By Laura . May 31, 2012 . 5:30pm
Gungnir’s protagonist, Giulio, is quite the unassuming character, always being overshadowed by his older brother Ragnus. The two are the sons of the former leader of Esperanza, a rebel faction formed almost entirely of Leonicans—a race discriminated against and hated by the Daltans, with no other given reason than that they are cursed and, well, just…lesser beings.
Despite being rebels in name, they haven’t seen much action ever since their previous leader was murdered during a massacre, but things change when they raid a slave caravan traveling through the slums. Inside is a mysterious girl by the name of Alissa and, though she doesn’t have amnesia, she’s extremely close-lipped about her circumstances and her identity, which is rather unfortunate for the heroes because the Galgan army is very intent on capturing her for a reason certainly related to her secrets.
This inevitably leads to tragedy as the Esperanza rebels are crushed like flies one by one before it’s Giulio’s turn…when a mysterious spear appears, along with a girl claiming Giulio to be the chosen one. With these two additions to their forces, the empire is driven back and Ragnus and the others decide to mount a counterattack against the empire that’s oppressed them for so long.
The plot of Gungnir is an epic tale of war and politics, which may or may not be a good thing depending on your tastes. I’ll get to this in just a bit, but for now, suffice it to say that Gungnir is colored in all shades of grayness. There are two sides to every story, and those sides have sides as well.
The highlight of Gungnir is definitely its battles. For the most part, it runs like many SRPGs. However, you’ll find several features that are unique to this game. The first is that at the very beginning of the battles, you’ll have to assign an Ace. The Ace is the “leader” of the battle, which means that he can’t die or else the battle’s over. He also provides speed bonuses to certain character classes that change depending on who’s the Ace. With each chapter, you have a choice of 2-3 characters to set as the Ace; which characters are available depends on the plot, usually.
Aside from the Ace, you’re allotted 3-4 slots to fill with your characters. This varies with each chapter and you have to fill each of the slots (for example, you can’t take fewer than the allotted number even though it might be easier sometimes). These slots can be filled by story characters (usually your most powerful), mercenaries you hire through the Guild or volunteers you accept at the Camp.
Gungnir doesn’t encourage the use of a wide variety of characters. There are no free battles to train the ones you don’t often use, and weapons and skills upgrade on a per-use basis, so having a wide range just puts you at a disadvantage. It’s true that lower level characters catch up quickly in EXP (which you can gain by doing almost any action, including using a Potion), but doing so puts you at risk of a Game Over.
Instead, Gungnir encourages the customization of existing characters. Each character is allotted 5 equipment slots which you can fill with weapons, armor, and items. Unlike armor, which must be limited to one type of item per character, you can choose to equip up to two weapons of one type for more versatility. While this may seem like a restriction, there is such a wide variety of items that it’s fun exploring the effects of different items.
Another unique aspect is the fact that time runs continuously through battle. This is a difficult concept to explain in words, but let’s say time is determined into units (the game has its own time system, complete with hours, days, months, years, etc.), and each character must wait a certain number of time units before acting. This is how turn order is determined. If you drag the battle out for too long, you’ll automatically lose the battle. However, while your enemy’s units each have their own spot in the turn order, your team’s turn only appears once in the turn order. In other words, every member of your party shares a turn. This allows you to prioritize which units are more important. Thus, you can have a character in the middle of the action attack as you ignore those standing in the outskirts.
All in all, I enjoyed the battle system. It requires a different type of strategizing from what’s necessary in most SRPGs, where each unit gets its own turn. Sometimes, the battles were a bit slow, but they were never impossible. It’s all a question of using the right units when you need to.
That having been said, I found I wasn’t quite as big a fan of the game outside of battles. Perhaps it’s because Gungnir feels too much like reading a history book. The game is very focused on the plot and the political machinations surrounding the war and spends very little time on the characters. “The army traveled here, did this, and then they went North to do that. Little did they know what dangers awaited them.” The characterization is barebones, and the people just aren’t very memorable. There are scenes showing Giulio’s insecurities and Alissa’s determination for the future, but the dialogue mostly just lays out a basis for the characters, rather than expanding upon them.
This could easily have been remedied by alternating these cut-and-dry scenes with in-depth dialogue that sucks you straight into the scene, brings their situation to heart, and allows you to relate to the characters. However, everyone seemed to just recite their dialogue without emotion. Every word they speak is for the sake of moving the scene forward as mere plot devices rather than as actual characters. Furthermore, sometimes, the writing (or the translation, perhaps) in Gungnir could be a little unconvincing, so I couldn’t make myself believe that a character would actually say what I’d read. Perhaps it’s just me, but ultimately, I was not touched by the characters’ plight, and I felt this was more the game’s fault than mine.
Gungnir also had a tendency to feel like it was dragging me along by the scruff of my neck is because there was no world map that I could travel over. You have no choice in what to do in the large scheme of things—the only thing you can do is advance to the next location or the next plot point. While I understand that this is something done in other games as well, it doesn’t do anything to lessen the feeling that you’re here to simply go through the war rather than learn about the characters. In a way, I suppose this emphasizes the feeling that you have no control over your destiny.
Given the focus of the game—on the battle system and the war—Gungnir certainly provided quite the challenge (in a good way). To me, though, without strong characters to back up the plot, I had trouble really caring about the war in the first place, and played the game solely the game for its battles. It’s a shame, too, since I think all the characters have a strong base to begin with. Perhaps it’s one of those games where I’ll need to step back and let my imagination create a fuller characterization for everyone.
Food for thought:
1. Event scenes are completely skippable with the press of two buttons, so replays will be easier especially given the fact that there are two possible endings to the game depending on the choices you have Giulio make through the course of the game.
2. Unlike most stores in other games, the stock at the store in each chapter is limited, so in early chapters you may have to watch your item usage so you don’t run out of healing items.
3. Gungnir (the spear) is actually rather hard to use. Giulio will have problems with capacity early on, and the spear can only attack a row of enemies. This wouldn’t be a problem if there weren’t friendly fire. Gungnir can also summon War Gods, but the cast time is horrendously long and the effects aren’t guaranteed. You can actually choose not to equip the spear on Giulio and just have him go with an old-fashioned sword. Most guides suggest this for beginners.