Platform: PlayStation 2
Genre: Turn-Based RPG
Release Date: February 21, 2006
After the Great Fall, a global catastrophe that wiped out most of life as we know it, humanity has continued to thrive thanks to the power of the G System. This system has the ability to replicate all forms of technology, and is an immense source of power.
After the destruction of their home, two orphans are out for revenge. They secure the data needed to build a Mobile Suit, a giant robot built for combat. Together, they travel the world, looking for the black Mobile Suit that destroyed their orphanage. During their search, they meet a young girl with no memory of her past, and begin uncovering a plot by an evil organization. This group, known as the Dark Alliance, has plans to take control over the G Systems all over the world, but what do they intend to do with them?
MS Saga: A New Dawn is essentially a standalone story using Mobile Suits from the Mobile Suit Gundam anime franchise. The game’s story uses a lot of themes from typical Gundam series’, and are not very original. War breaks out, Mobile Suits fight until peace can be achieved. The masked man with the hidden agenda, newer, more powerful Mobile Suits appear, and Earth is threatened with destruction. The game also uses some very cookie cutter plot devices as well, such as the “girl with amnesia”. While nothing new was done with the overall story, there are many reasons to play this game and enjoy it.
Much like the story, the characters are also cut from commonly-used tropes. The “charge in and never give up” leader, the scaredy-cat who worries too much, the loudmouth teenager, and so on. While it does seem like a very amusing bunch, they do have a somewhat memorable group dynamic. Since most of your party consists of teenagers, you get a lot of silly childish conversations, which turn out to be rather amusing. It’s not much, but it does help keep you amused throughout the game.
MS Saga is another game that makes decent use of the graphics engine on the PlayStation 2. The Mobile Suit designs are drawn right from the source material, but are very slightly modified. The best way to describe it is that the designs are in between a standard Mobile Suit design, and an SD (Super-Deformed) design in terms of scale. Also, the Mobile Suit customization system, which I’ll get into some more later, can also create some really nifty looking designs.
The character models are 3D rendered, but don’t offer a lot of movement during conversation or emoting, leaving some of the more serious conversations and scenes lacking in some depth. Granted, you may be distracted from all of this due to the main character’s dual-colored eyes.
The music for MS Saga: A New Dawn was composed by Tadayoshi Makino, who is also responsible for the music for both Monster Hunter Tri and Monster Hunter Freedom Unite.
The North American release of the game only comes with an English dub, and includes many voices traditionally used in other Bandai titles. Only major scenes in the game have voice acting, and the rest is text only.
Gameplay – Exploration
Exploring the world map is done in your Mobile Suit, and the map is actually a map of Earth. On the world map, you will have random encounters with other Mobile Suits. An explorable world map in an RPG is something I enjoy greatly, and I feel it is a sorely missed factor in current RPG development. There’s something about travelling the world that makes you realize how big the world you are exploring actually is.
Town exploration is done outside of your Mobile Suit, and it allows you to interact with your other party members, most of whom are in different parts of the town, doing their own thing while you explore, upgrade, and buy items and gear.
Dungeon exploration isn’t that different from world map exploration, but the key difference is that areas are not in a bird’s eye view like the world map. Each section of the dungeon has its own camera angle, and that angle cannot be altered. This can be troublesome at times, as one section has you running in the up direction, and the next screen needs you to press down, meaning I would go back and forth between these two screens repeatedly until I realize that I need to change the direction I need to move. Thankfully, this does not happen THAT often, but it’s definitely a nuisance.
Dungeons have random encounters, and can also have plot fights, that are marked on your map. These points mean you have to fight your way past them, to either advance in the dungeon, or to find a room full of treasure. Yellow markers point out enemies at a typical level of the dungeon, where red markers indicate mini-bosses, offering a bit more challenging of a fight. There are occasionally green markers as well, which symbolize allied units.
