamentation as the series goes on. Gundams are usually piloted by brooding, effeminate young men with murky pasts and gravity-defying haircuts. As you can no doubt tell, I don’t have any particular interest in Gundam. Therefore, I’ll be your non-fanboy reviewer for the evening.
Gundam is a repeat offender in the world of video games, from the early days of gaming to today. The absolute worst was Journey to Jaburo (PS2), a felony-level assault against thumbs (No analog movement? D-pad only? Are you people trying to give us arthritis?), and the rest are wildly inconsistent. It seems that American PS2 owners are being given the short end of the stick when it comes to Gundam; the two US-released Battle Assault titles on PS1 were surprisingly competent, but almost everything Gundam-related for the Playstation 2 is damaging to the human soul. Never Ending Tomorrow doesn’t do much to lift up its brethren.
There’s actually a lot of content for your money; from the moment you switch Never Ending Tomorrow on, you’ll find a versus mode, a mission mode, and two, count ‘em, TWO story modes. These story modes follow the paths of Kira Yamato and Athrun Zala, the main characters of the show and apparent customers of the Generic Sci-Fi Name Randomizer. These guys are on opposite sides of the war but were good buddies as children, which makes fighting each other to the death difficult. Like any Gundam series, following the story at all can be a struggle, but you’re not here for the plot, are you? Let’s move on.
Say what you will about everything else, but the graphics are top-notch. The opening movie is done entirely in CG, depicting a climactic, flashy space battle that probably spoils the ending of the show. Of course, if you’re playing a Gundam game, you’re most likely already a fan, and thus already know how it turns out. Most cutscenes are also computer-animated (quite well, actually), with clips from the show interspersed throughout. The in-game graphics are excellent, with no slowdown even when a thousand things are happening at once. However, your HUD is sloppily designed; the perimeter of the screen is cluttered with icons and gauges, leaving a tiny rectangle of space in the center to figure out what your Gundam is doing.
Gameplay is a button-masher’s dream: hammer on the shoot and slash buttons like a mental patient, occasionally double-tapping the boost button to dodge and roll. I wish I was kidding. There’s almost no subtlety to the controls; strategy is limited to deciding if an enemy is too far away to use your beam sword. Controls are awkward at best, presenting a more dangerous threat to your character than the mechas attempting to kill him. The camera has apparently allied itself with your enemies, and its fiendish plan to sabotage you is purposely having a spaz attack when your mobile suit does anything other than stand still.
The “Partner” system adds some variety to the fighting action, as players can choose another character to assist them in combat by clicking the right analog stick. This activates a Partner Boost, which can have a variety of effects; some inflict damage on the enemy, while others offer limited-duration bonuses to your Gundam, like unlimited boost or souped-up melee attacks. Sounds cool, but I didn’t really encounter a situation where I absolutely needed it. I usually activated my Partner Boost to spice up the boring, repetitive combat. All missions are exactly the same: “Defend/destroy all targets.” As soon as the stage begins, fly towards the nearest enemy on your radar and hack away. Madness quickly sets in as you realize that you’ve just done the same thing over and over again for an hour, and it wasn’t particularly fun.
The huge amount of unlockable content may keep Gundam fans coming back for more. Points are awarded at the end of every mission, which can be cashed in at a shop for goodies. Extra weapons, Partners, mobile suits, and assorted other bonuses are available for purchase, although the really good stuff isn’t available until certain objectives have been met in the story modes. Kudos to Bandai for giving players a reason to slog through Never Ending Tomorrow, but the question remains, could any bonus be awesome enough to convince a human being to suffer through the practice necessary to get good at this game? Unless Sony has engineered a way to hand you the Holy Grail through a TV screen, I’d say no.
Are you a hardcore Mobile Suit Gundam fan? At this very moment, are you wearing underwear decorated with mobile suits? Is your computer clogged with obscure Gundam MP3s and weepy Gundam fanfiction? If so, this game was made for you, my creepy friend. The rest of us would do well to steer clear of Gundam SEED: Never Ending Tomorrow. I simply can’t recommend this to anyone but the most obsessive of fans. Other “giant robot” games such as Zone of the Enders and Armored Core have so much more to offer, with nowhere near this many problems. Keep ‘em coming, Bandai. Eventually you’ll get it right.
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