Super Robot Wars T is the most recent entry (and the first on Switch) in Bandai Namco’s very successful series of tactical mecha adventures that stretch all the way back to deepest darkest 1991. With dozens upon dozens of previous entries under their belt you’d imagine they’d have exhausted Japan’s supply of pilotable robo-suits long ago, but Super Robot Wars T proves there are still fresh avenues to explore, and this entry has the pleasure of at last granting the wishes of anyone who ever dreamed of going into battle alongside Captain Harlock or the cast of Magic Knight Rayearth.
And if you’re the sort of person who has trouble telling your Tallgeese apart from your Transformers these days, or if you have no idea what any of this means at all, then you might think it was safe to say the game wasn’t for you and quietly move on – but you’d end up missing out on an experience that’s far more accessible than a cursary glance would have you believe. The team behind Super Robot Wars T are clearly well aware that a series with the kind of heritage and baggage this one brings can easily feel overwhelming for all but the most dedicated of fans, which is why the game has an excellent interactive tutorial sitting right there on the main menu, separate from the actual campaign.
This optional helping hand is everything you could hope for if you’re just starting out or find yourself in need of a quick refresher – it’s short and to the point so you don’t get overloaded with information that’ll be forgotten before you’ve even started the game properly, but it still does a very good job of covering the fundamentals well. This means going through thorough but never patronising explanations of the real nuts-n-bolts stuff that some games can, at times, be guilty of forgetting newcomers even need help with, such as ending a turn or learning how to activate the numerous in-game explanations. It’s all topped off with a stress-free playable battle that allows you to spend as much or as little time as you wish getting some meaningful practise in without fear of failure.
Perhaps most important of all is the tone of these self-contained lessons; they take great pains to hammer home how finding the difficulty level that works best for you and powering up your favourite (rather than ‘best’) mecha are the key components of an enjoyable Super Robot Wars experience – not worrying about optimal builds or a perfectly crafted teams. This means everyone, even complete newcomers, finish the tutorial not only thinking “I can do this!” but also knowing that the game is chiefly focussed on being an entertaining experience, even with pages of statistics to wade through and all sorts of other variables going on. This is hugely important for a game that’s about to plunge you headlong into hours and hours of large-scale tactical battles and reams of specialist terminology.
You are not abandoned once the game starts proper either, with everything from battle skills to obscure cutscene acronyms having detailed explanations available at the push of a button. Don’t know your Boson Jumps from your Neo-France? Can’t remember a character’s backstory or even which show they were from? No problem! The descriptions you can bring up cover enough ground to give you a good explanation of whatever you happen to be looking at, so even if you’re just playing because you like TRPGs and/or the concept of anime mecha in general, you never have to feel lost amongst a multiverse of technobabble.
Like any game that’s up to its mechanical armpits in laser cannons and giant spaceships, the vast majority of your time is spent locked in combat with an ever-expanding selection of sworn enemies, generic grunts, and violent robot-controlling AIs. In Super Robot Wars T this conflict plays out like a tactical RPG – think of Fire Emblem, Disgaea, and so on – with battles taking place across a solar system’s worth of isometrically viewed grid-based combat arenas. As with most games that have you politely taking turns to move your motley crew of mecha around a map, the basic aim is to get your team members close enough to dish out a successful beating without leaving them damaged, vulnerable, or surrounded by much stronger enemy forces on next turn.
But even something as straightforward as that could easily become confusing in a game that offers such a wide range of offensive and defensive options for every unit, even before taking in to account further wrinkles such as terrain type, barriers, skills, enemy size differences and all of the other things the game can trip you up with. So to keep things clear and streamlined you always get a concise summary of both yours and the enemy’s health, potential attack type, its chance of hitting and a warning if either of you is likely to shoot the other down before committing to battle; there’s also info on potential support calls, special skills and the option to tailor your unit’s response to an enemy’s attack (want them to focus on blocking instead of trying to counter? You can!) all on the same screen. Your victory and loss conditions are also clearly laid out before the start of every battle and the game gives you an equally upfront update should these change mid-bout. Details like these may feel insignificant or obvious in the grand scheme of things, but they all come together to give these large-scale conflicts a solid focal point in a game that could have otherwise come across as a little more than a pile of anime DVDs haphazardly glued back together after being fed through an industrial-strength shredder.
If Super Robot Wars T had left the fighting there then it would’ve been nice enough adventure, but nothing too special – trading blows and hoping the enemy falls down before you do is an OK enough way to pass the time but it makes for a mild purchase recommendation and one rarely worth going to the trouble of importing. Of course, a series that’s survived as long as Super Robot Wars has is going to have more than a few interesting tricks up its sleeve, and T is no exception. The game goes out of its way to offer lots of opportunities to intelligently mitigate incoming damage or enhance your own, as well as influence unit morale, movement range, repairs, retrievals, and all sorts of other helpful tactics that, when properly prepared and then used well, can really turn the tide of battle.
