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Release Date: June 12, 2012
With the (slow) waning of PSP support in favor of the Vita, Gungnir may be one of the last Sting operations people are likely to see on the PSP. Following the beloved niche titles of Dept. Heaven, like Riviera: The Promised Land and Knights in the Nightmare, Gungnir instead goes for strategy RPG territory.
Speaking in general terms, strategy RPGs are usually pretty hit-or-miss. Protracted combat magnifies any issue with same, and their often fixed progression can become claustrophobic for many players. Conversely, with the right mix of solid battles and a well-told story, an SRPG that is on point can be one of the best storytelling experiences of all time. While Gungnir doesn't quite bull's-eye the latter, it is, like its namesake, just as lethal with a glancing blow.
The Leonica race has had a bad time; the upper-class Daltanians have subjugated Leonica as a cursed race, but, as subjugation tends to do, this just leads to a resistance army, this time named "Esperanza." Since the death of the previous leader, Ragnus, his adopted son and Daltanian by blood, brings the resistance to clash with Daltania.
Our hero, however, is Giulio, the biological son of the previous leader. After a run-in with death in an attempt to protect his home, Giulio is "chosen" by Gungnir, a legendary and, of course, super powerful spear that allows him to summon the war gods in battle, as well as the Valkyrie who tags along with it to help him on his campaign. Esperanza sees Gungnir as a means of winning the war on tyranny and classism, but nothing is ever so simple. A few twists, a lot of mysteries, and a healthy combination of both shenanigans and monkey shines are promised in Gungnir, and they are delivered on a blood-soaked platter.
If one were to speak strictly to the series of events in Gungnir, it would be a fairly generic tale to tell. Fortunately, this narrative is special; it has aspirations. The elevator pitch is a soap opera of political intrigue, adoption, and plot-twists that can be seen from a mile away. The good and gritty, though, is that Gungnir deals with much more complex ideas than that, and handles them maturely. Racism, and more directly, classism are probably the most important themes in the game, driving the majority of the characters, as well as defining the plot itself. The themes aren't necessarily subtle, but Gungnir handles them as a plot device, allowing for the player to deal with them as deeply as they'd care to, instead of having them thrown into their face.
Dialogue is handled realistically, where characters don't fly off the handle or get out of hand over jabs, and characters who are actually supposed to be composed are composed. This adds stakes to when someone loses their cool, because that is defined as being so clearly outside of their character. There's a genuine sense of sincerity to the characters which, frankly speaking, is in so very few games that it's almost jarring to see.
This is sort of a double-edged legendary powerful spear, however. Being that the extreme personalities from other games are missing, there's a sense of homogenization in the cast, where, until about halfway through the game, it's kind of hard to have any particular stakes in the characters. The story seems to spin its wheels for a while as it sets up all of the moving parts, as well.
Once it finally catches and gets moving, it becomes extremely interesting, especially given that several key scenes give players input on what course of action to take, but it's easy to lose steam before that happens. For the first half of the game, players are likely to find themselves battling to stay engaged until the plot finally starts to congeal, and once it finally comes to a close, players may not feel completely satisfied, given a few notable plot holes.
Speaking of battling, that's a thing in Gungnir. Gameplay comes in two stages: Preparation and combat. Preparation occurs between missions, allowing players to restock on items, regear their troops, and gather entirely new troops. The "Camp" option, which occurs after certain points in the story where having an influx of volunteers would be appropriate, allows players an offering of some random team members that can be hired on for free.
Conversely, one could go to the Guild where, with a certain amount of money, mercenaries can be hired. If a weapon is put down with the money, only characters who can use that type of weapon will appear. The bizarre issue with this is that the characters have no equipment, but the weapon you put down to hire them is gone forever, so it creates a weird conundrum. Alchemy allows players to upgrade weapons by breaking down other items into crystals, or by gathering crystals by attacking them in battlefields. Each subsequent level decreases the odds of success on the next upgrade attempt, while increasing the cost to attempt it. Ultimately, it's not a particularly innovative system, but it is fairly tried and true.
The combat portion is reasonably straightforward, though with a pretty significant level of depth. Players choose an "Ace," which, if defeated, is an automatic defeat. Fortunately, though, the Ace also grants wait bonuses to certain classes, so a good choice of an Ace can benefit the team overall. Afterwards, there is a standard tactics-style unit placement menu. Movement is based on weight. The more weight a player has, the more wait time their actions cause them to accrue. At a wait time of four or less, characters can act without any ostensible penalty, but at five or more, a certain amount will be removed from their maximum HP.
Instead of taking turns between player and enemy, each enemy unit has a wait time until they can act, and the player has an overarching wait time for their turn determined by the action performed in the last turn. With well-managed characters, the player can organize several movements at a time to overcome enemies. With poorly managed characters, characters will whittle down their own health to get attacks in, or be sitting ducks while enemies attack them.
Bases on the battlefield can be captured to increase the player's maximum Tactics, and movement can increase the usable Tactics. Tactics are used for things like switching equipment at bases, switching out characters, doing team attacks, or, if Giulio is using the Gungnir, summoning war gods. Summoning the war gods uses up all available Tactics points, and will attack random points, including one's own party members, on the map with different effects that depend on which war god Giulio uses.
While players may feel overwhelmed at first, Gungnir gives players ample opportunity to figure out how each of the parts in battle work before tossing them into a significantly more difficult battle. The first part of the game is a breeze, but after certain points, the difficulty curve will jump significantly. Without a good handle on Gungnir's mechanics and a solid concept of strategy, some parts of the game will be nigh impossible.
Graphically, Gungnir follows the same style as other Dept. Heaven games, being cut-ins for dialogue and sprite-based movements in cutscenes. The UI is visually very similar to something like Yggdra Union or Riviera. Also, all dialogue in the game is communicated through text, without any form of voice acting. While this is hardly an issue on its own, combined with the lack of innovation and the minimalist, albeit stylized graphics, Gungnir does start to feel somewhat bare-bones.
Gungnir's biggest issue is that it is a game of preserverence. It is a solid game overall, but it has the issue of, at any given moment, the player will have to face some issue or another. While it isn't necessarily game-breaking, it can be draining for someone who isn't a dedicated SRPG fan. For fans, however, Gungnir is absolutely a perfectly fine way to wind down their time on the PSP.
- Interesting second-half to the main story
- Strong, mature themes
- Deep, complex, but limpid combat system
- Realistic characters and dialogue
- Slow first half to the story
- Difficulty curve suddenly spikes
- Gameplay is neither innovative nor masterful
Overall: 7 (out of 10)
Gungnir is not for the frivolous fan of SRPGs, but may be deeply satisfying for adherents of the genre.
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