One irony of sci-fi stories is that they’re often reductive. The expansive universes creators think up have a way of collapsing back down to the actions of individuals. The epic scope of Mobile Suit Gundam‘s One Year War comes down to a duel between Amuro Ray and Char Aznable. The many world-ending calamities of Neon Genesis Evangelion become backmatter for the toxic relationship between a young man and his father. This isn’t a complaint! Rather, it’s something inherent to fiction itself. The typically sci-fi subgenre of mecha fiction is no exception. These universes exist to serve their stories, after all, even if that can make them feel smaller. Super Robot Wars 30 manages a rare feat, then. It makes these settings feel bigger than than the stories they served.
That’s because being an SRW game, Super Robot Wars 30 isn’t about one universe or one story. It’s about every story from every universe. Its purpose is to tie everything together. To become the impossible glue that unites a dozen or more completely unrelated franchises. In doing so, it commits to trying to make them all fit on what a single timeline. You can see it in the game’s helpful “Encyclopedia” section. There, Super Robot Wars 30 crams together the plotlines of no less than half-a-dozen mecha series to form the background of “The Last Ten Years.”
In B.B. Studio’s mashup “New Space Era” timeline, the events of Mobile Suit Gundam, GaoGaiGar, and Mazinger Z were what enabled the events of Code Geass, Zeta Gundam, and Char’s Counterattack to happen. Meanwhile, the political shockwaves of Gundam Unicorn cleared the way for the rise of the Zanscare Empire, the antagonists of Victory Gundam. Sure, it’s barely coherent and flies apart into nonsense at the slightest scrutiny, but it does the job. For a willing player, that’s more than enough to make the Super Robot Wars universe (this version of it, at least) feel like a huge place where anything and everything can happen.
It’s into this maelstrom of fan service that Super Robot Wars 30 throws its main cast. These are the former cadets of Military Academy 30, now the command crew of the Dreisstrager, a massive semi-sentient battleship. The ship, as well as the player-selected main character, must save an Earth Federation weakened by years of unending war. That’s the consequence of having the events of multiple mecha anime happen simultaneously, of course.
In practice, this plays out in a fairly straightforward manner. Super Robot Wars 30 mimics the branching structure of some earlier titles, and gives players a few options when it comes to deciding where to go next. For example, the very first mission-related choice you make is selecting whether to begin the game on Earth or in space. Either path changes the order in which you encounter (and recruit) the various characters and mecha featured in the game. Selecting Earth links your character up with the classic Super Robots of Mazinger Z, Combattler V, and Brave Police J-Decker, while going to space adds characters from Victory Gundam and Majestic Prince to your initial roster. Similar branches come up in places throughout the campaign, and multiple playthroughs will be needed to explore every ending and completely fill out the playable cast. Each set of missions tends to (very) loosely follow a given piece of source material. For example, missions where you encounter the characters and mecha of Code Geass will center around a scenario shaped like the plot of Code Geass: Lelouch of the Re;Surrection. Of course, this all comes with the Super Robot Wars twist of having the characters of many other shows able to be participate in the festivities.
A large part of Super Robot Wars 30‘s time is devoted to just letting players marinate in this kind of multiversal interaction. As such, how much enjoyment you derive from that experience can ride on your familiarity with the sources. That’s where some stumbling blocks can be found. Super Robot Wars 30 may be so far the only mainline entry to get a western release. Despite that notable achievement, many of its featured series are fairly obscure in the west. Sure, everyone knows the original Mobile Suit Gundam and Zeta Gundam, but Gundam Narrative is much less well-known. And though their presence will likely delight hardcore mecha fans, shows like Heavy Metal L-Gaim, Majestic Prince, J-Decker, and Knight’s and Magic are unlikely to get the average anime-watcher’s blood pumping.
Thankfully, that helpful encyclopedia and a number of other features in Super Robot Wars 30 make getting acquainted as easy as it can be. At any point during a narrative sequence, players can bring up an encyclopedia entry and profile for the character on-screen, to find out just who they are and where they’re from. The in-game codex gives detailed synopses of every featured series, as well as descriptions of every mech. The glossary helpfully defines the many original terms and concepts unique to each series, and it’s all held together by an excellent localization that captures the personalities of each character, making their appeal seem that much less dependent on familiarity. The game even makes it easier on people new to strategy games. The difficulty can be adjusted at almost any time (though it isn’t particularly hard on its default settings). Plus, a new “auto mode” lets less tactically-inclined players sit back and let the game do the work, or at least make grinding levels or cash less tedious.
Though its narrative jumble might not be immediately exciting to casual anime fans or mecha newbies, Super Robot Wars 30 is, mechanically speaking, the friendliest entry in the series to date. If you’re willing to take the plunge on a bunch of brands and characters you aren’t all that familiar with, it’s a near-perfect jumping-on point try.
Super Robot Wars 30 is immediately available in North America and Europe on PC via Steam. In Asia and Japan, the game is also available on PS4, and Nintendo Switch. The November 19, 2021 free update added the original character Gilliam Yeager and his Gespenst mecha.