Super Robot Wars OG: The Moon Dwellers Review
There has been an alarming lack of Japanese giant robot games overseas. In an era where Armored Core and Front Mission have vanished, these types of games haven’t seen English versions in recent years… until now. Bandai Namco has begun releasing several of their titles throughout southeast Asian markets in English, including the next entry in the highly-acclaimed Super Robot Wars series - Super Robot Wars OG: The Moon Dwellers.
While SRW is a strategy RPG widely known for its melting pot of famous and niche anime shows, the OG (Original Generation) series doesn’t incorporate any of that. Instead, it is an entire alternate universe that spans several games mixing together the core plotlines and original characters from much older SRW installments.
The OG games have a somewhat lengthy and complex background. Atlus USA localized the first two OG games on the Game Boy Advance - Super Robot Taisen: Original Generation and its numbered sequel back in 2006. Since then, all other SRW games (aside from Super Robot Taisen OG Saga: Endless Frontier on the Nintendo DS) have never seen official English releases.
This leaves a wide hole between what was last localized up until now with Moon Dwellers.
These include the PlayStation 2 remakes of the first two OG games combined together as Super Robot Wars: Original Generations and its sequel, Super Robot Wars: Original Generations Gaiden. The follow-up to OG Gaiden, titled The 2nd Super Robot Wars OG, also never saw an English release. Several other OG relevant titles, like the three SRW OG Saga: Masou Kishin games and Endless Frontier’s sequel, Endless Frontier EXCEED, weren’t released outside of Japan as well.
Though it may seem overwhelming to dive into the OG universe at this point, Moon Dwellers has been touted as a fresh entry point for newcomers. It includes a Beginner Mode that introduces players into the story from the perspective of one of its main characters, Touya Shiun. It does a decent job easing players into the fray at first, but it occasionally dives into heavy strings of in-universe lingo that can easily lose those who aren’t savvy with the events of past SRW OG games.
Luckily, an in-game encyclopedia does clarify many of these terms though a brief description can’t really convey the significance of certain events contextually. I’m bewildered that the recap videos of the past games in the Japanese version were taken out of this English version. It’s a tad rough going into Moon Dwellers as a fresh newcomer to the series, but it’s manageable.
Veterans of not only the OG series, but the SRW franchise overall, have a lot to look forward to in Moon Dwellers. This installment delves into the stories from Super Robot Wars J & GC released on the Game Boy Advance and GameCube respectively. Therefore, fans of those games can expect to see expanded tales of the mysterious faction of Fury and residents of Rubble Pile.
Moon Dwellers includes two selectable routes when Beginner Mode is disabled - one that explores the events before Touya’s involvement and the other that focuses on the game’s other main character, Calvina Coulange.
Several route splits occur throughout Moon Dwellers, but the main storyline remains unaffected. Each route provides unique perspectives, scenes, and stages but eventually unify at key points and summarize the happenings of the other route through character interactions.
The plot takes awhile to pick up; much of the first half of Moon Dwellers involves the Steel Dragon Squad’s band of heroes and heroines squashing out enigmatic invaders from many different factions. A lot of its early stages are follow-ups for unresolved plot threads from its prequel, The 2nd SRW OG, that provide a convenient excuse to catch the new cast members (and players) up to speed.
Things get quite exciting roughly halfway through as many plot threads start to converge on top of one another; the OG games tend to do a great job building up its plot arcs and Moon Dwellers is no different. Both Touya and Calvina go through stressful phases of character development as their relationships with side characters and antagonists begin to shape their resolve among the chaos. The protagonists from the SRW GC cast, Akimi and Akemi, do have a significant relevance in Moon Dwellers but I feel their plotline is relatively much weaker.
In terms of presentation, the developers at Banpresto have gone the extra mile for Moon Dwellers. The 2nd Super Robot Wars OG debuted their intent to craft cinematic sequences for the series, but it feels much more realized in this entry. The first cutscene in Moon Dwellers has a full conversation between two important characters with in-cockpit views complete with lip-syncing to the audio. Key moments and encounters consist of dynamic camera angles as characters duke it out in their mechs yelling at each other.
It may seem relatively mundane, but this highlights how far the OG series has come in production value outside of its gorgeous battle animations. There’s an appropriate amount of tension and drama that heightens the stakes, especially when the characters involved have a particular rivalry with one another. I enjoyed these sequences and sincerely hope that Banpresto continues to expand on this, especially the in-cockpit view conversation that was sadly only tied to the beginning cutscene.
The Super Robot Wars series is continually revered for its staple crazy over-the-top battle actions and Moon Dwellers definitely doesn’t disappoint in that department. Though many of the attack animations are carried over from its prequel for older units, a few new attacks have once again show off the stellar work in these insane, meticulously crafted segments.
