"RPGs are stereotyped as one of the more intellectual game genres, all about story and plot and meaning. Endless Frontier bucks this stereotype pretty hard. It’s a self-consciously dopey, disposable sort of story that’s little more than an excuse to string dungeons and boss encounters together. Much of the plot’s appeal is meant to rest in its nature as a sly crossover that puts Namco x Capcom, Super Robot Taisen OG2, Super Robot Taisen alpha 3, Xenosaga, and many other games into a single “multiversal” setting."
It’s good that Super Robot Taisen OG Saga: Endless Frontier is available for people to play in English, but never before has it been so clear that a game was largely meant to convey Japanese in-jokes to Japanese people steeped in the culture of Japanese niche gaming. Just take the game’s compound fracture of a title, sure to confuse GameStop guys everywhere and probably never to be used in full by standard human beings.
The “Super Robot Taisen” references Banpresto’s long-running Super Robot Taisen series of licensed anime crossover tactical RPGs, represented in the US by a scant two releases. The “OG” letters designate that this is a game in the Super Robot Taisen franchise featuring all-original characters, a designation that’s meaningless to American gamers who’ve never seen an official English release of a non-OG Super Robot Taisen title. The “Saga” designates that this is not quite your average Super Robot Taisen game, an action RPG instead of a tactical RPG. By the time you get to “Endless Frontier,” you’ve got the actual intended title of the game. This is the only part that will make any particular sense to someone who just picks this game up and plays it through on its own terms.
The good news is that a gamer that does so is likely to have quite a bit of fun putting Endless Frontier through its paces. The gameplay here has nothing to do with the slow turn-based pace of your older Super Robot Taisen games, instead offering a breezy combo-oriented battle system that will probably remind seasoned gaming vets of the 2D LMBS system seen in the likes of Tales of Destiny. An import gamer may realize that the game’s battle system is based on Namco x Capcom’s and in fact probably realizes that Endless Frontier is essentially a co-production involving NxC developer Monolithsoft and Super Robot Taisen developer Banpresto. The pace in Endless Frontier is much faster, though, with characters learning new chains of attacks as they level up. A chain of attacks can launch enemies into the air or punt them around the screen, challenging players to equip fighters with combo sequences that allow for maximum damage. Fighters can only attack so many times per turn, but you can extend this by using your party’s mecha as strikers to keep an enemy in the air or by bringing in another team member to directly continue the combo you started.
Fought in this basic fashion, Endless Frontier’s encounters are thrilling and kinetic. Even random encounters hold some charm, as enemies are given an unusually good ability to soak up and dish out damage. If you drop an enemy with a sloppy break in your combo technique, that enemy may begin taking less damage, resisting your damage entirely, or even counter-attacking you. As you attack an enemy, though, your characters build up a gauge called the Frontier Gauge. When this meter is full, you can have a character perform powerful and flashy prescripted super moves that also do quite a bit of damage. A player who really likes watching these can start building up his or her Frontier Gauge more quickly by canceling chain attacks at strategic moments during battle animations. Once you’re really good at this, you can pretty much fire Frontier Moves off all day. A lot of players are really going to like this option. Others may choose to ignore it in favor of going for high max combo counts. Both ways of playing the game are fun enough, because the sprite-based 2D animations for just about everything the characters do are stunning.
Fighting is the bulk of the noteworthy gameplay in Endless Frontier. The game’s equipment system isn’t too robust, dungeons are linear and there’s not much in the way of side-questing. You’ll clear the game in probably 20 hours at most and there’s little reason to engage in replays. While the characters are pretty colorful – complete with guest appearances from KOS-MOS and T-elos from the Xenosaga games – they’re not too compelling on their own. Mainly, they’re vehicles to crack wise at each other or provide Gainax bounce during combat animations. Since the combat animations are so very good and Atlus’s script localization is as witty as any fan of the publisher could want, this is all just fine.
RPGs are stereotyped as one of the more intellectual game genres, all about story and plot and meaning. Endless Frontier bucks this stereotype pretty hard. It’s a self-consciously dopey, disposable sort of story that’s little more than an excuse to string dungeons and boss encounters together. Much of the plot’s appeal is meant to rest in its nature as a sly crossover that puts Namco x Capcom, Super Robot Taisen OG2, Super Robot Taisen alpha 3, Xenosaga, and many other games into a single “multiversal” setting. Of course, out of all those games, all anyone speaking English is likely to have played is Xenosaga and Super Robot Taisen OG2. And most of the Xenosaga references are about the property’s appearance in Namco x Capcom, not the game itself. And a few of the references to Super Robot Taisen OG2 are so obscure that Atlus actually mistranslated them. Basically, in terms of plot, Endless Frontier offers no “there,” nothing of real substance. The story isn’t really about much of anything and the characters aren’t motivated by deep human impulses. This is a story of bright colors and broad clichés, where characters behave in particular ways because, well, what else would they do?
Endless Frontier is not by any means a bad game, but it’s not a particularly deep or groundbreaking one. This is a game that’s content to be a pleasant diversion, something you play in fits and spurts as you go about your day’s business. You’ll probably be through with it in about a week, two if you’re slow, and then you may find yourself listening to the soundtrack CD it ships with and smiling fondly as you remember the fun you had or a particularly good wisecrack from main character Haken Browning. There’s a place in the industry for unambitious but quite competent games like this, particularly on a portable system like Nintendo DS. Sometimes you don’t want a 60-hour masterpiece so much as something to get you through a plane flight or kill time while you’re waiting for your boss to get back to you on AIM. Endless Frontier is very good at being that sort of game and recommended for fans of anime, niche import games, and dopey fanservice. Serious-minded gamers won’t find themselves welcome here, though, and should seek their fun elsewhere.
Freelance review by Alicia Ashby (June 02, 2009)
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