Gungnir Review

By Shawn Collier on July 15, 2012

Those who have played prior Sting titles know that the developer is known for their unique twists on various genres, especially in the strategy RPG area. Gungnir, the latest title in the developer's Dept. Heaven series, is another take at the strategy RPG genre. However, unlike Knights in the Nightmare or Yggdra Union, Gungnir is much more akin to Square Enix's Final Fantasy Tactics, but with the developer's own unique take on the genre. So this begs the question: does this middle of the road decision hurt or help the game?

Gungnir begins as Giulio, son of a local resistance group who is widely known in the area, attacks a cargo vessel that is traveling in the area. But instead of finding food and goods he finds a mysterious girl. After the tyrannical military from the west comes to capture her, Giulio finds himself becoming the bearer of the unholy Stigmata mark and the wielder of the legendary demonic lance Gungnir. Although unleashing the lance's true power has negative consequences, he decides to set off on the warpath in an attempt to bring down the oppressive military presence that threatens his town and the region itself.

Of course, this being a Sting title there is a number of things going on behind the scenes, such as prime ministers and knights scheming behind the scenes and various character development going on between the characters. There's some usage of the standard cliches to be sure, but it never feels overly done as all of the sides feel morally ambiguous and nothing is initially what it seems. All in all it's not the most innovative story compared to the other more well-known titles in the genre, but it's still involving enough to keep progressing forward even if it does drag on from time to time.

Gungnir follows the classic isometric-style camera scheme common to the genre. While for most this may seem like a Final Fantasy or Tactics Ogre knock-off at first glance mechanic-wise, the key difference is that movement in Gungnir revolves around Wait Time and Tactics Points. Instead of having set turn orders, the player has party actions which let you select from whatever characters are available as long as their Wait Time is 0. Each action they perform has a set wait time, so simple attacks will have a shorter wait time than a full-on assault attack. Units can be moved before their timer counts down, but at the cost of temporarily reducing their maximum HP for the duration of the battle. Wait times can also be modified depending on the Ace picked at the start of the battle, of which there is usually a couple of different choices to pick from.

Tactics Points come into play by allowing for altering and modifying how attacks are performed in battle. They can be gained by moving units in battle but the biggest gains come from occupying spaces on the map marked with flags, with each flag under the player's control increasing the available Tactics Points by one. Of course, the enemy also plays under these rules so battles become a two-fronted approach of attacking your opponent and capturing land.But how are these points used, you may ask? The most basic use is the Beat/Boost system. Beats allow surrounding units to join in on an attack as long as they are in the correct position next to the attacking unit. Boosts provide various bonuses depending on the equipment the supporting character currently has equipped, with effects ranging from providing more power in close-range attacks to having a better chance to deal damage with long-range attacks, just to name a few. Of course, these can both be combined if the right setup is in place. There is also another critical use of points in the ability to make last-second adjustments by moving characters who still have a wait time but are in the line of fire from an enemy unit's attack. It may be tempting to use an all-out frontal assault with your points, but managing the flow of battle using these points becomes incredibly important in the later stages of the game where it demands applying all of these principles in battle.

Sadly, while there's a ton of innovation in battles, the game's menu system outside of battles is incredibly archaic. Each character has five given slots to set equipment and items to which is restricted by a "weight" system which applies different weight amounts based on the abilities of the given equipment or item. This plays into battle by decreasing the turnover time between actions if you have a lower weight total.

The problem is that the shops don't easily show if a new piece of equipment is better or worse than your current choice (you can go into the item's stats, but you still have to remember what's currently equipped). And when you get more than a dozen units to choose from mid-game, it becomes a chore having to check a specific unit, go into the shop, buy and equip the necessary items and repeat for every other unit. Add to this the fact that you can't easily go from buying to equipping and have to back out to the menu every time this is done. Thankfully this isn't that necessary in the easier difficulties, but for veterans who want to play at a higher difficulty this get incredibly tedious fast.

Even with its faults, the game does do a great job with its presentation. Backing away from the informational complexity shown on the screen in earlier titles such as Knights in the Nightmare, Gungnir finds a nice medium between having that Sting feel but not overwhelming the player. The graphics in battle are detailed but don't get in the way, except for a few maps which have some minor camera and movement issues. The music is one of the game's standouts, however, as it has a wonderful mix of fanfares and marches when Giulio is charging into battle and more gloomier pieces when the imperial politics raise their ugly heads. If you enjoyed Sting's other work in the Dept. Heaven series you'll feel right at home here.

Final Thoughts

Gungnir is an interesting experiment from Sting to say the least. It loses some of its originality compared to earlier titles due to adhering to most of the more general strategy RPG traits, but it still has the unique spin that the developer is known for. If you were turned off by the previous Dept. Heaven titles due to their complexity, you really should give Gungnir a try if you enjoy the genre. It's not without its faults and it most certainty doesn't reach the heights of the other heavyweights of the strategy RPG field, but it's still a solid title that shows you can still innovate in the genre.

The Wait Time and Tactics Points systems provide for some interesting gameplay mechanics.
Nowhere nearly as complex and confusing to those turned off by the previous Dept. Heaven entries.
Graphics and music are very well done.
An incredibly frustrating equipment management process between battles.
Story drags on at times.
Some minor camera angle and movement issues on a few of the maps.
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