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Yggdra Union
Score: 85%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Atlus
Developer: Atlus
Media: UMD/1
Players: 1
Genre: Turn-Based Strategy

Graphics & Sound:
Looking at Yggdra Union, you would never know that it was originally a GBA game. The PSP version has been completely reworked and looks incredible. Characters are big and detailed, right down to the smallest of facial expressions and other pieces of ornamentation. Although the animation is a bit choppy at times, it still looks good - especially when you have two armies going at each other. The only downside is the lack of unique characters in battle. Throughout your quest you'll gain a number of allies, and though they have unique character portraits, they look exactly like every other grunt on the battlefield. However, this is a minor complaint and, in all honesty, if this is the worst thing I can say, then the rest of the package has to be good.

Both English and Japanese voice tracks are included. The performances feel a little hollow at times, but get the job done. The odd thing about the soundtrack is that it isn't particularly memorable, yet you'll probably find yourself humming a few bars and struggling to remember where you heard the tune - that is, until you pop the game back in.

Cards rule the day in Yggdra Union, though calling the game a TCG (Trading Card Game) might be a bit of a stretch. At its core, Yggdra Union is a turn-based strategy game in the vein of Advance Wars. Each turn, you move a small army around a battlefield and fight armies that usually dwarf your own. The only time cards come into play are at the start of each turn when you select one from your hand. Each card dictates how many movement points you have per turn to divvy up between your troops.

During battles, cards can grant special abilities to your units, such as healing or a boost in power. The catch is that specific conditions must be met in order to use card abilities, so most of the time you'll never see the benefit unless you really plan things out. For instance, every card has a weapon alignment, so the only person that can use the ability is someone armed with that weapon and leading the main charge. Some abilities even come with a restriction on the time of day it can be cast.

These artificial limitations turn out to be one of the game's bigger mechanical flaws, especially since enemy units don't face the same limits and can pull off special moves every turn if they want. The good news is that they don't, but it is still annoying - especially when your army really needs to heal, but can't because you don't have the right guy in position and it isn't the right time of day. Considering that the card system is the game's standout feature, you would expect fewer limitations.

Yggdra Union is a difficult game, but not an impossible one. Most battles are composed of two or three smaller skirmishes linked together and you're only allowed to use healing items between battles, so it isn't uncommon to work your way through two skirmishes only to fall in the third because you weren't able to heal. Some cards will heal your units during battle, but restrictions usually get in the way and prevent this.

Though it can feel like everything is stacked against you, none of the battles are so hard that you can't complete them after a few tries. Every battle requires a specific strategy, leading to a lot of trial and error gameplay. This becomes frustrating, though only during larger battles since you're forced to begin at the start of the battle rather than the skirmish you died on.

Game Mechanics:
Battles take place in a 2D side view similar to Advance Wars, only you don't really fight in battles as much as you influence how they'll play out. Rather than moving large armies, you are really just moving one general who represents a larger army following them. You're only allowed to attack once per turn, so the key to battles is knowing how to align your units in formations that allow the most number of units to attack in one turn. Any units that form an "X" formation around a male character or a "+" shape around a female character can join them in battle. Your goal is to get as many of your own units into a battle, hopefully giving you the advantage in numbers. Each turn units recoup any troop loses, though by pulling in numerous units into a battle you can usually hit the enemy before they can restock, making your path to victory that much easier.

Aligning units in the best formation is harder than it sounds given the claustrophobic battlefields and the fact that enemies can also pull units into battle. Even if you manage to pull everyone into battle, you also need to contend with the "Paper-Rock-Scissors" relationship between weapons. Each of the three basic weapons (axe, spear, sword) is powerful against another weapon and weak against another. Even if an axe-wielder is outnumbered, if the opposing units have swords, the axe still has a chance.

Rods and bows are eventually thrown into the mix and share their own special relationships. While the axe/spear/sword hierarchy is easy to understand, rods and bows have different strengths based on how they're used in battle. On offense, both can trump any other weapon, though on defense they are weak. Enemies show up with bows and rods really early in the game, which places you at a disadvantage early on.

Battles are also influenced by pressing Left or Right on the D-pad during battle. Pressing Left places your units in a defensive state, while pressing Right makes them more aggressive. Playing with an aggressive stance drains a meter that allows you to use you card ability, though it can give you a massive boost - even allowing "weak" weapons to defeat "strong" ones.

Yggdra Union is a fun strategy game, though the trial-and-error gameplay and numerous restrictions may not appeal to everyone.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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