With the success of the Super Robot Wars franchise as the main “face” of the Mecha Strategy RPG genre, it was inevitable that other companies would attempt to tackle it.
The supposed history of the G Generation series is as follow: Bandai released a series of strategy RPGs for the Super Famicon, each with a focus on specific Gundam universes, starting with “A Generation” and incrementing the letter. When it finally reached “G Generation”, instead of proceeding as usual, they decided to create a massive crossover of the series instead, and thus G Generation was born.
Before we begin, it should be mentioned that the G Generation series actually has several different “branches” of game styles. As it were, I will be focusing on the most common “branch” which tends to be the ones that appear on the consoles and Sony’s portable consoles (like the PSP)
At its core, G Generation is a sandbox, strategy RPG where the goal of the game is not just to “win” strategic battles but to develop and unlock a wide variety of playable units and characters. This is done through tools such as “evolving” your units (available when they have gained enough levels), capturing surrendered enemies in battle, exchanging them for units that are considered of equal value or combining two units to create a blueprint that allows you to create a new one.
While Gundam has always been a huge part of the SRW series, it has almost always focused on the big-name titular Gundams and generally popular units from the franchise. As such, a lot of the lesser-used characters and grunt mecha tend not to show up in SRW due to budget and memory issues.
This is not the case in G Generation, which lets players use just about every obscure unit they can dream off, including those that only appear for a single episode and which are immediately blown up and units from sources such as Japanese only novels.
Of course, the meta-layer of “gotta catch em all, PokeGundam” isn’t the only thing there is to the game. As an interesting counterpoint to SRW, missions/stages in the G Generation series do not tend to be “Cross-overs” between the different series.
Instead, it chooses to simulate famous battles from its respective source material, ranging from Amuro’s first contact/battle with Char’s red Zaku II in space, the showdown against the rampaging Psyco Gundam in Hong Kong City, Bernie’s ill-fated ambush on the NT-1 Alex with his obsolete grunt unit and so on.
Because of this, generally each mission will hand you a preset selection of units that you must use to their full potential, which are always at base stats and do not carry over to other missions, similar to scenarios in a war game.
However, the player is able to bring in squadrons of his own units for backup, which are characters and units who can level up as in an RPG. In order to achieve victory, a player must combine the forces of both his own home-grown force and the “heroes” of the original story.
It’s kind of an interesting way to handle such a concept, although the game never makes it clear how this is the case. Either the characters are all living in a computer simulation, or maybe the player is supposed to be a time-traveler whose purpose is to preserve the sanctity of the Gundam universe by ensuring that the end results of these military battles follows official Canon. Who knows, feel free to post your best theories!
It is difficult to recommend individual games in the series, due to the constant development and changes. For example, there are certain series that are extremely obscure that only show up in a handful of games which might warrant playing a particular entry (such as SD Gundam Sangokuden Brave Battle Warriors). I’ll try to tackle it anyway.
Note: As a general rule, the older the game, the more difficult it tends to be in comparison to newer ones. Your mileage may vary but I certainly prefer the harder entries in the series.
Overworld (PSP) – Currently the most recent entry in the series. If you want to use units that are very recent additions to the franchise (such as Unicorn), this is the game to pick.
However, it does suffer from a very low difficulty level, “dumbed down” mechanics compared to previous installments and poor map design, potentially due to the limitations of the PSP.
Spirits (PS2) – The UC Gundam fan’s dream. Has a comprehensive coverage of every UC-related series (that were made at the time), including full storyline coverage. The modernized engine of Spirits has been used as a basis for just about every future G Generation game since.
Fans of alternative Gundam timelines such as Wing or Seed will be disappointed however, as these series are not included due to not fitting the unified theme. Yet because of this, it’s probably the most tightly designed of SD Gundam games.
F (PSX) – Older than Spirits, but includes a similar comprehensive coverage of every Gundam series in existence at its time of creation. A good choice for those who would prefer to mix in and play Alternative timeline series.
F’s also uniquely covers several aspects of the Gundam franchise that generally tends to be abstracted or glossed over in other games, such as capturing areas of interest in order to resupply units and earn more money, a wide variety of utility units like Sub-Flight System modules (a.k.a surfboards to help your ground units fly), single use nukes/missiles and “Drone” units such as the Mobile Dolls from Wing and G-Bits from X (which are AI units that are given commands by a single leader, rather than traditional individualized piloted units)
DS (DS, duh) – As previously mentioned, this is actually a part of the alternative branch split of SD Gundam game development, rather than the usual style. It plays somewhat more similar to SRW with a combined crossover storyline, with a focus on building squads of units to fight with, but the strong focus on unit R&D is still present in the game.