Starting out a game spotlight by explaining the significance of the company behind it is getting to be rather cliche by now, but for this particular game, I’m actually sort of at a loss.
You see, G.J? (The question mark is part of their company name, really) has, up to this point, only done “nukige”, essentially sex-focused games that the average gamer believe make up the entire genre. When they decided to throw in their hand at creating a mecha RTS game, I’m sure many people raised their eyebrows in disbelief.
But hey, there’s a first for everything. After all, Enix, now a famous RPG company, started out with “gems” like “Lolita Syndrome”.
So how did this game do? Well, it’s in a Game Spotlight, the answer’s kind of obvious.
As Newton said, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants”, and this game is no different. The most obvious influence on this game is most likely Valkyria Chronicles with its faux-WW2 alternative history approach to its story.
Though whereas VC loosely used WW2 as a backdrop, Hyakki Yakou instead uses WW2’s lesser known cousin, WW1 instead. The plot seems to take place around the time of the Sino-Russia war, although it doesn’t attempt to recreate any historical conflicts and instead does its own thing.
The plot is filled with political maneuvering for those who like that stuff, but also a more personal story about what “duty to country” really entails. It’s filled with rather standard war tropes (note: Never tell anyone about how you hope to retire after this battle which will totally be your last one), but does present them in a way that’s still engrossing to read through.
It’s rather surprising to see a Japanese game actually suggest that perhaps blindly following orders and believing your country can do no wrong might not be the healthiest of attitudes, considering the usual tone of “Rah rah, Japan was awesome in WW2” stance that most of them tend to take.
Personally, for my tastes, I would really have liked a piece of Japanese fiction actually straight out condemn the country for their past war crimes, which this game sadly doesn’t do and generally stays in a “controlled optimism” tone… but baby steps, I suppose.
As far as characters go, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. They’re definitely one of the most obvious evidence that the game was designed by people who formerly worked on adult games. Some of the characters have chest sizes that go past “sexy” and straight into “eldritch horror” territory.
That being said, they’re competently written enough to come off more than just Anime stereotypes, and a little bit more to the point where they do feel like actual soldiers in the military rather than teenagers playing with toy guns. I won’t say they’re extremely complex three dimensional characters but they work fine enough for the game and its tone.
Also they look really snazzy in WW1 Uniforms.
Aesthetics wise, the game puts quite a bit of effort into making its art look like a period piece. The art has a rather “rough”, fuzzy style to it which is refreshing compared to the overly polished and smooth CG art of modern times.
Similarly, the mecha designs for the game are rather clunky and the 3D models may be hilariously outdated by 2013, but there’s something charming about the way they don’t look like a modern day designed mecha with their overly bright colours and plastic look made just to sell toys to kids. The mechas in Hyakki Yakou look just like the boxy, subduely coloured, welded together piece of junks that you would imagine people might have invented in WW1 if such technology was available.
The music is surprisingly catchy, and I’m sad that there doesn’t seem to be soundtrack released for it. Ranging from exciting metal to more esoteric choices such as traditional Japanese war drums marching music. This is one game where I will say you definitely do not want to mute the music in order to play your own!
But I’ve said quite a bit without actually going into the gameplay of the game itself.
I assume most people know how the RTS genre works so I won’t try to go too much into detail.
Mechanics-wise, Hyakki Yakou is very simple to get into and understand. You start out with your “heroes” deployed automatically and a main base which can produce generic units and heal nearby units. Each unit falls under 1 of the 3 categories and follows a simple weapon triangle system.
Precision units are well-rounded units and have the heaviest armor out of the three. Their sturdier build gives them an advantage against Bipods units, which are built for speed.
Multipod units are the artillery of the bunch. They are slow and easily destroyed, but their long range allows them to hold key defensive positions and pierce through Precision armor units from afar.
Bipods sacrifice armour and power for mobility. They are the prime choice for setting up a mobile defensive force which can respond to threats ASAP and can quickly close the gap on Multipod mechs to take them out.
