After about two months of slow and steady play, I’ve finally finished the 52-stage campaign of Super Robot Wars X. So here are my standings for the Super Robot Wars series in English.
(A disclaimer, since someone will ask (please don’t): Bandai Namco releases these English versions in Singapore only, likely for licensing reasons. You will need to find an importer or make a Singapore PSN account in order to buy this game.)
X is not as good as its immediate predecessor, V. If you are okay with a poor localization and no licensed robots from famous anime, Moon Dwellers is a much better strategy RPG than either of them. If you haven’t played any of the PS4 SRW titles and you need anime characters, play V unless you’re really into one of the new series in this game (Nadia, Wataru, G-Reco, Buddy Complex).
Coming just a year after V, X is built on the former game’s skeleton. The systems are effectively unchanged, and the vast majority of the units return from the previous game with slim pickings in terms of new series. Especially after finishing V a year ago, it’s hard to escape the feeling of going through the same strategy RPG campaign with the same team all over again.
It doesn’t help that there’s less of a story to chew on this time around. V had a very engaging, twisty story that cleverly wove together the worlds of a massive number of wildly disparate anime stories and built something worth reading out of them. That’s what Super Robot Wars does, after all. But in X, most of the cast is just… there.
This is a “transported to a parallel world” story, as is so popular in Japanese entertainment lately. Many of the cast members are summoned to the game world (Al-Warth) after their stories, as they went in their source anime, have already been told. There’s nowhere to go with them, and indeed their stories go nowhere. The writers do what they can, but most of the characters in your group are almost entirely disconnected from the world and main story; others lie dormant until they’re finally relevant in the last stages of the game.
This would be fine if existing anime stories took a backseat to the development of the game’s original world, Al-Warth… but Al-Warth never really gets anywhere either. At first the idea of Super Robot Wars in a storybook fantasy world is excitingly novel, but aside from the airy character designs of Yun Kouga and the protagonist’s repertoire of magic spells, nothing really changes. All the systems from V are simply re-labeled as “magic.” We are told about the setting and politics of Al-Warth, but when it comes time to see it for ourselves, we just end up shooting the same rock golems in the same forest over and over again. It doesn’t really feel like anybody lives in this world, aside from the anime characters who have been dropped onto the place and the evil wizards who rule it.
The protagonists themselves are hollow, and the companion character Spero — a pretentious, horny version of Kyubey from Madoka Magica who could not be worse at hiding his motives or creeping on the female crew members — is an unbearable presence throughout. I don’t know how the writers thought we were supposed to love this guy.
It also feels like every map is a meaningless skirmish with some minor antagonist from one of the source series, with an “I’ll get you yet!” on exit. (You know the game is coming to a close when these characters either die or join you at the end of the stage instead.) This is standard Super Robot Wars after all, but I started to feel the fatigue when every stage was like this. There are no gimmicky stages to break things up and few surprises in the story of each map: having omniscient characters like Lelouch and Captain Nemo on deck at the same time effectively guarantees no surprises or plot twists, ever.
Even at the very last plot twist of the whole game, Lelouch pops his head out and says “I KNEW THAT!” Shut up, Lulu. It was obvious.
The new series are a mixed bag. V used Space Battleship Yamato to brilliant effect because even though Yamato is not a traditional “robot” story, it is a great sci-fi setting to shape the entire story around. By contrast, Nadia of the Blue Water doesn’t really justify its presence in the story, and it feels like it’s there simply because there was an untraditional pick last time. The story also assumes you know all of these characters really well already, more than the others. The Blue Water sure is one convenient plot device, though, huh? Anyway!
Buddy Complex, meanwhile, is just too deadly boring to save. Even Super Robot Wars writers — who rewrote Gundam Seed Destiny and made the aggressively mean-spirited Cross Ange fresh and likable — can’t fix a robot anime so generic to its core that it could have been titled “Red Robot and Blue Robot”. The units themselves are pretty powerful, with fun gimmicks: refreshing in a game full of characters I just used last year. In the end-game I made these guys go-to fighters even though I can’t stand the kids themselves.
Mashin Hero Wataru’s treatment is loving and delightful: this is the series they’ve built the whole game world for. The unflappably good-natured kid hero himself is a refreshing change of pace from a crew that mostly consists of troubled teens and macho tough guys. The procession of absurd kids’ anime scenery-chewing villains (like Schwarzenvegger and Cruising Tom) is also a welcome break from the usual Gundam-style conflicted enemy ace pilots. Though few and far between, the new units are fun to use: they’re just in with returning game-breakers like Gurren Lagann and Mazinkaiser, and most are so weak that it’s very hard to justify using anybody but Wataru’s Ryujinmaru.
Both SRWV and SRWX are breezy rides where players will break the game’s systems about a quarter of the way in and then steamroll the rest of the stages with little resistance. Micro-management, my great joy in this series, will simply make the victory even more crushing. As in many licensed SRW titles, you have a few overwhelmingly powerful attack units, a backbone of supporters and healers, and a whole mess of characters who are much too weak to justify using unless they’re your favorite from a series.
Once you’re about two thirds into the game and have all the right items to cover for your units’ weaknesses, you’re unstoppable. The new “expert mode” was still very much a pushover. Paying for the extra DLC missions gives your team that extra push from “unfair” into “broken.” The game was never really meant to be a challenge, but an invincible army crashing through wave after wave of enemies can get tedious. Take this game slow or you’ll burn out.
Super Robot Wars X is ultimately a non-essential entry in the series unless you’re really into one of the featured anime; due to the nature of their stories, Nadia and Wataru are particularly unlikely to appear in a Super Robot Wars game again. Personally, I’m totally burned out on Super Robot Wars V’s system and would really like something completely new next time. I love Super Robot Wars, but this felt too much like a game I had already played… very recently, at that.