The Gundam Series can feel overwhelming. A question of ‘what is going on?’ can happen to the uninitiated. There are hundreds of hours of content featuring exciting mech battles, over many different timelines available for a newcomer to dive into with Gundam, starting with OG protagonist Amuro Ray’s triumph over the One Year War in Mobile Suit Gundam that first aired back in 1979. SD Gundam Battle Alliance is a massive celebration of many years of Gundam lore, featuring storylines across the entire universe, while maintaining a deft hand in crafting a storyline that makes sense to Gundam fans, but may isolate newcomers.
As a generic main unnamed protagonist that lacks a face, you are thrown into the universe in a crisis scenario with a squadron of two other generic unnamed pilots of the most basic of units, the RGM-79. This small beginning introduces the player to Juno Astarte, the voice that buzzes in your ear throughout the entire game, which gives you background info and mission information.
The player is regarded as the Commander by everyone, but you’re just following orders throughout each scenario stage. The story takes place in a non-canon version of the Gundam universe regarded as G: Universe, and your overall objective is to play through critical moments in Gundam History across all timelines to repair ‘Breaks’ in the world. You’re basically a glorified timeline repairman that gets to experience exciting events across the entire universe.
SD Gundam Battle Alliance takes great care in utilizing proper pilot character names, even smaller characters like the original Guntank pilot, Hayato Kobayashi is portrayed, which makes each nostalgic mission for fans a joy to behold. Watching a storyline fall apart, like when notable antagonist Ramba Ral flings his Gouf unit at you, completely morph into the Iron Blooded Orphan’s unit Gundam Barbados outfitted with protagonist pilot Mikazuki Angus is a harrowing experience. This is the first break the player experiences, but it sets the tone for the rest of the title. Without spoilers, let’s just say NOTHING is off limits.
The elephant in the room, the SD part of SD Gundam Battle Alliance stands for ‘super deformed.’ The units adopt a chibi-like styling that isn’t for everyone. I’ll have to admit at first, I didn’t like watching my favourite units portrayed as Medabots looking children’s toys, but the style grew on me after the first couple of missions.
The gameplay adopts an A-RPG style combat system that sees the player pilot a unit of their choosing, with two pilots from Gundam history that are only able to pilot their assigned Gundam from the anime. Allelujah Haptism can only pilot the Arios Gundam, Amuro Ray can only pilot the RX-78-2 and so forth. This makes the title feel true to the source material, as watching another character, especially an antagonist pilot the RX-78-2 would feel like sacrilege.
The player can choose between three types of Gundam units that all have unique playstyles. The Dom MS-09 is of course an in-fighter unit that specializes in close range combat, the vanilla Zaku II is an all-rounder unit, and the Gundam Ground Type is a Sharpshooter unit that focuses on long range assaults. Choosing your CPU-controlled squad with these categories in mind is important for progress through the story missions, as a team loaded with in-fighter units will likely be in a pile during AOE attacks and can spell demise. The difficulty does get intense on normal after a few missions, and pilot mastery over a chosen unit type will determine success or failure.
There are basic controls like Y = attack, X = special attack which are vastly different from other units, but the main difference is the ranged weapon and side weapons for each unit, as each specialized unit excels at different things. A ‘boost meter’ is used to determine how many melee actions a unit can take before having to rest, and management over this gauge is the key to success, which reminds me of the stamina gauge in Breath of the Wild, due to the neutered nature of the player with an empty gauge.
A key function in battle is the ‘chain break’ command, Y+B together can be used to instantly refill a controlled unit’s boost, making combos last longer, and damage dealt much higher. The combat system is simple to master in the earlier stages, but when facing boss types like the tankish Unit P, control over all combat systems is necessary regardless of how over levelled your unit is.
I really enjoyed the level system in SD Gundam Battle Alliance. You can spend dropped experience referred to as ‘Capital’ on any unit in your collection regardless of which to take to the front lines. My RX-78-2 was on unit level 10 when I was able to unlock my favourite Gundam in all the series, the ZGMF-X10A Freedom, but the new MS unit was vastly under levelled, so I was able to farm capital with a strong MS to upgrade my newly obtained unit.
“SD Gundam Battle Alliance is a huge celebration of everything Gundam…”
This is SD Gundam Battle Alliance’s best feature, the monstrous number of units the player can unlock. Each mission may contain an unlock blueprint piece of a Gundam, adding to the replay ability of missions. I had to repeat two separate missions, numerous times, to unlock the Freedom, and although it was worth it, I kind of disliked being forced into repeating the same mission with the same plot twists.
This is my main gripe with SD Gundam Battle Alliance. Besides the chore-feeling nature of farming experience or blueprint pieces to unlock the better MS units, context gets lost across a language barrier. While the voice acting is superb, there are constant subtitles appearing all over the screen that need to be read to obtain necessary storyline context. SD Gundam Battle Alliance does a great job recreating historical moments from the Gundam universe, but most of the mission context and interactions between beloved characters happen during missions, which is mostly missed unless the player can understand Japanese. There is no other language setting.
Enemies also feel a little uninspired, aside from the major boss fights, which are stylishly introduced by a Megaman X feeling WARNING screen. It feels like every scenario is flooded with ‘more of the same’ vanilla enemies that fall to your might. A repetitive beat-up enemy, into boss fight, then repeat seems to happen often and can make the player wrought with same ole fatigue.
SD Gundam Battle Alliance is a huge celebration of everything Gundam, and I am here for it as a huge fan. From unlocking the MASSIVE wealth of mobile units, experiencing historical scenarios from a unique perspective in the universe is a delight, and even features OSTs from the hit series the title handles with class. While SD Gundam Battle Alliance is a title that feels crafted for like-minded individuals like me who are huge fans of the Gundam universe, newcomers might feel out in the cold, especially those not native to the Japanese language. Although this is one of the better titles when compared to the new Gundam breaker, that bar is so low anyone can get over it.