When SRW NEO was first announced it was a game that was met with harsh resistance from fans of the SRW genre and it was quickly tossed aside by both Japanese and English fans a like. In this post I want to explore gameplay elements that were introduced with NEO and how they compare with the traditional SRW formula.
As more details of NEO emerged as it closed closer to the launch date, it started making more and more fans hesitant about it. When it finally launched in the October of 2009, it met with very little financial success and was marked down as a stinker by most fans. As you read about you get to see that most people were disheartened by the fact that it was on the Nintendo Wii – a game system seemingly made for little children and grandparents, not a console for ‘true gamers’. Others mocked it for not being a ‘true’ SRW because it did not feature 2D attacks and used 3D rendering for the battle animations instead. Perhaps the most damaging aspect to fans was the cast list – it was something that was completely different to what featured previous SRW games. Simply said, there were no real robots. Nothing from the Gundam franchise nor from Macross, Nadesico or Dragonar; every robot show featured in NEO was from a super robot show.
I purchased Super Robot Wars NEO about a year ago to actually find out what made a lot of people write this game off. There weren’t many English reviews to read nor videos on youtube that delved into why this game was disliked. With what I could find were just a few people recycling the comments from the previous paragraph. For a time I thought the same as well, I ignored NEO when it was launched, I simply read it was for the Wii and never looked back to it. Something inside me stirred and made me want to find out just how bad this game really was. It had been out for a while, now much cheaper and I also had recently acquired a Wii so I was able to play it too.
So to start off with, let’s go over the cast list. The game features 14 anime shows and the Banpresto Originals that lead the over-arching storyline. Those marked with * make their debut with NEO.
- Mazinger Z
- Great Mazinger
- Jushin Liger *
- New Getter Robo *
- Sengoku Majin GoShogun
- NG Knight Lamune & 40 *
- Galaxy Cyclone Braiger
- Zettai Muteki Raijin-Oh
- Genki Bakuhatsu Ganbaruger *
- Nekketsu Saikyou Go-Saurer *
- Kanzen Shouri Daiteioh *
- Shippuu! Iron Leaguer *
- Mobile Fighter G Gundam
- Lord of Lords Ryu Knight *
You may be noticing that the game does include a Gundam show – despite the fact that I said it didn’t early. Well, when it comes to G Gundam, its a show that’s already on the fringe of what a typical Gundam show is like, it’s much closer in tone to the many super robot shows that feature in NEO. Any way, this game features 8 shows that make their debut in a SRW game and is also the only instance in which every Eldran title is in a single game, including the 4th show, Daiteioh, which was planned as an anime show but only ever made it to the pilot stage and was cancelled. NEO treats Daiteioh as a proper show with theme music, voiced characters, enemies, plot developments and so forth.
As for the other shows; Lamune & 40, Ryu Knight and Iron Leaguer are all shows that feature robots that look more ‘chibi’ and cartoony than they do actual giant robots, probably another reason that turned away SRW fans. While the four Eldran shows, Raijin-Oh, Ganbaruger, Go-Saurer and Daiteioh all feature classrooms of children as their lead characters – something I can imagine also turning off gamers.
In terms of which shows are just tagging along, the two Mazingers, GoShogun, Braiger and G Gundam all play the role of veterans that have already fought their battles, defeated the empires and enemies that they fought in their own series. G Gundam’s only representative is Domon who is around because the original enemies have stolen Devil Gundam Cells and Domon makes it his mission to make sure the DG Cells are destroyed for good. So the story takes centre stage for the 4 Eldoran, the 3 chibi robot shows along with New Getter Robo & Juushin Liger.
The gameplay in this game is probably what makes it stand out in my opinion. The first major shift people notice is the fact that the game takes place on the 3D map and does away with the 2D grid based map that has been featured in almost every SRW game to date. I can imagine this turned away fans, as changing something so basic for a franchise is a very risky move. Seemingly turned out risky for Banpresto as the game flopped. But in my eyes this feature opened up a whole new world of possibility for SRW games as I’ll try and explain it to you next.
With no 2D grid, units are placed on a free roaming 3D map that includes obejcts such as cliff edges, skyscrapers, hills and other objects that occupy 3D space. Movement is not completely free as the game is still an Tactical RPG and the movements of units need restriction. NEO does this but evolves the restriction to apply to 3D space. Instead of having a limit of being able to move, for example, 6 squares in a traditional SRW game, in NEO a similar unit would be limited to moving 6 ‘paces’ in any given direction, not just the 8 cardinal directions imposed by the 2D grid. What I mean by ‘paces’ is that each unit’s movement range is defined by circles of different radius. Weapons also adhere to the same circular ranges.
