"The game's subtitle has always been “We'll Never Fight Alone.” In this PSP port of Yggdra Union, you're just a little less forsaken. A few new characters expand your party and the ways to navigate through the adventure. Larger armies subtly change the dynamics of battle. Additional methods of restoring life make it a hair more forgiving than the GBA original. However, Yggdra Union is still a methodical, exacting strategy game that unmercifully punishes any mistake. It walks a..."
The game's subtitle has always been “We'll Never Fight Alone.” In this PSP port of Yggdra Union, you're just a little less forsaken. A few new characters expand your party and the ways to navigate through the adventure. Larger armies subtly change the dynamics of battle. Additional methods of restoring life make it a hair more forgiving than the GBA original. However, Yggdra Union is still a methodical, exacting strategy game that unmercifully punishes any mistake. It walks a precarious line between enjoyment and anguish.
We're introduced to Princess Yggdra as she flees the burning corpse of her homeland, massacred by the neighboring evil Empire. She's a frail blonde, drawn in a cutesy anime style with extra-large eyes and a flowing, delicately-laced dress. At first, her only companion is the holy sword, Gran Centurio, and her only desire is to run it through the accursed Emperor that murdered her family. Immediately, though, she begins to collect helpful allies. Milanor, the silver haired bandit with a heart of gold. Durant, her loyal knight riding his trusty steed. Eventually, the party can include an assassin, a tactician, a magician, a mermaid, an outlaw, and a turncoat. Despite greater hardware horsepower, the level of detail for the 2-D character portraits isn't surprising, given they were already stunning on the GBA. But this PSP release does feature a virtually fully-voiced performance (English and Japanese), which adds depth to the entire cast.
All those troops are still often outnumbered on the bland, two-dimensional battlefield. But there's one great equalizer: each side can only attack once per turn. To involve the entire band of liberators, it's necessary to form a union. This buzzword describes your party's formation on the field. The gender of the union leader (the first attacking unit) determines the required alignment, and the involved troops take their turn in a set order. It can be a logistical challenge just to move your units into position. Pathways are narrow and short on spaces, so you can't always line everyone up and fire full force.
Enemies form unions as well, and they delight in ganging up on any soldier you leave to fend for itself. Opposing union members pair off to fight one-on-one. When two factions have unequal numbers, each representative of the large group still gets a turn to fight; the warriors in the smaller group are forced to battle more than once. There's a penalty attached, too; troops start out weaker with each successive round. This means you can't just form a union with offense in mind, the formation must be aligned such that each member is cushioned from a relentless onslaught of attackers during the computer's turn.
Positioning serves as the foundation of strategy, but there are other important elements. At the beginning of each turn, you choose a card. The card governs movement. Each possesses a static number of spaces that must be divided between the party; it can be as low as three and frequently falls in single digits. Cards also grant the ability to cast spells: temporary invincibility, elemental attacks, and theft of precious items to name a few. However, these powers will only activate under certain conditions: with a specific union leader, at a certain time of day, or on a certain terrain. Since a card can only be used once per battle, it's a constant struggle on how to squeeze out the maximum benefit. Only a dozen or so can be taken into a mission, so the planning of the every turn begins before you even take the field. Also, if you exhaust the deck before the stage ends, it's an automatic failure.
Conquest is carried out through a synergy of unions and cards, but the building block of it all is an individual clash. Each combatant appears as a single unit on the battlefield, but the person actually fights with a small battalion. Yggdra slashes alongside seven other sword maidens, and Milanor has an equal supply of axe-wielding bandits. A mounted unit like Durant appears with three other doubly-powered horsemen. Following an initial blow and counterstrike, the two sides hack away until one is wiped out. You have limited control of the outcome through the skill gauge. When it's full, you can unleash the power of a card and completely reverse the tide of a fight. It rises more quickly when you take a defensive stance, though that decreases attack power. Conversely, you can drain the meter to hit with a little more power. These decisions make every encounter critical and involved; there's never a truly maintenance free battle.
In the original version, each side only had the strength of six warriors. The increase in numbers has two main effects. First off, each unit possesses a vital statistic called 'morale'; these are its life points. It carries over from battle to battle, so each sliver is valuable. The loser of a duel gets a chunk of their morale shaved off. The exact amount is dependent on several factors: terrain, ability difference, and margin of victory. With more units in play, the slimmest win, a margin of one, actually nets less impact than in the previous incarnation. Units aren't vanquished until their morale reaches zero, so it can take more turns to kill off an evenly matched opponent.
Second, it makes upsets harder to pull off. Yggdra Union utilizes a standard, circular weapon hierarchy involving swords, spears, and axes; arrows and magical rods are mixed in against the close combat tools in a similar fashion. Previously, an auspicious start for an underdog could result in a victory without further intervention. Now more units translates into lengthier clashes, which gives those with a weapon advantage more time to close an initial deficit. To work against the hierarchy, help from a card is needed more than before. There are times when you just want to hide someone in a corner because they're vulnerable against every enemy.
But running away won't always help. For all the planning that needs to go into each level, Yggdra Union strives to ambush you and rip those preparations to shreds. Frequently, the next mission objective will be unveiled as soon as the previous one is completed. The map will simply expand and enemy reinforcements will appear. You won't have a chance to change out cards or reorganize your combat troops. Given the precious nature of movement and cards, this is a oppressive hardship. Moreover, the opposition often receives the first turn. A successful campaign can quickly turn disastrous as newcomers pick off your now out-of-position units and chop their morale in half.
Believe it or not, this PSP version is actually more generous, as it provides additional ways to recover scarce morale. Previously, the only way to recoup it was through the use of items, the best of which were found in remote villages or even blank squares. Now, there is a specific card that will refresh a small slice (given its conditions are met), plus units rebound greatly when they level up (still not a frequent occurrence). These aides will disappear if you unlock the hardest mode by clearing the game, but the ultimate failsafe is always present. When you must retry a mission, experience gained in the losing effort will carry over. However, character death revokes all progress towards the next level. You even have to fail in a strategic way!
The draconian gameplay system isn't the only source of anxiety. The Princess also takes actions that blur her righteous path. For example, Yggdra's first stop for assistance is the Undine principality of Embellia, a loyal ally. However, the mermaids have also been victimized by the Empire, and have turned to lash out at nearby human settlements. Quickly scrapping hope for a diplomatic resolution, Yggdra turns her blade against the undines and basically wipes out the entire race. Peace is achieved at the ultimate cost. Hey, at least she feels a little bad about it.
Not bad enough to suspend her crusade. Yggdra continues to meet trouble from all sides, and her holy sword provides the final solution, ably cutting through the flesh of the misguided and desperate as that of blackhearted villains. Ultimately, you must decide if her means have justified the end, if the Gran Centurio is a just or tyrannical blade. The gameplay challenges are certainly cruel and complex; they suffer no mistakes from you. A single encounter can cripple your efforts. No doubt, this game requires heaps of patience and determination. Challenging and frustrating. Rewarding and painful. These qualities are indelibly united in Yggdra Union.
Community review by woodhouse (January 09, 2009)
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