What’s a little strange about Koei’s prolific Dynasty and Samurai Warriors franchises is that, despite the sheer weight of additions to the catalogue, they’ve only ever really achieved a cult status in the West. Not that this is particularly a problem – a cult following is far more valuable than a half-interested casual following, as it buys up every single game without question – but it’s still difficult to consider the game to be particularly mainstream.
From the point of view of an elitist, comic shop-creeping, J-pop fan boy like myself, this is also no bad thing, as playing each and every addition to the Warriors franchise (and understanding the core gameplay with a smug look on my face since I didn’t have to play any tutorials or read an instruction books) is like being in a kind of discriminatory secret alliance, so a sequel to the mech-based variation of Dynasty Warriors is very exciting stuff.
For those who’ve not yet earned membership to the Secret Brotherhood of Warriors (that’s the unofficial name I’ve given to our elite club), the concept of the entire range of Samurai and Dynasty Warriors is pretty much uniform, as is the gameplay, and can be explained quite quickly and easily.
As a rule there are a few opposing armies, usually fighting to conquer/unite Japan/China, and you take command of one of the generals in a particular military might. In the case of the Gundam branch of the series, this army is built of the robotic ‘mech’ warrior, which gives the game a technological, futuristic slant.
The majority of the other games in the extensive series are – very loosely – historical in nature, so it’s this one aspect that gives Gundam 2 its edge. The weaponry and characters borrow heavily from manga and anime culture, and while the game plays out almost identically, it’s clear to see that little extra freedom has been enjoyed by the game’s designers.
What differentiates the Dynasty Warriors titles from other fighting games is the thick layer of basic strategy that plasters over the superficiality of the brawler aspects. Not to suggest this is in any way an RTS, or the kind of tactical statistics gathering that’s going to repel arcade gamers, but adds just enough intrigue to add weight to the battles.
Regardless of your level of Brotherhood membership, there’s no getting around the fact that much of Gundam 2 boils down to button mashing. Depending on your level of tolerance for running around the landscape for the next regiment of mech soldiers and giving your thumb a damn good work out will relate directly to how much enjoyment you get from the game.
Likewise, the position that the game places you within an army – which is seldom at the top levels of command – means that a host of other regimental leaders, both friend and foe, will join the fray at varying intervals and direct their own areas of the skirmish. Again, there’s a lot of personal preference dictating how much this will affect your enjoyment of the game. If the idea that, despite your own successes in the fight, the fact that you’re but one part of the army can mean that the outcome is still in the enemy’s favour sounds intriguing, then Gundam 2 will please. But if you’re of the equally reasonable opinion that the game really should hinge on your actions (being as you’re the only human player in the battle) then it’ll be frustrating when the general throws the battle in the enemy’s favour.
The latest generation of consoles at least introduced a level of online play to the Warriors games, and Gundam 2 squeezes of couple of different connected multiplayer modes into the mix. The war mode is perhaps the most entertaining, which pits four online players against a variety of missions objectives and drops them into a bot-filled level to fight their way to success.
Add to this a couple of deathmatch modes (which could do with the option to bring in some CPU controlled opponents, to pad things out a bit, given the emphasis the game places on hacking through a busy battlefield) and a split screen local co-op option, and there’s enough to do if you happen to have a few buddies who also enjoy Koei’s well-explored take on the beat-‘em-up genre and you should have no shortage of things to kill.
The laughable voice acting and atrocious dialogue has become something of a trademark of the Warriors games, and Gundam doesn’t disappoint (or, depending on your point of view, it’s very disappointing indeed). In the finest tradition of English dubbing over Far Eastern b-movies, the banter between the two sides is quite awful – but, as is often the case in these games, is so bad as to become quite endearing.
In the end, Dynasty Warriors: Gundam 2 is designed solely for a very niche audience. If you’re already a member of the Warriors cult, and are in need of a new addition to thrape your controller against, or you’re an ardent fan of the Gundam manga/anime and have any semblance of a clue as to what’s going on with the mech characters (and I don’t, which is why I’ve had to pretty much forgo any attempt to tell you about the baffling storyline), then Dynasty Warriors: Gundam 2 will be precisely what you’re expecting – and deliver on those expectations.
But it’s difficult to give such a specific game a high score, since anyone who decides to test it out as an possible opener to the series probably won’t be so easily impressed. Indeed, there’s a strong sensation of having joined the game half way through, and that everyone else in the game knows a hell of a lot more than you do.
This dislocation to the narrative and gameplay is a natural side effect of Koei’s long running series due to the amount of information and experience you’re expected to bring to the game. If that experience isn’t there, wringing much longevity from the button-mashing action will be difficult.
Members of the Brotherhood should add two to the score – possibly even three, if the first Gundam game was a personal favourite.