Gungnir represents one of the last quality gaming experiences that you will be able to buy for the PSP. Developed by Sting and distributed by Atlus, Gungnir is a Strategy Role Playing Game (SRPG) that fans of Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre will be instantly familiar with. While the game doesn’t reach the same level of greatness as those bench mark titles, it does manage to do enough things right that it will hold your attention throughout the game’s 25 plus hour campaign.
The Story Mixes Politics and Odin’s Spear
All good SRPGs have solid storylines that will draw you in and the truly great ones have characters that you actually care about. Gungnir does offer a unique story that focuses on two brothers living in a slum that is controlled by a corrupt empire. The brothers are actually the leaders of a band of outlaws who are hoping to one day rise up and challenge the empire’s rule. It doesn’t take long for the game’s plot to start moving along and before you know it the brothers are at the center of a full scale insurrection. Throwing a twist into the otherwise political plot is the inclusion of the Gungnir. Wikipedia tells us that Gungnir is the name of Odin’s spear in Norse mythology. In this game it is a spear that gets entrusted to one our heroes by higher powers. Overall the story is strong enough that you will want to see it through, but I doubt you will be reflecting on it after you’ve put the game down.
Adding to the storyline are several key plot points that the game lets you decide. Throughout the game you will be given options as to how to respond to certain events. The choices you make will alter the course of the game and ultimately give you different endings. Think Mass Effect, but on a smaller scale.
Familiar Combat With a Twist
Perhaps the most important element of any SRPG is the combat system. Gungnir’s combat is shown from an isometric view and all battles take place on 3D maps with varying heights and environmental obstacles throughout each map. In this regard it is very similar to Final Fantasy Tactics. Each map will allow you to control a set number of party members of your choosing and you can even swap party members in and out during battles. Your roster will grow to a large size too, with several different unit types to choose from, each with their own perks and abilities. The more you use a particular character the stronger they will become, so be careful not to neglect the same soldiers over and over again.
The actual combat in Gungnir is also fairly similar to Final Fantasy Tactics. With two big exceptions, there is a tactics gauge that will fill up throughout battles. The gauge will allow you to pull of combination attacks with other friendly units assuming that they are in range to attack the target and that there are enough tactic points available. This system will reward tactical players who position their units to take full advantage of the tactics gauge. On the flip side it can allow the A.I. to deal out massive damage if you aren’t careful. In this way Gungnir is largely a game of positioning and being able to see your enemies’ upcoming attacks. Sort of like a game of chess.
The second unique twist to the combat is the use of a timer. Every action takes time and every character has a different amount of time they need in order to perform actions. For example smaller actions like moving and not attacking take less time than moving and then attacking, which means that the character will be able to perform his next action much quicker if he doesn’t attack on a given turn. This system also means that turns for both the enemy and your soldiers are not in a preset order and will change throughout the battle depending on how you manage your time. This may sound a bit confusing, but it really only took me a couple of battles to get used to it.
Long time SRPG fans may be disappointed to learn that Gungnir does not offer any side missions or training missions for grinding purposes. Instead it goes from one storyline battle to the next. This really isn’t an issue though because if you find yourself unable to beat a particular battle you will be given the option of restarting the battle with all of the experience that you earned during the failed attempt. So failure shouldn’t result in reloading an old save and can actually be used to level up your characters. Gungnir isn’t the hardest SRPG I have ever played, but it will take some trial and error to beat certain battles. Also the threat of permanent death to side characters is a possibility if they get defeated in battle, so the game isn’t exactly a push over either.
It Looks Like An SRPG
Visually Gungnir’s strongest feature is the 3D battlegrounds. They are all surprisingly detailed and pleasant to look at, even on the PSP’s aged hardware. The character models themselves are sprite based and fit in nicely with the backgrounds, but they are nothing to write home about. Overall Gungnir looks like your typical SRPG, but with a little bit more detail in the environments.
No Vita? But Still Worthy
A word of caution, Gungnir is currently not playable on the Vita. Atlus says that they hope it is playable on the Vita in the near future, but I’m not entirely sure that it’s up to Atlus to make that happen. So if you want to play Gungnir and you’ve already traded in your PSP, then get your pencil ready and write to Sony demanding that they make it Vita compatible.
And you should let them know, because Gungnir is a solid SRPG. While it may not reach the same heights as Final Fantasy Tactics, it still offers an original storyline with main characters you will care about. The gameplay is unique enough and challenging enough that it will keep you on your toes and the inclusion of a game plus mode, plus several different endings means that you will have plenty of reasons to come back for more. If you’re an SRPG fan you should not miss Gungnir.