Game Review

by Todd Ciolek,

Dynasty Warriors Gundam Reborn

PlayStation 3

Dynasty Warriors Gundam Reborn
The most famous mecha of the Mobile Suit Gundam franchise pile up in this battlefield brawler that once against takes its ethos from the Dynasty Warriors series. Over a hundred different robots are available to unlock and control during the game's crossover missions and recreations of established Gundam series.
Gundam is often at war with itself. At its most meaningful, it's a revolving mythos of savage conflicts amid orbital colonies. It's a space-robot melodrama proving that technology and exploration do nothing to keep otherwise decent people from slaughtering each other. Yet every Gundam creation is also an instrument for selling toys, models, merchandise, and a sweeping glamorization of the very violence that Gundam tries to critique.

Dynasty Warriors Gundam Reborn picks its side early. It nets over a hundred mecha from various points on Gundam timelines, and it sets them free in wide battlefields largely devoid of obstacles or intelligent foes. Hordes of Zeon Zaku, Federation GMs, and other standard-issue mobile suits cluster throughout the stages and fall quite easily before your arsenal of beam sabers, laser cannons, homing missiles, remote funnels, and anything else a mobile suit can carry into battle. And Reborn isn't too concerned about what any of the ensuing destruction might mean.

Will Gundam fans enjoy it? That depends on just what they like about Gundam.

Reborn keeps with the Dynasty Warriors ideal of crafting an elaborate stress-ball coated in fan bait. The individual foes are irrelevant; an average level's playtime spins the tally of destroyed enemy suits rapidly into the hundreds. Dynasty Warriors Gundam Reborn is about wrecking things in quick and stylish fashion, whirling through ranks of porcine, cyclopean Zakus who might raise a heat hawk axe on the higher difficulty levels. And you'd better enjoy that sort of rapid victory, because there's plenty of it in Dynasty Warriors Gundam Reborn.

There's a solid foundation in the gameplay. It's easy to jet around the battlefield, rocket into the air, and switch between close-range strikes and big-robot firearms. That makes for a nice little power fantasy at first, but repetition takes hold in every stage. Whether in wider arenas or cramped asteroid-base hallways, you soon fall into a familiar rhythm of smashing through dozens of enemies with each combo, thus building up a meter to pull off the really impressive, screen-filling attacks. Reborn makes small improvements: a Burst system with variable power-ups, battleship partners who carpet-bomb the playfield, and a greater variety of SP attacks. Yet that only helps so much when the opposition's dull in spirit and defense. Multiplayer modes include both split-screen play and online cooperation, but they're hampered by odd restrictions. Co-op players can only tackle stages they've already finished, which lessens the appeal of exploring the game together. Monotonous gameplay is always better shared.

The designers try to beat back the tedium with level objectives: portions of the playfield must be captured, legions can be paralyzed by destroying their commanders, and you're often called on to take out specific enemies or protect a teammate (Kayra Su has to get back safely now that she's just told her boyfriend she loves him, after all). The major antagonists put up more of a fight than the usual beam-saber meat, marking the only times a sensible player might be in danger of losing. That holds for much of the game. There's effort in places but a good deal of laziness in between. It feels cheapest when space battles play out on flat-plane battlegrounds, as though everyone's locked into an invisible terra firma.

Reborn never lacks in volume, at least. Like its predecessors, it isn't about what you do—it's about the characters and mobile suits you use to do it. With massive lineup of mecha and characters, there's plenty to customize with acquired schemata and pilot abilities. The various machines all look great, even if they've lost the cel-shaded look of Dynasty Warriors Gundam 3, and the pilot roster covers just about every series. Yet there's clear favoritism toward the popular and recent. The original Gundam series, the newly concluded Gundam Unicorn and the Gundam Seed universe get most of the attention, while fans of Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket, The 08th MS Team, G-Gundam, or (should they exist) Gundam X will find either paltry selections or nothing at all to suit them. But there's no pleasing everyone, at least not until Bandai reaches Dynasty Warriors Gundam 19 and includes every single robot from the franchise.

