Say goodbye to two friends in one go.
While the PS Vita is struggling to build up its sales numbers, new game releases for the PSP have still dwindled to almost nothing. Gungnir is one of the few games set to dribble out for the system this year, and it looks like a good reason to spin up your UMD drive once again. A strategy role playing game that promises to touch on some heavy topics like racism and class struggles while throwing in some mechanics new to the SRPG genre, Gungnir is the latest and possibly final entry in the Dept. Heaven series.
Really, calling the Dept. Heaven games a series is a bit of a stretch. Of the three games released prior to Gungnir, the only real common link between the different games has been the locations. There has certainly been little to bridge the different entries from a gameplay perspective. Episode I, known as Riviera: The Promised Land, was primarily an RPG with a bit of dating sim mixed in. Episode II, Yggdra Union: We’ll Never Fight Alone, pointed the series in the tactical RPG direction, where it has largely remained. The next game to get released was Episode IV, Knights in the Nightmare, and threw the whole genre for a loop by adding in some real time strategy and bullet hell shooter components. Other than those three games, Episode III is a rumored MMORPG, and the rest seem to be mere placeholders between Episode IV and Episode IX - Gungnir. Perhaps the developer is wrapping up the “series” and Gungnir is its swan song, but Sting has made no such announcement.
Filling in the series’ episodic gaps in the future would certainly be interesting, but for now, all focus should be on what Gungnir has for us. There’s the promised story line that deals with tough issues like racism and inequality, which should fit easily into the setting around the Gargan Empire, where the poorer class is rising up against the aristocrats in an armed rebellion. A member of the Daltan ruling class, Alissa, gets caught up with Guilio of the ghettoized Leonicans and joins their cause - no doubt to provide a vector to look at how the two groups view each other. During the rebellion, Giulio is bestowed with the Gungnir - a spear from the god of battle himself - that allows the tide of war to shift and give the rebellion a chance at victory.
You will be guiding Giulio and his band across a landscaped grid to battle the Daltans with a fighting system that promises to be engrossing and intricate. The whole experience is all about the combat, with little to explore and story tidbits only popping in as you advance. Each battle allows you to bring in three or four characters, all under orders from a chosen leader. The leader must survive each conflict or the battle will be lost, regardless of the state of the other party members. Typical SRPG turns are used in Gungnir, but the twist is that each character has an action sequence bar that must be filled in order to participate when your team’s turn comes around. Not enough juice in a character’s action bar when it’s your turn means that character will have to remain idle until the next round. Different maneuvers require a different amount of the action gauge, so each of your party members’ actions will have to be thoughtfully considered.
The other big delineator between Gungnir and other SRPGs would be tactical points. You gain tactical points as you occupy key areas of the map - geographical features like hilltops and bridges. Acquiring tactical points allows you to perform special actions like unleashing siege weapons or looting fallen enemies. Tactical points are also used to perform “beat orders” which let you gang up on enemies and “boost orders” that let one unit’s skill supplement another with benefits like speeding up their action gauge.
These tweaks to typical tactical RPG tropes make Gungnir look like it will stand apart from other games in the genre, even if the aesthetics and soundtrack are nothing revolutionary. If you do give the game a try and find yourself sucked in and wanting even more, there’s a new game plus mode to draw you back in all over again. Whether you’re new to the “series” or have played through all of the previous games, Gungnir seems to have plenty of innovative ideas to make it a safe bet for anyone interested in strategy RPGs. So, go ahead, crack open that neglected UMD slot and give your PSP one final hurrah. You won't have to wait long, as Gungnir comes to PSP June 12, though you'll probably want to seek it out soon, as PSP is rapidly becoming a limited engagement.