Atlus is the company that is well known for bringing niche titles from Japan over to the US. Without Atlus, we might never see titles like the Shin Megami Tensei series, Disgaea, or Trauma Center. I remember when I saw that Atlus was going to be publishing games for the sysyem, I really thought that we might see several niche RPG games for the Xbox 360 come out over here.
When I heard that Atlus was publishing Zoids Assault, I thought it was an odd choice. I hadn’t heard of any Zoids products for a long time, and I vaguely remembered Zoids: Battle Legends for the Gamecube and some cartoon that was on briefly, but I hadn’t even thought of the license for years. I figured that maybe it was making a comeback. Everything old is new again, isn’t it? Maybe there was a resurgence in the Zoids product line in Japan and this was coming out ahead of a new onslaught of toys.
Zoids stands for Zoological Operational Interface Drive. They are basically mechanical four-legged robots that look like tigers or wolves with weapons covering them. With systems like this you might think that this would make a great premise for some kind of Mech action game. Instead Tomy took the direction of creating an SRPG using the license. You might think that it would make an interesting game, but unfortunately the results are disastrous.
While you don’t need great graphics for a strategy RPG title, it does help with the presentation of the game. The graphics in Zoids Assault are just plain bad. If it wasn’t for the widescreen showing and the high-definition resolution, you might think that this game was designed for the original Xbox. The landscapes are barren, with a few trees or other objects scattered about to designate the fighting area.
During your move, the areas your Zoid can go to show up in blue. Once you have chosen a location, the areas you can fire at are in red. It’s simple but effective. The Zoids move around the battlefield to their areas, and they move well. However, when they go to an area they move at ninety degree angles. It’s strange to watch them move forward, reposition, move forward, reposition, and finally reach their spot instead of moving in a straight line to get to their area when it would be appropriate.
When you attack or are attacked a little battle animation shows up on the screen. You watch the Zoids fire at each other and the results show up on screen. You would think with these huge hulking machines that the weapons would pack a punch. The Zoids mostly stand still during battle, only occasionally sidestepping to evade an attack. The explosions are weak as well, only showing damage when a Zoid is actually destroyed.
Between the missions you get two kinds of briefings. One briefing shows a picture of a woman standing in front of a group of leaders. You hear her giving a speech, but there is no kind of effort put forth for any animation other than scrolling through the artwork. It’s boring to watch. You also see a briefing that has a completely static picture of a map of the areas being affected by the conflict. You can read what is going on between the two regions, but you have to page through several pages of text without a voiceover. Are we looking at something made for a cartridge system?
The music involved in Zoids Assault is your typical military background music. You have the snare drum driving to keep the beat with trumpets playing a marching melodic line. If you have played a military game, you have heard music like this before.
The between mission cutscens have uninspired voice acting. With this report and the restlessness of the leaders in the situation, you might think that there would be some urgency to their situation, but you get the feeling that the voice actors are incredibly bored and just there for a paycheck.
There is a simple control system for Zoids Assault, but even that gets messed up. When you start your turn, you are required to use the left analog stick to move your Zoid. Games like this are made for keeping your thumb on the D-pad. While you can select other items using the D-pad, the D-pad is used to scroll through the turn order list at the beginning of the turn. It would have made more sense to put that option on the left analog stick, but instead I found myself moving my thumb back and forth between the left analog stick and the D-pad.
The rest of the controls are relatively standard. Hitting A confirms your selection, while B cancels. The Y buttons shows stats. The Left and Right trigger highlights the Zoid that acted last, while the left and right bumper rotates the direction the Zoid is looking. The interface is optimized well and you can do what you can with a couple of button presses.
I usually like to watch any cutscene that comes along in a game to find out what the story is. However, the incredibly dull scenes in Zoids Assault make it hard to care about the game. They are droning, with a long-winded speech giver explaining the current situation. There are also some text screens that explain what is going on as well, but they go into too much depth for anyone to really care about the story. You don’t feel any connection with what is going on in the conflict, so the effort put into trying to create a realistic conflict is lost. This would be alright if the gameplay was better, but unfortunately that isn’t the case.
When you play a strategy RPG, having a large number of different kind of units available makes the game more interesting. With more kinds of units you can play the game with different strategies. Zoids Assault tries to do this by combining the Zoids with pilots. Each pilot has three specialties: Striker, Gunner, and Engineer. The Striker can perform short to mid-range attacks, Gunners specialize in long range attacks, and Engineers have the ability to perform repairs on Zoids. They all gain experience after every battle.
Five Zoids are available. You can outfit your Zoids with seven types of weapons. You might think that this allows a high deal of customization, but certain Zoids work better with specific weapons and pilots. Two of the five Zoids available to you (the S-Liger and S-Tiger) are very similar to each other, with different damage and speed the only differentiating attribute. The C-Wolf balances speed and attack power,. The D-Bison is specifically made for long-range attacks. The R-Horn has impenetrable armor that can withstand the D-Bison attacks. You really don’t want a Striker in a slow and plodding Zoid, similarly how you don’t want to place a Gunner in the in something other than a D-Bison. Unless you are really brave, specific Zoids go with specific pilots.
There are seven weapons available. Strikers can use four types of weapons, Engineers can use two types, and Gunners can use three. The Gunners can’t use the same weapons as the Strikers or Engineers, and the Engineers can’t use two of the weapons that the Strikers can use. While having different weapons available does allow you to customize your Zoid a bit, there really aren’t a lot of options for that.
On the battlefield, you move and then perform an action if possible. Most of the time you use your regular weapon and attack, but there are some times you have the ability to do other things like repair friendly Zoids close to your position. When an EMP is available you can fire that at an enemy and they won’t be able to counterattack. You can also distract the enemy by firing a decoy shot, go into an aggressive or defensive position, or stun the enemy Zoids.
When you are in combat, you can see a support gauge on your Zoid and the Zoids in the nearby area. When a Zoid has the ability to scan an enemy Zoid, they can offer assistance. This can mean that if you attack a Zoid, two of your allies can also attack the enemy Zoid. However, the opposing Zoid may have some allies that can counterattack against you. Your damage and accuracy increase with a higher support count, and you also get a better chance of gaining rare items after you have defeated a unit.
Once you input your commands the attacks are handled automatically. A short animation shows the attacking Zoid firing its weapon and the defending Zoid getting hit. Sometimes it is really difficult to tell which Zoid is friendly and which Zoid is opposing you. It would be nice to see what kind of range you have with your weapons as you move though, because I often had to cancel where I was going to move my Zoid so that I could move it someplace where I could actually shoot my weapon.
You can customize your Zoids by installing skills into them. You can install one Offensive skill, one Defensive skill, one Combat Command skill, and four Passive Skills. You can also gain combat data by gaining data disks. They aren’t equipped, but you gain their benefits just by having them in your inventory.
There are no in-game hints explaining how to play the game. Even a simple tutorial would have been a nice addition. The missions also all follow the same pattern. You find an army, you come close to destroying it, and then another army appears on the field. The game really needs more variety because every level feels the same.
Zoids Assault contains fifteen levels. These missions don’t take all that long, maybe an hour or so, give or take. It’s really too bad that the gameplay is so boring that it feels like a chore to even get through the cutscenes.
What really hurts is that there isn’t any real reason to replay the game since there aren’t any side missions or multiple mission choices. You are also confined to a single campaign. You don’t choose what side you are on, and you don’t see the story from the other side. You also don’t have any multiplayer options at all. There really isn’t any reason to replay the game.