It's a well known argument that JRPG fans haven't really had much in the way of home console hits this generation. Only recently have publishers begun to announce highly anticipated titles such as The Last Story and Xenoblade Chronicles "“ albeit only in Europe. Now I've heard this complaint many times and what I find is that many a JRPG fan simply don't bother to look elsewhere, especially when that elsewhere is a portable device. Sony's PSP and Nintendo's DS systems are breeding grounds for the genre, where many traditional, as well as experimental titles, can be found. One such title is Atlus and Sting's Yggdra Union: We'll Never Fight Alone.
The game's actually rather old, and was originally released on the Gameboy Advance way back in 2006. In late 2008, Atlus localized the PSP remake, which introduced many new features and a more developed story that referenced the lore created in its predecessor, Riviera: The Promised Land. The game's story revolves around a young girl, Yggdra Yuril Artwaltz, and her quest to reclaim her kingdom from the besieging Empire. Fleeing from her home, all she has are the clothes on her back and a sword said to be the legendary blade Gran Centurio.
Whilst escaping from the clutches of the Empire, she runs into the King of Thieves Milanor, whom, like her, had his home burned to the ground by the Empire. Together, the two join forces and resist their common enemy. For a game of its stature, that is a portable title, its plot is heavy and meaty, with plenty of political intrigue as well as more personable character narratives. There is a vast array of characters whom you'll meet. Some will become you allies whilst many others will stand in your way. The game even features multiple endings based on your actions.
Yggdra's Holy Sword acts as her main motivation for fighting back against the Empire. More than just a symbol of justice, but justice itself, you'll discover that the young princess will be forced to undertake many morally questionable actions in order to facilitate the liberation of her kingdom, including but not limited to genocide. Justice is always mentioned by many characters, especially Yggdra herself, throughout the game, and it makes you really question the absoluteness, or lack thereof, of the ideal.
Yggdra Union is also very unique in terms of gameplay. Events and battles take place on a stage map where Yggdra and her allies, as well as enemies, are able to move about. Using a card-based system, each side will have a set amount of steps they can take in total, including the steps made by allied units. Planning out a battle is just as important as the battle itself. It's almost like a game of chess. And despite its turn-based nature "“ not to mention one attack per turn "“ it can be incredibly consuming thanks to the game's Union mechanic.
Unions are formed when the Union Leader initiates an assault with allied units adjacent to him or her. Based on gender, allies will unite with the Union Leader in either a diagonal or horizontal/vertical cross-shaped pattern, allowing them to assist you in a skirmish. Furthermore, a skirmish only dictates the general direction of the overall battle and won't necessarily mean immediate victory if you win. Complementing these skirmishes is a morale gauge. Lose a battle and you take a hit on your morale based on a number of factors within each individual skirmish. On the other hand, winning a skirmish isn't quite enough either. Simply doing so will only have the morale gauge titter on the brink. You have to win the skirmish, as well as deal a significant amount of damage to the enemies' morale by meeting certain conditions, including weapon advantages, the difference in surviving units, and even geographical control.
There's a lot more where that came from and hopefully this gives you a taste of what to expect in Yggdra Union. Just because a game is on a portable device doesn't make it any less engaging, and even rewarding, than a home console title. Heck, it can be all the more so if the hesitancy caused by portable misconceptions are removed from the equation.