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About Brad Hilderbrand

I've been covering the various facets of gaming for the past five years and have been permanently indentured to WorthPlaying since I borrowed $20K from Rainier to pay off the Russian mob. When I'm not furiously writing reviews, I enjoy RPGs, rhythm games and casual titles that no one else on staff is willing to play. I'm also a staunch supporter of the PS3.

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PSP Preview - 'Yggdra Union: We'll Never Fight Alone'

by Brad Hilderbrand on Sept. 6, 2008 @ 12:59 a.m. PDT

For years, strategy RPG fans have accepted repetitive, non-interactive battle sequences as the genre standard; few games have dared to break the mold. Yggdra Union, a card-based strategy RPG, blows through, shattering the mold into unrecognizable bits.

Genre: Role-Playing
Publisher: Atlus
Developer: Sting
Release Date: September 16, 2008

When Yggdra Union first appeared in 2006 on the Game Boy Advance, you likely paid no attention to it. I'll bet that most people wouldn't have known that Yggdra Union: We'll Never Fight Alone is an updated version of that title if I hadn't mentioned it. That's a shame, though, as this strategy RPG features incredible depth and nuance, and could be just what the doctor ordered when it comes to hardcore tactical fighting.

The game follows the tale of the young princess Yggdra, who has been expelled from her home by an invasion of the Imperial Army and is running for her life. Just as she's about to be captured, the young thief Milanor appears and helps Yggdra beat back her pursuers. Over subsequent battles, the two decide to meet up with some allies and form an army and take back Yggdra's kingdom, lest her Imperial foes threaten the rest of this once-peaceful land.

Yggdra Union is unique in that it's a card-driven RPG, but not in the traditional sense. Before every turn, you choose a card from your deck that dictates parameters such as movement (pooled among all units), special skills and weapon affinities for your attacker. However, the cards themselves have no bearing on the power or type of attacks you unleash — that's relegated to individual units and armies. Where the cards do come into play is skills and morale damage. Each card has a special skill that can be utilized when matched up with the proper unit, and after each battle, the card's POW rating determines how much morale damage you do to an enemy. Once a character's morale drops to zero, that leader's army is disbanded and disappears from the battlefield, and the unit is effectively "dead" for the rest of the fight.

The tactics don't end with selecting cards and utilizing skills, though, as weapon type, formation, and the flow of battle all play roles as well. The game's basic weapons (axes, swords, spears) are arranged in a sort of rock, paper, scissors alignment, meaning you must make extra consideration when positioning your troops for an attack. Furthermore, you can organize your armies so that they fall into formation behind the attack leader, allowing you to launch successive attacks against enemy forces. Paying attention to weapon types and formations is critical to victory, as ordering your armies correctly and positioning them just so allows for quick and fairly easy triumph, while getting caught in the wrong spot will lead to a hasty defeat.

Keeping the battles interesting is the skill meter, which fills as you play. You see, in Yggdra Union, you don't control the battles directly, but rather influence your army's attacks via the skill meter. If you choose to go into passive mode, your units' attack strength will drop, but the meter will fill more quickly, allowing you to utilize your selected card's skill when it reaches 100 percent. However, if you don't want to use a skill or need to dish out more damage to compensate for a stronger foe, you can switch over to aggressive combat, emptying the gauge in return for stronger attacks. This constant ebb and flow of battle keeps you on your toes, and it provides you with a bit more interactivity than simply watching the fight unfold, feeling helpless to assist your troops in any way.

If the game's starting to sound a bit complicated that is because, well quite frankly it is. There's a lot to keep track of at all times (I haven't even gone into individual character statistics, equipment and recovery items, and special victory conditions), and it's the sort of game that has the potential to easily overwhelm. Thankfully, the title provides a very comprehensive tutorial that is built right into the actual gameplay which allows you to easily learn the basic concepts. While there's still a lot you might not understand right off the bat, if you keep at it, you'll eventually start to unravel the secrets to victory.

There's a lot to like about Yggdra Union, including the sprite-based art style and intriguing combat. The game has received a slight visual overhaul from its GBA days, but it keeps the cute anime aesthetic, and there's something charmingly refreshing about watching all of the battles play out featuring 2-D sprites. It may be simple nostalgia for days gone by, but it really feels like this is the only sort of art style that could have worked for a game like this, and it fits the environment and mood perfectly.

So if you're a PSP owner looking for a hardcore strategy title to really dig into, then you would do well to check out Yggdra Union: We'll Never Fight Alone when it makes its debut later this month. Princess Yggdra and her friends will never fight alone, and now they're calling on you to join them in this epic battle.

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