Release Date: June 12, 2012
Publisher (Developer): Atlus (Sting)
ESRB Rating: “Teen” for Alcohol Reference, Fantasy Violence, Mild Blood, Mild Language and Mild Suggestive Themes
Pros: Tactics Points must be acquired to launch successful attacks, earn better battle ratings and do well. There are multiple difficulty levels. If you lose a battle, you retain earned experience and improved weapon mastery. No perma-death for story characters. You can make enemies fall off the map with attacks, killing them. There are multiple endings and a new game plus option.
Cons: Not playable on Vita. Tutorial isn’t very helpful. Story doesn’t stand out as much as the other Dept. Heaven games. Preparing troops is complicated, almost overly so. Non-story characters can permanently die in a battle. Battles are really long.
Overall Score: One thumb up and one thumb down, 75/100, C, * * 1/2 out of 5
Sting’s Dept. Heaven series are an acquired taste. They’re unique strategic RPGs that tend to sit just outside of what people would consider a normal RPG experience. Of course, this is a series that is also being released completely out of order, and even the entries that have been released don’t have discernible ties to one another. Gungnir, the ninth entry, delivers what fans of the series already expect and attempts to be more newcomer friendly with a more relate-able and typical storyline, but its intricacies may still keep away people more accustomed to traditional strategic RPGs.
A young resistance leader meets a mysterious girl, grabs a lance and can suddenly change the world!
A massive war is going on in Gargandia between the Daltan and Leonican. The Daltan have lorded over the Leonican for years, and rage has built up to form a resistance. Giulio Raguel is part of that resistance. He strives to be as good as him, not to mention to also stand tall alongside his more successful brother, Ragnus. Though he’s young, he’s already proven himself and has worked his way up in the Esperanza resistance to become leader of his own platoon.
It’s when Giulio and his platoon are out on patrol that he finds a young woman that sets the story into motion. She’s being sold into slavery and even though she’s obviously a Daltan, Giulio sends his men to save her. Upon her rescue, Alissa joins Esperanza.
Coincidentally enough, after this chance meeting, Giulio and other members of Esperanza end up in a desperate battle. When things seem bleakest, Alissa sends Gungnir, a legendary lance, to appear before Giulio. Between the acquisition of an otherworldly weapon and the recruitment of a mysterious noble girl, Esperanza might finally have the chance to demand the Daltan treat the Leonican as equals.
If there’s one thing Gungnir is, it’s stylish. It’s a slick game with a unique style, just like the other Dept. Heaven games. Character art is detailed, the isometric viewpoint is well presented and there are lots of different battlefields. Even the more generic soldiers in your army still look pretty cool. Items in the environment can be destroyed to perhaps earn a useful items or certain locations reached for Tactics Points. Not to mention the soundtrack fits everything perfectly, with every moment accompanied by pitch-perfect music.
This is important, because a game needs to be really pretty when battles are going to stretch on far longer than they should. Gungnir has some of the longest strategic RPG battles I’ve ever experienced, and they start out long. In most strategic RPGs, it isn’t unusual for a later battle to take 15, 20 or even 30 minutes to complete. You don’t expect that from the very beginning. It especially seems out of place considering Knights in the Nightmare and Yggdra Union‘s battles built up to being longer and more complicated, but started out fairly short and manageable. Knights in the Nightmare fans will especially be shocked.
Gungnir‘s flow of battle is also set apart as it’s more traditional, but also introduces a somewhat complicated Tactics Points system that can often greatly influence the outcome of battles. As you move your units around the field, they’ll earn Tactics Points. They can also increase the amount of Tactics Points they can earn and hold by reaching certain points on the map. Once you acquire enough, you can put these Tactics Points towards special attacks. You can choose which characters you move and use during your turn, and once they’ve earned enough Tactics Points you can use Scramble, Beat and Boost abilities that make characters attack sooner, improve attack power, improve defense and sometimes a few other actions that make winning a battle easier.
On the plus side, Gungnir is like other Sting Dept. Heaven games in that once you realize what you should be doing and how to do it, playing will become second nature. You’ll understand everything and might even be surprised when other people are complaining about the battle system or character management. It will get to the point where you’ll savor every experience and even be okay with losing battles because losing a battle allows you to replay it and level-grind your characters. I even found myself looking forward to the eventual New Game + once I reached the end, because I knew my gold and equipment gems would carry over. It meant it’d be much easier to try for a different ending, and eventually see all endings.
The more time you spend with Gungnir, the better it gets.
Like all Dept. Heaven games, Gungnir requires a substantial investment before players really get attached to it. It involves complicated systems that start out overwhelming and eventually make sense. You need to spend time a lot of time with Gungnir before you really start to enjoy it. The thing is, a lot of people won’t have that kind of time or patience to dedicate to battles and learning the system. It’s a good strategic RPG that will definitely challenge players, but odds are only the truly devoted fans of strategic RPGs and Sting will stick with it.