Dynasty Warriors: Gundam is going to be nearly incomprehensible to non-Gundam fans. It's not just a matter of it having the usual Dynasty Warriors bizarre translation and chopped-up storyline; it's the fact that this same storyline involves recognizing characters from a number of Gundam series. In fact, it expects a staggeringly die-hard level of Gundam fandom, as two of the series (Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ and Turn A Gundam) have never seen U.S. release, despite contributing their share of characters to the mix. If you have no idea who Puru Two or Loran Cehack are, many of the in-jokes, references and amusing plot scenes are going to seem flat-out boring or incoherent. On the other hand, if you're one of those Gundam followers, the game offers some rather amusing tidbits.
The storyline of Dynasty Warriors: Gundam is divided into two halves: Official Mode and Original Mode. Official Mode is based on "Mobile Suit Gundam" and its two sequels, "Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam" and "Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ." The real fun comes in Original Mode, where pilots from the Official Mode and other Gundam series are lured to a mysterious planet by the evil Musha Gundam, with the promise of amazing power to whoever manages to control the planet. Naturally, the various characters quickly split up into various factions, pairing together heroes and villains in ways that the series never did. This mode is mostly for hardcore Gundam fans because it relies on knowing the personalities, backstories and various trivia about the characters in order to get the full impact of many of the scenarios. Without it, you'll be left wondering why on Earth your characters keep acting the way they do.
As far as gameplay goes, Dynasty Warriors: Gundam is quite similar to other Dynasty Warriors titles in many ways. You take control of a single super-powered hero and slaughter your way through countless enemy minions. Of course, occasionally, you encounter other named heroes and villains, and you've got to take them down. If you've ever played a Dynasty Warriors title, DW: Gundam isn't going to blow your mind. In many ways, it is a continuation of the "more of the same" problem that has plagued the franchise since the release of Dynasty Warriors 3. There are a few changes to take advantage of the fact that you're using giant robots and not feudal warriors, but not all of these changes are for the best.
Most of the changes are fairly minor. Since you're using giant robots, there are no horses or elephants to ride; instead, each mobile suit has a very powerful set of thrusters that can be used to rocket across the field, although overusing them can cause the mobile suit to overheat. Some of the suits can even transform into jet planes, which allows them to streak across the battlefield with blazing speed. The various areas controlled by the fighting armies are more clearly marked, with each section denoted by a bright aura that reflects the color of the side that controls it — blue for your side, red for enemies and yellow for a third party. Once you're inside those areas, you can see exactly how many enemies you must defeat before your army takes over, or likewise, how close your base is to falling to enemy forces. It doesn't change the overall gameplay, but the fields make it much easier to view the flow of battle and to tell exactly who and what you have to blow up.
The biggest difference between Dynasty Warriors and DW: Gundam is in the increased focused on long-distance combat. The Y button, usually registered as the "charge attack" in Dynasty Warriors titles, now has a secondary function. If used in the middle of a melee attack, it still performs a charge attack, but if used by itself, it actually fires the mobile suit's long-distance weapon at the enemy.
Furthermore, mobile suit weapons are divided into melee and ranged types. A normal mobile suit combo may involve slashing with the suit's beam saber before following it up with a volley of bazooka rounds, or sending a giant beam shooting through an enemy crowd. The major problem here is that Dynasty Warriors isn't well built for ranged fighting because it's far too powerful. Ranged attacks are able to wipe out enemies in ways that melee fighters can barely dream of, can do massive amounts of damage and can easily force enemies into stun-lock, turning boss fights into total jokes unless they have minions to keep you distracted. Without distractions, the boss will simple keep flying toward you as you fly backwards, shooting at them and draining their health.
You can't snipe enemies from afar, but the overall range of basic attacks is three or more times that of regular Dynasty Warriors fighters, without the same limitations that the bow provided to those ancient heroes. Likewise, ranged attacks, particularly the Musou-based ones, are capable of wiping out enemy numbers in simply staggering amounts. Even the attributes are split up, with each pilot having a different range and melee stat, meaning that your character choice can further influence the power of these already-shocking attacks.
