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e3 2001

You'd be quite surprised as to what you can find when you get lost at E3. Once you wander away from the main South and West halls with the big guns, you can find all sorts of little gems. Midas Interactive, hidden in the relative obscurity of the other halls, has what might prove to be an interesting little title, which just might give another reason for many RPG fans to pick up a PS2.

Developed by Dazz, Robot Warlords is based in Tokyo... during a military coup. (Anyone remotely surprised?) Although the storyline was somewhat ordinary (compared to other games of this genre, in which military coups abound), once we walked into the main system, things got interesting. The battle system alone kept my attention for a half hour.

Where do I start with what seems to be the most interesting tactical system I've seen? There's the standard outfitting of your team, with parts to pick from, weapons to equip, and skills to allocate to each character. Each item or part had a weight, which determined, along with the character's natural speed, how many motion points (MP) the character had each turn. You'd probably think it was just a graphically updated version of FM3 with a couple of twists... all the way until you walk onto the battlefield.

This is where it steps into a league of its own. The first thing I immediately noticed was the fact that this particular Tactical RPG was pretty darn hard, and it took me at least 3 attempts to make any headway into the first stage! Of course, being the first stage, that could be said for all games, but the reason for this was the fact that it couldn't be played like any other Tactical RPG currently, as it covered up one major hole which was prevalent in every single Tactical RPG I've ever seen.

You know how in every other mecha TRPG you could, when it was your turn, slide or walk all the way from one side, past all the menacing turrets and nail that mech all without being fired at?

Well, try that in this game and you'll probably find your mech scattered around the landscape, not being able to even get close enough to fire at your desired target. You might find that you won't be able to turn around enough after that mad dash even to plug a hole in the target mech, settling for a strafing line of fire, and having your back exposed to all those lovely turrets you just happened to speed by, leaving yourself in an ugly mess when the turrets get a chance to attack.

Although you may get put in a battle order for initiative, like Final Fantasy Tactics, when it's your turn, time doesn't stop. When you move, anyone who can see you and line up a shot can open fire as you go walking or skidding past. And fire they will, usually in force. When you execute the orders for the particular player, you will see all the mayhem and destruction all in an FMV-like sequence, all guns blazing, all simultaneously. Of course, if you're in a hurry, you can skip the sequence, and see step-by-step who fired at what and where, like a play-by-play. Of course, don't feel too bad, since your characters (when instructed) will fire when a target wanders past their vision or are fired upon rather than try minimize damage.

The enemy AI in this particular game is pretty intelligent, since opponents take advantage of this counter fire and purposely line up their forces so that if you want to charge at a single target, you're going to have to get fired at constantly by at least one other enemy, from the sides, or even from every mech's weak spot, from behind. This means you're going to have to get tactical and try and beat them at their own game, which I assure you is no easy task.

Considering that this particular trial version also showcased some awfully useful tactical equipment, like smoke grenades, which can make anyone's accuracy dramatically drop if they fire on or anywhere through the square it is deployed, expending both ammunition and Technique Points (TP); the ability to set a two way movement waypoint system, allowing for in and out snap shots; a two pronged dash around an enemy given enough MP to do so; and a list of skills (costing TP, of course, although some TP regenerates every round) which range from emergency repairs, to offensive boosts, to defensive maneuvers, to the plain handy skills like being able to walk backwards while firing, and you have what many would dub a tactical heaven. Do you try having a long-range shootout? Do you make a smoke screen wall and use that as cover while you stick your head in and out? Do you attempt to rush them one at a time all guns blazing, or do you try sending one of your squad behind them forcing them to expose their back? The amount of possibilities to approach a particular situation is near endless, and all of them are as workable as another if executed correctly. You'll feel quite happy when you see one of their robots blow up just before it managed to swing or fire upon another teammate, and you'll cry when one of your robots gets blown to bits by strafing fire before reaching its destination.

Is that not enough for you? If you ever get bored playing the campaign, there's an interesting little mode, which wasn't showcased, but did raise a few eyebrows. Have you ever wanted to see who was the tactical God or Goddess among your friends, but no Tactical RPG ever gave you a chance to prove your worth? Suit up, cause there's a VS mode listed, ready and waiting. Although the exact nature of the challenge mode is unknown, it's a safe bet that you'll soon have the ability to see just who is the ultimate team, and just who among you and your friends would prove unbeatable in a head to head battle, commanding your own squads to prove it.

For all those who don't particularly like Tactical RPGs, Robot Warlords may prove to be too complex and too hard for the effort required. On the other hand, if you want to be shot into tactical battle in the new age, just sit back until June 22, when it's geared for a simultaneous release in both Europe and North America. It's even scheduled to hit Australia soon after!

Need an excuse to get a PS2? Well, this just might be one of the reasons you're looking for.

by Melinda Nguyen    

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