This is a column by Kat Bailey dedicated to the analysis of the once beloved Japanese RPG sub-genre. Tune in every Wednesday for thoughts on white-haired villains, giant robots, Infinity+1 swords, and everything else the wonderful world of JRPGs has to offer.
Super Robot Wars UX is filler. It's the game that's meant to bridge the gap while we wait for more entries in the main story arc. I know this because Namco Bandai has been releasing games just like it for roughly 15 years now.
When I think of Super Robot Wars UX, the first thing that comes to mind is Treyarch's early work in the Call of Duty franchise. Games released to plug the gaps between major entries. And being a strategy RPG series that is mostly known for having a lot of licensed mecha anime shows, such filler entries aren't that hard to make.
There is a lot of love for the Super Robot Wars series, especially in Japan. It's one of Namco Bandai's flagship franchises. It's as if instead of going into a precipitous decline around the time of Star Wars Episode 1, LucasArts turned around and started putting out one to two Star Wars games per year. And not only that, they had found a way to cross it with Babylon 5, Star Trek, and Dr. Who in a way that inspired not rage but glee among the hardcore fans. That's Super Robot Wars in a nutshell – a strategy series that seamlessly mixes a lot of Japan's most beloved mecha franchises.
At the moment, Namco Bandai is coming off two huge entries in the series – its first PS3 release and two massive titles in the franchise's ongoing story arc. It's hardly surprising that, right on cue, we have Super Robot Wars UX. It's the franchise's first entry on the Nintendo 3DS, which should be cause for excitement, but one glance at the trailer was enough to kill my enthusiasm for this entry.
Right off the bat, it's obvious that Namco Bandai is reusing the graphics engine and art from the Nintendo DS games, which are in turn heavily-modified variants of the GBA's Super Robot Taisen Judgment. That would likely explain the decision to include retreads like Dancouga Nova, Fafner in the Azure, Gundam SEED destiny, and Linebarrels of Iron; it appears that Namco Bandai didn't want to work too hard on developing assets or animations.
Speaking as someone who actually saw it in theaters when it first debuted in Japan, Gundam 00: Awakening of the Trailblazer is awful, puerile crap that drags a once promising series into the abyss. Virtual-On featuring Fei-Yen HD is an excuse to mix vocaloids with the idols from Macross Frontier. For some reason, Namco Bandai even saw fit to toss in SD Gundam Brave Battle Warriors, which has done its part in lowering Super Robot Wars UX's recommended age group to 3 and up.
Thus far, the entries that have inspired the most buzz are the Lovecraftian Demonbane and Aura Battler Dunbine – two cult favorites that feel cynically placed to make long-time fans close their eyes and fork over their hard-earned 5000 yen. The return of Dunbine is particularly welcome given that it hasn't popped up in an Super Robot Wars game since 2002. All things considered, I'm kind of surprised they didn't toss in Escaflowne for good measure.
I recognize the absurdity of getting upset about what amounts to an annualized series of licensed games. On the other hand though, when Namco Bandai decides to really go all out on an Super Robot Wars game, the results are frequently impressive. Super Robot Wars Z, for example, is the gold standard of 2D sprite work on the PS2 and the PSP. The story has been fantastic, thus far; the voice actors are all originals, and I'm constantly surprised and delighted by the love and care afforded each of the licensed shows. Given that the Nintendo 3DS is actually more powerful than the PSP, it's actually kind of shocking to see what a step down Super Robot Wars UX is by comparison.
I can't even really recommend Super Robot Wars UX to people coming in fresh. Right now, I feel like the best course of action for curious newcomers (though I'll admit that I haven't done a lot to sell people on Super Robot Wars in this piece) is to go find a copy of Super Robot Wars OG for the PlayStation 3. It's glorious to look at; it's not burdened by anime licenses, and you don't have to import a whole new console to play it (unlike Super Robot Wars UX). Barring that, there's always Super Robot Wars L for the Nintendo DS, I suppose, which is both cheaper and features many of the same shows as Super Robot Wars UX.
For Namco Bandai, it will be a drop in the bucket. Super Robot Wars games never come out in the U.S. due to licensing restrictions, so they really don't care what we think. That's doesn't mean we can't do better. And even looking at just the Super Robot Wars games that have come out over the past few years, we can do way better than filler like Super Robot Wars UX.
Kat Bailey is a freelance writer based out of San Francisco, California. Her work has been featured on multiple outlets, including GamesRadar, Official Xbox Magazine, gamesTM, and GameSpot. You can follow her on Twitter at @the_katbot.