You units can capture more bases by reducing their health to 0, which will allow you to create a production advantage over the enemy. They can also construct defensive structures such as auto-turrets, barricades and refuel camps.
It’s simple but there are some rather quirks with the system that make things interesting. For example, all units can attack while moving (most RTS have units stand still while engaged in battle), which lends itself to hit and runs and flanking strategies. There are positioning advantages for standing on high ground or attacking the enemy from the back, but trying for those might leave yourself open to attack (there is a sizable lag time when ordering a mecha to jump onto a higher position such as a mountain or building).
You can attach “crew” to your units, which will grant them extra bonuses such as type bonuses, faster movement, enhanced repair ability and so on. What makes this more than the usual “equipment” system is that your crew actually appears as minor units surrounding the mecha in battle and if not taken care of, they can be picked off which will cause you to lose those bonuses. Sometimes you just gotta let the chips fall where they may though.
Finally, hero units have special advantages available. Apart from having mechs with higher stats, all heroes have what is essentially a “super meter”, which fills up whenever they deal or receive damage. Filling the bar will allow the character to unleash his special finishers, ranging from AOE explosions, strong single-target melee attacks or buffs. Using these abilities effectively will help turn the tides against the superior odds that you usually face in the missions. But be careful, for powerful enemy heroes also have the same options available to them!
There is also an option to control one of your units in a 3rd person mode, although I do find it rather impractical, as you basically lose any ability to control the battlefield strategically. It’s kind of a fun thing to do though and it reminds me of the Possession spell in Dungeon Keeper.
After each battle, you’re awarded cash and medals to upgrade your assets with. There are usually certain “prime” targets in each battle that while tougher, also offer a higher bounty for their destruction which will allow players to moderate their own difficulty by deciding whether or not to go for them.
Money is used for upgrading your generics mechas and crew and constructing them in battle, while the rarer medals are used for upgrading your hero units. The game is rather lenient in handing these out overall though so you never feel the need to agonize yourself over your decisions and can buy most of the upgrades around 3/4 of the way into the game.
It’s a rather simple economical system that nevertheless adds a new “campaign” layer to the game by letting you carry over some progress, rather than having the game be a series of completely unconnected battles that the RTS genre tends to comprise of.
In a mechanic that seems straight out of Sakura Wars, another videogame series about Mechas piloted by women, you can also choose to speak to the characters after battle, which adds some personal development to them outside of the battlefield.
Unlike Sakura Wars though, these conversations are strictly “story”-only, and do not affect your characters gameplay in any way. While I would have preferred them to have some effect where the character would gain bonuses and penalties based on how you treat them, it also does mean that players who wish to engage only in the RTS gameplay will have their wish as the conversations are all optional.
In interest of balance, I will have to point out some of the game’s flaws. It is mostly a linear affair, with 1 split somewhere around the 3/4 length which sadly hurts replay value. Also strange for a game with its premise is that there is no specific endings with individual woman and instead just a general one, which might disappoint some people. The sex scenes are also rather shoehorned in due to market demands though on the plus side, I suppose that also means they can be easily taken out if necessary.
The game’s interface is generally acceptable, but there is no option to give orders to multiple units at once, which can get very annoying in the later stages where unit counts increase past the small number of heroes you receive.
The Japanese gaming industry seems to be under some pressure to change into real-time gameplay recently and hurting for it due to their inexperience in many genres such as the RTS. Considering Romance of the Three Kingdom’s 12 disastrous move from a classic Turn-Based Strategy game to an RTS in its latest installment.
So it’s nice to know that there’s still some amount of talent that can turn out a pretty good game in less populated genres. This game’s no Starcraft, but it’s still pretty impressive considering its indie budget and a good step forward for the industry. The game definitely has a good base and lots of sequel potential bringing more elements to the table, and I’m looking forward to that day if it ever shows up.
… and with the appearance of Demonbane in the latest SRW… perhaps even a non-adult port and a future appearance alongside with Muv Luv, maybe? That’s probably a distant dream but on the plus side, now Banpresto has an idea if they ever decided to do an SRW H!