Bandai Namco’s first attempt at localizing a Gundam game in many years comes with mixed results, as Mobile Suit Gundam Extreme Vs-Force is a largely average experience.
Western fans of the various Gundam game series have been waiting a long time for a localized version of the hit Mobile Suit Gundam Extreme Vs. series. The Extreme Vs. games have been a hit in arcades and on handhelds alike, playing out more like a highly tactical arcade fighter than the usual mech-suit action games that have characterized many of the anime’s first forays into the western video game market. After the last few Extreme Vs. games did better than expected, Bandai Namco made the decision to localize the next in the series, Mobile Suit Gundam Extreme Vs-Force, in an attempt to finally break through to a demographic that has been largely apathetic to the beloved giant robot trope.
While it’s likely the right decision to bring Mobile Suit Gundam Extreme Vs. to the West, Bandai Namco could not have chosen a worse iteration in the series to be its standard bearer. Mobile Suit Gundam Extreme Vs. does a lot of things right, and its surprisingly deep mix of tactical decision-making and arcade-style combat makes it a fun title, but it’s also the most inaccessible of the Extreme Vs. series to gamers unfamiliar with previous installments.
Mobile Suit Gundam Extreme Vs-Force begins with a very simple premise – what would happen if someone gathered all of the coolest mechs in Gundam history and pitted them against each other? Luckily for fans of the series, that’s exactly what happens when the player character is tasked with exploring famous historical moments in one of the Gundam universes. The story is a little confusing, but largely amounts to the player gathering data through simulations of past events and also dealing with a strange glitch in the system that is causing mechas from alternate timelines to spill over into the main one. If nothing else, the last plot point is how Bandai Namco skirts around the fact that the Gundam anime takes place in a few different universes that exist separate from each other, allowing the publisher to have Gundams fight each other when they normally wouldn’t be able to.
Unfortunately, the story feels tacked on, and it quickly becomes apparent that the player is never really supposed to care much about the events of the single player campaign. Of course, the story behind Mobile Suit Gundam Extreme Vs-Force is hardly the main selling point, although the ability to re-enact some of the television show’s most pivotal moments will certainly be a bonus for long-time fans of the franchise’s many iterations.
Games like Extreme Vs-Force live and die by the way they design single and multiplayer combat, though, and in this regard Bandai Namco has managed to succeed – for the most part. Extreme Vs-Force features the debut of team-based mission approaches to the Extreme-Vs series, which has traditionally been defined by 2 vs 2 or 3 vs 3 combat. Players are now able to choose teams of up to 6 mechas, accompanied by a warship, to tackle whatever problem they might run into on their journey down memory lane. Gamers only ever have full control over 1 specific Gundam, but the game lets players direct the battle from an overmap and have teammates employ cool tactics like pincer attacks or escorting an important convoy with relative ease.
The AI is strong, too, so these missions never feel as though they’re being bogged down by technical shortcomings. Mobile Suit Gundam Extreme Vs-Force has a lot to offer gamers who enjoy micro-managing units and employing different tactics to survive demanding missions, but the single player campaign is also where localization has hurt the game the most. Some missions seem like gamers need to pay attention to character discussion as they’re progressing to understand what’s being asked of them – a feature that would be fine, except the dialogue is entirely in Japanese and subtitles don’t pop up for in-mission dialogue between characters.
This lack of clear communication will have fans frustrated more than once. On at least two occasions, this reviewer failed a mission because the game vaguely tried to explain a change in objective and did not get the point across adequately. It’s easy to tell from a character’s tone whether they are anxious or excited, but it is difficult to ascertain that it’s because a warship is planning on crashing into the player’s home base until said home base has already found a fiery, vexing end.
A lot of Mobile Suit Gundam Extreme Vs-Force feels as though the game leaves players to their own devices in discovering the finer points of combat, but it doesn’t feel intentional. Instead, it feels as though gamers are only ever working on partial information, and uncovering a useful hint or tip way later in the game than was probably intended can feel disheartening.
Luckily, multiplayer is relatively straightforward by comparison, as players eschew the more complex tactics of the single player missions and duke it out with other pilots online to see who is superior. Unfortunately, this, too, isn’t all it could be – there are definite balance issues with the game, and Gundams like Unicorn and Exia feel extremely overpowered in both the single and multiplayer campaigns. Unicorn in particular feels like it should never have made it as far in the game as it did, as it can effectively switch between many different roles in combat while simultaneously changing weapons that use different ammo. Most other mechas have very limited ammo, and often times it is shared between different forms or roles in combat, so the difference is very notable and borderline unfair.
The multiplayer battles are still very exciting, however, and the game is much deeper than many would likely expect it to be. The Extreme Vs. series feels a lot more like Street Fighter than it does Zone of the Enders, and players who aren’t willing to take the time to familiarize themselves with the ins and outs of each Gundam they choose will be at a disadvantage. It wouldn’t hurt a game like this to have better graphics, though, or feature on a console rather than the PS Vita – the smaller screen and dated graphics can make timing blocks and dodges a bit harder than they probably need to be.
Ultimately, though, Mobile Suit Gundam Extreme Vs-Force is a solid title plagued by an obtuse translation that will leave a lot of gamers unfamiliar with the series scrambling to pick up the game’s mechanics and a story that seems explicitly designed to only appeal to hardcore fans of the Gundam franchise. That’s a tough sell in a market that has been very hostile to Gundam spin-offs before, and despite some impressively polished single and multiplayer gameplay, it’s hard to suggest that Mobile Suit Gundam Extreme Vs-Force is a must-own for anyone besides diehard fans who likely already imported a Japanese version of the game because they couldn’t wait for the western release.
Mobile Suit Gundam Extreme Vs-Force is available now for the PS Vita. Game Rant was provided a PS Vita code for this review.