SRPG enthusiasts, take that worn and battered Final Fantasy Tactics Advance cartridge out of your GBA, and rejoice. Yggdra Union is a game we’ve all been waiting for. This game combines strategy with card battles, but don’t let the card battle part scare you away — the game implements it in such a way that even a card newbie like me will understand. In Yggdra Union, you play Princess Yggdra who barely escapes her kingdom while it’s being taken over by an evil empire. With the help of some friends she meets along the way, including a thief named Milanor, she swears to throw off the reign of the empire and bring peace to her kingdom once more. Yes, it sounds familiar to me too.
Believe it or not, the overused plot isn’t what drew me to Yggdra Union. I knew as soon as I saw screenshots of the game that I had to get it. Every screenshot looked like it was meticulously crafted to be as stylish as possible. I’m glad that while everyone is hopping onto the 3D bandwagon, there are still developers like Sting who believe in making a game look fantastic with detailed 2D sprites. Not to be outdone by the visuals, the music in Yggdra Union is just as good. Each character has their own distinct battle music and sound effects are crisp.
Gameplay in Yggdra Union is a bit complicated to explain. It’s a combination of a strategy rpg and a card battle. Players move on an extremely small gridded battlefield and can only attack adjacent enemies. Cards come into play in almost every aspect of the game. In the beginning of a battle, players are notified of a winning condition (defeating a leader, securing a stronghold, etc) and are allowed to choose a specified number of cards from their deck. The cards have on them: movement count, skill, weapon ace, and power. The movement count is the maximum tiles your entire team can move across for that turn. So if you choose a 12 move card, you can have one character move 2 tiles while another one moves 10. The skill tells you what special skill the card gives you, which can then be used if conditions are right and the skill gauge is at 100%. The weapon ace specifies which weapon you must initiate the skirmish with in order to use a special skill. The power is raw attack power.
In battle, your turn starts with picking a card, moving your characters, and then if you choose to, attacking. Only one character can attack per turn, but by utilizing unions, which are specific battle formations you can move the characters into, other characters can join in on the skirmish. Skirmishes are a bit confusing at first because while the battle map shows only one character per tile, in the skirmish, that character is represented by a maximum of six fighters. When all the fighters on a team are wiped out, the skirmish is done and morale points are deducted from the loser. Morale is Yggdra Union’s version of hp and can be recovered at the beginning of battle with items. The game is over if one of your main heroes loses all morale or you run out of cards for the battle. Those who are familiar with Advance Wars will feel right at home with the long battles in Yggdra Union. Some of them last as long as half an hour. Luckily, players have the ability to suspend the game to quick-save.
The limited movement, weapon balances, terrain effects and special skills all have to be taken into account when planning a skirmish. In a few battles, my team was outnumbered, but by picking the right cards and manipulating the characters with the right weapons into favorable places, as well as a little bit of luck, I was able to win. This is what makes this game a must-have for anyone who loves strategy: it doesn’t matter if your players are under-leveled as long as you make smart moves.
Unfortunately, Yggdra Union isn’t perfect. The story is extremely linear, which I wouldn’t mind as much, except there’s no way to take a break from plot-driving battles and just mess around on a battlefield. I guess this prevents people from leveling up their characters too much, which was something that was abused in Riviera. While I understand how making power-leveled characters can cause the game to be too easy, it takes a while to get use to battle mechanics if you don’t want to make any mistakes on the battlefield. The scenes for special skills are fantastic the first five times, but after the fifth time seeing them, I wish that there was a way to skip them. It’s my belief that if the game contains scenes with more than five seconds of non-interactive waiting, there should be an option to skip them.
If you’re planning on retiring your GBA soon, might as well let it go out with a bang and pick up this game. It’s too bad that Yggdra Union came out at the time it did because most people have already moved on to the DS and will probably overlook this gem.
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