In a day and age where some are arguing that video games overall are getting easiler rather than more challenging, it's mildly refreshing to see a game such as the Atlus published title Gungnir hit consoles. The pity here, however, isn't that the game itself is hard; it's that there is so much too it that it's simply difficult to actually play.
Released for the PSP (with hopes to have it available in the future for PS Vita) and developed by Sting, Gungnir is a tactics-style strategy turn-based role playing game -- a genre made popular back on the original PlayStation thanks to then-Squaresoft's Final Fantasy Tactics. In Gungnir, the player controls a rather rag-tag party of soldiers in skirmishes against the (presumably evil) Empire. Then again, maybe your soldiers aren't as rag-tag as they seem -- after all, main protagonist Guilio does have the legendary spear Gungnir at its disposal. While this all seems pretty simple and genre-standard, the game's painfully slow story progression, combined with its cumbersome quantity of battle and gameplay mechanics, players will quickly find out that Gungnir is anything but simple.
Not allowing the player any sort of exploration, side questing, or other non-storyline options, Gungnir slowly flows from one battle to the next. Splitting up each encounter are scenes filled with uninspired dialogue (Hint: Pressing "R" will skip through it all) that the player will quickly find he cares little about. Outside of these scenes and battles is a menu-based interface where the player can manipulate his party, check/change each character's gear, and save.
The storyline might be unappealing, but the thing that really drags Gungnir's gameplay down is that there is too much to it. For one thing, the game is turn-based (as previously mentioned), but not in the normal way. Each in-battle character has its own count-down timer which allows that character to become the active one upon reaching zero, though the player can make any of his characters active at any time -- even one who just went (though that character takes a slight HP knock as a penalty). Also, certain attacks and types of equipment can strengthen or weaken your characters and attacks can be combo'd together with those of other characters for a stronger attack -- that is, so long as a character with the correct gear is in precisely the correct square on the battlefield in relation not only to the active character, but also its target. See what's implied by saying the game is literally difficult to play?
Sting does try to spell things out for the player a-la PowerPoint presentation, but the player can only get so much out of each tutorial panel and leaves him asking nearly as many question about each gameplay mechanic as he had before the explanation.
One thing that this game really has going for it is its visuals. Battlefield character sprites are well-made, as are the game's various environments themselves. Character portraits are even prettier. If Gungnir's story isn't worth playing for (and it's not), its visuals are its saving grace. Its audio isn't nearly on par with its visuals, but the game's soundtrack isn't half-bad. It is too bad, though, that the game has no voice work whatsoever. While this wouldn't have been a problem a decade ago, it's a real negative for games released in this modern era -- even when the game is released on a console that's more than seven years old.
Overall, Gungnir really is a well-made video game. It's just too convoluted and has too bland of a storyline for its own good. Really hardcore players of this genre should find it to their liking, though, even then, there are better options available.
Final Game Guys grade: C+
(Atlus provided a copy of this game for review.)