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Gungnir Review

GungnirA few years ago, a majority of my friends became obsessed with the television series, Lost. When they weren’t arranging their schedule around the release of new episodes, each spent hours analyzing each cryptic reference the writers embedded into every show, eager to glean some new insight into the overarching, intricately layered narrative. Although I‘ve never developed much of a passion for television, I do admit to having a similar fixation with Japanese developer STING’s Department Heaven series.

Recalling Lost’s cryptic numerology, each of the four games that have been released in the nine title anthology have been given a non-sequential designator, with higher episode numbers purportedly indicating an increased level of originality. Beyond common settings, villains and references to Norse mythology, each entry in the Department Heaven series has offered a remarkable twist on a derivative genre. From inserting dating sim mechanics into Riviera: The Promised Land’s amalgam of role-playing game and visual novel to Knights in the Nightmare’s odd fusion of strategy role-playing game, loot collection, and shoot-‘em-up, STING’s output has been consistently inspired. Thankfully, Gungnir- the latest addition to developer’s gratifyingly imaginative oeuvre, shows the developer upholding the series’ legacy.

GungnirUnlike Knights, which confounded many gamers with its dense intermingling of divergent game mechanics, Gungnir’s aspirations fall obliquely within the strategy role-playing realm. At the game’s onset, players are introduced to the Leonica, a subjugated group living alongside the ruling class Daltania. Players take control of members of Esperanza, a resistance faction determined with toppling the aristocrats, and surreptitiously stumble upon a mysterious young noblewoman being transported by slave traders. With verbose conversations which don’t always articulate a character’s motivations, the title’s introduction settles for a slow smolder, rather that enthralling players from the onset. Thankfully, the pace quickens once players are given access to the game’s nemesis-  a powerful lance with demonic powers. Like STING’s previous efforts, Gungnir characters often shun the extremes of the moral spectrum, elevating the title above many of its dualistic contemporaries. Unfortunately, the game’s sense of earnestness is undermined by the occasional anachronism which belies the vaguely medieval, high fantasy tone.

Mercifully, any faults in the game’s narrative are easily overlooked by the game’s distinctive combat system. Tweaking traditional SRPG mechanics, Gungnir employs two systems which regulate turn order, making time management just as important as unit positioning. In essence, allied party actions exist alongside corresponding enemy activities on a timeline. When it’s the player’s turn, any unit can be selected, moved, and ordered to act- allowing allies in the interior of a engagement to attack, while bypassing friendlies on the fringes.  To keep this flexibility from being exploited, individual units are given a wait time that is consummate with each command; a short movement might require a quick respite but an extended trek and attacks would necessitate a protracted breather. Cleverly, the game allows players to bypass wait times at the cost of shrinking a unit’s health bar, endowing battles with an intriguing risk/reward component. Even for SRPG aficionados, the battle system can be complicated. Mercifully, tutorial screen pop up at regular intervals, which can be reviewed later.

GungnirAs the game forgoes the ability to grind your party through noncompulsory side missions, players are obliged to be savvy about upgrades. While weapons level up on a per usage basis, allied characters are given five item slots for equipment such as weapons, armor, and items- helping to even the odds of the game’s more challenging encounters. Although a convenient diagram shows the comparative advantage (or disadvantage) of each piece of loot, there’s no way of seeing a comparable analysis in the game’s shop, which is an odd decision considering Department Heaven’s custom of offering a surplus of on-screen data.

Visually, Gungnir is proficient, with charming battlefield sprites for combatants and environmental objects, all presenting in a traditional isometric format. Although the game lacks the robust voice-overs of Riviera, Gungnir’s coding is lean, the game’s diminutive 184 MB footprint provides speedy load times, and a data install option for the hopelessly impatient. It should be noted that at the time of this writing, the title wasn’t compatible with the PS Vita. Hopefully, Sony will rectify this quandary is the coming weeks.

GungnirWhile Gungnir may not be on the same lofty plateau as Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together, Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions or even the Disgaea titles, it does offer a fresh SRPG experience that isn’t a port of a console title. Propelling by an absorbing battle system, graphical allure, and an appealing storyline (once the player passes a languid introduction), the game deserves a purchase by both fans of the genre as well as Department Heaven devotees.

About Robert Allen

With over 35 years of gaming experience, Robert 'DesertEagle' Allen is Tech-Gaming's resident worrier/warrior who spends his days teaching at three colleges and his nights devoted to JRPGs.