Rather than assemble any new broad storyline, Reborn is content with tributes and recreations. The bizarre all-star crossover of Dynasty Warriors Gundam 3 is absent, and instead Reborn brings back the Official Mode to trek through six Gundam tales. The original Mobile Suit Gundam, Zeta, and Char's Counterattack are all staples of this Gundam buffet, and Gundam Unicorn is, for better or worse, their modern successor. Gundam Seed and its sequel, SEED Destiny, round out the story mode. Remember Gundam Seed, that just-sorta-there series with the boring lookalike Hisashi Hirai character designs? And remember how SEED Destiny alienated even people who liked the original SEED? Well, Dynasty Warriors Gundam Reborn will remind you.

Each varied storyline attempts to compress a TV series or movie into a few hours of robot combat, and none of them succeeds. Plots emerge from jarring combinations of talking character cutouts, decent-enough mecha cutscenes, battlefield conversations, and washed-out framegrabs of the original animation. It's rapid and uninspiring, though at least it doesn't bog down on minutia (it's the opposite of Fist of the North Star: Ken's Rage 2, which spent too much time on forgettable jobber villains). For the Gundam fan, it's strange to see familiar stories crammed into CliffsNotes; Char's Counterattack, being a movie, lasts about three battles here. The newcomer may wonder just why Gundam is popular at all.

Aside from the major storylines, Reborn offers an Ultimate Mode that pays no heed to continuity. Characters from different series trade a few expository lines before diving into original missions and variations on Gundam anime scenes. There's little life in any of it, though it's amusing to see Bright Noa's portrait grimace through his lines with the same contractual apathy that Harrison Ford shows Star Wars.

Besides, there's something unnatural about the whole concept of Dynasty Warriors and Gundam mixing. The triumphant melees and massive enemy pileups of Dynasty Warriors fit some anime series just fine. Knocking around rival pirates suits the adventuresome tone of One Piece, and an estimated 95 percent of Fist of the North Star involves glowing ubermenschen slaughtering Mad Max thugs who prey on the innocent. That doesn't quite work with Gundam, which often portrays enemies as sympathetic, heroes as remorseful, and conflict as all-destroying.

Even when indulging in hey-kids clips of cool robots dicing up enemy mecha, Gundam's never far from reminding the viewer, often ham-fistedly, that war is never pretty. But Reborn thinks it is. And so the game buries halfhearted attempts at drama under the indulgent chaos of battle. It's tough to deliver meditations on humanity's inescapable vileness while keeping a four-digit tally of the mobile suits the player destroys, each mecha presumably holding a pilot. Perhaps all of them ejected just in time.

As Reborn is a digital-only release, Bandai Namco Games went with a somewhat cheaper localization than prior games. There's no English voice track, and the game's translation has some odd typos. The Japanese verison's anime-accurate soundtrack is also absent in places, replaced with largely humdrum battle anthems. Still, Gundam fans can take heart in one thing: with Bandai's anime plans derailed in North America, games like this may be the only way they'll release the likes of Gundam X, Gundam ZZ, or Turn A Gundam.

Dynasty Warriors Gundam Reborn does little more than its assigned duty as a playground for battle-mecha carnage. It's enjoyable in quick little brawls, never outright terrible but always a bit tedious. It falls short of capturing what really makes Gundam interesting—the clash of ideals, the inevitable tragedies, and the slick mecha battles that you can't enjoy with undiluted innocence. Reborn doesn't really try for that. It's a toybox full of Gundams, and you can rummage through it and play until boredom catches you. But it will soon enough.

Overall : C+
Graphics : B-
Sound/Music : C+
Gameplay : C
Presentation : B-

+ Plenty of variety in characters and mecha
The basic combat never rises above repetition

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