Review: Yggdra Union

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In case you hadn’t noticed, the PSP has been suffering through a serious game drought as of late. There have been a few worthwhile titles to tinker around with, but following the major releases earlier in the year like God of War and Crisis Core there hasn’t been anything that makes you say to yourself “now this is why I bought a PSP!”. For me, however, that feeling has now been washed away thanks to one game: Atlus USA’s strategy-RPG Yggdra Union. It doesn’t ship until tomorrow, but I’ve been grinding away with a final build for a week or two now and am here to give you an early review.

Before moving too far ahead, let me first point out that I have not played the original GBA version of this game from a couple years back, so unfortunately I don’t have any past experience to call back upon to judge how this port stacks up in comparison – all’s I know is that the graphics and audio have been fixed up, both Japanese and English voiceovers have been added, and more missions and unlockable content are waiting to be discovered. But what I can tell you with absolute certainty is that taken strictly as a PSP release, Yggdra Union is a game you simply must get your hands on.

What stands out most about Yggdra Union — beyond the beautifully HD-ified 2D artwork and graphics, of course — is its unique battle system. Quite frankly it’s unlike any SRPG I’ve ever played before, and I’ve played a lot of them in my day. Battles start out looking like any other as you tactically move your units around grid-based maps to accomplish whatever the given objective is, be it clearing out all enemy units, capturing an enemy base, defeating a specific unit, etc. But that’s where the similarities end.

Actions in Yggdra Union are based upon cards. At the beginning of each mission, you select a specified number of cards to take into the ensuing battle, and at the beginning of each turn you select one card to use for that turn. Each card has a movement value associated with it that determines the total number of spaces you can move your entire army. Plotting out your movements is very important too because you can only attack with one unit per turn, so it’s vital that you make smart use of the allotted movement points to organize your squad in the optimal formation to lend support to the lone attacking unit.

Once units are aligned to your liking, you can then engage the enemy in a skirmish, and this is where the gameplay become very different. Unlike other SRPGs where you simply click attack, watch your unit slash at the enemy and see the resulting effects of your actions, attacks in Yggdra Union unfold via animated 2D battle sequences with your band of soldiers on the left side of the screen waging war against the opposing forces on the right side of the screen. While you don’t have direct control over your unit’s attacks, you do have some influence over how the battle plays out. As the two units are slashing away at each other, you can hold left on the D-pad to enter a passive mode that lessens your attack power but fills your skill gauge at the top of the screen (filling the gauge all the way unlocks the special ability associated with the current card you have in play) or you can hold right to enter aggressive mode to increase attack power until the skill gauge runs dry. Other than that, though, you basically watch the two sides go at until one side achieves victory.

When a battle ends, the loser may not actually be dead just yet though. Each unit survives based on how much morale it has, and the amount of morale damage dealt after a battle depends on how dominating the victory was. If you win a fight handily you’ll deal a serious blow to the enemy’s morale and likely eliminate the targeted unit in one strike, however if you barely eek out a victory the outcome won’t be quite as devastating and you’ll probably have to come back to finish the job in the next round. So there’s a bit of a balancing act involved. Depending on the situation, you have to decide whether you want to be aggressive and go for the jugular or hold back for a safe victory and build up power for another fight.

There are important factors to take into account before engaging the enemy as well. A rock/paper/scissors weapon affinity system dictates which side has the edge going into the engagement (axe beats spear, spear beats sword, sword beats axe, etc.), and other elements like terrain type and army formation also have a significant impact on who will achieve victory.

Yggdra Union being so different from other SRPGs isn’t all roses, though. Because it is so unique, the learning curve is pretty steep whether you’re a genre veteran or a newbie. Of course, the learning process isn’t helped any by the game’s high level of difficulty which often steps a bit too far over the line of fairness into cheap and unforgiving territory. Hardcore strategy gamers will surely love the brutal challenge, but I can see a lot of folks with just a passing interest in the genre — say those who enjoyed the accessibility of something like Jeanne d’Arc — being completely turned away by the sheer frustration involved with this game’s harder missions.

While it does take some time and patience to ease into and can often be excruciatingly difficult, Yggdra Union is one of the best strategy-RPGs to grace any platform in quite some time, one that brings together uniquely riveting gameplay, compelling narrative, and production values that may not be taxing the PSP in any big way but are impressive nonetheless. Whether or not it’s worth getting all over again if you already own the GBA version is something I simply cannot tell you, I just know that on the PSP Yggdra Union is an instant classic.

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Pros:
+ Unique battle system provides a refreshing change to the standard SRPG formula
+ Beautiful 2D artwork and battle sequences
+ Solid storyline and voice acting
+ Lengthy campaign with multiple endings and other extras; this will be in your PSP for a LONG time

Cons:
– Tough learning curve and a high level of difficulty some may find too unforgiving

Game Info:
Platform: PSP
Publisher: Atlus USA
Developer: Sting
Release Date: 9/16/08
Genre: Strategy-RPG
Players: 1

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!