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Gungnir
Score: 72%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Atlus
Developer: Sting
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: Strategy/ Turn-Based Strategy/ Board Games

Graphics & Sound:
We recognized Gungnir immediately. It has all the trappings of an epic adventure, with anime scenes at the beginning and stitched throughout the game. Even though the graphics are sprite-based and simplistic, youíll find lots of static art and interstitial dialogue in place between interactive segments. The most obvious point of comparison on this platform is Jeanne d'Arc, or one can go all the way back to classics like Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions. Itís a tactical strategy game all the way, but with rich background material that can add an hour or two for players invested in reading everything from character bios to detailed stats and descriptions of all accessories and abilities.

During the game, you have a birdís eye view of the battlefield with the ability to swivel the landscape to gain a better angle on the action. You can zoom and pan all you like, but you wonít overcome the board-game aesthetic of Gungnir, if thatís not your thing. Thereís a ton of information conveyed visually during battle, sometimes a bit too much for our liking. After some adjustment, you learn to tell where your moves will take you and how your attacks will affect surrounding enemies - and allies, if youíre not careful! Depending on how battle flows, you may find it hard to keep track of where all your friendlies and enemies are situated, and enemy drops are especially tough to find. The storytelling mechanic is fantastic, but the battle animations and camera controls are only adequate.


Gameplay:
As you might have guessed, Gungnir plays out as a series of turn-based battles where youíll attempt to dominate enemy forces through superior strategy. The tactical approach is like playing chess, compared to the twitchier experience of playing a real-time strategy game. Whether youíre not inclined to do twitch-gaming, or just like the pacing of a turn-based game, Gungnir delivers nicely on its premise. The story of feuding armies is decorated by a plot involving disenfranchised commoners engaged in revolution against an imperial army. This, combined with the fact that battles have been waged across generations by the time we join the fray, makes for some grand drama. Throw a mysterious girl into the midst and you really have the making of some intrigue. Okay, it does sound like the typical elements of any Japanese RPG, but Gungnir manages to overcome what could be completely boilerplate by introducing some character choice and multiple endings.

Multiple endings add to replay value for what could otherwise have been a fun, but one-dimensional experience. Tactics games are largely defined by the quality of their battle mechanics and character development. The story does go through some twists and turns, including a major transformation of the main character early in the game. You have the chance after each battle to attract or hire recruits, to join your party and battle for you. The trade-off of leading a big army is that you need to outfit them and give them some attention during battle. The special attacks (called Beat and Boost) you use on enemies are only unlocked when surrounding friendly units are present, making it critical to balance your troops. Keeping them alive is a good idea... At the outset of each battle, you can choose one key character who can grant special bonuses to other units, and who you must keep alive. Little touches like this do help make Gungnir unique, but they canít break it out of the strategy mold that has been pretty well set by this point.


Difficulty:
There are many things you can do to help or hurt your case while playing Gungnir. As mentioned earlier, neglecting characters in your party, or failing to recruit a sufficiently balanced caste of characters is one of the surest ways to fail. Strategic upgrades to equipment are also available to assist your band during battle, but itís your actions during battle that really dictate how successful youíll be in supporting Giulio and his crew during their attempt to unseat the landís imperial powers and free their oppressed people. For a complete newbieís perspective on Gungnir, each battle consists of a series of turns where you can attack, support with magic or items, and position friendly units on a battlefield grid. Every battle has a slightly unique set of objectives, but they tend to revolve around killing enemies and protecting all or some of your characters. This is really the basis of all tactical strategy games.

Gungnir uses a time-attack system that runs constantly, making sure that faster players attack more often, and dictating the attack order to a certain degree. You can upset this balance by spending Tactic Points, which you gather by taking key positions on the board. You can also expend points to trigger group attacks and to move outside of a unitís normal resting period. All this conspires to make Gungnir a deep game below the surface, enough to make any playerís head spin briefly. For a player new to the genre, we hestitate to recommend starting with Gungnir. Itís not that you canít enjoy yourself by playing the game at a superficial level, but youíre going to end up being annoyed at all the extra trappings. Fans of the genre who need something more involved than strategic placement and unit upgrades will find all kinds of entertainment here, so thereís definitely appeal for that niche audience.


Game Mechanics:
As you might imagine from the detailed options available during gameplay, there are dizzying arrays of menus and submenus within the game. At every point, you have options to view status of characters or your party, move cameras, plot out potential paths to travel, estimate damage, and use or claim items. This is all during battle; between battles you have an even larger set of options. Gungnir does a decent job showing you the ropes, and the tutorials offered can be viewed at a later time if you need a refresher. Unlike games that rely on twitch reflexes, the control scheme is really quite simple. One button commits you to action, another lets you recall actions not yet completed. Itís all the options between action that will have you zooming, twisting, and poking through menus to find the perfect combo or placement for your character.

Like any specialized game in a specialized genre, Gungnir will have its adherents and detractors. It would be silly to say Gungnir is anything less than a full-blooded tactical RPG, or that it wonít soak up loads of playing time for devoted fans. The challenge we see is getting a passive fan or curious bystander to really fall in love with such a dense interface. The wealth of options becomes an encumbrance to Gungnir, compared to a game like Jeanne díArc that kept things very simple and remedial. That said, itís worth seeking out for its storytelling and unique gameplay elements, if youíre already a big fan of tactical strategy games.


-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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