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[Review] SD Gundam Battle Alliance

Posted on September 4, 2022 by in Reviews, Switch

SD Gundam Battle Alliance review

System: Switch
Release Date: August 25, 2022
Developer: Artdink
Publisher: Bandai Namco

The SD (Super Deformed) Gundam spinoff franchise has never achieved the same renown as its parent franchise outside of Japan – where at one point it actually eclipsed the popularity of the main franchise in terms of sales for a brief time – but has nonetheless managed to establish itself as a presence in its own right over the years, and has spawned several video games. SD Gundam Battle Alliance marks the third SD Gundam title to release on the Switch, but the first to release on the console in the west. Was it worth the wait?

SD Gundam Battle Alliance is set in G:Universe, a databank of all the major historical events across the various Gundam series timelines. Unfortunately, anomalies known as “Breaks” have been happening across these timelines, causing canonical events to become disrupted. A mobile suit from one history may show up in another and be entirely absent from its own as a result, for example. Playing as the Commander of the Gatheroad Squadron from the Universal Century, alongside an AI nicknamed Sakura Slash and your fellow squad member Juno, your job is to figure out why these breaks are happening, correct them, and then re-establish the correct sequence of events by playing them out as they should have happened.

I found the story to be convoluted and often difficult to follow, as it jumps across several Gundam timelines in no particular order, and there is a lot to keep track of. But a nice surprise was the inclusion of briefing scenes, which are unlocked as you progress the story and were clearly designed to address this confusion. These scenes provide a brief overview of key terms, events, and characters, as well as putting it into the context of the main story by telling you what has gone wrong and what should be happening. The game will tell you when they are unlocked but will leave it to you to decide whether or not you wish to view them. This more personalized approach to storytelling is something I really appreciated, as someone who hasn’t seen every Gundam anime series and at times wanted to play through more missions before sitting through another long story scene, but still wanted to understand what was going on.

SD Gundam Battle Alliance review

The story serves more to define the gameplay, which is stage-based and split into two types of missions. Break missions involve playing out a scenario from Gundam history which has been distorted in some way – usually this means that key figures are missing, or someone from an alternate universe has been added. True missions are re-enactments of these scenarios as they should have happened. Later, optional Chaos missions are also added, which feature higher-level enemies appearing in stages at random. Most stages are short and linear, and involve fighting through waves of enemies before taking on a boss at the end, although the game does provide some variety at times by having you defend a ship instead, or provides various sub-objectives, such as another mobile suit boss or defeating all enemies in a given area, to complete along the way.

SD Gundam Battle Alliance is an action RPG, and features the usual real-time combat you would expect with basic offensive options in the form of light and heavy attacks, and basic defensive options in the form of guarding and dodging. These actions (except guarding, which has its own meter) will all use up part of your boost meter, which recovers over time. You can also launch enemies for aerial combos and inflict more damage by attacking from behind, and gain additional advantages by perfectly timing your guards or dodges, although I found the window of opportunity for this to be too narrow to be done reliably. You also have three secondary weapons which don’t use up your boost meter but have separate cooldowns instead, as well as a special attack which charges over time and can be hastened with longer combo attacks, adding another layer of strategy to the game’s combat.

Where things become more interesting is that bosses have their own equivalent to the boost meter in the balance meter, which they will also use up when attacking. Depleting their balance meter completely will put them into break mode and stun them for a brief period of time, allowing you to attack them without facing any repercussions. This gives combat a surprising level of depth moment-to-moment, as you will need to learn when to block or dodge enemy attacks, when to press your advantage to deplete their balance meter before it recovers, and manage your own boost meter so that you don’t over-extend and leave yourself vulnerable to retaliation. Every boss you face will have a different attack pattern and moves to consider, turning the game from a simple hack-and-slash into something far more nuanced.

Learning the more technical points of the game’s combat is essential, because even on easy difficulty SD Gundam Battle Alliance can be quite challenging. Whilst smaller enemies can be taken out in a few hits, they have a tendency to attack in larger numbers, from behind, or from high ground that is not always easy to reach. Unless their balance gauge is depleted, bosses will interrupt your attacks, and have more health than you will be able to deplete simply by attacking blindly. Your mobile suit has a limited number of repair kits which you cannot replenish during the stage and do not heal you to full health once used when you’ve been knocked out. Each stage has a recommended level, but I found during my playthrough that, on Normal difficulty especially, this only serves as a very rough guideline, and even if you are several levels higher this does not mean you will be able to brute force your way through a stage.

There are elements to the game that I found made it more frustrating than challenging at times, however. It features an auto lock-on which is often more of a hindrance than a help, because you will stay locked onto an enemy for a few seconds after you’ve depleted their health, meaning you will be slashing away at nothing unless you manually change targets. Faster moving enemies that fly out of your field of vision, such as bosses, can also confuse the lock-on, and your attacks will often completely miss the mark as you attack the space where the enemy was a few seconds before, despite you still being locked onto them. This can result in a lot of tedious micro-managing of both the lock-on and the camera, and where attacks have delays – namely your specials, which have a brief cutscene that plays before the attack begins, which does not pause what is going on in-game – the enemy could have moved out of the way in the time it takes to use them.

I also found that battles against mobile armors were often overly frustrating because, unlike mobile suits, most of them do not have a balance gauge, meaning they cannot be stunned at all, and they have significantly more health, as well as a barrier against long range weapons fire that you will need to first deplete before you can inflict damage using these types of attacks, forcing you to go in up close. They are surprisingly maneuverable and fast for such large targets, and feel more like they were designed for multiplayer specifically, given the limited number of repair kits, and AI partners which aren’t entirely reliable when it comes to providing healing support. These happen with greater frequency as you progress through the game’s story, and as the recommended level and cost of upgrades to reach that level increases, it can result in a lot of tedious grinding to bring your mobile suit up to the necessary strength, especially if you are using multiple different suits.

