In 2003, I played my first Super Robot Wars game. At that time I was only a fledgling Gundam fan, with little knowledge of mecha and Japanese in general, but this series totally blew me away with its beautiful animation, and I’ve been hooked ever since.
For those who don’t know, Super Robot Wars (Super Robot Taisen) is a crossover, turn based strategy game like akin to Final Fantasy Tactics, Fire Emblem or Disgaea. One of the main drawing points of SRW though, is being able to use units and characters from various popular anime series, such as Gundam, Evangelion, and Macross, and other lesser well known in the west, like Mazinger Z.
As with said games, the missions are played out on a grid based map, with the player and enemies taking turns in moving, and attacking each other. Pilots level up as they defeat more enemies and learn new skills which can be cast in battle, such as increasing evasion and accuracy for one turn, or doing double damage on the next attack. Unit stats like HP, energy and weapons can be upgraded in between missions, and also equipped with parts dropped by enemies.
With all these different anime series in one place, you get some interesting crossover storylines. In recent games, Blue Cosmos from Gundam SEED allied with the Titans faction from Z Gundam, and in the latest game Super Robot Wars Z, there was a 4 way battle between enemies from Gravion, Aquarion, Mazinger, and the protagonists.
Banpresto have been pretty liberal with in jokes spawned from the crossover, such as Vega from Gear Fighter Dendoh being able to call for the launch of EVA-1, because the voice actress is the same in both animes. Or Shinji “the wuss” Ikari from Evangelion being bitchslapped around by Tetsuya from Great Mazinger until he mans the hell up.
There is also a distinction between the mechas from different series. The game seperates units into two classes, Real Robot and Super Robot. Real Robots are small, agile, and use conventional weaponary, but have low HP. Series which are classed as Real Robots are typically all Gundam series (with the exception of the crazy G Gundam), Macross, and Full Metal Panic. Super Robots are normally associated with the crazy Japanese robot designs from the 70s, having large amount of HP, using eye beams, rocket punches and the power of awesome to dish out huge damage, but these units usually have lower accuracy compared to their real counterparts.
One of the trademarks of the series is the chibi artstyle and awesome hand drawn animations for all the robots. Whenever you attack an enemy, you are treated with a side scrolling animation of your unit attacking the enemy, followed by the enemy counterattack. This may be just a Gundam shooting a beam rifle, or Getter Robo doing Shine Spark, but in recent years the developers at Banpresto have tried to keep the animations as faithful to the original anime as possible. Every new SRW game that comes out never ceases to amaze me with the detail that go into these animations. The recent release of Super Robot Wars Z on PS2 gave us hi-definition sprites for the very first time, resulting in some of the best eye candy ever seen.
In terms of strategy, things that you have to account for when attacking the enemy are terrain advantages, as some robots and weapons perform differently in air, land, sea or space. Powerful attacks are sealed off from use until pilots gain enough morale to use them, which is acquired through destroying an enemy or getting hit, which means you need to plan who gets kills in order to use your most powerful attacks on the boss.
Gameplay wise, the game is as hard as you want to make it. The game offers bonus points for completing optional special objectives during each mission, such as completing the mission in X turns, or defeating a certain boss before it runs away. These objectives vary from easy to requiring extreme planning, but trying to achieve all of them is one of the game’s challenges, because usually they unlock some nice secret characters/mecha late game. Hardcore fans often try the ‘no upgrade’ challenge, which in combination with the special objectives result in several broken controllers and rage resets.
Banpresto have also released a spin off series called Original Generation for GBA, and more recently a PS2 remake. As every SRW game contains at least a few original characters, the OG series is an original story with just Banpresto Originals and their respective plots. While the characters may be new and unfamiliar, the game is just as good, and plays almost the same as it’s mainstream counterparts.
Don’t be discouraged by the fact that the game is in Japanese. When I started playing I did not know a shred of Japanese, after playing often and using guides I actually managed to learn Hiragana/Katakana and some Kanji even, just from playing. That’s how awesome SRW is.
For any mecha fans out there that haven’t already played this game, I strongly urge to you try this series. For owners of PS2s, a good place to start is Super Robot Wars MX, one of the easiest entries in the series. For DS owners, there is Super Robot Wars W, and Super Robot Wars K which just came out recently. Sadly this is one series that will probably see an official English port or translation, but those who actually want to understand the story, AGTP have been working on translating some of the PS1 games for quite some time, but I wouldn’t hold your breath. Atlus have also translated Super Robot Wars: Original Generation 1 and 2 for GBA.
For those interested and looking to get started, here are some good resources to help you out: