Every now and then, a licensed anime title comes along that goes above and beyond your expectations. Not just an ode to the source material, but a finely crafted video game as well. That's SD Gundam Battle Alliance in a nutshell — an almost dangerously addictive action RPG that franchise fans will likely adore. Despite its cutesy, chibi-style appearance, this is one of the best and most faithful Gundam adaptations that PlayStation has seen in a long, long time.
Battle Alliance is a mashup of nearly every Gundam series going. It all takes place within a kind of virtual reality, where Gundam histories are recorded and stored. Playing as a faceless VR pilot, you end up trapped within the database, and together with Juno, your operations officer, and an especially chipper AI nicknamed Sakura, you're tasked with repairing clusters of corrupt data to ensure your freedom. Naturally, this means taking to battlefields across loads of different timelines, and putting thousands of cute mobile suits to the sword.
The story itself is largely forgettable and full of shaky sci-fi terms that don't really mean anything, but it acts as a serviceable vehicle for ferrying you between missions. More than anything, it's the gameplay loop that'll keep you coming back — an excellent mix of bite-sized battles, tense boss fights, and the joys of collecting and upgrading an extensive catalogue of playable mobile suits.
If you're a Gundam enthusiast, there's a genuine thrill in seeing which suits and pilots pop up next. The aforementioned database corruption means that characters from far away realities can collide, leading to some especially cool crossover encounters. Once they've been sent back to their own world, you unlock 'True' missions where you get to re-enact the canon scenario, accurate character dialogue and all. The game even recreates key scenes from the various anime, further solidifying the feeling that this is a real labour of love from developer Artdink.
Moving on, combat is straightforward on a surface level. Each suit has a one-button melee combo, a heavy attack, and three special moves, usually reliant of ranged weaponry that operates on a cooldown. A super attack is also an option once your gauge is maxed, and your defensive techniques consist of blocking and dodging. Again, straightforward stuff, but there's a decent degree of depth to be found in perfectly timed blocks, dodges, and aerial combos. It's all snappy, easy to understand, and fun to utilise.
Taking on standard enemy suits is fairly simple, and perhaps a tad repetitive after you've invested tens of hours into the game, but cleaving an opponent in half with your trusty beam saber is always satisfying. Boss battles, on the other hand, can be much more demanding. The vast majority of missions end with a big fight against a deadly opponent, decked out with a beefy health bar and uninterruptable attacks. These encounters are all about patience; waiting for the right moment to launch a counterattack. Think of it like Monster Hunter, but with funny little robots.
These duels are particularly difficult if you're alone, so you'll be thankful for your AI companions. You can take two allies with you on missions, and although your buddies can be a bit stupid, bosses can only focus on one target at a time. As such, it feels like boss encounters are designed around team-based play, with mechanics like increased back damage being crucial in chipping away at the huge health pools. What's more, you and your AI pals can revive each other, should things go pear-shaped.
Some boss battles, specifically against giant mobile armour enemies, are especially well designed in that they encourage you to properly explore your suit's capabilities. Perfect blocks and dodges can become a necessity when the going gets tough, and mastering a tricky fight feels like a reward in itself.
So combat's generally great fun and unlocking all kinds of mobile suits is a blast, but it should be stressed that there is a grind here. Individual missions only tend to last between five and ten minutes, but you'll find yourself replaying them in order to both unlock and level up your shiny new suits. The excitement of finally getting your hands on a cool Gundam is often tempered by the realisation that yet more grinding will be required, if only to bring it up to speed with your current suit of choice.
Co-op can certainly help alleviate any tedium, though. You can create your own online lobby or jump into an open one through the main menu, and any progress that you make carries back into your single-player campaign — including the unlocking of later missions. As you can imagine, co-op play reveals new strategies, and if you're teaming up with a couple of pilots who know what they're doing, it's easily the most efficient way to get things done.
But if you're running into trouble and you don't want to hop online, you can always make use of the game's easy mode, which makes missions much less demanding. The only downside is that you won't find as many parts — equippable stat-boosting items — during your excursions. In any case, a great place to start if you want to ease yourself into the experience.
We're making this same point again, but SD Gundam Battle Alliance really is a feast for franchise aficionados. Graphically, the game isn't at all impressive, but the suits, in all of their chibi glory, have been perfectly modelled. Likewise, the property's many trademark sound effects are here, and the soundtrack is stuffed with music from the shows alongside banging electronic remixes. For wannabe Newtypes, it's nothing short of a joy.
SD Gundam Battle Alliance is one of the best Gundam games in what feels like an age. A highly addictive gameplay loop carries the experience, consisting of bite-sized missions, snappy combat, and the thrill of discovering and unlocking new mobile suits. The grind can feel a bit aggressive at times, and the story's vapid, but there's a clear love for all things Gundam here.