Gameplay – Combat
Mobile Suit fights are turn based, using each suit’s speed stat to determine turn order. Your options in combat are to attack with one of the melee/ranged weapons you have equipped, use a pilot skill (Healing, stat boosts, etc.), defend, use a more powerful boost attack, or charge your suit’s energy. Actions require energy, and you get a minimum of two energy every turn for each suit. Since some weapons and boost attacks use more energy, charging and defending will help you get there faster.
During combat, your radar will give you an idea of what each enemy mobile Suit will be doing that round. This helps plan a strategy against them. Since melee attacks can be countered, you can use ranged weapons that turn to avoid excess damage.
It’s interesting to see the strategy and planning required for something that seems like a typical turn based combat system. Just the few tweaks made with the radar system adds just enough depth to a fight to make it interesting, especially during boss fights. Longer, drawn out fights show how much more fun this combat system truly is.
Gameplay – Character Progression
Pilots level up by gaining experience during combat. This increases their stats, and allows them to learn new pilot skills, but this is not the only way to progress. Since you are in a Mobile Suit, there are many things you can do to it. The first being, get a new one!
During your travels, you will be given data for new Mobile Suits. Once you have a minimum of 50 units of data, you can take them to a G System to create the suit, provided you have a Large ECAP, which you will also find in dungeons, drops, etc. Newer suits have newer base stats, so it’s always good to get a new suit when you can. Since different suits cater to different combat styles, it’s also important to make sure the right pilot is in the right suit.
Once you have a suit, you can spend money to upgrade its base stats, giving you the ability to improve its base HP, Attack power, and speed. You can also receive upgrade kits as drops or in chests to help improve suits without spending the money on them. It does start to get pricey, so make sure to save up your money as you go.
Each Mobile Suit can also equip weapons and shields. The equipment menu is a grid system that will let you fit whatever weapons you can onto it. Each weapon fits in a Tetris-like shape, and some suits may not be able to equip some things at all, so the best way to use the system is to cater equipment to the suit’s strengths first, and then if you can, equip other things.
The other thing, and this is one of the biggest reasons that i enjoy this game, is that you can customize your Mobile Suit parts. Each suit can replace its shoulders, arms, and legs, and every part has its own stats that will affect the suit. For example, you can put the wings from the Wing Gundam onto a common mass produced Zaku, with the hovering legs of the Dom. Some of the combinations can get mish-mashy at times, but I find that they can be made to look pretty good overall. Since you can re-color your Mobile Suit after customization, the overall aesthetic of a customized Mobile Suit can be pretty cohesive. Since there are hundreds of combinations available, it’s a lot of fun to find the arms with the best melee stat for your Shining Gundam, or the fastest set of legs. for your pokey ZZ Gundam.
Gameplay – Optional Content/Sidequests
MS Saga: A New Dawn offers multiple side events during the game to keep you going. First, there are multiple challenging boss fights scattered throughout the world map, accessible later on in the game. These fights are of a higher difficulty, but are still manageable before the end of the main game.
There is also a side dungeon that includes more difficult rematches with early boss fights. Your rewards for these are some of the more powerful Mobile Suits in the game, mostly from Gundam Wing: Endless Waltz and Mobile Fighter G Gundam. There is also a post-game dungeon which really puts your skills to the test.
Lastly, there is the Coliseum. I don’t think I have to explain this one so much. You fight matches, raise your rank, and are eventually given the chance to fight the legendary Burning Gundam (aka the God Gundam for the true G Gundam fans). I will say that this is the hardest battle in the game, but success here has one of the best rewards, so do it!
I’m not going to lie. I am a gamer who prefers story and character development in an RPG. I spent a lot of time in my life playing table-top games, so story is very important. As you can clearly see, MS Saga: A New Dawn does not have this, and yet I find myself still enthralled by it. This is one of the very few exceptions in RPGs where I prefer the gameplay more than the story. It’s fun, it’s challenging, and it delivers a really nice twist on an anime franchise that I happen to enjoy. This is a very rare gem indeed, and so few know of its existence. If you are ever sorting through a used bin at a game store and come across it, I do urge you to pick it up. You will not be disappointed.