Super Robot Taisen: Original Generation Review

A few minor issues barely put a dent in this anime-inspired strategy role-playing game, which delivers a great story and dozens of interesting missions.

It tells you something that publisher Atlus didn't alter the Japanese title of Super Robot Taisen: Original Generation in the process of bringing this game overseas: This is one of those games that's specially suited to a particular crowd. Some of that crowd could tell you that the game is part of a popular, long-running strategy role-playing series also known as Super Robot Wars, though they presumed it would never leave Japan. After all, SRT throws just about every famous giant-robot anime franchise together into one universe. It's iconic stuff you've surely seen or heard of, like Gundam, Macross, and Mazinger Z. And you don't need to be an international copyright lawyer to imagine that the licensing rights involved in mixing all these up must be pretty complicated. However, this particular installment in the series dodges a lot of those issues by replacing all the licensed mechs with an original cast, though they clearly draw inspiration from numerous anime classics. That might seem like a cop-out, but as you get into Super Robot Taisen: Original Generation, something amazing occurs: You may easily wind up liking this game's cast and story just as much as other, more famous giant-robot material, if not more.

Giant robots and strategy role-playing game form a winning combination in Super Robot Taisen.
Giant robots and strategy role-playing game form a winning combination in Super Robot Taisen.

Knowing that SRT: Original Generation is quite similar to the better-known Fire Emblem series may help you to quickly understand what sort of game this is. It isn't quite as great as the two Fire Emblem games released for the Game Boy Advance in recent years, but it's not too far off. The games share the same structure, with rather long-winded but engaging cutscenes placed before and after some simple, entertaining turn-based strategy missions. The missions are scripted so that bits of the story also unfold during battle, so the story doesn't feel disconnected. Another similarity between SRT and Fire Emblem is how the stories feature a huge ensemble cast and spend plenty of time developing characters besides the main protagonists--in this case, a gifted and enthusiastic young pilot named Ryusei, and a cool-under-fire soldier named Kyosuke, either of whom you can choose as the main character at the beginning of the game.

Though the two main characters and their comrades eventually meet up and join forces, the first halves of their respective stories are completely different, yet interconnected. Just playing through one character's storyline (consisting of about 40 missions) could easily take 30 or more hours, and there's a ton of dialogue all throughout. So it's impressive just how much dialogue was crammed into this game, and the English localization turned out quite well for the most part. The story sequences consist simply of static postage-stamp-size character portraits and written dialogue, but even so, the different characters' personalities are made distinctive through the writing, and many characters are likable, even memorable.

A mostly plain presentation gives way to some great-looking combat sequences.
A mostly plain presentation gives way to some great-looking combat sequences.

Of course, the stars of the show are the giant robots themselves. While all the game's dozens of different robots are original designs, many of them look suspiciously similar to many of anime's most recognizable mecha, in a way that seems like a loving tribute rather than a cheap knockoff. And besides, many of these guys are genuinely cool in their own right and have plenty of great weapons for you to play around with, like laser-spewing, double-sided rifles and gigantic rocket-propelled swords that can cut spaceships in half with a single stroke. The mechs all have tough-sounding names like the Alteisen and Grungust Type 0, and the story explains a lot of their origins and introduces upgraded parts and new abilities to some of them, which helps you grow attached to the mechs even as you grow to like their pilots. A few of the mechs can even join together for combination attacks. All the mechs are depicted in a cutesy, "super deformed" style that seems contradictory to the mostly serious story about a world on the brink of alien invasion, but the art style is cohesive and it works. Some excellent, rousing music and great sound effects help the presentation substantially.

If you look past the story and characters toward the underlying gameplay, you'll find a good turn-based strategy game with role-playing elements. In any given battle, you control some number of giant robots (represented by little images of the robots' heads) and take turns with enemy forces moving your troops into position and attacking. Enemies that survive your assault may retaliate, but by using the right weapons and special abilities at the right times, and by positioning your units so that they can provide support, it's possible to prevail against intimidating odds. Factors like your pilot's stats and abilities, your weapons' range and ammo, and your giant robots' special equipment and the nearby terrain all play a part in the outcome of a battle. Your pilots earn experience and money in battle, which may be used to augment pilots' skills or your mechs' defenses. Between battles, you can equip different weapons on your mechs, boost your pilots' stats, and more, though the text-based menu system for all this could have been a lot easier to use.

Between the game's two lengthy storylines, there's plenty here to keep you busy for weeks.
Between the game's two lengthy storylines, there's plenty here to keep you busy for weeks.

When one unit attacks another, the game normally cuts away to a side-view animated sequence in which the robots exchange attacks as their pilots exchange some choice words. The sequences can be easily skipped, and you'll want to skip them to speed up the pace after you've seen these dozens of times. But they're really fun to watch for a while, and it's genuinely exciting to see each new robot's various attacks for the first few times. In fact, if not for these sequences, the game's bare-bones presentation would have been very bland (no surprise, since the game was originally released way back in 2002). The in-game menu system isn't very friendly, and you'll wish certain key data, such as a mech's remaining hit points, were presented more clearly. Together with the dense storyline, this makes the game feel rather uninviting at first. Getting over the learning curve is well worth it, though.

Basically, then, SRT: Original Generation takes Fire Emblem's cavaliers, knights, and archers and replaces them with giant robots, space battleships, and futuristic aircraft. Unlike in Fire Emblem, should one of your giant robots get blown up during a given mission, that doesn't mean it's permanently destroyed; apparently, they're just that tough. This makes the game quite forgiving for the most part, though there are a few difficult missions here and there, and the last few battles against some of the game's strongest opponents are particularly tricky and drawn out. Overall, the game presents a good level of challenge and an enjoyable, long ride that you could happily come back to for a while longer. Kyosuke, one of the game's many endearing characters, inspires his fellow soldiers to place some big bets by putting their lives on the line when the stakes are high. In the spirit of that advice, you'd be wise to consider taking a chance on an unlikely little game such as this.

The Good

  • Long, involving storyline features a great cast of characters (and giant robots!)
  • Entertaining turn-based strategy battles laced with role-playing elements
  • Exciting animations and some excellent music liven up the presentation
  • Two selectable main characters make for a lot of added replay value

The Bad

  • Convoluted plot and interface make the game difficult to get into
  • The underlying combat starts to feel repetitive before the story's over

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