What is it about strategy role-playing games that political intrigue tends to be the main theme? Seriously, think about. How much of a difference would the genre be if this theme was not present? I honestly don’t think players would be as interested in the genre as they are today. So keep that in mind as I tell you about Gungnir for the PSP.
Gungnir focuses on the rebellion from a small village on the outskirts of a corrupt empire. This village is essentially the slums and they struggle daily to make ends meet. The game begins with the village guards playing the role of bandits and they attack a rich looking caravan. Instead of finding foretold riches and food, they find a young noble woman and treat her rather well. Shortly after they “kidnap” her, the empire attacks in order to “recover” their lost “ally” by razing the village. It is at this moment that Giulio is offered the sacred spear Gungnir to destroy his enemies. He accepts it, and now he and his friends are on a quest to save the country.
At first glance, Gungnir appears and plays like any other SRPG out on the market. You choose the units you want to bring into battle, equip your members with the necessary armor and weapons, power up the equipment and watch the scenes unfold. Just like any other strategy game, the maps are all created on grids and where you attack is important. All of the information is available for you to peruse and you have all the time in the world to make a decision.
This is also where the game gets a bit ... ”weird.”
Unlike any other SRPG, Gungnir has a timer. You see, characters do not have a set spot for their turn. Instead, you move them when it’s YOUR turn and this occurs after so much time has passed. And you can even move the same character before his/her cool down period is over at the expense of health. Adding to the complexity is the fact that characters can build combo attacks off of each other. I haven’t completely figured it out, though I know that it has something to do with claiming tactic locations and how well a character class works with another class.
What’s interesting is that while Guilio might be seen as the lead character, the leader of the group changes from battle to battle. In fact, you have control over it as who leads influences how well that character fights. Add into the mix that skills are learned and attack power increases as characters master a weapon (and no, weapon mastery does not carry over from weapon to weapon) and there’s a lot of information happening in the background. Oh, and did I mention you are racing against the clock as you’ll lose if too much time has passed? You only have a few “game days” to defeat the opposing army.
Thus, everything gels together to give Gungnir a sense of urgency. How quickly you destroy the opposing army influences how many treasure chests are in the next battle. There’s a catch, destroying boxes, chests and crystals (which are needed to boost weapons) is a pain. In fact, I tended to skip over this part because it wasn’t worth the effort to open them. It took at least five hits, attacks and movement that I could use elsewhere to edge my way towards victory. I also didn’t like that I couldn’t grind to become more powerful (I admit I don’t do well with this genre) nor how cheap the deaths can be (fall off the map or into deep water and a character dies). While I know that both sides move equally as often, I could not escape the feeling that the enemy moves more frequently than I do. And all of these thoughts occur in “Easy” mode!
Graphically, the game looks great and suffers no slow down. The game is done in a high resolution anime style — the same style as Sting’s previous games (especially Knights in the Nightmare). There are various locales that your party will visit such as castles, mountains, the slums and forests. Characters all animate quite well with the various motions for attacking and will gesture during story scenes. Most important, the layout is rather clean, and it is easy to figure out what is what.
Sound design wise, everything is rather nice. The music feels rather epic. The rest of the sound design is typical fantasy fair with slashes, burns and responsive “dings.” The down parts is that if you mute it or keep low (as I usually do when I’m out and about), it’s completely forgettable. Another blemish to the game is the lack of voice acting, not even generic grunts or death/defeat phrases. Ultimately, the sound design doesn’t influence my thoughts one way or the other for the game.
The question remains: Is Gungnir worth your hard earned cash? Even after all the time I’ve spent with it on and off for the past several months, I’m not entirely certain myself. I love the game’s strategic feel, the playing of class warfare (the haves verses the have-nots), mourning death and those who are worthy of it, friendship and fate. On the other hand the game is just downright hard.
There is a reason that the word “interesting” keeps popping up in this review. It’s because these tropes are typically not seen in a SRPG setting. Fans of the SRPG genre and are bored with what is available should go check out Gungnir. Everyone else will probably feel overwhelmed by the game’s mechanics. I saw it for $15 at my local Gamestop a few weeks ago. So if that helps influence your thoughts, give it a try. Only the strong need apply.