Confession time: I haven't played one of Tecmo Koei's Warriors games since 2006's Samurai Warriors 2. Since then, the army-fighting, Gate Captain-killing, horseback-riding/run-over-every-fool-on-foot series continued into the current generation of consoles, and has even branched off into anime spin-offs with Fist of the North Star, Gundam, and One Piece (not to mention the upcoming Hyrule Warriors). I had an idea of what I was getting into--I was there when Dynasty Warriors was originally a lame Three Kingdoms-era Soul Edge ripoff, only to be reborn as the loveable, neverending hack-and-slash-a-thon we know today--but thankfully, Dynasty Warriors: Gundam Reborn is more than just a simple reskin.
Strategy game developers... please don't try to make fighters on your own. I'm looking at you, NIS. Go call Arc System Works or something.
Gundam Reborn is the fourth game in the Dynasty Warriors: Gundam series, with a variety of Mobile Suits from Gundam's long and storied history. Boasting over 120 Mobile Suits, Reborn also allows you to pilot the massive Mobile Armors for the first time in the series. These can be towering and ridiculous (like the Big Zam and Psycho Gundam) or just a bit meatier than the average Mobile Suit, like the Zeong. I think it's safe to say that no main character got left behind--mainstays like Amuro, Char (also available as Quattro Vajayjay Bajeena), Kamille and Haman get joined by alternate-universe leads like Domon, Heero, and Setsuna, as well as one-shot and manga-only characters.
"Official Mode" is basically the game's story mode, heavily focused on the Universal Century titles, Gundam Seed, and Seed Destiny, with a few small shoutouts to alternate-universe titles. It's basic enough: fight through story chapters, watch cutscenes, level up pilots, earn plans and parts to upgrade your Mobile Suits, and then do it all over again when you clear a chapter. You're obviously not getting an entire 52-episode series when you play through a section of Official Mode, but it feels like a more in-depth recap than other anime-to-game conversions like the Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm series. As a Gundam fan, I was having a blast, but as a lapsed Dynasty Warriors fan, I was disappointed to not have any "DO NOT PURSUE CHAR AZNABLE" moments.
"Ultimate Mode" is Free Mode... sort of. It's structured together with a barely-there story that has Bright Noa organizing all the different Gundam pilots together for training exercises and to take on some mysterious threat that I didn't care about enough to actually watch the (voiceless) cutscenes for. The lengthy tutorial chapter feels kind of unnecessary, since Official Mode does the exact same thing with a long string of annoying pop-up text boxes. After playing as the mostly-grounded-in-reality UC Gundams, it felt good to cut loose with the overpowered insanity of Burning God Gundam and the Wing Zero Custom. The alternate-universe Gundams feel pretty overpowered right from the start, but there's a real sense of satisfaction in both modes when you take out like two dozen enemies with a single swing of your beam saber.
Like previous Warriors titles I've played, Reborn's difficulty is negligible and is mostly focused on the grind, with mild RPG elements that let you equip plans to increase overall stats, and craft resources to individually power up weapons and armor. Experience is spent beefing up skills that range from why-on-Earth-would-you-not-choose-this (fast-track EXP gain) to not-as-useful-as-they-sound (increase the effect of pickup items). It's a time-killer more than anything else, designed to stay in your system as long as humanly possible while you fill bars and max out every pilot and Mobile Suit that you want to. While there's two-player online play, I was never able to actually get to play a match... which is where couch co-op came in. Now that's the stuff--sitting down with a friend and taking on an army. It's an area that this (and most other Warriors titles) excel at.
While I definitely had fun, I also had a few minor gripes--while images are very high-res, gorgeous and redrawn for the 0079/One Year War story, the illustrations appeared to be much lower quality in subsequent recaps. Also, despite this being a game where you play as giant fighting robots, I never really got any sense of scale--it just felt like bashing action figures together. On that note, I also usually try not to call games "repetitive" (because technically every game is built around the use of core mechanics--jump, shoot, talk, etc.), but there is literally nothing else to do in a Warriors game other than pick a character (and in this case, a Mobile Suit), pick a map, and fight a bunch of dudes for ten minutes. Reborn is no different, so take that how you will.
It's also infuriating to have to constantly run back and forth from one end of the map to the other to handle objectives, while still dealing with limited boost (which makes sense for combat, but not for travel). While it has solid visuals, the game can turn into a massive clusterf**k, with tons of enemies on-screen, sometimes drowning you out or causing the camera to swing around wildly when you're close to a wall or stage border. Boss fights can also be clunky as shit, as there's no way to fluidly attack a target that's on a slightly higher plane than you are. Thankfully, these encounters are rare, and you'll spend more time fighting ace pilots in ludicrously fast mobile suits, or just taking on a veritable sea of Zakus.
Continuing the trend of anime-based games with ever-growing titles (coming up soon: One Piece: Unlimited World Red), Dynasty Warriors: Gundam Reborn injects some much-needed flexibility to the series. It's the same old grind, but it's hard to say that Tecmo Koei and Omega Force are really doing anything wrong. They're not trying to reinvent the wheel--rather, they're just trying to polish and perfect that wheel. Is it for everybody? Probably not--if the name "Dynasty Warriors" is an immediate turn-off and you're looking for something with more substance, Gundam Reborn won't do anything for you. But if you're a Gundam fan, or one of the DW faithful? Strap in and join the fight against those damn dirty Spacenoids.
+ Huge selection of Gundam heroes, villains, Mobile Suits and Mobile Armor from the franchise's entire history
+ Official Mode offers a surprisingly detailed recap of most Universal Century stories and Seed
+ $40 price tag should become standard for current-gen Warriors titles
+ Local co-op is an absolute blast
+/- Nothing really new, nothing really special--it's a Warriors game, with all the good and bad that entails
- You still have to run from one end of the battlefield to another over and over again, only with no quick-travel options
- Constant, annoying tutorial and info pop-ups
- No real sense of scale, power, or impact--everything feels floaty and small