Yggdra Union - Staff Retroview  

We Must Preserve the Union!
by Mike Moehnke

Click here for game information
Game Boy Advance
Very Hard
40-60 Hours
+ A unique and entertaining tactical RPG
+ Card system is interesting and useful
+ Lots of little things for replay incentive
- Criticals can ruin a battle
- Morale does not replenish automatically
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   The development history of Sting is a study in games that tried to do something different and succeeded. With the unfortunate exceptions of the Evolution games, Sting's list of titles is most impressive in innovation and entertaining execution. Yggdra Union: We'll Never Fight Alone's closest relative in Sting's history is Treasure Hunter G, a Super Famicom title that meshed a tactical battle system with a non-tactical game in all its other aspects. Yggdra Union, instead of doing something else along that line, reinvents the tactical RPG with a variety of concepts that are found nowhere else. In doing so it easily becomes one of the most unique and entertaining titles on the Game Boy Advance, with a few inventory issues dragging it down slightly from the pinnacle of the system's titles.

   The combat system of Yggdra Union is dissimilar to those found in most other tactical RPGs despite sharing a few facets with them. The first unique aspect to combat is the Union system. Instead of one character squaring off with one enemy, both sides form a Union when combat is joined. Up to a total of five characters on each side join in the Union, with male characters drawing in participants one or two squares away from them diagonally and female characters bringing in participants directly to the left or right. Sub-unions with characters attracting additional participants who are not in range of the initiating character's pull are also present. It is also possible to have one character fight five opponents in a row if no one is in range for a Union. Only one Union can be formed by the player per turn, but when it can draw in so many opponents at once this does not feel limiting.

   Once a Union has been formed and combat initiated, each round of combat proceeds with the attacking side rushing across the screen to slam into the chosen opponent and the opponent counterattacking back across the screen. The two sides then fight with each other until one is completely defeated. Traditional strengths of some weapon types versus others do come into play here, although a character with stronger statistics can pull out a win against a superior weapon type. Archers have the unique ability to attack without being counterattacked in exchange for being unable to counter when on the defensive. Most troops start with six figures in battle, and once all the soldiers have been beaten a victor is determined. Engaging in more than one round of combat per Union means fewer soldiers will be present, with the number being reduced further with each additional battle. The player does have input in the combat after both sides have settled down to simply beating each other up, with an Active mode increasing offensive power but needing to be recharged by entering a Passive mode with decreased power.

I could take the vulgar route and speculate on why a girl is panting while wielding a sword... but that I could take the vulgar route and speculate on why a girl is panting while wielding a sword... but that's beneath me.

   Defeating all of the enemy's soldiers in a combat phase does not mean victory. Only reducing the Morale of a character to zero will equate to victory, and Morale reduction depends on several factors. If the winning character has but one soldier left on the field, or if the winner's attack strength is low compared to the loser, little to no Morale may be lost. One very important facet to remember is that Morale does not replenish between battles, which is the equivalent of a character's Hit Points not replenishing in another game. Only by using items outside of battle that are very limited in number can Morale be restored, and there are numerous battlefields in which enemies like to use Morale-sapping long range attacks.

   Before every battle, the player must select certain cards to use. Cards are gained as the game proceeds and their power, which affects how much Morale is lost by the loser of a skirmish, is increased by dropping enemy Morale. Each card has two other important attributes: its move range and its unique effect. The card chosen has a number no higher than twelve which dictates the total number of movements by all characters that can be taken in that turn. The unique ability of each card is often dependent upon the time of day and the character initiating the Union, meaning that often the card is temporarily unusable. Certain cards have incredibly powerful abilities however, and enemies are eager to demonstrate them, which unfortunately means that the mandatory card animations will slow the battles down repeatedly.

   Items are found on battlefields and as the spoils left behind by the enemy. Prior to battle characters can be equipped with items, but each item has a certain number of battles that it is good for. Once that number of battles has passed, the piece of equipment vanishes, and after being given to a character, an item cannot be removed in any other way. The inability to simply use an item instead of equipping it means that anything which grants a statistic increase and immediately vanishes still takes up a character's inventory slot. Equipment must also be used to replenish Morale throughout the game, as having enough Morale to survive an enemy attack is key.

   There are several aspects to Yggdra Union's challenge. One is the limited Morale replenishment available, another is the havoc wreaked by the enemy getting a critical hit, and a third is the incredibly overpowered nature of a few enemies (Emperor Gulcasa in particular). When the attacking side lands a critical strike, which cannot be guarded against, it takes out the leader of the defenders. Without a leader the player has no control over the remaining skirmish, which usually leads to defeat with additional Morale loss. Overpowered enemies, at least, can be dealt with by retrying a battle upon defeat, though any character brought to zero Morale loses all current experience. Retrying decreases enemy statistics at the cost of halving the power bonus to winning cards and eliminating the MVP bonus statistics granted to the character who dealt the most damage.

How skeletons laugh constantly when they lack vocal chords is a mystery. How skeletons laugh constantly when they lack vocal chords is a mystery.

   The story of Yggdra Union is not incredibly original, but is well told. Princess Yggdra is fleeing the attacks of the Bronquian Empire that have killed her parents and made her an exile when she stumbles upon the thief Milanor. Milanor decides to aid her in fighting back against Emperor Gulcasa's troops, which proves quite challenging because Yggdra is a very important target. Atlus, as usual, has provided a quality localization of a story with a few more twists than is immediately apparent.

   As a rule, tactical RPGs are not known for top-notch visuals. Yggdra Union does not break this rule, though it has very good sprite animations during the combat sequences that show what the Game Boy Advance could achieve in its latter days. Outside of the combat sequences, nothing strains the system in any significant way. Detailed character portraits are at least displayed, though the art style makes everyone in the game appear to be under the age of ten.

   Minako Adachi and Shigeki Hayashi turn in a strong musical effort, as Sting veterans who remember Riviera's score will not be surprised to hear. The music for story segments and movement around the battlefields is good on its own, and the individual themes for characters when in combat are startlingly catchy. The only letdown in the music is the typical weakness of the Game Boy Advance's speakers. Sound effects are less impressive but not bad.

   Yggdra Union will probably require around 40 hours to complete, and this is partly because several battles are almost impossible to win without retrying. Though battlefields will look small to tactical veterans, almost all of them have multiple segments that open up gradually. There is an enormous number of optional items to find and trade or use, along with several characters who are hidden and a few different endings, to inspire replay.

   Yggdra Union succeeds in being a very addictive and enjoyable tactical RPG that breaks from many conventions of the genre. Its difficulty level and inventory issues hold it back a bit from being all that it could be, factors that appear to have been addressed somewhat in its PSP remake. Though it is not the best tactical RPG ever made, Yggdra Union: We'll Never Fight Alone is a very good one that will require quite a bit of genuine strategy. For that it is to be (re)commended.

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