Dynasty Warriors: Gundam Reborn
System(s): PS3 (Also available for Vita)
Release Date: July 1, 2014
Publisher (Developer): Koei Tecmo (Omega Force)
ESRB Rating: “Teen” for Blood, Violence, Mild Language, Sexual Themes
Playing a Dynasty Warriors game reminds me a bit of eating a bowl of rice. Dynasty Warriors is basic video games. You push buttons, 50 men die, and repeat ad infinitum. While the medium has continued to cross breed and shoot for cinematic and storytelling ambitions, Dynasty Warriors‘ formula for the most part hasn’t changed since its inception almost a decade ago, and has been applied to numerous spin offs. That makes it a complementary vehicle to the Gundam franchise, the definitive “real robot” anime whose franchise and model kit merchandise has seen so much success that it has officially folded in on itself and moved into an anime about characters fighting with model kits.
Dynasty Warriors: Gundam Reborn acts as a sort of “reboot” for the franchise, tweaking numerous features and elements to refine the formula. An official Story Mode returns, based on the Universal Century and Cosmic Era timelines, that provides a short retelling of some core series, as well as an Ultimate Mode that contains multiple brief crossover scenarios. Combined with a detailed upgrade system, there is a heaping mountain of content for fans of the series. If Dynasty Warriors is a meal of rice, then Koei has stacked several sacks of it in front of you.
According to Gundam Reborn‘s Story mode, the Gundam series is about 14 year old boys accidentally stumbling into giant robots, reluctantly piloting them, losing their innocence in the horrors of war, and then finally accepting that they mustn’t run away. Along the way they fight their friend on the other side, have some girl die in battle to inspire them to keep fighting, and win battles with the power of emotions. There’s always political back dealing, sometimes their practical science-based robots have systems powered by emotions, and occasionally there’s racism. There are also scenes so angsty, (see: Zeta Gundam) I was expecting the story to reveal clones made from the protagonist’s mother and overt Christian symbolism to appear. (Spoilers?) Series diehards are probably about to crucify me for my oversimplification, but that’s about the gist of it.
It’s worth noting that, as the progenitor of the real robot genre, Gundam created the archetypes, but damned if it isn’t dedicated to them. Regardless, the story mode provides a decent rundown of the represented series’, though the Universal Century focus excludes Gundam Wing, which received the most exposure for US audiences. Unless you buy the DLC. They’ve got your pretty boy Gundam Seed battles, if you’re into that.
The Ultimate Mode is for those less invested in the canon and more into mixing and matching the million mobile suits of the series. Here players are given several quicker-paced, crossover campaigns that allow you to mix and match pilots across the series, and biff robots across universe lines. This includes Wing and G Gundam. It also means much less scenario-specific dialogue. You get the joy of situations where Domon Kasshu yells “I see it! A single drop of water!” entirely out of context and without concern for its appropriateness for the situation. It lacks the detail of the Story Mode scenarios, but its lack of restrictions give you a bit more of a sandbox to blow up hundreds of Zakus.
Where’s my damned soy sauce?
Despite the obvious care put into satisfying the Gundam fans, it can’t stop Dynasty Warriors: Gundam Reborn from feeling rooted in a PS2 era design document. While it looks reasonably good, considering the sheer amount of enemies on screen, it still lacks a sense of presence and weight. Everything is built in a way that undermines the sense of place and scale. Levels are composed of mazes and empty fields, populated with basic structures and geometry, and any sense of verticality is almost non-existent. This is true even during space battles. The limited thrust capabilities of the machines seems even more absurd as they fall back to the ground, despite the lack of gravity. While it makes sense from a game perspective, it fails to sell the fiction of piloting a massive machine.
Dynasty Warriors: Gundam Reborn is rife with limitations like this. Gundams are equipped with multiple weapons, but they can only be used by performing combos. Even form changes work this way. The fields are populated with hundreds of enemies, but they’re almost entirely brain-dead, often standing around or drifting aimlessly. On occasion you’ll see one of your teammates trade blows with them, but they’re mostly content to spawn out of nowhere or pop in from the fog of the horizon. There are multiple objectives that ostensibly have you performing different tasks, but mostly have you trekking across the map to beat up robots in another area. Take more territory to move up your frontline? Beat up robots. Save an ally in need of help? Beat up robots. Take down a ship that’s attacking your base? Beat up robots. It’s so transparently game-y that it might as well have you moving to an area and hitting the square button until a bar goes down.
The world never feels dynamic or alive, or even truly there. There’s an idea of push and pull to the battles, of drama on the battlefield, but it all takes place in the abstract and never in front of you. Futhermore, the controls feel strangely incompetent at times, with the camera and lock on system being near useless, and battles against anything other than enemy hordes feeling awkward. The tools it gives you are too wide reaching to hone in on specific targets with any degree of satisfaction.
There may also be sack piles of content here, but it remains largely repetitive and interchangeable. If you showed me two random, key scenarios from Dynasty Warriors: Gundam Reborn, I’d be damned if I could tell you which one was which. If this was a meal, it would consist of twenty courses of plain bowls of rice. Sometimes they’d change the design of the bowl.
Now I love rice, and I could eat it for days. (This is where I play to the Asian-American stereotype, folks.) But give me some vegetables with it. Cut me up some onions or sprinkle some seasoning. Give me some gods damned soy sauce! Dynasty Warriors: Gundam Reborn is not that. It’s a bowl of rice. A plain bowl of rice. A rice bowl with nothing on it. See how many times I’ve talked about rice? That’s about how repetitive this game is. It’s a massive, filling meal that will warm you up and send you on your way, and that’s about it.
Even with that said, I somehow can’t stop playing Dynasty Warriors: Gundam Reborn. I’ve put more hours into this game than I have some of my favorite games of all time. Granted, a lot of those are quite short, but it’s not like this one is really showing me something new hour after hour either. Gundam Reborn does just enough to keep the basic, lizard brain functions coming back for more. It taxes me just enough that it becomes endlessly compulsive, if never actually compelling. Likewise, the story content does just enough to satisfy the 14 year old in me, awakening the same part of me that shamelessly consumes mountains of tokusatsu.
Dynasty Warriors will continue to live on eternally, and Gundam will continue to be made. There are Dynasty Warriors games with samurai, Greeks, tank punching martial artists, British and French soldiers killing each other, rubber pirates, and bomb throwing elves in a green hat and skirt. There are also enough Gundam spin offs and series that I fully expect a Mobile Suit Gundam: Dogs of War anime about a 14 year old boy and his dog during the One Year War. Or maybe a game where Gundams play dodgeball with Ultraman and kaiju. Oh wait.
In conclusion: I like rice. I could eat it all day.
Site [Koei Tecmo]