The Rebels versus The Empire is a cliché, but there are a few interesting bits to Gungnir that help to give it a bit of flair. One of the better aspects is that the land is physically divided by a giant chasm that splits East and West. As time passed, the Daltans in the West prospered and eventually subjugated the minority Leonicans, forcing them into slums in the East.
Esperanza isn’t the only faction at odds with the Empire, either. The rebels’ war brings them into contact with the Holy State of Millenia, bitter enemies who have suffered from the Emperor’s expansionist policies; the Republicans within the Imperial Parliament; and a breakaway party which opposes the increasing influence of the prime minister and leader of the Imperial Faction, Ziyad Berlioz. As the game progresses, tension mounts between the wayward allies and the battered Leonican troops, as the latter try to avoid being used as pawns in the Empire’s greater struggles.
Some interesting themes are touched upon throughout all of this interaction and conniving and combat, including the right of conquest, responsibility of power, and the dangerous effects of dehumanizing the enemy. Of course, those are covered in broad strokes, with most of the droll dialog centered around a handful of whiny rebels who can’t seem to get their act together and agree on much other than to ignore my advice (“Tell them to shove it … or tell them you’re upset and won’t do it but immediately back down and agree to do whatever they ask. Great.”).
While the quality of the text is fine, as it is with most Atlus-published titles, the quantity and content leave much to be desired. But the game has to follow a narrative course, and so it does. Even though I can understand that approach, I would’ve at least liked for it to have been more engaging, and offer greater feedback as to acknowledge that my Event Scene choices were even remotely impactful.
Okay, so I’m not the star of the show and my actions aren’t the be-all and end-all. When words fail, there’s always steel. And as with most strategy-RPGs—sorry, tactical-RPGs—the core of the game is the combat system. However, as with the dialog, I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with the battle mechanics. Well, it’s more like a love-grip-the-PSP-with-the-force-of-the-jaws-of-life-in-frustration relationship.
Battles are played out on maps sectioned into grids, with you and the enemy each having pre-set starting positions. As with all right and proper strategy titles, there are variables galore. Elevation and position factor into the probability of a hit landing and the range of damage, both of which are conveniently displayed before initiating an action, as are the accumulated Tactics Points—but more on that later. One character, the Ace, is chosen from a preset list at the beginning of each match to lead the troops. If that character loses all of their health points, that side loses. There’s a problem with this setup, though, and that’s that the protagonist Giulio isn’t always an available Ace. Despite the choice always being between primary characters, the available characters aren’t always around for every encounter due to the frequency with which they come and go, so there will be times when you’re left selecting from a group of underdeveloped or unfamiliar fighters. Why Giulio isn’t always a choice is beyond me, though small bits of descriptive text seem to be an attempt to explain why each Ace is an option—anger at one of the enemies, the desire to progress, etc.—though I’d think the main character and leader of the rebellion would always have cause to jump in first.