At this point in its lifespan, the PSP is well known for its wide variety of unique puzzle/action titles along with many role-playing games for the hardcore fans out there. Yggdra Union is one of the latter, as it’s another JRPG/strategy title with a quite original gameplay style, and one that’s bound to appeal to those who tend to side with the Japanese taste. As it’s scheduled to arrive in U.S. stores in little over one month, we knew we had to scrounge up as much information as possible, and as we conclude our research, we realize that PSP owners and JRPG fans should be getting another winner. First, let’s take a look at what separates this particular title from the rest of the crowd, because it’s always fun to talk about fresh aspects in any video game project. In this new generation where flash, freedom, and depth are paramount to many big-name developers, teams like Atlus stick to their roots and continue to cater to their good-sized and die-hard following of fans.
If you’re at all familiar with other titles like Culdcept, you’re already ahead of the game when it comes to Yggdra Union. That’s right, the gameplay is dictated by a form of virtual playing cards, which provide the characters during battle with all the relevant statistics and special skills. As IGN describes it, there’s even a “combined pool of movement points for your entire army that can be broken up as you see fit.” Furthermore, a number of the cards will hold a particular affinity, which means you need to match character ability with certain cards in order to gain the upper hand during combat. Encountering enemies will happen on a mini-map of sorts; it initially allows the player to view the action in an all-encompassing view that includes both your own units and enemy units. This reminds us of a standard RTS format, although there will be – obviously – several significant differences. For example, the battle will start off by issuing a prediction in regards to the outcome; the prediction will either be “unfavorable” or “favorable,” and you can make future decisions based on that.
Moving into battle mode is always inevitable, but you should be able to control the time and place when they happen…to a point. After maneuvering your units on the map into what you hope to be a “favorable” position, you will soon start entering the impending confrontations. But in another startling similarity to the real-time strategy genre, your characters and ally units don’t have HP or health. Instead, their success will simply be based on the number of fighters in any given unit, which means larger groups of soldiers will, of course, have the immediate advantage. For those of you unfamiliar with the aforementioned RTS style, consider something like the all-out battles we found in the likes of Suikoden V. We get the feeling that all of Yggdra Union will play out much the way those did, with clear additions where depth and unit customization are concerned. Oh, and there’s that whole “playing card” feature that sits at the center of the gameplay…
The game is, as far as we can tell, quasi-turn-based, as one army will attack and the other will get a chance to counterattack. By checking your cards, you will have the chance to assemble groups of units that stack up best against enemy units; using the different affinities and special card/character skills, and paying attention to the match-ups will be crucial to eventual success. And hey, here’s an intriguing little detail: if you do score a victory, a card’s attributes will actually change and upgrade, which gives you constant incentive to do well on the battlefield. Much of the battle will hinge on Morale, because if it drops too far, allies will simply disappear (we assume they just fled), and you can’t get them back until the next mini-war. It shouldn’t come as any real surprise that if you’re suffering heavy casualties, your Morale will drop, but unlike a typical RTS, you can refuel that Morale with magical items obtained during your quest. Plus, giving the right units the right cards will be a big key.
The size of your deck also helps. The bigger the deck, the more options you have, and you can add to the stack by chalking up win after win. On top of which, you can also design the deck specifically for a certain battle, and that is destined to be a commonly used feature among skilled players. Because you can get a sneak peak at an upcoming combat situation, you can assemble the deck in a way that will give you the upper hand when the two sides clash. At first, we kinda thought this bordered on cheating, but in fact, it really just adds to the overall strategy factor, and forces the player to prepare accordingly. There’s nothing more important than preparation in any RPG or strategy game, but to pile atop the depth is yet another fun gameplay element called the skill bar. While the cards form the foundation, the skill bar enhances the experience and adds another possibility to your battle plans. You have to wait for the skill bar to fill, but once you have it maxed, you can opt to transfer power to either attack or defense, which can let you adapt to a tricky situation. Of course, you’ll have to sacrifice a bit of one for the other, but that’s part of the decision process.
Also, you’re not the only one that will have access to special abilities; the enemy will have something called Rage that can counter your skill gauge. The more you smack them around, the more that Rage meter fills, and the higher it gets, the more nifty abilities the opposing army will have. This is why it could be important to finish off battles quickly, because if you piss ‘em off enough and the Rage gets too high, you could suddenly find yourself on the defensive. We get the feeling there should be a whole lot of pushing and pulling going on in this game; a lot of give and take, a lot of counter-balancing that keeps the player involved and – hopefully – entertained. If you know Atlus, you know you can expect a ton of depth and longevity with this particular production…just because this veteran RPG publisher has no idea how to keep a game bare and simple. That’s good news for fans, though, and the strategy element here should really give Atlus the chance to shine. Card battles mixed with role-playing mixed with a variety of RTS and turn-based strategy elements may translate to a great PSP title.
Yggdra Union, which has been available in Japan since January, will finally come to North American retailers on September 16.
8/11/2008 Ben Dutka