While most of the main story events are confined to cutscenes between battles, a lot of dialogue unfolds during missions as well, which is something to keep in mind if, like me, you have difficulty splitting your focus. Even outside of boss battles there can be a lot going on on the screen at any one time that will demand your full attention, and having the characters chatter on in the background (in Japanese, with subtitles) can be very distracting, and it’s easy to either miss some important story dialogue entirely, or concentrate on it too much and be punished for your lack of attention.

One of the game’s greatest strengths is in the level of customization that it offers players, as well as the huge variety of mobile suits available. Completing a stage will reward you with capital, parts, and blueprints. Capital is your monetary resource which is used to upgrade the four stats – HP, Boost, Melee, and Ranged. Parts function as accessories that provide up to three increases or deceases to these stats, as well as damage resistance, and passive effects such as cooldown speed and repair kit effectiveness. You can also acquire materials to “uncap” your mobile suit, allowing you to increase its stats and overall level further, as well as the number of parts it can equip. Finally, blueprints acquired will allow you to unlock new mobile suits to use. Many mobile suits will be unlocked with a single blueprint as you progress the game, but if you want to unlock them all you will need to replay a stage multiple times to acquire enough blueprints to do so, and later mobile suits require more blueprints split up across several stages. Thankfully, these are guaranteed drops you will earn for completing a stage and defeating the boss that has them. The game will tell you when selecting a stage which mobile suit has which blueprint, and how many you have acquired, making this much easier to keep track of than it could have been.

Unfortunately, each mobile suit you unlock will start at level 1 and need to be upgraded separately, meaning that unless you are prepared to grind a lot more than is required to unlock the blueprints, you will need to manage your resources carefully, as the game is not generous enough with either capital or upgrade parts for you to keep everything up to a useable level as you progress through the story. The game does allow you to decrease your mobile suit’s stats and bank the experience, which you can then assign to another stat if you so choose: this is especially helpful if you’ve just uncapped your mobile suit’s level and don’t have the capital necessary to increase its level.

SD Gundam Battle Alliance review

Mobile suits are split into three types: Infighters, which focus on physical attacks, Sharpshooters, which focus on ranged attacks, and All-Rounders, which combine both. Each have their own Role Actions that can be used in combat for temporary boosts, and a number of repair kits, with Infighters having only three, All-Rounders having four, and Sharpshooters having five. Individually, mobile suits are primarily differentiated by their secondary weapons and special attacks, and each have their own stat caps and damage resistances, making them all perfectly viable to use in-game: whilst one Infighter may not have as high a Physical attack stat as another, it may have better damage resistance, or a secondary weapon that has a better range or damage output, or higher HP.

Whilst the game features an extremely wide variety of mobile suits from across the Gundam franchise and these all feel unique to play with, an important note for fans is that representation is not equal across all series: as you might expect, there is a much larger number of suits from the Universal Century series, and some series only have one or two suits to represent them in the roster. Although the season pass may add additional suits from the more under-represented series in time, if you have your heart set on playing with a particular mobile suit, it would be a good idea to check whether or not it is in the game first, and be prepared to spend some time playing as other suits before you can unlock it. This lack of representation is disappointing, but considering the size and scope of the Gundam franchise as a whole, it is not surprising.

SD Gundam Battle Alliance review

SD Gundam Battle Alliance has absolutely solid sound design, features full Japanese voice acting with seiyuu series reprising their roles. The game also features music from the anime series, which also heightens the feeling that you really are playing out the scenarios as they happened in the shows: hearing the iconic Sasso-taru CHAR play whilst you battle through the corridors of A Baoa Qu to reach Char and Amuro as they battle, or TRANS-AM RAISER whilst you race to support the Ptolemy alongside Gundam Meisters, for example, will bring a smile to the faces of fans of the anime series. The game also gives you the ability to change the background music if you desire, allowing you to swap out songs for other songs when they would play in the background, as well as set a track to play when you use your special attack.

Visually the game has a strong sense of style, with the SD mobile suits looking fantastic on the Switch with a high level of attention to detail, even on generic enemy mobs. The anime portraits of characters that accompany them are equally delightful, and suitably animated when they appear on screen. Unfortunately, very little care has been taken with the environments, which are by contrast bland and lacking in any great detail – this becomes especially problematic with later levels that last for longer, as there is no scenery which stands out in corridors, making getting lost easy even with the aid of a map when there are multiple floors to a stage. What environmental details that have been added, such as buildings and trees, are of a notably poorer quality than everything else.

The Verdict

Despite a few flaws that can make the game more frustrating than it needs to be at times, SD Gundam Battle Alliance is a robust, surprisingly deep action RPG with deep levels of customization that keeps it feeling fresh throughout its lengthy story and beyond. Those looking for a faster-paced hack-and-slash title may come away feeling let down, but those looking for a more methodical approach to combat will appreciate the game’s mechanics, which result in some highly strategic moment-to-moment action, especially during boss fights. As a love letter to the Gundam franchise this game excels, featuring the large number of mobile suits from many of the past anime series, and play through the highlights of those series in both new and familiar ways. It also proves to be surprisingly accessible to people unfamiliar with the Gundam franchise thanks to the inclusion of the briefing cutscenes.

SD Gundam Battle Alliance copy provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.

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