In a month where titles like Max Payne 3 lit up enemies with inexplicable accuracy and Future Soldier showed us that terrorists are nothing more than training dummies with a potentially deadly automatic weapon, Gungnir brings the pace back down to a crawl (and even sometimes stop completely!) to show us a different brand of the tactical genre.
From the instant you pick up the perspicacious PSP title, the player knows exactly what they’re getting into. Gungnir is a tactics game through and through, steeped in all the conventional successes and failures that have plagued the genre for years. Beyond its shallow plot, lackluster character customization, and disparate attempt to further genre conventions, the game certainly doesn’t leave players wanting at the end of its 24 chapter experience.
Following the story of Giulio, an Esperanza rebel leader, and his inheritance of the spear of the gods, Gungnir, the boy born of poverty is left to lead his people from the slums and shanties of a shattered empire to restore balance to the kingdom of Gargandia.
Joining Giulio is an exceptionally lovable cast, as every genre stereotype from the disguised princess to the scorned adopted brother make an appearance all for the sake of building a plot plagued by pacing problems and riddled with questions. Though sparely littered amongst drawn-out cutscenes and “head-slapping” conversations, there’s moments of palpable, heartfelt emotion.
One dimensional though they may be, characters like Esperanza Chief of Staff Paulo and heavenly scribe Elise actually add to the experience bringing personality and some relatively quick quips to what can be a stale and somewhat unenjoyable experience.
Combat, expectedly, brings the same witty banter and intense strategy that a game in this genre should have. Opposed to a “rock-paper-scissors” system found in other Japanese imports like the Fire Emblem series, Gungnir puts all classes on a level playing field. Available to recruit are the agile assassin, resourceful priestess, powerful paladin, and devious witch among a cast of others that players work to meld into a potent force of potential energy.
While all characters have an even shot of taking out an enemy unit, the lack of variation is astounding, and quite frankly dreadfully abhorrent. The paladin and knight, though two separate classes, handle similarly. Likewise a witch and sorceress fulfilling different roles on a team, seem more like a re-skinned clone than a fully separate class.
Revolving mostly around a Tactics Point system, players vie for strategic high ground and flanking sweeps, limiting opponent’s movement and delivering the death blow before time runs out. Measured by the rotation of a clock hand in the upper-lefthand corner of the screen, Gungnir’s time is actually measured in days, a relatively realistic stance on the timeframe of a battle. Divided into a day and night section, combat moves fluidly until either your ACE (read: squad leader) succumbs to their wounds, or the enemy has been obliterated.
In this respect Gungnir adds in-depth strategy by forcing players to stop the clock and take immediate action, either to evade an incoming spell or deliver a kill shot to an enemy itching for that potent potion. By correctly managing the TPs and clock stops, players emerge from battle victorious and live to fight a similar battle in the next chapter.
Variety is not the game’s strong suit. Everything from the droll, uninspired battles to the character classes that never seem to need any attention to detail, Gungnir plays its hand in full mediocrity, striving to achieve nothing that hasn’t been done before. Though different combos can land with satisfying results through the use of skilled character placement and proper TP allocation, there’s too little tactics in a title derived heavily from a genre filled with near perfect titles.
While the game comes in two difficulty settings, neither seems to be an adequate fit. The game’s beginner mode barely challenges the player to think, while its next step up causes character death at every other battle. In this respect, Gungnir can be completely punishing – as in the death of a character outfitted with the trendiest gear – or painstakingly generous, staving off a killshot and choosing a tactically inferior move.
Gungnir doesn’t do anything particularly wrong, though after 20+ hours hands-on time with the game I can’t say it does anything particularly right either.