The first of the two choices you'll make when picking a warrior is the pilot who controls the mobile suit under which you're fighting. Gundam favorites like Amuro Ray, Heero Yui and Domon Kashuu make up the various selectable pilots, and each has his own unique set of abilities. Domon, for example, is the protagonist of the fighting anime/mecha anime hybrid "G Gundam," and so his stats are geared more for melee combat. In addition, his unique abilities include the ability to grow stronger as he takes damage. Heero Yui, on the other hand, is a ranged weapon expert so his ranged weapon stat is through the roof, and his custom abilities allow him to snipe at enemies from afar. Every pilot can gain up to 30 levels and equip up to six abilities, two which are gained naturally and the other four which can be customized by earning new powers in combat. It's not very different from how most Dynasty Warriors games handle character development, but there's nothing particularly wrong with it, either.
The second choice is which mobile suit the character will pilot. Mobile suits have their own stats, which are slightly different from the pilot's stats. These govern attributes like total hit points, thruster gauges and the Musou Gauge size. Like pilots, mobile suits gain levels, but there are some minor differences. The Mobile suit levels are tied to whoever is piloting the mobile suit at that time. If Heero Yui's Wing Gundam has reached the maximum level of 10, it will only be a level one if you put Jerid Messa in control. However, this isn't to say that mobile suits start from scratch with every character. While levels are not passed between pilots, any special equipment that the mobile suit gains is retained. It's not going to make up for missing out on a maxed-out mobile suit, but it does make it easier for characters to hop into a new suit without feeling as if it were far too weak.
Items themselves have also received a slight overhaul. Each item you find belongs to a specific kind of mechanic, each one a character from a Gundam series, and each one with its own attributes. For example, the Melee Sensor, which improves close-combat capability, is more effective when Rain Mikamura of "G Gundam" installs it. Furthermore, combining various mechanics and equipment can provide special bonuses to the items you install. If you use more than one item from the same mechanic, you get a tech bonus that boosts the overall stats of every item equipped to the mobile suit. If you use more than one of the same item, no matter the mechanic, then these bonuses can be combined to truly skyrocket the overall stats of your suit. Certain combinations of equipment even unlock new abilities, such as making it easier to take over enemy fields, preventing enemy ranged weapons from stunning your mobile suit or other such power-ups.
Dynasty Warriors: Gundam isn't a bad-looking game. Many of the mobile suits are well modeled, and each is instantly recognizable. The attack animations are quite shiny and do an excellent job of modeling their animated counterparts. The biggest problem from which DW: Gundam suffers is that the stage design is boring and occasionally bizarre. Official Mode mostly replicates space-based battles, with only a scattered handful of ground battles involved, which means that you're going to see a lot of black empty space and boring colony insides. It isn't exactly the developer's fault, since most army combat in Gundam occurs in space. The real problem is in Original Mode's dull level designs. Boring, repetitive lava caves are bad enough, but some of the other stages suffer from really strange design issues. Most notable is in the city and ancient ruin stages, where invisible walls aplenty block areas that should really be easy for your mobile suits to traverse — even preventing something simple like leaping over a building. Beyond that, game looks fine, although a few of the cut scenes are rather unspectacular, as if the special effects were missing.
Dynasty Warriors: Gundam's dub is surprisingly good for what it is. Many, although not all, of the actors who voiced the characters in the DVD release return to reprise their roles here. The new voices of never-before-dubbed characters are mostly good, although Puru's voice actress may drive even the most dedicated fans to hit mute. There are a few stinkers, but the overall quality is a bit higher than usually found in Dynasty Warriors titles. Of course, the Japanese voice option is available too, with all of the original actors. On the other hand, the music is dull, and I could not, for the life of me, remember a single song that played during any of the many combats I encountered in Dynasty Warriors: Gundam. Nothing got my heart racing, and nothing annoyed me, they just ... were.
It's Dynasty Warriors with giant robots. If the thought of playing another Dynasty Warriors title makes you ill, then Dynasty Warriors: Gundam isn't for you. However, if you enjoy the thought of watching Kamille Bidan and Heero Yui team up to blow away an army of Zakus and Z'Goks, or if you're simply a fan of the hack-and-slash gameplay that the Dynasty Warriors franchise provides, then you could do far worse than Dynasty Warriors: Gundam. While it suffers from some balance issues, particularly involving shooting-heavy mobile suits, it's still a fun title, and a perfect addition to any Gundam or Dynasty Warriors fan's library.
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