22 comments

  1. Wait you didn’t take off 20 points for not being Vita compatible? How dare you?

    • Why would a review do that? I’ve never heard of a PC reviewer marking down a game because it didn’t run well on a netbook.

      • Gamerstemple would.

        http://www.gamerstemple.com/vgreview.asp?r=7474

        “Regardless of who is to blame here, this major misstep knocks at least 20 points off the game’s overall score, though my initial knee-jerk reaction had me subtracting even more. As a matter of fact, Gungnir is entertaining and engaging enough to keep me from assigning a score of zero, my first thought. If you see pigs gliding by your window and Sony has made the SRPG Vita-compatible, simply disregard this tirade and skip to the next paragraph (and add 20 to the overall score while you’re at it).”

        Totally unprofessional. It’s a PSP game. Review the experience on the PSP.

        • Ok, didn’t hear or know about that. If fact, Ive never heard of the site.

          Agreed- it’s a very crappy thing to do to the game. Gungnir should be reviews on it’s own merits, not compatibility with a system it’s not designed for.

        • That’s week and shows that the site should be taken seriously, IMO.

          Pretty good review here. Score seems a little higher that most, but I know they like JRPGs more than most outlets.

        • After that no one should send them games to review ever.

  2. You want a SHIT review for the game? Check out Game Revolution. Here’s their attempt at an introduction:

    “I had to check Wikipedia to figure out what “Gungnir” actually is. Apparently, it’s the name of a legendary spear in Norse mythology. Not just any spear… Odin’s spear. The king of the gods. The champion of champions. The Big Kahuna. The Giant… Giant. And his spear was powerful, just like him. I didn’t read anything that would imply that it could summon giant demons, but maybe there’s a text missing or something. Because that’s obviously what happens here.”

    The rest of the review doesn’t get any better:

    “But those characters… I’ve never actually watched paint dry before but it sounds more interesting than actually reading through these characters’ plight. Let me summon the demon, let me slay some bad guys, and let me be engaged in a story… don’t make me feel like I’m sitting on the sidelines.”

    The guy even admits to not following the story:

    “After reading through the first few scenes and holding down the trigger, I honestly don’t give a flying phooey about the story.”

  3. Two things:

    I don’t know why site that don’t understand (or have played these games) review them. They’re for niche audiences and should be treated as such.

    And I also don’t know why people rag on these site. You’re just giving them hits and promoting them.

    Other that that- good, fair review.

  4. I just hope Atlus gives us Gloria Union. And Sony gets on the ball with Vita backwards compatibility.

  5. Great review but you forgot to mention the game’s score which is haunting and emotional without being sappy.

    This game is well worth the $29.99 price. I already put 15 hours in and feel if it ended right now, I’d be very happy.

  6. Sorry but I tried Knights in the Nightmare and it was so damn complicated that I had to give up on it 3 different times. Count me out of Department Heaven if this game is anything like that one.

  7. Hopefully, the end of Gungnir is better than Lost. I was so disappointed in the way the show fizzled out.

  8. Really good review Deagle. Had to throw that Disgaea reference in there, huh? I guess that means Sean won’t be playing this.

  9. Reading some of the reviews for this game even some of the bigger sites really makes me wonder about the state of game reviews. Half of the reviews seemed like they skipped through the story (yeah, the beginning was a bit slow, but the game does get good pretty quickly)

    alright review here, so thanks.

  10. I’d like to play this, but until Sony gets their act together I won’t be buying it.

  11. I bought this the day it came out, expecting it to work on my Vita.

    After bugging the living shit out of Sony for weeks, I’ve almost given up all hope. Maybe someone here has heard a bit of news and make me thing that someday soon I’ll be able to play this.

  12. Great review. I’m glad to hear ST!NG didn’t go with a straight RPG system, buy knowing them, that is to be expected.

    Two things:
    Some side characters can permanently die? Yes or no?

    Do you pronounce Gungnir?

    Gung-gan-neer? Gung-neer, Gun-Gan-neer?

  13. Gunga-neer is how I’ve heard it pronounced. Either way it looks really cool. Thanks for the info.

  14. I really want this. Maybe Sting will make a 3DS version. I can hope, right?

  15. The thing that drives me crazy, it you have to hit the treasure chests multiple times to get them to open and THEN collect the loot. Considering every thing, this takes way too long.

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