Yggdra Union - PSP - Preview
Few games attempt to bend the rules of turn-based strategy. They might throw in a couple of cool ideas, hire voice actors that don’t suck or present a soundtrack so spellbinding it makes you cry (or at the very least shell out $30+ for the Japanese OST). But it’s rare that you come across a game like Yggdra Union, a strategy/RPG from Atlus. War, trauma, and a zillion battles are packed into this UMD disc. But they’re not half as cool as the stuff you didn’t expect.
Yggdra Union’s battle screen is a bit different from the norm.
Once a Rebel
From the onset, Yggdra Union feels a bit confined. Menu selections aren’t quite clear, and the story-woven tutorial only answers the basic questions, leaving the obligatory, “Why can’t I attack more than once per turn?” unanswered. You might think there’s a trick to it, but that thought will die as soon as you realize that enemies aren’t attacking more than once either.
In the first hour, this seems prohibitive and time-consuming. Most strategy/RPGs allow each unit to attack once per turn. But in Yggdra Union, you can’t even move more than a set number of spaces per turn, and those spaces are shared among every allied unit. This, of course, is a part of the game’s rebellion against tradition.
But what could have been a disaster of epic proportions is actually one of the most intriguing developments in the genre. In making my way through the game, I discovered that units attack in two formations: cross and X. Both formations span across the grid moving area, the same kind of area you’ll find in any strategy/RPG, except this view is top-down (as opposed to the usual isometric perspective). All attacks must be performed while standing next to the opponent. But get this: if the cross or X formation (highlighting the grid on screen) touches one or more additional opponents, you’ll attack them as well. Enemies can do the same when taking their turns.
This image explains the X formation.
Interestingly, attacks do not occur instantly after execution as they do in most strategy/RPGs. Yggdra Union instead uses a separate battle screen, but not the kind in Advance Wars and many others where the action unfolds without any interactivity. Players must be an active participant in everything they do in this game. The battle screen is a semi-interactive skirmish between the two sides, and each side (one unit) is comprised of several characters ready for battle. Golems, for example, have four attacking allies (or enemies) per unit. But a human character that wields spears may have eight allies. These units-within-a-unit act as your battle health; if all your allies are defeated, part or all of that unit’s out-of-battle health will be lost. Once completely depleted, that unit cannot be used until the mission ends. If it’s an important (story-affected) unit that dies, the game is over.
As the battle unfolds automatically (the attacking side charges forward, dealing the first blow; the defending side retaliates, usually with a blow that’s weaker than the first), players have some choices to make. Do you attack passively or aggressively? The former, which you’ll choose by holding the D-pad left, reduces the potency of your attacks but generates power that can be used for a special move. Attacking aggressively (hold the D-pad right), however, deals stronger blows but reduces the power gained by fighting passively.
That power is very valuable, as Yggdra Union has a magic/special attack system that’s both fun and unique. The developers thought it would be cool to mask it in cards, which is unfortunate because the average gamer might think this is a card-battling game. That’ll be good news to some players but will sound boring to others. However, this isn’t a card game. Cards are essentially equipment: you may equip several per mission but use only one per turn. Each card has a weapon assigned to it, such as a sword, spear, axe, etc. If the card matches the weapon used by the attacking unit that turn, you’ll be able to use its special ability, which ranges from better attacks to shields and other defense mechanisms.
These abilities can only be used once full power (from attacking passively) has been achieved, at which time you’ll either have to hold the X button to charge that particular ability and press it again to unleash it, or press and hold the circle button for an ability whose effect is continuous (such as a shield).
All things likely, you’re probably a bit confused by Yggdra Union. This is very much the kind of game you have to play to understand. It’s a lot easier to grasp than the tutorials will have you believe. Some may have a hard time toughing out the rough patches, but if you love strategy/RPGs, you’re going to enjoy Yggdra Union. To find out how much, stay with GameZone for our full review, which we’ll have in the coming weeks.