Compatible Kaiser’s new Over Kaiser Sword ultimate attack, for example, is a brilliant showcase of choreography that emphasizes the astonishing sprite-work of the robot’s movements, the carefully timed cut to zoom into the pilots’ portraits, and the explosive dynamic finisher to close out the jaw-dropping attack.
Of course, all of the new characters and their mecha have their own set of all-new unique animations too. The most impressive part is how well the systems incorporated with the SRWJ cast (Touya and Calvina) transitioned to Moon Dwellers. A set of three subpilots (Festenia, Katia, and Melua) are available to co-pilot Touya’s Granteed and Calvina’s Bellzelute. Depending on who is chosen for which mech, completely different sequences for some special attacks are carried out with them; it’s a complete visual treat and I loved that extra touch was included to such an awesome extent. There're also exclusive story interactions with the co-pilots based on how much they're deployed for combat with one of the main pilots.
Moon Dwellers still retains the same gameplay loop of SRW. Extensive story scenes unfold like a visual novel which inevitably lead to a battle and completing that combat scenario allows players to prep for the next battle in an intermission screen. It’s functional, but I can’t say I’m thrilled to always see this same loop in each and every single SRW. That’s partially why I’m excited to see more of the cutscene segments since it’s a breath of fresh air for the series.
Battles in Moon Dwellers are grid-based that take place in a variety of terrain on Earth and in space. Players are able to take actions on all their units first before the enemy can; different tile spaces can grant advantageous bonuses, such as forest tiles giving out higher evasion rates. Allies can make use of buffs, called Spirits, to enhance their battle capability from healing to higher defenses or a 100% chance for the next attack to hit to lowering enemy accuracy, and so on. Mechs can group up and provide assists from within the same team and to adjacent teams.
Its gameplay stands on a solid foundation; there’s nothing outstanding about it, but there’s equally nothing awful about it either. SR (Super Robot) Points provide additional challenge objectives that reward PP (Pilot Points) upon their completion; Beginner Mode also rewards Funds for SR Points as well. These SR Points automatically determine the difficulty based on the total percentage of how much a player has earned.
There were a few times in Moon Dwellers in which units on the battlefield were especially hard to see. A few busy city backgrounds made it very hard to locate specific units due to their color schemes blending into them. Some missions also suffer from repetitive objectives and though there’s a story justification for them, it didn’t sit well with me. Plus, the game already suffers from lackluster enemy variety, so seeing the same enemies do the same things was a bit of a downer.
Clashing art design is quickly becoming an aging problem that plagues the OG series as well. Characters from the first OG installment still have their upscaled PS2 portraits which paints a nasty contrast to the much cleaner, more refined and detailed look of the brand-new and more recent characters. It’s not enough to ruin my enjoyment, but it does look especially bad for some characters like Sean.
Since this was the first time in a long while that a SRW game saw an English release, I was very curious to see how well the localization held up. The results are disappointing.
On top of the common spelling and grammatical errors, there is no consistency to a lot of its errors. A character’s name may be correct for story scenes, but have their names misspelled in title cards for stages. The character and mech profiles in the in-game library are riddled with typos and awkward phrasing.
There’s no sense of flow in the dialogue; it is very much a straight-laced translation - I even dare to say that there’s a good chance a machine translation program was used at some points and was left unedited.
Even story scenes have a dry tone to them; there’s a dissonance between a character’s personality and what is actually being written. I feel that there’s a lot of room for improvement to characterize the cast with the script, especially since story scenes aren’t voiced. I understand that it may be technically more in-line with the syntax of the original Japanese text, but it’s particularly not faithful to the characters sounding more naturally true to their individuality.
I do find it praiseworthy to the localization team that they were able to release this English version in just about a month of its Japanese release. SRW games have massive scripts from all the dialogue in battles, story scenes, libraries, descriptions, and other numerous miscellaneous items. It may have been a good idea to perhaps push back the release slightly for another editing run.
Having a new SRW game entirely in English, despite its faults, is still an impressive feat nonetheless. The English script is certainly messy, but it beats being able to understand 100% of the story rather than just partial bits and pieces of it.
Super Robot Wars OG: The Moon Dwellers is one awesome game. Boasting roughly 50-80 hours of gameplay and a New Game+ mode to see the events of the other route along with finding secrets, this is a game that will keep players busy for awhile. Its story starts slow, but quickly becomes compelling and its battle animations are still some of the best ones in the industry. Newcomers will be downright awed at the amount of content in the game and veterans will still have a great time with it.