Many years ago, when I was still dumb enough to purchase games based solely on how impressive the back of the box was, I purchased a Gundam game. I believe it was Gundam Side Story 079, and it was my first, and until recently, only exposure to the Mobile Suit Gundam franchise. Now you might be asking yourself why someone would buy a Mobile Suit Gundam game unless they were fans of the franchise. My answer to that question is “giant robots.” At that point in my gaming life, I was obsessed with giant robot games and for good reason. What better way is there to spend an afternoon than stomping around a battlefield, towering over your foes, and destroying them like the insect they are? However, Gundam was a new experience for me. The games I played had mechs that looked like bi-pedal tanks and fought with mostly conventional tank-based weaponry, but not those “gundams” as I called them. They looked like people, with heads, faces, and arms that held guns; furthermore, they didn’t fight like the mechs I was used to either. Sure, there were machine guns, cannons, and missiles, but there were also energy swords. To me, giant robots fighting with energy swords was not something I’d ever thought to experience without chemical aid. Today, all I really remember about Gundam Side Story 079 is that when I went to sell it to the local independent used game store in the mall, the proprietor’s eyes got big as saucers when he came upon the case, only to transform, a second later, into the visage of a child that got underwear for Christmas when he opened the case and discovered (to both of our surprises) that the disc was missing. And for as long as I still shopped there, he would ask me about it to no avail.
But I’m not here to wax nostalgic about those days long past when I was in the middle of my “giant robot” period. I’m here to talk about the newest entry into the well-trodden Dynasty Warriors series. In the interest of full disclosure, let me say that I went into this game cold. I’d never played a Dynasty Warriors game before, but I knew their reputations: One fighter versus a mindless and endless rush of bad guys often based on real historic people, places, and battles. This particular game eschews the historical setting for a science fiction/anime aesthetic, and trades human warriors for my old friend, the giant robot. Gundams are back, and it was my job to put Dynasty Warriors Gundam 3 through its paces.
I should get this out of the way right now: Dynasty Warriors Gundam 3 is not a very good game. It’s not a very good hack and slash action game, and it’s not a very good giant robot game either. What it is, is a Dynasty Warriors game through and through with all that “a Dynasty Warriors game” implies. It’s you, your mobile suit, and your twitch versus endless waves of bad-guys that exist solely for you to destroy. There is a story to be had somewhere in there, but I’ll be damned if I could be made to give a crap about it. Characters talked, but the dialog was often so banal that too much sent me sliding toward coma-town. I guess if you’re invested in the Gundam franchise, the story might be more meaningful to you. But I’m not, so it wasn’t.
This dialog is at the crux of my main issue with the game. Visually, Dynasty Warriors Gundam 3 is a nice looking game. The cell-shaded graphics are colorful and the mobile suits are suitably impressive with their guns and heads and weird back and shoulder adornments of often indeterminable function. However, the screen is so cluttered by a needlessly complex HUD that measures four or five states with enough animations for 40, a large confusing map that never seems to be oriented in the direction you expect it to be, massive enemy formations, and worst of all, characters that keep popping up on the screen to taunt you, encourage you, or rattle off some claptrap about this plot point or that. When you combine those with your mobile suit, often what I estimate as 30% of the screen was filled with extraneous images. Often, in all the commotion, I would suffer a strange sense of vertigo or get that feeling of being in a swimming pool that’s filled up too high. In all my years of gaming, never have I experienced such a feeling before. Yes, the graphics were good; I just wish the game had let me experience them without also making me suffer through a screen covered in clown puke.
Looking beyond the graphics, the rest of the game doesn’t quite do enough to make up for the eye torture I had to endure while playing. Upon firing up the game, you are faced with the option of missions, emails, mobile suit upgrade labs, and a store where you can purchase skills, training, and mobile suit licenses that are required to pilot the more advanced mobile suits you gain access to. The missions all boil down to the same thing. You are dropped onto a battlefield; you fight your way through it capturing zones as you go. Some zones are empty, while others contain structures that will boost your abilities for as long as you hold them. Your ultimate goal is to reduce the enemy battle strength to the point that their commander enters the field. Killing the enemy commander wins the battle and finishes the mission. Of the six types of mission you can undertake, none of them alter that formula. The best you can hope for is some mid-mission bonus goal, like destroying some special enemy squad, or the appearance of a mech even larger than yours. Those fights are particularly difficult because they occur at the end of the missions when your own battle strength is so low that death means game over. In effect, you are your forces’ commander and when you fall, you lose, just like they do. However, their commander doesn’t even show up until the very end while you spend the entire level taking damage. Although, you will respawn for as long as your battle strength remains above zero and your command center doesn’t fall into enemy hands.
