Sunday, June 19, 2016

Quick Look: Gungnir, Dept. Heaven Episode IX

What a neat little gem of a game this is.

This game is a strategy RPG through and through - Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre have their fingerprints all over this game. However, it also has a unique flair to it that only developer Sting could bring to the table - their RPGs always stand out as different from most, and this game is no exception. You don't get more experience for killing blows, for example: experience is gained from acting, whether it be using potions, attacking, etc. The game has its own twist on the grid based, turn based battle system where you can force your character to move when they're fatigued at the expense of their max HP for that battle. You can choose any member of your team to move on your turn, rather than wait for a specific unit to become ready for battle. You can also choose your "ace" at the beginning of battle, and, depending on who you choose, the units in your army will receive different bonuses. Even with the trademark Sting flair, however, this game plays much more traditionally than their usual titles, which is somewhat disappointing coming off of the one-of-a-kind Riviera, but also refreshing for fans thirsty for traditional tactics games.

Pictured here are the four supporting members that you can choose to support your "ace" unit getting ready to sortie.
The story is what you'd expect from a SRPG, and not quite what you'd expect from that art style. If you're coming off of the lighthearted Riviera, it's kind of jarring how much darker this plot is by comparison. You play as Giulio, a persecuted minority in an evil empire who is A) the son of a rebel hero B) the younger brother of a revolutionary leader and C) the successor of the Norse-inspired magical spear, Gungnir. You're set up for greatness in every way, but at the same time you also start at the very bottom of society. The first battle is you and your friends raiding a caravan for food. You're not much better than low-life bandits, although Giulio himself has a noble undertone to his actions and words that will no doubt bloom into something substantial later on in the story. The story delves into supernatural elements very early on, as soon as you're introduced to the spear Gungnir. It has a Valkyrie Profile-esque tone to it, with the afterlife and even a valkyrie warrior taking the stage at various points. It's not quite as sweeping or gripping as FFT or TO, but I would go so far as to say that it comes very close, and I would even go so far as to call it a very good story. If you like the typical SRPG storylines, play this game. Despite the supernatural twinge, it is still a relatively grounded plot and no more invested in the fantastical than FFT was with its Zodiac Stones.

Ragnus, protagonist Giulio's older brother and revolutionary leader, makes a grim inquiry.
This is also, incidentally, Episode IX in the Dept. Heaven series, which also includes:

Riviera, the Promised Land
Yggdra Union
Knights in the Knightmare

It supposedly takes place in the same universe as those games, despite sharing almost no similarities.

Overall, the bottom line is this: this game is an unsung gem of the PSP's library, and it's well worth playing if you like Japanese RPGs, strategy RPGs, or Sting/Atlus games. If you can check even one of those boxes off, this game is worth your time, even if the others don't usually appeal to you.

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