A Look At: Super Tokusatsu Taisen 2001

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The Super Robot Wars series has been a popular franchise for Banpresto featuring crossovers from many mecha series. Given the number of licensed games they produce, it didn’t take long before someone got a bright idea – why not take the engine for those games and utilize it with other properties?

That’s the story, but the final question is: how did the game go?

A quick note before we begin: “Tokusatsu” is simply a Japanese phrase for a film that utilizes a significant amount of “Special Effects” (that’s what the word translates to if taken literally.)

In this case, the specific genres being invoked happen to be Superhero, Mecha and Science Fiction. Included are series such as Kamen Rider, Goranger (some of which have been localized as Power Rangers), Giant Robo, Ultraman and more. These are pretty big names in their home country of Japan, so in that regards they aren’t simply filling up the slots with cheap licenses.

Of course, the game doesn’t intend to simply be a carbon copy of an SRW game. For example, rather than SRW’s cutesy SD sprite art, the game tries to go for a more “realistic” look to its characters that more closely sticks to their Live Action origin. In fact, each transformation actually plays the stock footage from the source material as they occur.

It’s a bit of a mixed bag – they look really cheesy and the animation was not going to wow anyone even back when it was first released, but you can probably argue that this is more fitting to the style of its source material – most Tokusatsu series aren’t really cutting-edge Marvel Cinematic Universe tier entries.

Plus it does mean that Kamen Rider V1 is still totally being played by Segata Sanshiro.

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STT2001’s strengths are two sides of the same coin – it tries in many ways to put a new spin on Super Robot War’s tried and true mechanics, but doesn’t quite end up executing them well.

To elaborate, we have to go deeper to analyze the gameplay themes/layers and what it is trying to accomplish

Theme 1: Biological and Mechanical

Right down to the choice of the Original characters you can pick to play as at the start, STT2001 has an emphasis on a subject that is well-covered in many sci-fi stories – what is the relationship between man and machine and what does it say about his humanity?

Gameplay-wise, this is represented in the following manner – “Mechanical” units may improve their capabilities by spending money while “Biological” units can only improve themselves through leveling, but for free.

It gets a bit murkier when hybrids come into play – certain characters are cyborgs and other similar oddities, where some of them may have their physical body stats improved through money while their weapons only gain power from leveling or vice versa. Some characters also have their trusty vehicles, such as the Kamen Riders signature bike that can be upgraded as a separate piece.

All good on paper, but one issue that will come up immediately to even a lay man – an underlevelled “Biological” based unit has a hard time catching up to your other units when you can’t even use money to ease the pain of bringing a weak unit up to speed.

There’s also the fact that money is limited, which means you can put yourself in a potential unwinnable state with poor investment.

Theme 2: Three Layers of Power Level

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While the classic Strategy RPG set up of “move units around on a 2D square grid” from games such as SRW and Fire Emblem should be familiar to veterans of the genre, as it turns out, you can potentially argue that different units are playing entirely different games despite all being pieces on the board. On the players side, they can roughly be divided into these categories:

Layer 1: The Military Grunts level

There’s a wide selection of personalized “infantry” to deploy each level, though they tend to be very similar especially within their respective series.

These guys are so weak that it takes several of them using firearms to take on a single mook… and God help you if you’re trying to fight in melee.

So why would you ever use them? In a rather Advance Wars-like scenario, these infantry are the only units that are able to capture Factories, Bases, Research Centers, Resupply Areas and other such important structures to help the war effort.

These provide you with the money and resources that you’ll need to beat the mission. Additionally, factories may also roll out and produce a variety of mundane vehicles for Infantry units such as Tanks and Helicopters, but sad to say they are mostly surprisingly worthless even against mooks.

Layer 2: Super Heroes

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One out of the two “big stars” of the game, your Super Hero units will be the main bulk of your offensive potential. These guys can take out mooks with a single punch, in fact usually sweeping through them when they decide to mob you on Enemy Phase.

There is a catch though: just like how it usually goes, Super Heroes start in their base “Human” form and need to build up Morale to transform. This is accomplished by killing enemies – a task that’s generally easy to accomplish if all there is are mooks, but suddenly complicated by the addition of more stronger “boss” monsters in the mix.

The tension of figuring out the best way to transform your characters, then taking on these bosses and supporting your grunts is what makes this layer works

Layer 3: Giant Robots

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Remember how in Power Rangers, they had a giant robot they could probably use to stomp on all their tiny enemies but never bring them out unless absolutely necessary so as to minimize collateral damage from having huge jerks stomping all over the place?

Just like that, Giant units are comparatively rarely seen in the game – however, when monsters that are just too big for humans to handle enter the scene, classics such as Ultraman and Red Baron are on the scene to put wannabe-Godzillas in their place.

Of course, their rare deployment opportunities does lead to situations where as the game goes on, it’s highly likely that your Giant units will be underlevelled, which tends to lead to an amusing but frustrating scenario where your big hero enters the battlefield to save the day only to be promptly shot down by enemy planes and tanks in a re-enactment of King Kong.

Now that you have a grasp on the types of units, let’s move on to…

Theme 3: Size DOES matter

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In the original Super Robot Wars, size is a stat that mostly only affect the numbers in relation to how the two targets differed in size, which smaller units getting an accuracy bonus against larger ones, while larger units gain a damage bonus against smaller ones.

Other than that, “logical” issues are simply handwaved away – an SS sized unit (human-sized) can attack an LL sized one (roughly planet-sized) with nothing other than taking a 50% damage penalty, something that’s rather silly even taking their superpowers in consideration.

Things are different in STT2001 land – Size is simplified as a stat with the only two entries being “S” and “L”, but with more hidden implications.

First off, both S and L sized units have numerical stats that scale to their sizes – a human sized Small units have HP and damage that generally don’t break even 100, while Large units possess HP and deal damage in the thousands.

Second, each possible method of attack in this game has a flag that signifies whether they can be used on Small and Large targets – most Small units cannot even attempt to attack Large ones while the opposite tends to be true more often. This rule is of course broken by some units, such as one particular hero who possesses a BFG that can take a chunk off unsuspecting Kaijus.

Once again – an OK system on paper, but there is one rather silly issue that isn’t taken to account – movement. Both S and L sized units take up exactly 1 square on the grid and obstruct movement as if they were the same sized – this means it is entirely possible to trap an L sized unit by surrounding him with 4 Small units on each of his sides, which is a surprising oversight considering the rest of the system. You could certainly do this too in SRW but at least those games tend to be really abstract about these kind of things.

There are also some other details that bares mentioning. Level design is questionable – quite a few levels require you to do very specific things in order to progress… however, they are written in such a way that you MUST be familiar with the source material in order to even know what those actions are supposed to be due to not being given any hints.

This is not a common occurrence in Super Robot Wars, which are usually written under the assumption that it is possible that this is the first time that a player might have seen any of the included series in question. A rather sloppy job on STT2001’s developers end!

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As you can see, there’s an overall theme of “interesting concept, wonky execution” that the game has going on here. Unfortunately, it must have been a financial bomb because Bandai Namco chose to entirely drop the series after one attempt.

Nothing like it has ever been attempted again – the closest would be the recent PS3/Vita’s Super Hero Generation, though that plays much more like a traditional SRPG (where everything is strangely the same size)

What a shame, as outside of gameplay, there’s also many Toku series that have been included in a theoretical “new” Super Tokusatsu Taisen game, such as the more modern Kamen Riders like Ryuki, Agito and Gaim.

Tokusatsu themed games have long been rather lacking for quite some time, but things always have the possibility of change in the future. Meanwhile, we have this game to give us a small glimpse of “what could have been”

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