Kickass boss battles in dreary locales ... limitless customization buffeted by a sugary-sweet storyline. Being conflicted is no way to go through life, but it aptly describes the feeling that the latest Gundam entry, MS Saga: A New Dawn, cultivates in the player. Underneath the cover of an uncomfortably kiddie-oriented story lies a challenging and deep experience. Each enjoyable component is offset by an uninspired counterpoint, though, and the final result is something stuck square in the middle of good and bad.
Series fanatics will likely enjoy the game about, oh, 47 million percent more than folks who think Gundam is a southern-drawled swear word. Regardless, newcomers to the universe can comprehend MS Saga's story and fundamentals, if for no other reason than how the generic by-the-numbers tale spoon-feeds the uninitiated.
The narrative skews to the younger set, as evidenced by its juvenile heroes' repetitive, naiveté-riddled dialogue. "Dude!" and "Tee hee hee" are expressions of choice for the protagonists as they embark on a quest to rid the world of evil. From one end of the Earth to the other, they will be forced to battle umpteen armored enemies on their mission to save the world from a Dark Alliance.
As soon as you think that this is just a "My First RPG," though, one of the game's best features, punishing boss battles, will humble you. Only the most meticulous battle tactics and mobile suit configuration will allow victory. Failure to max out your mechs with just the right mix of weapons, armor and pilots will result in your party being summarily reduced to a heaping pile of scrap metal and plenty of “Game Over” messages. This becomes ever more critical as the story advances - upgrade or die.
Depth of gameplay is not an issue, as Saga lacks little in the areas of customization and length. Seriously addled Gundam fans can and will spend countless hours tinkering with their mobile suits and busting loose on the battlefield, although those unfamiliar with the vernacular may find the specifics incomprehensible. Obsessive-compulsives will get their freak on as they toil knee-deep in virtually limitless minutiae, creating colorful machines to their hearts' content.
But as you've been warned, good is tempered by bad. Earth must be a pretty drab place in about a thousand years if Saga is any evidence, as the environments are pale and dull. The appealing cutscenes make the suits appear as they should - gigantic, imposing supermachines - but when traveling with your party they move, look and feel like little toys.
The solid combat system gives you plenty to work with, enabling all sorts of standard and special attacks, contextual defenses, boosts, switches of party members and so on. The challenge is to find the right combination of mobile suits and items to prevent untimely deaths and wasted hours. The difficulty of battle wildly varies from incredibly easy to nail-biting, down-to-the-wire affairs.
Gundam fans of the world, unite! At its core, MS Saga: A New Dawn is an RPG that few outside the fanbase will likely explore. Its toughness means that for the bad tempered out there, this game is a sure source of busted controllers. And its visual and story blandness might be a turnoff. That doesn't mean that you shouldn't give it a look; just be prepared for a game that's extremely nitty gritty and not very pretty.