Another interesting aspect to the map system are the sizes of units on the map itself. Traditionally all robots in a SRW game have a size stat that is taken into account for damage calculation, however physically on the map, every unit takes up the same size. For NEO things are a lot different as larger units like the super robots GoShogun or Bryger take up much larger room on the map than smaller units such as Ryu Knight Zephyr or Diana A. What this means for gameplay is that you have to pay attention to where you place units and how you are able to navigate over the terrain. Smaller units will be able to slip in between buildings or enemies, but larger units may have to go the long way round. Obviously this can all be ignored if the unit is capable of flying. This also means when you are faced with large monstrous boss characters, they actually take up a huge chunk of the map rather than just being a single squared tile on the map.
The attack system is also something that is largely different from a usual SRW game. This game introduces attack abilities, which means for every unit, each attack will have some kind of bonus ability that activates when they use that attack. Traditionallty, the ability ‘Hit & Away’ is usually something that is a pilot skill that works for all attacks, in NEO however only certain attacks for certain units will hold this ability, so if you want your unit to actually hit first then move, then you have to use that attack. Other attributes include; Fire Burn which deals extra burn damage, Stun which disables enemies for a turn and Freeze which lowers enemy stats . There are others too such as Anti-Air and Anti-Ground attacks which do more damage if you are fighting units in the air or on the ground. One interesting ability that is unique to NEO is the knockback ability, which as the name implies, allows you to force a unit to stumble backwards a certain distance. This may seem trivial but NEO is a game where being able to push about units actually gives another level of strategy, what I mean is that if a unit is pushed back and crashes into another object(be it another unit or building/wall), then that unit takes damage. This is also taken into account when pushing units over ledges and cliffs where if you cause a unit to fall off they will take damage too. However, the most interesting thing is that, these abilities are not just restricted to your allies, enemy units are fully capable of knocking back your allies or inflicting burn damage and as the game progresses you’ll meet grunts who just love throwing your units back all the time.
Another aspect to the weapons are how some can be used in straight lines, but if there is an object blocking the path then that weapon is unusable, to get around it you can use attacks that arc over objects and these allow you to hit enemies behind these obstructions. A new kind of attack introduced for NEO is called Assault Attacks, this is a type of MAP attack that allows a unit to pass through several enemies in a straight line, but also damages them as you move past. This means that if you have a unit that is surrounded, a traditional SRW wouldn’t allow that unit to move and this applies in NEO too, however with Assault Attacks your unit can escape from being surrounded and damage a few enemies along the way out. Like weapon abilities, enemies are also able to use Assault Attacks. This is troublesome as when usually faced with a boss character one of the basic SRW strategies is to surround it with your strongest units and keep back your weak ones, in NEO however, if surrounded then a boss can use an Assault Attack to escape from being surrounded and charge for your weaker units. Yikes!
If you’ve played the Z series of SRW games, you’ll probably notice when you surround an enemy you often get yellow letters appearing over the enemy, this is a way the game allows you to deal more damage to a unit. In SRW NEO, this system is taken to a logical next step. Every unit on the field has an imaginary circle that is divided into 4 quadrants and if you place a unit in one of these quadrants you can increase the damage the attacking unit does to an enemy. If you surround an enemy with 4 units then you gain a 100% boost in attack power and a 30-50% boost in accuracy, though the attack power increase is capped to 9999 to avoid attacks getting too powerful. This system allows weak characters to actually have a chance of making an impact on a stage. Yet again, the enemy is able to use this system and later in the game, tougher enemies often use this to their advantage.
One major aspect that is different to normal SRW games is the battleship and how it behaves. At the start a traditional SRW stage, you select a certain number of units and those are your units for the rest of the stage. However in NEO, the battleship allows you send a unit back to the bench and launch a completely different unit that wasn’t selected. This may seem broken, but the selected unit will often start with base Willpower meaning most of it’s best attacks will be unusable until you build up the Willpower again.
Seishins, or Spirit Commands, have also been modified for NEO. Seishins now come in 3 flavours, in levels ranging from 1 to 3. Level 1 Seishins are weaker and Level 3 are stronger. Seishins get upgraded gradually as a character levels up. Costs also change with level ups, some get cheaper to cast, such as Accelerate and Flash and some get more expensive like Valour/Hot Blood. Though of those that get more expensive, it is often due to their effects becoming stronger, Valour for example goes from doing 1.5x to 2.0x to 2.5x damage in it’s 3 levels. One excellent feature of this system is the ability to select which of the 3 levels you want to cast, say you are low on SP, you can use the cheaper version of Valour that only costs 20SP, but if you have more than enough then you can use 40SP for the level 3 version, it’s all up to you. Another major change is for Seishins that can be cast on allies, like Trust or Bless, now have ranges to them much like weapons, gone are the days where you could store Sayaka in a battleship and fire off all those useful Seishins she has, in NEO she has to be close the target she wants to give a Seishin to. Some Seishin have short ranges, others have longer ranges and as they level up the ranges change too.