By default, individual skirmishes trigger a battle animation; sometimes these are quick and simple clashes of 2D sprites, other times they’re epic full-screen illustrations, and every now and then the game rolls out nothing less than a short FMV sequence to show just how seriously things are about to kick off. Whatever’s going on, you’re in for a visual treat as these scenes never fail to perfectly capture that very specific way the shows that these beautiful mecha originate from animate piercing laser fire and big showy explosions; it’s all joyously vibrant and expressive whether you know how closely they’re referencing the source material or not, paired up brilliantly with those unmistakeable sound effects of clashes and clangs that only come from two beautifully animated mecha duelling it out in the depths of space (or reruns of Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors, if you’d prefer).
Unfortunately, there’s no getting away from the fact that these glorious scenes are ultimately superfluous and no matter how wonderful they look they greatly bloat the length of battles – something the development team were thankfully well aware of, which is why you can speed up or interrupt these animations, or even go so far as to replace them entirely with super-quick and simplistic little battle sprites (which can themselves be further sped up too). These options can be toggled with just a few quick button presses before or during every fight, so you don’t have to skip your favourite attack sequence or miss out on an exciting all-new encounter for the sake of saving lots of time elsewhere in the scenario.
Another deftly-avoided worry is that the sheer quantity of units on the battlefield are going to result in tedious Project X Zone-style slogs (especially when reinforcements and new boss-level characters start showing up), but in practise they tend to pass by faster than you’d expect as there’s no time wasted while the CPU pretends to think things over; sprites reposition themselves quickly on the map when asked to and as your counter hits during the enemy’s phase are often enough to wipe out damaged generic “filler” troops with little effort, it doesn’t feel like the other half of the battle is wasted time for you.
With all of these units under your command and even more on the enemy side, it could be easy to lose someone on the expansive battle grid or spend a lot of time waving a cursor around to find a particular unit (the Switch’s touch screen is sadly not an option here) but all it takes is a quick tap of a shoulder button to cycle through pilots yet to move, or, if attacking, to cycle through hostile targets in range. The game will even warn you if you try to end a turn with characters still waiting for commands so you can’t miss someone, even when your team’s spread out across a dusty Martian plain or buried in a tangle of enemy mecha.
When you’re not busy fending off hordes of adversaries or spending a lot of time watching people refuse to talk about their troubled pasts with other people with equally troubled pasts, you’re given the opportunity to look over (as well as enhance and customise) just about every pilot and mecha currently under your command; teaching your team mates new skills or boosting their personal combat parameters, equipping their mecha with helpful items or improving their combat capabilities. The standard difficulty setting is balanced so things are clearly going to be easier if you take the time to refine your team’s abilities, but it’s more about customising things to your liking than getting caught up in a tear-inducing stat-crunching nightmare just for a chance to succeed in the next fight.
The alternative “Beginner” and “Expert” difficulty settings accessible at every intermission skew this balance in an appropriate direction so if you’re struggling to clear a scenario or just feel like you need a bit of a break after a hard day’s work, you can turn it down for a battle or two (the only “punishment” is missing out on the opportunity to earn some extra rewards), and on the opposite end of the scale if you fancy dipping your toes into the detailed team setup side of things, you can turn up the difficulty for a few fights without the fear that it will all become overwhelming after you’ve already sunk a week’s worth of precious free time into the game.
The entirely separate DLC scenarios can also be accessed during these intermissions; these take the form of pages and pages of extra mini-missions that offer cash rewards and equipment parts for you to use back in the main game once they’ve been cleared. Sadly, finding out exactly what’s inside each specific extra scenario is impossible within the game itself and the eShop’s DLC page only shows you the rewards you’ll receive on completion, rather than the content or even participating characters of the scenario itself, making this extra content something of a hard sell as its presented. As we’re now in the 21st century the internet’s always there to fill you in if you would like to know what sort of experiences you can find in here (and if they’re worth organising a region-appropriate eShop account to do so), but there’s no reason for it to take this amount of e-sleuthing just to discover what the game’s trying to get you to spend money on. The overall feeling is one of easily avoidable aggravation, which is a pity because any time spent with this melting pot of diverse characters is always a joy even if you’re not fully up to speed on the ins and outs of their previous adventures.
Which isn’t to say Super Robot War T’s plot is in any danger of rivalling the best and brightest tales the Switch has to offer, but for a story that by necessity is at least 90 percent references to a vast array of very different TV shows (with extra meta-references to other references on top) and has to spend a lot of time pushing yet another guest enemy or ally through the story’s revolving door, they’ve done an exceptional job here, creating an enjoyable tale even when everyone’s busy pointing and shouting at each other about truth, justice and revenge. Or even all three at the same time. Again. It’s all done with aplomb and the game absolutely has the quality and polish to back it up – not that anybody buying a game with “SUPER ROBOT WARS” printed in big gold letters on the front of the box really has any business minding when the game decides to stick with such a long-running formula.
And Super Robot Wars T is formulaic – if you’ve ever played any other game in the series then you’ll immediately feel a wave of familiarity washing over you the moment you start T – but while the series may be happy to fiddle around the margins rather than drastically overhaul itself for the sake of being different from one game to the next, there’s no question that what it does works, and works very well.