Super Robot Wars (also known as Taisen) is almost its own sub-genre of the Tactical RPG. There are very specific ways that this series looks and plays that aren’t really represented on the mobile market at this time. Except that is, for a little game called The War of Eustrath.
Originally released as an iPad exclusive in HD, the title received a mobile phone port in June 2010 and seems to have found its natural home there. The game works smoothly on almost any device I’ve seen it opened on, from the 3Gs all of the way up to the 5c, although borders are employed on bigger screens. In a market where new OS releases regularly kill older games for everybody it’s refreshing to see this title staying afloat.
Transitions are the thing that sticks most heavily in the mind after playing War of Eustrath, which is an odd thing to say but the game uses a limited range of them to good effect. Most titles enjoy a fade in and out approach to scenes, whilst this title sweeps the screen away like the page of a book or spins the screen around the show the next one on the reverse. It’s not unlike George Lucas went to town on it. The graphics are a mixture of pixel based sprite work and 2D illustrations, with these illustrations used as the primary story telling device and done in a Manga style. The playing field represents mechs and characters as small icons of the units head, which is moved around the battlefield. This keeps things uncluttered but means we only get to see what our units really look like when engaged in a fight.
For a game with a science fiction setting the music is oddly medieval in tone. Trumpets and marches make up the bulk of the orchestra here, and some of the tunes are very delicate in the way they have been constructed. One piece played over some cutscenes sounds like a child’s music box for example, overplaying innocence and tragedy. Sound effects make up for this by being full of laser blasts, slamming metal and whooshes as buttons are pressed to dramatic effect.
The story is told in a manner not unlike that of an episodic anime series. Before and after each mission is a cutscene, and sometimes a choice of which direction to send the plot, before battle is waged. Each of these chunks is referred to as a chapter and between chapters the player can upgrade their mechs according to what loot they received. It’s a story centers around Lucas Bradferd, a Wefradian knight. And knights in Eustrath pilot giant robots called GEARs and are all of noble birth. As the game opens, Lucas is resting in a small village with his damaged GEAR when he and the village are violently assaulted by the Kradion military, which levels the town and enslaves any survivors. Finding an unconscious young woman named Tiana, amid the rubble, Lucas rescues her and takes her on the run with him. Eventually they meet up with the rest of Lucas’s military unit and become the spearhead of an effort to end the war once and for all. Tiana clashes with these high-born types at first, but a chance encounter with a rare mech that responds to her leads them all to question their assumption that only those of noble blood are capable of piloting GEARs and winning this war. It’s a fairly straight forward story told with some of the traditional anime tropes (such as a hotsprings visit and girl-girl in bickering throughout). The dialogue can fall a little flat in its translation at times, but the story itself is interesting enough that you see past it to what the developers were trying to say. After a while you will be forwarding the game for the story over the action, which is often a rare thing in a mobile title.
Gameplay is traditional Tactical RPG fair but with a few twists that are only common in the Super Robot Wars series. Combat takes place on a square grid with units represented by icons and turn order decided by the speed of each character on the field. Movement range is according to type and each character has a different range of attack for using guns and a selection of close combat moves. As you prep an attack you can choose which of the 5 moves each character knows to use, altering the way the combat will play out in an almost rock, paper, scissors arrangement. Once an attack is made the opponent (should it have survived) get to make a retaliation attack on you. You can choose which attack or dodge tactic to use to do this with when you come under attack in turn. Combat ends when a victory condition has been met of when all allies/enemies are destroyed. Points are racked up that can be spent before moving on passive bonuses such as doubling experience points for the turn or increasing defence, but these should be used with care. Killing an enemy grants experience to directly level characters, but they also drop items that can be equipped or use to boost stats in the screens between chapters. These should be used immediately because the challenge ramps up dramatically as the game goes on. As mentioned earlier the game forks at several points, allowing for the player to make a choice as to where the next battle will take place, and on what terms. This adds replay value to an otherwise quite linear story. The only error I’ve managed to force out of the game is shifting the graphics to the left by perhaps an inch when an incoming call interrupted a cutscene. This was easily restored by closing and reopening the app, which then offers a ‘restart from last session’ prompt to cope with any unexpected crashes.
Overall The War for Eustrath is a solid tactics title on the iStore that is a good middle ground between Shining Force and Final Fantasy Tactics in terms of complexity. It should appeal to those who enjoy the genre and works across all formats. If you can look past the clichés of the anime ‘big mech’ plot tropes you’ll find that there’s quite a lot to like about this title.