In terms of item usage, if you’ve played the recent SRW Z2 games then you’ll notice consumable items no longer completely disappear when you use them. Once used on a stage, an item is usable on the next stage, this system was first introduce in NEO. A marked difference is that every unit on your team is able to share items with other units, however this is limited to a very short range in the near vicinity of the unit you selected.
NEO also introduces some minor additions which just give the game a sense character. For example; when you select a unit the character will often speak a character specific line that defines them, so Kouji from Mazinger Z will shout out “Alright! Let’s go Mazinger Z!” (I forget if he actually says that.. but it is something similar). Another similarly cool addition is when a character levels up they will make a comment on getting stronger or gaining new powers. Though this also has it’s downsides as each character only has one specific line they say in these situations and it often gets tiring after you hear Kouji say “Alright! Let’s go Mazinger Z!” for the 100th time. It would have been nice if they expanded this and gave characters a set of 3-4 lines instead.
Even though NEO has many elements I simply love, there are also aspects that make me dislike the game. For starters, characters and units no longer exist as separate entities. Both exist as a merged singular unit. That means a pilot does not have the 6 basic stats, it has 4 stats instead: Attack, Defence, Accuracy and Evasion. The mech has 5 stats, HP, EN, Defence, Evasion and Weapon Power. Due to the combined nature, Defence and Evasion are shared between both. So if you upgrade the mech’s evasion, then the character’s evasion will also increase. As a combined character and mecha unit equip items come in the following forms: those that affect the unit stats, pilot stats or consumables. This simplification of units means customisation is not as varied as a normal SRW game.
Another annoyance with the game is simply how long some stages get once you start to reach the half way mark. I was getting to the point where it was taking 2-3 hours just to complete a single stage! What is worse is that this game has a clumsy user interface. One that has not been refined for ease of use. You are unable to view stats of a unit while on the map, meaning it’s hard to determine what kind of attacks an enemy comes with, the only thing possible is to view their basic HP/EN values. Another downer is the lack of quick save/reload function – you can’t hit a button combination that’ll allow you to quickly reload that last save, you’d have to restart the entire game to do that. Another thing are the attacks themselves, there is no way to speed up attacks – I don’t mean the attack animations, the process of selecting an enemy then attacking then viewing the results screen takes far too long and this waste of time just adds up each turn, taking longer for the enemy turn who like to take their time to decide on how to move. Speaking of enemy phases, the enemy AI in this game is really bad for the most part. Most grunt units are really stupid and will often get confused and waste moves trying to circumnavigate objects when they could have just used an attack instead. Bosses are much more competent in this regard so that is a relief.
Difficulty wise, the game is a complete walk in the park, almost every kill results in a character levelling up. There are some units with killer MAP attacks that can wipe out large portions of the enemy force. In terms of healing and refilling EN, both are capable of being done post movement and in the EN Refil’s regard it doesn’t reduce will by 10 so it’s a very useful ability to have and one that can be used very freely. The ability to share consumable items means you can refill EN, SP and HP for lots of characters quite easily.
This post was spurred on by the fact that recently, details for SRW OG 2nd were revealed and showed that a game for the “next generation” still uses the same old grid based 2D map that has been in use for almost 15-20 years now. Along with it are the same old gameplay elements that come with the 2D map. I understand there were aspects in NEO that were too farfetched for many of the SRW core, but NEO introduced many gameplay aspects that clearly evolve the SRW formula in a great direction. I can only wonder why Banpresto experimented with such a game but don’t want to pick up many of the great innovations and bring them into a main line game. If a new game were to combine these great advances from NEO with the regular 2D attack animations, keeping the pilot and unit as separate entities – I think we’d have one of the best SRW games of the franchise.
To you the reader, all I can say is to try it for yourself, be it buying the game or emulating it, I do recommend giving NEO a go as I’d think most people would be willing to accept these innovations.
In the end I’m probably not giving up on SRW games just yet, but I’m eagerly awaiting the day Banpresto decides to firmly take the step forward. When that day comes I think SRW games will change for the better.