This epiphany in Gundam gaming came in the form of Gundam Gaiden (aka “The Blue Destiny”). There were a total of three games released for the Sega Saturn that enabled the player to control a bog standard Federation “GM” mobile suit. A far cry from the uber-powerful eponymous Gundam. In short, the player was a grunt, and had to work their way through a series of particularly tough campaigns. Each “game” was merely a chapter in the overall plot as well, and also saw the player being awarded with progressively more powerful mobile suits as they progressed. The Gundam Gaiden trilogy of games is very much respected by many a mecha gamer, so you can imagine the fervour when Bandai announced a successor for this superb series of games on the (then) new Dreamcast console.
Despite the obvious graphical improvements, the biggest modification to the series was how you could directly control the actions of your wingmen. Admittedly the game’s focus was predominantly action based, but the real time tactics element added a whole new dimension to the, already very solid, gameplay.
At the beginning of the One Year War, the Archduchy of Zeon instigated “Operation British”, of which the main focus was dropping a space colony on the Federation headquarters at Jaburo, in South America. They missed. Instead, after courageous fighting on the part of the space-based Federation forces, the colony was redirected to a more neutral target. Well, when I say “neutral” I mean Sydney, Australia. In short, Australia took a beating and Sydney was cleanly wiped off the face of the Earth.
Very shortly after “Operation British”, most of the Earth’s surface was occupied by the Zeon forces. Being a spaced-based faction, they didn’t have the raw materials to continue a drawn out conflict. Australia was also very much pillaged during this period.
Cue “Operation Odessa”. The Federation forces decided to fight back and push the Zeon forces back into space. You, the player, take the helm of the White Dingo mobile suit platoon, and your objective is to destroy the Zeon presence in Australia.
Set over nine rather diverse missions, you spearhead the White Dingo team of mobile suits. This team consists of yourself, Pierce Rayer, two wingmen - Leung Lee-Fai and Maximilian Berger - and the Minovsky hover tank “Oasis”, piloted by Anita Julianne. The latter adds field reports and acts as a reconnaissance craft. More importantly you can control the actions of each team member quite comprehensively, but more of this later.
Combat is viewed via a claustrophobic cockpit view and is split into distanced and melee combat accordingly. Distanced combat revolves around your main and sub weapon. The main weapon can be changed from machine guns, to bazookas and even beam weapons (though admittedly later in the game). The sub weapons, though, are normally inbuilt features of each Mobile Suit, as in either head mounted Vulcan cannons or long range artillery guns affixed upon the Mobile Suits’ backs. Both weapon types can also be used in a “sniper scope” mode, which can be incredibly useful on some of the later missions.
Melee combat is activated once the player gets within close enough range of their opponent. Attacks can be easily blocked, but the close combat system is pretty basic and not all that useful, especially against more nimble foes.
The real meat of the game, however, is how you tactically deploy your teammates. Each of your subordinates can be precisely controlled, from which path they follow, to the manner they engage the enemy. Both “Fang 2” and “Fang 3” (you are “Fang 1”) can attack an enemy at three ranges: Short, Middle and Long. This means you can deploy your men to keep an enemy busy by having them engage in short range combat whilst you pick them off with your main weapon in sniper scope mode. Admittedly this is only a simple example scenario, but the options the system offers are particularly numerous - even to the extent that certain enemies can only be dispatched through judicious usage of your wingmen. Naturally, the hover tank can also be controlled, but its actions are very much scripted (so as to tie in with the narrative); therefore it doesn’t offer much to the tactical platter.
The narrative is also worth noting, mainly because of the impressive way it is melded with the overall One Year War timeline. To the extent that events in the game clarify proceedings that occur over four years hence (namely the African campaign in “Gundam 0083 Stardust Memory”). This attention to narrative detail is to be applauded and very much evidence that Bandai know the franchise well. It is also worth mentioning that the voice acting for the American release is surprisingly solid, and very much an unexpected bonus (especially considering the standard of American voice acting in most of the Gundam anime).
The controls for the game are more than adequate too, but some may find the intitial learning phase somewhat cumbersome. Once mastered, however, the controls serve the player well.
Whilst the game is engaging, it is rather short. The Sega Saturn’s Gundam Gaiden trilogy got away with this by having three games (rather than the Dreamcast’s one). Admittedly the Japanese release also had a “Premium Disc” shipped at a later date (the player went up against the White Base’s Gundam, Guncannon and Guntank) and was very much a welcome addition, but the game would have done well with a few more missions and a versus mode. Considering the amount of tactical depth available, the lack of such an option feels very much like a lost opportunity.
Regardless of whether you might enjoy Gundam or not, “Rise from the Ashes” is probably one of the most solid examples in the mecha gaming pantheon and yet another impressive title in the Dreamcast’s esteemed software library.
Text by Olly Barder