Upon first seeing this game, you might ask what the hell it has to do with Super Robot Wars. This is a really hard game to explain, but I'll give a shot. There's a long answer-- we'll get to it-- and there's a short answer. The short answer is that Super Robot Wars OG Saga: Endless Frontier is about something else you've loved from childhood, something which, like the super robot, you've only come to love more and more over the years. I'm talking, of course, about breasts.
This really isn't such a dramatic shift for SRW: this is the same series that regularly cuts to a boob shot whenever a female pilot does anything. They've never exactly been prudish. Monolith has just sidelined the robots, taken that single idea and cranked up the perv dial to the point where there's nothing left to do but laugh about it. And laugh you will, my friends.
OG Saga is a spinoff of a spinoff. When the original characters used in every Super Robot Wars game to fight alongside Kouji Kabuto, Amuro Ray and friends became popular in and of themselves, the developers saw fit to make an SRW game that was solely about them. Original Generation has no licensed characters from anime: these characters were popular enough that they were the draw in and of themselves. OG has been so successful that it's become a side franchise in and of itself: the original Game Boy Advance games were remade in loving detail for Playstation 2, followed by a sidestory game and, bringing it full circle, two anime series.
OG's convoluted mythology happens to involve parallel universes, and that's how OG Saga manages to exist. Instead of a strategy RPG, we have a more conventional Japanese-style RPG with an unusual action-based battle system. There are ties to the base OG story, but the game can be taken by itself without missing anything of importance.
SRW fans are immediately going to notice that the characters, music, and many story elements are "alternate universe" versions of stuff from OG: the leads, for example, are gender-swapped versions of OG fan favorites Kyosuke Nanbu and Excellen Browning. Android Lamia Loveless is just kinda dropped in there as another android as another name, and the heroes of Monolith's previous Namco x Capcom-- themselves just plain old ripoffs of Kyosuke and Excellen-- are also on hand. Also, everybody seems to act like Excellen all the time. I'll just call this a script problem. As the game progresses, popular SRW robots do appear, but they're firmly in sideline roles as support during battle.
I'll put it to you straight here: the battle system is the meat of the game and the JRPG is an afterthought. The graphics outside of battle would have looked outdated in 1996, there's a ton of pointless backtracking to pad out the game time, and the dungeons are boring and poorly designed across the board. But I've pushed through this stuff and have been plugging away at this game since I bought it, solely because of the battle system.
The system is inspired by 2D fighting games and is a direct descendant of Namco x Capcom. Attacks are made by simply pressing the A button on your turn: the character goes into a short set of moves, and one attack can be canceled into the next with A at any time. Attacks knock the enemy into the air, so the idea here is to keep them up there for as long as possible, like a juggle combo in a fighting game, for the highest possible damage. Let the enemy hit the ground, and you might lose your turn and face a counterattack. As you progress in the game, your range of attacks gets wider, and eventually there's a lot of room for experimentation in your combos: the game even offers a practice mode where you can mess around without worrying about getting killed.
The animation in battle is really nice, actually much better than that seen in Namco x Capcom. It becomes clear after a few battles why everything else in the game looks so bad: the artists were busy. For special moves, there are some fully animated cut-in sequences, which are-- for the female characters, anyway-- the logical extreme of the SRW bounce seen earlier in this post. This is Super Robot Wars, after all, and it's all about excess.
This is not lost on the localizers at Atlus USA, who took the time to write every possible boob-related nickname into the script. From Princess Family-Size to Honeydews to Juggmonkey, this game just never stops. It's reminiscent of the late Working Designs' rewritten, jokey scripts, except these gags are actually in the spirit of the source material and are much funnier to boot. Check the #OGSboobs tag on my Twitter for choice lines and nicknames as I play the game. One day I'll make sure to use "siren of the love ambulance."
The other thing you're going to notice about this localization is that the characters are extremely chatty, and that not one of those voices is dubbed or translated. I don't really blame them on the dubbing front-- SRW is unpopular enough here in the States and even the sales for a main line release wouldn't justify the expense of a dub-- but having no translation of any kind is a little annoying. Of course, I imagine it would be really hard to program subtitles into a DS game. You're just going to have to miss out on all the "I AM SUCH-AND-SUCH, THE SWORD THAT CLEAVES EVIL" jokes, I guess.
Meanwhile, back in Japan, Endless Frontier EXCEED is on its way: the work they've done on the animation is pretty impressive, but I hope they bother to work on the rest this time. The short footage of the overworld indicates that they didn't. I'll probably get the new game either way: all the DS games in my rotation are brutally hard (Shiren and Knights in the Nightmare, for example) and it's a welcome relief to play something that's easy to win for once in my videogame life.
(By the way, Atlus, what the hell kind of bonus soundtrack CD for a Super Robot Wars game leaves out nearly all of the Super Robot Wars music that comprises the majority of its soundtrack? Come on, this thing's only 20 minutes long!)