Dark Worlds #3: Gihren no Yabou: Axis No Kyoui V

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I’m always hesitant to recommend Gundam games to anyone who isn’t a fan of the show. So many of the games bank solely on the fan service and the American titles that we’ve received have been less than stellar when compared with the excellent SD Gundam titles and Gundam Vs. games. The goldmine of Gundam games are locked underneath the Japanese language.

Gihren’s Greed draws from the awesome Japanese tradition of turn based strategy games. It’s the classic Koei strategy titles like Liberty or Death and Nobunaga’s Ambition with Gundam characters and story lines. These games are veritable encyclopedias on the franchise. Inside you’ll find every character or mobile suit drawn from the numerous TV shows, movies, novels, spinoffs, games, and expanded universe material.

The map is deceptively big. There are two screens: Earth and Space, and victory in the game involves balancing and coordinating strategy in both theaters. For example, early in the game Zeon can solidify control over the Earth’s atmosphere, thus being able to drop enemy troops down to Earth at will. Every territory also has its own little map and when an invasion occurs the game switches down to the territory where battles can be won by eliminating the enemy or capturing all the capture points.

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Gihren’s Greed takes an interesting look at what we consider strategy. For those looking for the modern, competition based strategy games where units and maps are evenly balanced against one another will find Gihren’s Greed shockingly difficult and often unfair. Keeping with Gundam canon, the game stacks one particular faction or unit higher than the other. This aspect comes out the most in the ingeniously designed One Year War scenario based on the events of the first television series and its spinoffs (8th MS Team, 0080, etc). As the Earth Federation you start the game viciously under powered against Zeon forces. You’re forced to fight against much stronger Zakus with just tanks and bombers. It makes for a compelling game as it requires you to do some real strategic maneuvers in order to succeed. When a plan gets pulled off, it feels amazing in a way that I’ve never felt from many games. Inversely, if you choose to start with Zeon you begin the game with a major headstart on technology, but you possess very few territories that produce resources or money. While you do possess mobile suits at the beginning, they’re unsuited for combat on Earth. You fight against a far more agile Federation while knowing that the clock is ticking for the Federation’s great counterattack.

The One Year War campaign hits its stride in the middle section of the game. At this point the Federation starts rolling out its Gundam and GM mobile suits that will vastly outclass anything Zeon has access to until the later section of the game. If you’re playing as the Federation you’re in a desperate race for total victory . For both sides it presents an interesting strategic question: How do you stop the Federation’s onslaught when you’re vastly outgunned? How many turns are left for a Federation victory? It is the kind of question that you never encounter in other strategy game. It makes for an incredibly compelling experience.

And it is a shame that the games other scenarios don’t offer the same kind of experience. The game follows the events of the Universal Century all the way up to Char’s Counterattack, but the other scenarios don’t offer the compelling experience of the One Year War scenario. Once you hit the Zeta Gundam segment of the game, the map gets divided between three factions which offers some new strategic possibilities and the chance to ally with a faction against the other, but at this point in the game all the factions balance out against one another and the game mostly revolves around making smart use of your special pilots and mobile suits to gain victory. Some of the battles can become major slogs, especially towards the later half of the game when the units become more and more difficult to kill and more equal to one another. The One Year War scenario offers a ton of alternate events and factions, but these are less prevalent in the other sections of the game.

The game also makes use of an excellent Law/Chaos dynamic. Maintaining a high Law score grants bonuses to your research and a money bonus every ten turns if kept high enough. A high enough Law will also unlock certain characters to join your faction. A high Chaos score can bring many disadvantages, but opens up devastating special attacks like the Colony Drop or the space laser that can inflict massive damage against the enemy.

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The most defining aspect of Gihren’s Greed is the difficulty. Gihren’s Greed is a hard game. You will be restarting the game many many many times. But while the enemy AI is responsive, it is vulnerable to certain “cheesing” strategies. For instance, the enemy AI won’t attack a territory that outnumbers them even if the units in it are garbage. It is entirely possible to blockade an enemy’s front just by stacking tons of cheap, easy to kill fighter jets in a territory. During territory battles enemies will also usually attack the weakest units. This makes it possible to draw enemy fire away from your more powerful units by distracting them with weaker ones. One strategy I often use it to fly cheap fighter jets into the midst of the enemy to draw fire while my mobile suits creep up behind them for the kill. The enemy AI unfortunately leans a little too much on their infinite money and resources. At times this can be really unfair, especially in the early segments of the game, because the enemy is producing units at a rate that would be impossible for the player.

The game could have also used some different modes. Multiplayer games would take an astonishingly long amount of time, but it would be cool if it had been included. The game also needs a “free” scenario mode where you can jump into a fight quickly instead of always having to play story scenarios.

Axis No Kyoui boasts some significant improvements over its predecessor Blood of Zeon (Zeon No Keifu). Most units in the game are now produced within 1 or 2 turns instead of the multiple turns in Blood of Zeon. This makes the game move at a much quicker pace, although at times it feels much easier. The PSP port, Axis no Kyoui V, includes some balance improvements from the original PS2 game and remains the definitive version of the game. One thing that is infuriating is that the game no longer features awesome animated cutscenes. Blood of Zeon had some incredible animated cutscenes, but these have been replaced with poorly compressed still images of those same cutscenes.

The Gundam games that have come Westward have been some of the weakest offerings of the franchise. There’s been a focus on primarily action titles while ignoring some of the excellent RPG games from the series. Gihren no Yabou: Axis No Kyoui is not only a fine example of a great game from the franchise, but is one of the most difficult, rewarding, and deep turn based strategy games on consoles. For Gundam fans it is an amazing encyclopedia of the Gundam universe and a great turn based strategy game.

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