Fighting your way to the enemy command center is accomplished by a very familiar combo system utilizing melee attacks, ranged attacks, emergency dashes, and charge attacks. There is no real depth to the system, however. While each mobile suit has its own kinds of attack, the command inputs are the same. On one hand, that means you don’t have to learn a ton of different move sets, on the other hand, it makes each mobile suit feel exactly like all the others. In addition, any attack that doesn’t connect with the enemy interrupts the potential combo. That’s a problem because there is no sense of contact when you hit an enemy, the camera is too close for you to get a good look at what’s directly in front of you, and because your mobile suit moves independently of the camera, you can find yourself fighting enemies that you can’t see and you can’t reorient the camera without taking your finger off the attack button. When you’re surrounded by enemies, a pause in the attack can mean the difference between survival and death.
You’re not always on your own during these fights, however. Every battle gives you an army just like the enemy. Unfortunately, your army mostly stands around and looks silly while their army all attacks you. They’re not all useless though. Most missions gift you with an assortment of friendly mobile suit pilots (or your buddy via split-screen and online co-op). They will damage the enemy, and are especially handy against some bosses. Also, when you get close enough to them you can initiate an overpowered “sp” attack that you execute in tandem.
Outside of missions, you have access to a terminal to read messages from the various characters (which you can build a rapport with and recruit as a partner or operator on certain missions) that help fill in plot details if you care enough to read them. There is also a mobile suit lab that lets you develop mobile suits from plans you win on the battlefield for defeating certain enemies. Once developed, you can upgrade them by boosting their various attributes or attaching special equipment that gives your mobile suit certain abilities like damaging enemies with an emergency dash or more resistance to ranged damage. This upgrade system is not without its flaws. Primarily, it’s convoluted. Developing mobile suits and upgrading mobile suits are handled by separate menus, often making it difficult to remember what option is where. Even selecting a mobile suit to develop or upgrade can be a pain as the various mobile suits are numerous, spread out over several screens, and indicated by tiny tiny pictures and nonsensical names written vertically in a hard to read font and color. Funds required to develop and upgrade mobile suits are also prohibitively tight. After a few hours, I had many different mobile suits I could develop and upgrade but couldn’t earn enough money to do so for more than a few. The carrot and stick aspect of doing missions to earn money to buy parts to become stronger to earn more money to buy better parts is there, however it short-circuits itself by being too stingy with the most important aspect. I don’t want to have to play for hours to earn enough money to increase my melee attack by only a few points. That makes me want to play the game less rather than more.
Further aggravating the money issue is the fact that you have to buy skills, training, and mobile suit licenses. I just couldn’t earn enough money to get out of the game what I wanted to get out of it. And who makes a game where training costs money? Seven hells, that’s a stupid idea, especially considering that the basic battle controls are very poorly explained with just a series of button icons and arrows that resembled some sort of demonic flow-chart of insanity. Most disappointing, however, was the license system. You can’t just pilot any mobile suit you develop. Most require you to purchase its license first. These are expensive, and honestly, I never could figure out what I needed to do to unlock more than the most basic one anyway. Yes, there are several mobile suit options that you can pilot without a license, just not any of the really good ones. If there’s one thing that will make me hate a game fast, it’s hiding or otherwise inhibiting my ability to experience what I think is going to be the best part of the game. Collecting mechs and upgrading them is what I look forward to the most in giant robot games, but Dynasty Warrior Gundam 3 went out of its way to keep me from doing so. For shame.
Overall, playing Dynasty Warriors Gundam 3 was just a tiring experience. It’s too cluttered, too noisy, the soundtrack is relentless J-pop madness, the dialog is incessant and pointlessly distracting unless you’re already a fan of the Gundam franchise, and worst of all, they hide the things I want to do the most behind layers of convoluted and unintuitive menus. What I think I’m trying to say is that Dynasty Warriors Gundam 3, while nice-looking, functional, fast paced, and fun in small doses, will not win over gamers who aren’t already die-hard fans of either the Gundam or Dynasty Warriors franchises.