Reviews: Super Robot Wars Alpha
The unnecessary sidestory (SRW Alpha Gaiden)
Following on the heels of the successful Alpha 1, SRW Alpha Gaiden starts out just tying up a few loose threads from the first game. Namely: dealing with the Titans and glossing over the Endless Waltz plot for Gundam Wing. But then, as most anyone knows by now, Shu Shirakawa sends the heroes into the future and things get... different. SRW Alpha Gaiden continued the process of modernizing the franchise's core gameplay and it marked the inclusion of Support Attacks and Defends, as well as getting rid of the annoying Limit stat and unifying weapon upgrades. It also kept route splits to a more manageable, actually told you when you got a battle mastery (and they were a little more sane now too!), and gave us New Game+ for the first time. Those were the steps forward... but they came at a cost. Alpha Gaiden is tremendously much more tedious than the original Alpha 1, especially in the lategame. Bosses restoring their health happened only a handful of times in the original Alpha, but here it's the norm once you reach the Turn A Gundam finale, and they tack on stuff like Iron Wall which entirely kills any momentum you had in wearing down their health. I can understand this was implemented in response to being able to one-shot so many "tough" bosses in Alpha 1, but it's overreacting. And units overall are much weaker too, further twisting the knife. And then there's the handling of various plots too. Gundam X is heavily, heavily twisted around to practically just be a footnote for Turn A Gundam, and Braigar's plot also just goes nowhere too. The inclusion of plot for Getter Robo and Great Mazinger is okay on its own, but it makes their plots in Alpha 2 feel like retreads and rightfully so. On top of that, the shortage of space-based missions makes most Real Robots much weaker too... and a lot of the better ones are locked out unless you're playing on the easy difficulty setting. Of all the Alpha games I actually feel Gaiden is the weakest due to various changes from Alpha 1 that lead to a slower-paced, more tedious game. Graphically it's an improvement, don't get me wrong, but I'm glad that Banpresto mostly learned its lessons from this game once Alpha 2 came around. It's the easiest of the Alpha games to get into since it's translated, but it's also the least satisfying to play.
The flawed masterpiece (SRW Alpha 1)
The original SRW Alpha game marked a magical point in the history of the franchise, just as it was starting to transition out of the formula of the Classic games and started to introduce features and mechanics that are a given in current titles. The game still keeps the old morale mechanics though (+1 morale meaning +1% to attack and defense) and I actually like that. It means when you're throwing around your best attacks even tough bosses probably won't survive more than three or four hits barring the rare casting of Guts. It also has some very strange Spirit commands (+10 morale to all units? Bring back fallen allies?) and a peculiar "defend/attack" option where you'll be guaranteed to be hit by your enemy's attack, but you'll also be able to attack them for half the regular damage. Story-wise, the game has a great deal going on. It starts small at first, focusing on more old-school mecha shows, but things get spiced up with Dancougar, Evangelion, Dunbine, and Gunbuster, and then the plot kicks into high gear after Macross's introduction when everyone's warped into space. The game also has a lot of three-way route-splits, which helps with the feel that a lot of stuff is going on. The downside to this though is that you can miss out on a lot of a canon's great moments because you're on another route either to experience it or just get all those UC Gundam secrets. Still, it's a great experience and there's no lack of fun stages. Like the one when everyone is fighting in their support crafts. The game still shows its age regarding Battle Masteries, with no guide whatsoever to let you know what they are or even an easy way to check when you get them or how many you have. Akurasu fortunately has a very detailed guide to the game, and Neidengard has a plot translation over on gamefaqs, even though it has godawful translation choices. Admittedly, I played Alpha 1 using an emulator which gave me a leg up over the game's technical failings (loading times and the infamous glitched tiles). If I'd played it on a PSX my opinion of it would be more critical, but even then it wouldn't take away from the strengths of the game. Even with all of that taken into consideration, the game's still aged much, much better than the Classic-era games. If you like Super Robot Wars, you owe it to yourself to at least give it a look.