It's only been a few months since publisher Atlus graced us with an English-translated version of Super Robot Taisen: Original Generation, part of a long-running Japanese strategy role-playing game series that's like a dream come true for fans of giant robot anime. After all, the series combines mecha designs from just about every famous franchise into its own universe. However, Original Generation is different because, as the name suggests, it has a completely original cast of characters and mechs, though they're clearly inspired by the likes of Gundam, Mazinger Z, Macross, Neon Genesis Evangelion, and any other influential sci-fi anime you can think of. Original Generation and its sequel hit stores a few years apart in Japan, so getting this visually improved, far more challenging follow-up in such close proximity to the first game is almost too much to handle. After all, this is another deep, involving, all-around excellent game that could easily last you many dozens of hours.
Super Robot Taisen: Original Generation 2 is a direct continuation of its predecessor, so not only does the story pick up soon after the climactic events of the previous game, but the overall level of challenge is quite a bit higher. If you've never played the previous game, this one will confound you with a storyline densely packed with many different characters, factions, and historical events. You'll also run into some surprisingly tough missions early on, where one or two missteps can run you smack into a game-over screen. These can be frustrating, but since you can save your progress at any time, it's possible to inch your way to victory. Suffice it to say, though, this game isn't well suited for a wide audience. However, it's perfectly suited to fans of Super Robot Taisen: Original Generation, who will appreciate the return of all of their favorite characters and mechs from the first game, as well as all of the new characters, mechs, gameplay tweaks, and challenges added to this sequel. Like the previous game, Original Generation 2 is a surprisingly huge game, spanning more than 40 big missions and offering lots of replay value on top of that. Since the missions are much tougher on average here, the game could easily last you not just for many days, but many weeks.
On top of being such a challenging game, Original Generation 2 will either grab you and not let go with its storytelling, or it will overwhelm you with just how elaborate the plot is. Original Generation 2 continues the story of a futuristic Earth's struggle to suppress worldwide war in the face of imminent danger from alien, otherworldly threats. It's not a thoroughly serious plot, as it leaves plenty of room for some silly banter between some of the younger characters in the story, but this is by all means an epic space opera, similar in scope to the episodic story arcs of classic sci-fi anime. Though the story here is told almost exclusively through text dialogue and still portraits of the different characters, the quality of the writing is good, bringing to life dozens of different characters, each with distinct personalities and agendas. And you can't help but be impressed by all of the thought and detail that's gone into this tale.
The story unfolds somewhat differently than that of the previous game, which let you choose from two different starting characters. In Original Generation 2, the story always starts out the same way, but there are various points in the plot that branch off, letting you choose to follow either one group of characters or another for the next sequence of missions. This gives you a chance to follow those characters you're most interested in, and it creates a lot of additional replay value, as well. The story of Original Generation 2 also gives you a lot of internal monologue from the different characters, lending you clearer insight into their personal views and motivations. Fans of the previous game will be downright happy to see the cast of Original Generation back in action in this sequel, complete with some new character portraits showing off a broader range of emotions.
Structurally, Original Generation 2 is just about identical to the first game, and it's also comparable to games like Fire Emblem. You'll get a big chunk of story between each mission (and sometimes during and throughout a mission), and once you get into battle, you'll be taking turns with your enemies controlling a number of unique mech units in battle. The typical turn involves an exchange of heavy firepower between pairs of mechs. You need to carefully decide where to move your mechs, which enemies to attack using what weapons, and when and how best to use your pilots' special abilities and your mechs' most powerful attacks. From mission to mission, your pilots and mechs will grow more powerful, and you have a good amount of flexibility in developing them all, which is where the role-playing elements intersect with all the turn-based strategy.
The game measures damage by the thousands of points, and this, along with some insanely over-the-top attack animations (many of them new or redrawn since the last game), really does create the sense that immensely powerful war machines are doing battle. Initially, you'll have to command maybe 5 to 10 mechs in a mission, but the battles grow substantially larger in scale as the game proceeds, up till when you'll be controlling closer to 20. Some mechs work particularly well in groups, possessing unique special abilities and team attacks. Others are very powerful by themselves, and others you'll simply like for their appearances and special weapons. This game is practically bursting with great mechs and characters, but you'll naturally want to stick to some personal favorites, so that they can gain most of the battlefield experience, benefit from purchased upgrades, and use some of the powerful items you find.
The handful of gameplay tweaks in Original Generation 2 don't substantially change the way this game plays compared with the first one, but they do add depth and some useful new features. It's now possible for some pilots to execute devastating chain attacks, letting them strike several opponents in a row in a single turn using a melee weapon. You'll be fighting foes in such large numbers later on that this can really be a life saver. Later on, you'll also gain access to "frames," which are special equipment that can significantly modify both the form and the function of certain mechs. There are a number of new unique abilities that your pilots may learn, as well as many new weapons and team attacks to look forward to. Many of the missions are longer and more complicated this time, packing in numerous surprises and often culminating in a tough boss fight of some sort. So you'll need to strike hard but be conservative with your mechs' energy reserves and your pilots' special abilities. The way that offensive and defensive support abilities work has also changed somewhat, but like in the last game, it's possible to get pairs of mechs either to attack in succession or to take hits for one another.
Original Generation 2 doesn't look or sound any different from its predecessor on first impression, but dig a little deeper and you'll find lots of new and retouched graphics and audio. The plain-looking overhead tactical maps where you make your moves once again cut away to some fantastic-looking animated combat sequences as opposing mechs tear into each other. Many of the biggest, most dramatic attacks from the previous game have all been redone this time around, looking even more remarkable than before. New theme songs for new characters have also been added, joining the memorable, energetic tunes of the first game. Original Generation 2 is a time-consuming game, so you'll appreciate having the option to easily skip combat animations during those times when you're just going through the motions of mopping up enemy forces. However, the animations give this game much of its personality, and nowhere is it clearer that this game is a loving tribute to giant robot anime than from watching these great sequences.
If you enjoyed Super Robot Taisen: The Original Generation, then this sequel will deliver just about everything you'd want from a follow-up, without shaking up or dumbing down a great formula. If you've never played the first one but the sequel sounds interesting, you should probably play the first one prior to diving into the second. Give these games a chance and you won't regret it.