Something that you can’t discredit the Gundam series for is the community that still inhabits it. Take the SD (Superior Defender/Super Deformed) sub-category of Gundam media, which transpired after a fan of the original series sent in crude drawings of their favourite Mobile Suits. It inspired Japanese manga artist Koji Yokoi so much, that the franchise branched off with its own capsule fighters. Host to a slew of toys and video games, it’s the latter that has seen coverage more prominently in recent years, including the latest title, SD Gundam Battle Alliance.
This is the latest title from Japanese developers Artdink, recently known for developing the Square Enix RPG Triangle Strategy, and is also the first Action-RPG entry in the entire SD Gundam series. It involves you and your programming partner, Juno Astarte, investigating anomalies in “G: Universe”, a database that records and details every important plot event in Gundam history. When these anomalies begin re-writing the people involved in these events, causing timelines and centuries to converge, it’s up to you, Juno, and friendly AI Sakura Slash to find the cause.
One thing that Battle Alliance does almost immediately is subvert expectations. With the plot revolving around re-enacting established canon to make sure it goes right, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the “greatest hits” approach to story events would make events easy to digest. Quite the opposite, unfortunately, as despite bookmarking key events like Amuro Ray stopping AXIS from falling into Earth, or Tekkadan’s last stand, the pacing of the exposition is unrelenting.
Due to the lack of an English dub at the time of writing, alongside the bombardment of exposition during gameplay, there’s no real chance to sit down and verify what is actually happening. In fact, for a Cliff Notes-retelling of Gundam’s most essential parts, it does a magnificently poor job of portraying the events in a digestible manner. What could’ve been a great chance to introduce newcomers to the series, quickly becomes an alienating affair.
It’s a shame because as it stands, the gameplay does just enough to involve the player in the affairs of the series. On top of the Action-RPG elements, you also have hack n’ slash combat relying on different categories of weapons for optimal damage, and incremental stat boosts offered by gear drops from enemies. Each story event requires a minimum of two plays: one to find the discrepancy in the story, and another to accurately portray events.
There are also “Chaos Missions”, but these are an oversight in many ways. You’ll play through one of the story maps normally, but if you enter a specific part of the map, an over-leveled Mobile Suit will suddenly appear for a boss fight. Despite Chaos Missions saying you need to be a certain level, it’s only the boss fight scaled to that level, meaning you have to trot through the rest of the under-leveled battles to get your reward. It’s a horrifically boring oversight that drags down great structure.
The game also cleverly writes in a quick excuse of “temporary data” in order to justify the player’s use of different Mobile Suits from other timelines, which helps with the variety immensely. While there are only three classes to be shared across 50+ Mobile Suits, there’s enough mechanical variety in how each Mobile Suit acts and reacts to justify experimenting, even if it’s only for a short while. Alongside their unique loadouts, Battle Alliance succeeds in trying to cover your preference in as many ways as possible.
For example, there’s the Command Gundam, which is featured in the “Sharpshooter” class, and has a loadout that exclusively features burst-fire weaponry and average DPS. However, the Cherudim Gundam in the same class focuses more on low DPS, but strong attacks from its sniper rifle attachment, which takes a while to reload. The content and variety are there, the only problem is the possibility you may not find your main Mobile Suit immediately.
Wasting resources can be an insurmountable problem if you’re not prepared for it, given how quickly you can incidentally waste money on upgrades. It won’t be long before you’ll need to ascend the leveling-up of whatever Gundam you have on hand to continue, and if you end up facing an enemy with resistance to say, beam weaponry, you have two choices. Either slog through the mission with reliance on co-op partners, or go back to earlier missions to gain both upgrade materials and the money needed to ascend a new Mobile Suit.
Sometimes it’s worth it though, as despite the chibi-fied aspects of each Mobile Suit, combat does a great job of demonstrating a city-leveling event every time you step out onto the field. The anatomically silly design of SD Gundam coincidentally serves the purpose of how brutish these mechas can be, as these meteors of metal smash into everything with full force. Along with the special moves and the other established characters taking part, it quickly becomes a warzone.
On top of that, you can bring two AI partners into any mission, the pilots being many established Gundam characters from any of the universes. It can lead to some quite busy battlefields, and questions about difficulty do creep in when 7 different Mobile Suits are wailing on something like Zeong or the Psycho Gundam. “Thankfully”, Artdink has mitigated this problem by making the AI as dumb as humanly possible.
It’s not noticeable at first, since the game's difficulty tends to build slowly over time, but as the stakes get higher with each boss and main character involved, AI partners become a huge liability. Battle Alliance promises that, due to your character’s tenure as a commander, then you can control their playstyle in a fight, but it only goes so far as “use your special move now”. Not only that, but due to AI partners having their own levels, they can quickly become obsolete in just a few missions.
This is a complaint that also extends to other characters you’re meant to be helping when re-enacting the canon events. It’s quite common to start a mission with the boss fight already in progress, you just have to walk to it, unlock the doors, etc. However, it’s more than likely that when you get tagged in, the characters meant to be fighting them will have done no damage. A possible answer is “well, if you AFK, then they can kill them before you get there”, but all missions have a time limit of 30 minutes or less, so… why don’t they actually help?
If the AI partners don’t do their job well enough, then you could always use them as meat shields, or a distraction, right? Wrong, due to something Battle Alliance calls “hate lines”. A glorified aggro system, it has enemies lock on to whoever seems to be the biggest threat, but from research, this is all based on the highest DPS, which the AI partners cannot provide. There’s a high chance you’ll be trying to dodge a flurry of attacks while your partners will constantly be left behind trying to keep up.
On the other hand, this does help curry favour with the game’s 3-player co-op, which is good. While making certain missions an utter cakewalk, it helps to keep the pacing high, even when the arena design can let you down sometimes. Whether you’ve got 3 players on hand or not, boss fights like the ones in “Garbage Space” can only serve to cause massive frustration due to busy backgrounds and no visible floor.
Is this a game that could introduce a novice into the Gundam universe? No, probably not. The speed at which 40 years of media is diluted down into exposition dumps mid-boss fight is difficult to swallow, and unless you’re a true fanatic, some of the stories will bounce right off you. This is one for the purists, in more ways than one, as the game hands you a narrative that translates to being a glorified Wikipedia editor making sure headcanons don’t come to life. In a way.
Even then, the game has a tendency to blue-ball at the worst of times. Moments like Amuro Ray stopping Axis from destroying Earth, or Banagher Links unleashing the Unicorn Gundam in full force are quickly cut off, with you back at base and Sakura explaining the aftermath. Whether it was budgetary restraints or just because of how much is stuffed into Battle Alliance, some of the magic is lost when some of Gundam’s most important moments become footnotes.
It’s tricky to consider Battle Alliance, all things considered. It is without a doubt a love letter to fans of the Gundam franchise, gunpla or otherwise, but most of the time, that’s all it can be. From a pure gameplay standpoint, it has the ingredients to satiate comfortably, and a variety of Mobile Suits to keep you playing for a while, but astronomically misses the chance to be an entry point. For the fans, and nobody else, and y’know what? In some ways, that’s fine.
TechRaptor reviewed SD Gundam Battle Alliance on Xbox One with a copy provided by the publisher. It is also available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S, Nintendo Switch, and PC via Steam
- Dedication to the franchise is clear
- Variety in Mobile Suits is staggering
- Not too mechanically complex to ward off newcomers to the genre
- Narratively impenetrable to anyone but hardcore fans
- Level design tends to be significantly boring
- Oversights in mission variety
- Pointless squad commanding roles