With the onset of the PS Vita, most people would think that PSP games would start to slow down and stop coming out, with developers favoring the Vita. That isn’t the case however, as JRPGs of all kinds have been finding their way to the PSP and into the hands of Western gamers.
One of those games that made it over in this final year or so of the PSP’s lifespan is Gungnir. Now some may look at the game and say “This art style looks familiar”. That’s because Gungnir is the latest game from a series of games called Dept. Heaven developed by a studio called Sting. The games that are in this series include Riviera, Yggdra Union, and Knights in the Nightmare. I have heard good things about those games, but this will be my first time actually playing a game from this series.
Mature Story - When people hear the words “mature story” in video games, they often think of violence, sex, drugs, language and etc. While having these in games isn’t bad by any means, these are more actions rather than focal points of a story. In Gungnir, the story deals with mature themes that most games shy away from like slavery, racial discrimination, and revolution. There are two classes of people under the Gargan Empire, the Daltans and the Leonicans. After invading the land that the Leonicans once called home, the Daltans see them as a cursed people and thus banish them into the ghettos of Espada. The people who live in Espada face starvation, overcrowding, and desperation to the point that they raid passing caravans for food and sell those who do survive the raid into slavery so that they can get money for more food. Tired of living like this, the main hero Giulio (pronounced as Julio) and a group of rebels called Noble Esperanza start a revolution in order to over throw the government that forced them into that way of living. If this sounds too real, it’s because these actions do happen in real life. There are people who “gotta do what they gotta do” in order to survive, even if it means doing something that we might consider morally wrong and illegal. No game (that I know of at least) has presented this type of story yet, which is something fresh.
Emphasis on the "S" in SRPG - With most of the SRPGs that I’ve played, strategy comes in the form of moving around the battlefield grid trying to out flank the enemy units and either taking out the lead unit or fulfilling the requirements to end the battle. While these are standard things in SRPGs, Gungnir adds in additional elements. These elements start off in the pre-battle screen. Here you can chose either to bring in inexperienced volunteers to fight alongside you or pay for the services of experienced mercenaries. Within each pool of troops there are 12 different types of classes that you can pick from. You must decide what kind of troops you want to use to attack. Do you go in heavy and recruit all melee type classes or do you want to rain down the pain from far away using ranged classes. Do you want them as support and stuff their inventory with potions or have them be twice as powerful with armor and two weapons? Be sure to keep in mind that each unit only has five item slots and that the weight of each item/weapon will affect their movement. Once pre battle planning is done, it’s off to fight.
Unique Battle System Ddditions - Gungnir brings some unique battle system additions that make it stand out from the rest of the SRPGs. One of those additions is the Tactics Gauge. The Tactics Gauge dictates how many Tactics Points the player has and is used to augment the unit’s attack. The more points there are, the stronger attacks that unit will have. If two or more units surround an enemy, then Tactics Points can be used for Beats and Boots. Beats are strong multiple attacks that are chained together when friendly units surround the enemy unit. They cost a lot of Tactics Points to use, but when planned out, can turn the tide of the battle. Boots are actions that let friendly units do additional damage by giving them various status boosts provided from nearby allied units. But if you save your entire Tactics Points and have more than one unit surrounding an enemy, then you can pull off a Beat & Boost. This gives your units the status boosts of Boost with the combined attacks of other units in Beat. This combo costs the most but is well worth the damage it can cause. Then there’s Scramble. Scramble is an ability that lets you cash in your Tactics Points for an extra turn, and delaying the enemy’s movement by one turn. This can really help out when planning out a killing blow or a move to safety when your unit is in trouble. While there is a lot here to make things fun, there is also a slight learning curve which will be explained in a bit.
Decisions Shape Hero’s Behavior - While decisions that affect gameplay/story isn’t seen often in SRPGs, Gungnir does it a bit different by having decisions affect Giulio’s behavior. In most RPG and JRPGs this isn’t new, but consider this: Giulio has been raised in the revolution that Noble Ezperanza is waging against the Gargan Empire. He has seen death at an early age and has even killed over 100 enemy troops before reaching the age of 15. He has seen and experienced the horrors that come with war and people being oppressed just for being different. While he has seen and given death, he still tries to keep a positive attitude. Now that he is in position of the demon lance Gungnir and summons known as War Gods, he has the power to strike down those in way. Having this kind of power can affect people’s behavior and throughout the story we can decide how he will act and with that behavior see how others react to him.
Slight Learning Curve - As I mentioned before there is a slight learning curve to Gungnir. While playing Gungnir, the game will throw out a lot of information that is needed to learn to play. Then once the information is given, it is up to you to figure out how to incorporate that data into your battle plan right away. Most SRPGs would give you a mock battle to practice on, but Gungnir throws you in the fray right away. Those who play SRPGs won’t have much trouble, but those who have never played SRPGs or have been away from these types of games for a while will have some problems in trying to understand all the info given.
No Exploration - It would have been good to see what years of war, revolution and injustices have done to the land and its people. Interacting with both peoples and how they feel about the empire would have brought more story to the game and made it even more interesting. Unfortunately this isn’t the case; we don’t get to see more of this world and how the fighting has affected the land and the people who live on it.
Gungnir has a lot of game to offer: unique battle system additions that help emphasize strategy, actions that affect the lead character’s behavior over the course of the game, and a story that isn’t afraid to use mature themes beyond just sex and violence. The only two real downsides I saw during my playthough were that I couldn’t explore the rest of the world that the game presents, and a learning curve that might discourage new players. Regardless of these two flaws, if you want a game that offers a challenge, combined with a mature story of revolution and oppression, then Gungnir is that game.
*This review was based on the PSP version of the game with a review code provided by the publisher.*