Game Description: If you love Japanese anime films featuring giant, crushing robots, here's your chance to control a massive mechanoid of your own. Tech Romancer brings larger-than-life robot fighting to the Dreamcast with slick 3-D animated characters set in beautifully rendered three-dimensional worlds. Graphically stimulating and insanely whimsical, this fighting game features an original animation movie, multiple hidden characters, and VMU minigames.
Capcom. Any gamer worth their salt will be familiar with the efforts of the company who practically defined fighting games with their breakthrough Street Fighter series and made fighters the force in gaming they are today. Capcom is known for their colorful characters and hand-drawn art which is intimately familiar to gamers across the world, and now Capcom strikes out in a bit of a departure from the norm to introduce an all-new, 3D cast of giant robots and pilots in place of the usual assortment of martial artists (Street Fighter), mythical monsters (Darkstalkers) or super heroes (Marvel Vs. Capcom). These new characters are featured in the recently released Dreamcast game Tech Romancer.
Tech Romancer is a fast-paced, 3D robot fighting game for the Dreamcast in the same vein as its close competition Virtual On. The battles take place in fully 3D arenas, but true to Capcom's roots, most of the action takes place on a 2D plane (i.e.- face to face similar to the Street Fighter series). In addition to the frenetic battles full of laser blasts and explosions, Capcom adds a new twist. Rather than relying on a simple formula of action, they have included a heavily anime-influenced system of storytelling with multiple paths, in addition to a wealth of secrets and extras to unlock through a points system very similar to their recent effort Marvel Vs. Capcom 2.
The combat system is elegant and easy to learn, while having a reasonable amount of depth -- mostly consisting of simple direction-plus-button commands; and features most of the attacks you'd expect from hundred-foot robots -- an incredible abundance of rockets, lasers, satellite attack systems, detachable projectile fists and giant swords being the order of the day. Not as combo-heavy as the Vs series, but with enough there to satisfy people who love a good juggle.
During play, the combatants are free to move into and out of the background and foreground at will, with the side view of battle shifting accordingly. This works well by allowing the freedom to dodge and parry using the entire arena for movement, but keeps the simplicity and effectiveness of a classic 2D matchup. Scattered about the areas are power-ups hidden in houses, bunkers, radio towers and other breakable structures.The power-ups include extra weapons, which usually deal out much more damage than the standard attacks, as well as various health, speed and armor-ups, which makes paying attention the the surroundings important instead of simply ignoring the backgrounds as in most fighting games since one or two items acquired can turn the tide of battle quite easily.
Another feature which hasn't seen much use in fighters is the "Final Attack." After accumulating a certain amount of damage in the deciding round, each robot can activate their Final Attack which will end the match instantly if it hits. Visually impressive and generally hard to connect with, the Final Attack adds a nice level of tension since it means that the player who has the upper hand in a match can quickly find themselves on their face if they get careless and let their guard down before they see the smoking wreck of their enemy.
Unlike the competition, Capcom wasn't content to rely solely upon the game's enjoyable fighting engine to induce replays. The programmers have also included other very tangible incentives and extras -- such as a sound test with a huge amount of voice samples, extra characters, a two-minute long hand-drawn anime film, as well as a selection of shorter CG movies featuring the robots launching into battle -- a nod to virtually every robot series in movies or TV. All of these are unlocked by earning points in battles or in the three downloadable VMU minigames.
As if these extras weren't enough, the branching storyline system is an excellent addition which offers significantly different plots for each character, most of whom are based on instantly recognizable anime influences. In the roster of available fighters, there are characters designed to give props to famous japanese influences such as Ultraman, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Gundam, Macross (and yes, the faux Valkyrie does transform), Great Mazinger and even to Virtual On. The only common thread between all the plots is the battle against the final boss (who happens to be a friendly swipe from Power Rangers). The tone of each plot is wildly different. From a serious wartime mood in one, to the wacky "too many lovestruck girls" schtick in another, there's definitely a lot here for even a casual anime fan to enjoy. And according to which story requirements you fulfill during gameplay, it's possible to unlock between one to nine different branches and endings depending on the robot and pilot selected.
