The Future of Gundam Games In North America
With Bandai releasing "new" games here in North America, it begs the question, what else could we have to look forward to? Will this continue? What other games could we see? Time to hazard a guess.
In order to get a good view of what's to come, we first must look back to our past. The world of Gundam has had games to chronicle it's stories for years now, dating all the way back to the origins of home gaming consoles. With many of the games focusing on war stories, just like the source material, games have played a vital part in the expansion of the lore behind the Universal Century. We've also seen 2D fighters in the Gundam Battle Assault series. Gundam games have tended to follow trends in the industry That's not to say they've been bad, but they stick to certain ideas and design philosophies. We don't receive most of these games in North America. Even so, the vast majority have stuck with the narrative-heavy single player stories and have seen success with this.
With the advent of online multiplayer, a change in the traditional structure came about. We saw The Vs series, Gundam Battle Operation 1, The Dynasty warrior series and eventually the Breaker series. All of these series took a different part of what makes Gundam fun and focused in on it. Did you want to fight a friend in an arcade 3D fighter? Did you want to fight in a gritty 08th MS Team style war? Did you want to be the Super Pilot, cutting down waves of grunt suits? Or did you simply want to battle with a custom Gunpla? These games covered so much but might have stretched themselves thin. The latest iterations of Vs, Dynasty Warriors, and Breaker series being critical and commercial disappointments, it was questionable if we were ever going to see official North American Gundam games again. These games are still available but have very small player bases, leaving them almost entirely single player experiences. Luckily for us, in the North American Region, we're getting some more games.
Now we come to the present day announcements of Gundam Battle Operation 2 (GBO2) and Gundam Battle: Gunpla Warfare getting North American releases. It's true Gundam Battle Operation 2 has been out in Japan since 2018 and you could've played this with a fake Japanese PSN account, but Bandai is showing interest in the West once again. GBO 2 is a pretty safe venture as it is a free to play game with English as an optional language already. If you're unfamiliar with what GBO2 is, it's a 6-v-6 team death match game set in the One Year War era of the Universal Century. You play as a mercenary, to help justify using both Zeon & Federation suits, customize that mobile suit and use it to fight against other players. You even get to customize your own pilot, because you get to leave your mobile suit during the missions. This game brings the real war vibe back, a good mix of real robot chunkiness and super robot boosting.
The more interesting of the two announcements was the new mobile game Gundam Battle: Gunpla Warfare. Having just passed 200,000 pre-registers on both the App Store & Google Play, at least at the time of writing this article, it's fair to say North American is ready for a Gundam game on their phones. Bandai even had to add stretch goals to their pre-registration push, adding a new 300,000 goal of AI pilots for Amuro & Herro. Not to mention they suprassed that 300,00 goal as well. There are a couple of telling things to crop up out of these announcements. First, at least on the surface level, Bandai might not have felt that there was a need to add more than a 200,000 goal, doubting there would be that much interest. This could also just be clever marketing, but being the first Gundam related mobile game to hit North America, I could see there not being a lot of faith in this version. Secondly, AI pilots being included could be used for multiple things. This could be as simple as a voice pack for a party member on missions, an AI training partner, or perhaps an AI pilot to run mission for you while you're away. With this being a mobile game, I get a sense there will be some sort of timer or cool down feature that could utilize this AI. At the moment, the general theory is that this is a toned down breakers type game.
That brings us to the future, we can we look forward to in terms of Gundam games? Looking at current gaming trends here in the US at least, we can see a couple of different routes for our beloved overlords to explore.
First, we can take a look at several game of the year contenders such as the likes of Spiderman, God of War, Assassin's Creed Odyssey and Red Dead Redemption 2. All of these focusing around a single player, story driven experience, we could see the return of lore expanding epics set in any Gundam universe. It's also possible to have tie in games much like Gundam Unicorn did when the OVAs were still airing. With Hathaway's flash coming, there could be some missed content added in the form of a game. Now typically, at least in the west, licensed games don't do super well, unless like 2018's Spiderman, they have their own unique and fully fleshed out universe. It's a big stretch but creating a new universe for a game series could work.
It's impossible to overlook the popularity of the Battle Royal genre that has exploded in popularity in the last few years From Day Z to Apex Legends, we've seen a lot of different takes on this concept. I don't think a full game would be called for but GBO2 could have a smaller game mode to fill this hole, dropping say 20 players on a map as their custom pilot character, making players fight over only a few mobile suits until there is only one player or squad left. This wouldn't necessarily see the success of Apex Legends, Fortnite of PUBG, but it would be a fun take on the trend.
Potentially, one of the least likely options would be an open world game such as Monster Hunter, set in a few select Gundam timelines. You could mesh this with a Breaker's like building system, starting out as a Junker from Gundam X, a member of the militias from Turn A or a mercenary group on Iron Blooded Orphans. Setting out on quests while upgrading your suit of choice, allowing for a more serious tone than the Breakers series.
Lastly, one of the top 10 games of last year was Dragon Ball FigherZ, a 2D fighting game based on the long running series. With the success of this game and the attendance/viewer number of EVO going up every year, maybe it's time for Gundam to get back into fighters. The Vs series does still exist but refining a Battle Assault-like game into something playable at the highly competitive level. Toning down some of the goofier features of the these games and focusing in on more serious, well-made game, could help expand Gundam's reach into the arena of competitive fighting games.
All in all, I'm happy to see new releases coming to North American and to know Bandai is seeing that there is a large enough following to warrant such efforts.