Another day, another mecha to pilot, or in this case about 80 more to command rather than pilot. Gundam Cross Rays as we are going to shorten that ridiculous title was published by Bandai Namco and developed by Tom Create is my first foray into the tactical/strategic role playing games in earnest. I’ve played small tidbits of things like Metal Slug and Fire Emblem for iOS but it’s never been my thing until now and only because of one word, “Gundam”. I’m a huge mecha but an even bigger Gundam fan. I’ve seen all the seasons, own all the Blu-ray releases and have a Gunpla model of one of the titular suits in my room, but enough bragging about what a huge nerd I am; let’s talk Cross Rays.
The bit of research I did regarding content seems like instead of increasing the amount of content the game launched with by incorporating all of the newest series/timelines to the base 17 from the previous “Genesis” game we only got 13 total across 4 series which are based on the Gundam Wing, Seed, 00 and Iron-Blooded Orphans; the latter of which is by far one of my favorite series in the last few years. Seriously Bandai, we get it, you like the Build Fighters series due to all the toys you can sell, but we’ve gotten four with none of them having a real ending to conclude any of it, and it’s also not part of this game where you could have easily added side stories. This is where I start to have issues with Cross Rays; I’m playing the same story I saw on TV when you play the main storylines, nothing really changes, and that’s where some fresh content could have come in, but I guess that’s what DLC is for right?
I mentioned that G Cross Rays is an SRPG, which means you control each individual unit on a field, controlling the movement, skills, attacks and attributes of the unit. You create the team or group that sorties into battle and that is who accompanies the hero units of the story missions you are playing. The amount of control you have over your units is absurd; you control the pilot stats, the mecha/suit stats as well as all of the abilities and modifications that each suit can equip. One thing I’ve learned is that even my love of Gundam didn’t prepare me for the amount of time, patience and multi-tasking ability it takes to keep track of each unit and their damage, energy, range needed for each attack and the list goes on. This genre isn’t for the faint of heart or those with a lack of time. I’m not trying to dissuade anyone from trying the game itself or the genre but it requires dedication and understanding that it takes time.
You start the game with a premade sortie ready party of pilots and Gundams from other SD Generation SRPG games, many of which have never actually made it to the US. There is certainly a lack of representation in the US for this particular series, but that’s a conversation for another time. There is no story mode unlike some other games of the SD Gundam series. Instead you have access to a chunk of the titular series and follow the story whether it was based on a movie, anime series or an OVA. You recruit pilots and other units by using them while in their story mission to get a certain amount of kills to fill their “Get bar” which allows you to produce them with a capital cost or by completing certain quests such as launching a certain character and doing a task in X amount of turns, this sort of acquisition is what keeps you replaying missions, because damned if you just lost out on your favorite titular suit because you forgot to kill one extra guy or go to a certain location within so many turns. You further acquire units to add to your collection by developing a leveled unit into a different unit when they reach a specific level. The best part is that they don’t have to be from the same series. A good example is the starter unit called “Phoenix Gundam” that can be developed into four different suits from four different series. It helps speed up your acquisition rate and also lets you create your dream team, as it were, faster.
You upgrade your pilots by training them with capital you earn by completing missions, either story or daily dispatch missions that can take anywhere from one hour to over eight. You can lower this time by using items you are rewarded for completing certain achievements and completing quests to lower them down to a possible zero time away, aka instant completion. Completing the mission does not mean you were successful; every dispatch mission has criteria that can increase your chances to earn higher operational success percentages. Some examples are characters with specific traits such as “space pirate and Hero” among others, the capabilities of the units themselves contribute such as being an aquatic suit that got dispatched to space is obviously going to not contribute much.
I found dispatch missions to be entertaining when I played consistently in the beginning because I was on there at least once a day so an 8-hour mission wasn’t a problem, but it can get kind of frustrating because while your group is away, they are unusable in every other part of the game, which makes sense but also makes you have to build multiple groups of 8+ units and warship, thus increasing the amount of units to keep track of. Each of those units have to be leveled up individually to add points up to 999 to each stat to focus on their strengths such as melee, ranged, health, defense, and energy. Your suits stats combined with your pilot equal your damage and accuracy of attacks hitting.
Combat consists of you moving to a location on a map using a grid system and if you have the range choosing to attack an enemy. These attacks make use of your energy, which regens at the end of every turn by a certain base percentage plus modifiers of your suit modifications. You don’t do any of the actual combat yourself; you can either press attack and skip the animation that shows all the fancy cutscenes of you charging your laser or shooting your Vulcans or just skip it and the damage just pops up. Many times I chose the latter due to time constraints and once you’ve seen an attack a few dozen times it starts to get old.
Your location in the story determines your battle background but they certainly do overuse the generic warehouse and space backgrounds, so that’s another reason to skip a lot. After your turn ends the enemy units start theirs and this goes back and forth until you either win or lose the mission. My longest mission took me about 120 minutes spread out over two days just to give you an idea of how long some of these battles can be. Then I found the skip function hidden in the menu for certain actions. The units that you take into combat can also be defeated permanently so you don’t want to be losing often or you better start taking advantage of the quick save feature.
The battle scenes themselves are short cutscenes showing the two units charging at each other or using their weapons to damage the other all while music is pumping, weapon effects are going off and dialogue spoken by the enemy and your pilot are exchanged. They look great and are probably my favorite part of the actual missions due to them adding so much to the battles themselves. Its only after you start to get deep in the game where you just want it to end. The story cutscenes are taken right out of the series as well and give you an abridged retelling of your chosen series, they wanted to keep it as simple and engaging as possible but sometimes the cut content left out important elements that could be brought up later.
Although my love of Gundam is strong my introduction into the SRPG genre was a love-hate relationship almost every step of the way. I understand why these sorts of games aren’t an eSport, they are for the tactical person who wants to plan everything out and in this particular series make their team of what exactly they imagine is the most powerful cross-over in Gundam history. Cross Rays has beautiful animation, great cutscenes using stills from the anime series they originate from and great dialogue usage for some great references from the show you might have missed. Every time you begin and end a particular storyboard you see the introduction and end almost exactly like how it was when I watched it on TV, which is a nice piece of nostalgia because nothing stood out to me when I was younger while watching any show than the last words from Gundam Wing series “Peace has returned to the people, and from this point on in history, weapons called mobile suits, including the Gundam, were never seen again”. It’s a finality that there is no returning from and one that I loved. There’s one more finality, and that is that as great and fun as this game was, this particular Gundam fan can’t wait to call it quits and await the next Gundam game.