As a total package, Capcom beats Sega at Sega's own game with a title that is not only more accessible and easier to get into, but which also offers a higher level of personality and flair as well as having a healthy dose of extras for those gamers who like to have objectives in their fighters. A solid purchase definitely recommended for fans of Virtual On, mecha or anime, and another great addition to an already strong library.
Tech Romancer is in essence Shoji Kawamori's (famed mechanical designer of Macross) interactive tribute to the giant robot genre in anime. As Brad already mentioned, each of the 10 different selectable characters/robots represents different sub themes that have become all too familiar in the Japanese anime culture. Each storyline may play out a bevy of clichés, but it's done with such love and attention that you can appreciate the effort regardless. It's also funny to note Capcom left 100 percent of the original Japanese vocal dialogue intact with only English subtitles to translate. It's a nod to the current anime-chic style currently sweeping the nation, where as in the past game companies did their best to mask the anime roots of titles (anyone remember Street Combat a.k.a. Ranma ½ on the SNES?).
As for my comments about the actual gameplay, I must say that I really didn't know what to expect. Tech Romancer slipped in under my radar amidst all the recent rash of titles to come out of Capcom. Though I must say that I was pleasantly surprised, especially since I didn't find the game immediately agreeable. Anyone who starts the game out for the first time is sure to be blown away by all the power bars, icons and flashing indicators on the screen. I was surprised that they even had room left to show all the action! I was a bit overwhelmed at first, but after skimming over the instruction manual and prolonged play, all the on-screen indicators began to make sense and I really started to enjoy the game.
In terms of the way the Tech Romancer plays, I'd describe the experience more like a cross between Power Stone and Virtual On. The game feels much less like a typical 2D fighting game in that characters are able to move freely around the 3D environment without any use of a side-step button. The heavy use of items and weapons also almost seem to mirror Power Stone's frantic mad dashes for the goods. The final results are well balanced in that there are a healthy amount of counters, guard breakers, items and special attacks to even the playing field for players of all different skill levels and techniques. The story arcs, VMU mini-games and two-player competitive action also keep things fairly interesting and extend the play-life of the title considerably.
My only gripe with Tech Romancer was that all the big explosions and pyrotechnic special effects are used so gratuitously that it gets to be a little too loud and excessive at times. I know that the game is supposed to mirror the outrageous exploits of its animated counterparts, but there's also something to be said for being subtle and graceful—two things that Tech Romancer certainly is not. It's not something that really bothered me to a great degree. I just wouldn't go so far as to describe Tech Romancer as a finely crafted piece of software and that kept the game from getting a higher artistic rating from me as well. Still, the game is extremely fun, well worth the effort and any hardcore otaku anime fanboys reading this review should add another point to my review.
According to the ESRB, this game contains: Animated Violence
Parents shouldn't have any worries besides the usual caveats which come with fighting games, since combat is only between robots with nothing more gruesome than giant metallic robot components smoking from damage, or the usual explosions found in nearly every other video game.
Gamers in general will find Tech Romancer to be an extremely solid, enjoyable game—easy to pick up with a wealth of extras to extend the playtime beyond the span of most fighters.
Diehard Capcom fighting fans will not find this game to be as technically deep or satisfying as some previous 2D Capcom efforts, but the game-engine quality people expect from Capcom comes through intact with the most solid 3D title they've produced so far.
Fans of giant robots or anime will find this to be a must-have, must-own due to the homage to Japanese mecha, coupled with the available anime-flavored cinemas and storylines—which go above and beyond the norm for games of this type.
Fans of Virtual On's fast-paced fighting action and visual style will feel right at home and should be thrilled that there is now more than one franchise to seek out when looking for a quick-dashing, rocket-launching, laser-firing fix.