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MS Saga: A New Dawn
Score: 90%
ESRB: Everyone 10+
Publisher: Bandai
Developer: Bandai
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1
Genre: RPG

Graphics & Sound:
Released as Gundam: True Odyssey in Japan, MS Saga: A New Dawn is the latest game in the Gundam series. MS Saga’s story doesn’t take place in any particular Gundam timeline. Rather, it is a completely original story that combines all of the various mobile suit designs into one universe. Unfortunately, this branching out is about as ambitious as the game gets, relying instead on a deep combat system and the roots of old school RPGs to hold it up. And, for the most part, it does a great job of delivering a good, solid RPG – even if it is a little on the bare side.

From a technical standpoint, MS Saga looks dated. There’s really nothing mind-blowing about the game. It just looks like an average RPG. Art direction is what makes the game really stand out, even if for the simple fact that it takes two different styles and merges them into one product without looking completely ridiculous. Most of the game’s visuals fit in with a majority of Gundam series while the mobile suit designs resemble the SD series. The merging isn’t completely seamless, and at times it looks silly. Still, the look is so offbeat that it eventually grows on you.

Sound isn’t remarkable. Every once in a while, there’s a spout of decent voice acting, but it is so random that it really doesn’t fit. Music quality is about the same. It doesn’t stand out as being annoying and at the same time it doesn’t sound particularly good either.

MS Saga wastes no time in throwing you right into the thick of things. Little backstory is given aside from showing the destruction and later rebuilding of the Earth. From there, the game shoots you a few years in the future with the introduction of the main character. Seconds later, you’re thrown into your first fight. After the fight, there’s a little more story and you’re off on your adventure.

From this point, the game follows the familiar RPG pattern; enter a new town, learn about its problems and fix them. To this end, MS Saga isn’t something as grand as Final Fantasy, but then again, it never tries to be. Enough is shown about the characters that you get a sense of their personality, but these reasons rarely – if ever – go below surface-level concerns.

MS Saga places most of its focus on fighting and building mobile suits. Battles are turn-based and options are chosen from a menu, but any similarity to other RPGs ends there. Rounds begin with a display informing you as to what type of action an enemy will perform. This can be anything from a melee or ranged attack to a special move. From here, you have to figure out what counter-strategy you’ll answer back with. If an enemy is planning on using a melee attack, it might be a good idea to try and get some range, but then again, defense might be better. Or, you could always try to counter with a special move… the possibilities really are endless, especially when you have a full party of 6 mobile suits under your control.

Battles are a hybrid of random and non-random encounters. As you journey through areas, you’ll come across a few random battles as well as the occasional crystal. Touching a crystal initiates a battle, most of the time with a boss who is guarding an exit or item.

As you win battles, you’ll acquire both parts and data. Parts are what go into altering your mobile suit’s stats, while data lets you create new suits altogether. After collecting data parts, which are sort of like the DNA of mobile suits, you can create new suits. Loading more data into the system results in a suit with improved stats. Max out the data fed into the system and you’ll create some really powerful suits.

MS Saga is a daunting RPG to take on, especially for a newcomer to the genre. One of the most jarring aspects is the massive amount of tinkering found in the game. There’s a bit of a step-up, so things aren’t just dropped on your lap from the start, which should help ease some players into the game. Things don’t become overly complicated until you realize the hundreds of mobile suit combinations available.

Then there’s combat, something that will also throw off more than a few players. Mobile suits on both sides of the battlefield have lower hit points then you would expect but varying stats. Two mobile suits may have the same number of hit points, but one may have better armor. This makes stat-altering abilities an important part of strategy. A weak character can compensate for a lack of power with their stat attacks. Finding a balance between using stat attacks and physical ones is all a part of MS Saga’s battles. Of course, this does present a small learning curve when starting out considering that most RPGs have trained players to look at hit points first and stats second.

Further complicating matters, you have a team of 6 mobile suits to manage, each with unique abilities. During battle, only the three front-line mobile suits can take combat actions, though you can swap out suits at any time. Constant shuffling of suits during battles is key to winning bigger conflicts and will confuse players who have a hard time thinking strategically.

Game Mechanics:
Tinkering with your mobile suits is as important an element in MS Saga as the battles, so gear heads should flip over all the various options. Mobile suits and parts from nearly every Gundam series are here, so there are a lot of pieces and parts available. Mobile suits begin with a set of base-stats that can then be enhanced by equipping various parts. Parts bring both bonuses and penalties. There’s no ultimate part that will make a mobile suit all-powerful, though some part combinations do come pretty close to making that happen. The number of combinations is staggering; so unless a guide is being used, no two mobile suits should be alike.

Placing different characters in mobile suits will also alter their stats and abilities. The amount of freedom is, at least at first, overwhelming. But, like everything else in the game, you’ll eventually train yourself to look for certain modifiers.

Rather than aspiring to be an epic RPG experience, MS Saga falls back on the roots of RPGs and feels more like something found on the SNES rather than a more “modern” RPG. Because of this, the game isn’t going to appeal to everyone – especially gamers whose RPG experiences began with Final Fantasy VII.

MS Saga is meant more for the really hardcore RPG players rather than the general game-playing audience. If you like offbeat RPGs that are uniquely Japanese in nature (like the Shin Megami Tensei or Shadow Hearts series) or just miss old school RPGs, MS Saga is a good fit.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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