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MS Saga: A New Dawn (PlayStation 2) artwork

MS Saga: A New Dawn (PlayStation 2) review

"When it comes to anime, people have different ways of expressing their love. Some cosplay, some create fansites, and some draw parodies. SD Gundam was originally intended as an all-out parody of the super-serious Gundam series. SD Gundam was so popular that it eventually took on a life of its own and spawned an entire line of toys, television shows, and video games. MS Saga is one of those games."

The incredible destiny of a boy named Tristan Vader *

One year ago, an orphan named Vader packed up his bags, bid farewell to his surrogate mother/adolescent crush, and set out into the wide green world. As he left the orphanage, Vader never once looked back.

Actually, scratch that. Vader did look back, because he'd barely made it ten steps out before an army of mobile suits suddenly showed up and torched the place. Vader bravely ran back towards the orphanage, but a giant explosion rocked its wooden frame, crushing any hopes that his beloved Miss Natalie might still be alive. In the blink of a Zaku's cyclopean eye, Vader had become an orphan for a second time.

With a melodramatic "NOOOOOOOOOOOO!", Vader swore revenge on those who had murdered his friends. Alongside his absurdly-dressed buddy Fritz (who conveniently ran away from the orphanage before it exploded), Vader spent the next year building his own mobile suit. That's kind of like if I'd spent my Junior year in highschool building an Abrams tank, but whatever. About two minutes after finishing the mobile suit that took an entire year to create, Vader and Fritz managed to knock down and steal someone else's suit.

* MS Saga lets you rename the hero. I picked Vader. To protect the game's integrity, I will refer to the hero by his original name (Tristan) from now on.

So there you have it: two boys with two mobile suits go on a world-spanning adventure to destroy the forces of evil. Along the way, they discover an amnesiac girl with a mysterious past, a buff and gruff warrior with a gentle heart, and a bunch of other cliche companions. If the idea of yet another "coming of age" RPG makes your skin crawl, then MS Saga: A New Dawn isn't the game for you. Tales of Eternia, Grandia, and Lunar probably aren't the games for you, either.

However! If you're looking for an enthusiastically optimistic adventure... then those other games I just named are all better. Fortunately, there's one thing MS Saga has that other games don't: midget robots. Instead of piloting gigantic, manly mobile suits, Tristan and his misfit orphanage-avenging troupe pilot short, big-headed chibi-suits. This isn't because of developer drug use; this is because MS Saga is part of the awesome SD Gundam series.

When it comes to anime, people have different ways of expressing their love. Some cosplay, some create fansites, and some draw parodies. SD Gundam was originally intended as an all-out parody of the super-serious Gundam series. What could possibly be funnier than tiny, super-cute Gouf and Gelgoog suits wreaking havoc throughout the world? (Don't answer that.) SD Gundam was so popular that it eventually took on a life of its own and spawned an entire line of toys, television shows, and video games. MS Saga is one of those games.

But here's the weird part: MS Saga isn't a parody. It's a serious story. Deadly serious! The diabolical VLADI ZARTH and his Dark Alliance don't just destroy orphanages; they intend to take over the whole world. My personal theory is that the SD Gundam franchise has become so popular that it's no longer a joke... it's just an alternate, light-hearted visual style. The plot plays out similarly to Gundam Wing, but with less dark moral ambiguity. Characters wear their emotions on their sleeves, Tristan never threatens to murder the heroine, and everyone is generally pleasant.

But you're still expected to KILL ALL WHO OPPOSE YOU.

To accomplish this noble goal of killing without being killed, Tristan and his friends employ a cool version of the "two rows" gimmick. Three of your characters fight on the front line, and three hang out in back. That's not unusual in and of itself, but what makes MS Saga so easy to play is that there's NO time or turn penalty to swap characters between ranks. In most formation-based RPGs, I would leave that weak fashion reject Fritz rotting in the back row. In MS Saga, rotating characters (to recharge or heal) is actually a viable tactic. I equipped one girl with this HUGE rifle, which uses so much energy that it can't possibly be fired on the first turn... so I intentionally left her sitting in the back until the second turn. Then I rotated her into the front line and POURED LIQUID FIRE INTO THE ENEMY'S METALLIC FACE. I pity the fool who messes with Tristan and his T-Force!

Everyone also has a bunch of techniques (magic spells) and boost skills (limit breaks) like every other RPG you've ever played, so I won't waste time talking about those. It's a simple and intuitive turn-based combat system that flows easily without wasting time on convoluted menu negotiations. The complicated aspect is the customization screen. With enough parts and money, you can create new suits from the ground up, and then start swapping arms, legs, weapons, and other accessories! Since swapping these parts around would result in a gruesome Frankenstein's beast with red legs, one blue arm, and one green arm, MS Saga lets you paint each individual piece. It's not as elaborate as Armored Core, but it adds depth to an otherwise straightforward game.

Be warned: a lot of cool mobile suits (Epyon, Turn A) are missing. When the TV show features twenty million different suits, that's going to happen. My recommendation is this: don't expect to see a particular favorite. Just enjoy the game for its atmosphere, and enjoy the suits that DO appear.

Even though the characters are stereotypical and the plot is transparent, the optimistic atmosphere, simplistic battles, and cool customization sequences make MS Saga fairly enjoyable. Because of its frequent allusions to the various TV series, Gundam fans will get a lot more out of the game. For example, when I saw that Tristan's shy and lady-like love interest pilots her own mobile suit, I screamed:


That irritated my roommate, but it was a legitimately scary moment! Long-time Gundam fans know that female pilots tend to meet horribly tragic ends. Because of this bloody legacy, MS Saga is less predictable than similar, non-Gundam RPGs. If genuinely adorable Aeon dies, that's heartbreaking. If she lives, that's surprising.

Unfortunately, long-time Gundam fans will also keep comparing the game to past Gundam adventures. Although MS Saga sufficiently exploits the mobile suit concept in its customization scenes, its characters don't hold up against the legendary anime. The original U.C. Gundam series thrived because of the on-again/off-again rivalry between pilot-by-accident Amuro Ray and the pretentious nobleman Char Aznable. Char was awesome, and his signature red outfit has become a cultural icon. Some freaky Japanese guy even plans to wear a Char costume when he goes into outer space later this year!

MS Saga tries to blatantly copy Char, but doesn't spend the necessary time to develop the new character or his rivalry with Tristan. It would be like if I made a sci-fi movie, put a black metal suit on some random bum, and expected the world to instantly worship him as the next Darth Vader. It just doesn't work like that!

Mobile Suit Gundam changed the history of Japanese animation. MS Saga: A New Dawn won't change RPG or Gundam history, but it's still an enjoyable little romp.


I'm ashamed that I actually used the word "romp".


zigfried's avatar
Staff review by Zigfried (March 12, 2006)

Zigfried likes writing about whales and angry seamen, and often does so at the local pub.

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