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...Man, I love this game so much, it's hard to know where to start.
Well, first of all, in a game that could've just tried to lazily coast on fanservice, the creators went out of their way to transfer over all kinds of characters, character development, plots, motivations, everything. They did an incredible job melding together a variety of characters and stories with a variety of styles and tones without turning into total gibberish, and constantly presenting the player with a reason to care, and not to just mash the skip button.
I won't say the stitch marks are invisible, but they aren't too distracting. Wacky comedy from lighter-hearted source material doesn't suddenly intrude itself onto darker moments, for instance. And, as someone who wasn't familiar with most of the shows it's adapting, I not only was rarely lost, but I felt encouraged to seek out the things it was drawing on to deepen my understanding, and to see if I enjoyed them, especially since I could tell they had done a good job with the stuff I did like, sanding off rough edges or taking advantage of the ways these people and personalities might bounce off one another in a crossover.
Even better, the original content is genuinely intriguing, well-done, combines gameplay and story together intelligently, and even throws in a bit of romance/parental love for both the main characters, each of whom has a distinct but appealing character arc. Bravo.
The music and sound design are incredible! They have appealing chiptune versions of a huge pallet of different show themes (where, again, I liked the ones I knew, and loved hearing new ones I wasn't familiar with), and a variety of chunky mechanical whooshes, crunches, charging up noises, all the works. It does a lot with limited hardware. And having special music for special attacks makes using them a lovely treat.
Now, as someone who's only ever played it on an emulator, I have no idea if the graphics are this good on the original hardware. But the version I played had wonderful animations, ones I accidentally watched on partial speed for most of my original run because I didn't know how emulators worked, and couldn't always tell, so detailed were they. It looks great, again, especially for the well-animated special attacks.
Most of all, though, the gameplay is... how to put this? I had played grid-based tactical RPGs before, so I understood the bare-bones basics of how it all worked, but I was otherwise bewildered by the dazzling array of variables before me.
Yet, it was fine. I could play the game and have fun without having to understand every little aspect of the mechanics, and with the exception of a brutal road-block of a boss partway through the game (Garon at Hell Castle, for the record), and still make progress, grasping the rudiments of installing upgrades, spending money on enhancing robots and points enhancing pilots. And it captures the fantasy of each individual variety of robot, whether the huge, lumbering Super Robot that soaks up fire like a sponge without going down and dishes out the pain in return, or the fighter-pilot like Real Robot that zips around in high speed dog fights. It even features weird, hard-to-classify examples, like the Powered Armor of Tekkaman Blade or the titular biomechanical creatures from Brain Powerd, yet, somehow, manages to make each one feel unique and fitting.
Crucially, though, in later iterations of New Game + (which the game subtly encourages through a number of different means, such as having two playable characters, three playable mechs and a fourth unlocked after beating the game with the others, and multiple possible combinations of story route so that a player cannot see it all in one playthrough), where I grew brave enough to up the difficulty, I did start taking the time to dig into the mechanics, and when I did, I found that it could be played at an extremely high level of skill: managing pilot abilities and mech powers, leveraging equipment parts, utilizing bond bonuses and size/terrain modifiers, all that jazz. This kind of design, which maximizes depth and minimizes complexity is, in the technical sense, elegant, and I don't think I've ever enjoyed a more elegant game in my life.
There's even a fun "Puzzle Robo" mode between every level that's practically designed to teach you the game through offering brain-teaser challenges with different board set-ups, and while some of *those* are fiendishly difficult and may demand the use of online walkthroughs, they demonstrate the sheer depth of the mechanics on display, while offering nice rewards.
Also, on a side note, this was one of the few games I've had fun modding and hacking with the help of my emulator, installing different abilities and strange pilot tricks or illegal parts on different mechs to gain unusual combinations of abilities.
And it frequently comes together well, as with unlocking secret characters or conversations through story-based gameplay; having mortal nemeses fight one another, for instance, rather than other parts of your fleet. Or making small story changes to save likable characters from tragic deaths, whether or not they go on to join the team. It really ties together the gameplay and story, adding oodles of appeal to both.
That said, if I had to pick a major flaw, besides the uncharacteristic difficulty spike Gauron represents, it would be bugs. Some of them are charming, as when you can accidentally permanently upgrade mechs when the game doesn't remove a part you've installed on a robot whose upgrade trades out customization slots while copying it into your inventory. Many of them are not. On a first playthrough of the game, I heartily recommend you look up a secret chart and just make sure to take the correct actions to recruit Gale, and possibly Gai as well. While failing to recruit Gai will only deprive you of a bunch of free upgrade points he shouldn't technically have, failing to recruit Gale on your first playthrough will see him join the team critically under-upgraded, especially since in later loops you've probably cranked up the difficulty for greater rewards.
Still, I can confidently say that, of all the games I've ever played and loved (and I have played and loved many games just in its genre and on its system, from Fire Emblem to Final Fantasy Tactics Advanced), this is my absolute favorite. I can't recommend it enough to anyone who likes the genre, whether that genre be tactical RPGs or mecha anime.
...I can\'t believe, in two once-overs to try to make sure I fit in everything and didn\'t have any omissions or spelling/grammar/formatting errors in this love-letter to my favorite game of all time...
I forgot to mention the hard work of the fan-translators who made it possible for me to enjoy this game\'s charming and well-written story. Them\'s the breaks, I guess...
Also, to clarify, the game runs very stably, and there's no issues with soft-locking or crashing I've encountered. The bugs are purely in terms of mechanical execution, and while they are actually quite rare, they can be infuriating.
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