Gundam is one of the longest running and most influential anime series around, starting all the way back in 1979 with the original Mobile Suit Gundam TV series. Since then there’s been countless anime, manga, movies, and yes, even games based around this IP. Yet for how enormous the Gundam series is, we’ve never really gotten a true AAA experience. Sure there have been countless Gundam games released over the years, but most have been fighting games, multiplayer titles, experiences that follow a series, or spin-offs like Dynasty Warriors Gundam. What we really need is a huge single-player Gundam experience, something that brings an original story to the series with the gameplay and presentation to back it up.
The closest thing we’ve gotten to an original game so far is Mobile Suit Gundam: Crossfire, a PS3 game that takes place during the One Year War (0079) in the Universal Century of the Gundam Universe. Unfortunately, the game wasn’t received all that well by critics and fans alike for a variety of reasons. Bland gameplay, a poorly told story, poor presentation, and more kept the game from realizing the potential of the series. This makes even more of a case for the fact that we need a full-blown Gundam game, and there are a couple of examples you could look to on how to do it: Zone of the Enders and Front Mission.
Hideo Kojima’s sci-fi mecha series is the prime example of how to do mobile suit combat for a Gundam game, not that there aren’t good examples within the series itself. The high-speed intensity of Zone of the Enders is perfectly reminiscent of battles from the anime. Being able to fly around at any angle, lock on with various ranged weapons, and engage in close quarters combat is all essential for Gundam, and a control scheme like Zone of the Enders would work wonders. It goes without saying that you’d need some form of mobile suit customization as well. Allowing players to change their own Gundam’s equipment and look could help personalize the experience for each and every player, while adding on incentive to explore and find new parts.
At the same time, Gundam does need to differentiate itself from the handful of other mech games out there, and part of how it can do that is by making it up close and gritty. The series has always played with big themes, whether it’s pacifism and the horrors of war, or the ethical implications of Epigenetics, playing around with our genes at birth. Because of this, a new title could benefit from giving you a unique perspective on the world, instead of just dropping you into the cockpit of a mobile suit.
Any kind of AAA Gundam game absolutely needs to give you segments on foot, whether that’s as a soldier on the battlefield or running around a city or ship exploring. The multiplayer title Mobile Suit Gundam Battle Operation did let you jump out of the suit, but this is where a single-player game can take cues from something like Front Mission Evolved, letting you step out of the cockpit at times. Gundam has never just been about the mobile suits, there are political machinations, betrayals, and plenty of drama that happens as well. For a game to really match the series you need to be able to see all of this.
Maybe the best way to do this would be to let you run around a carrier you’re deployed on, like White Base or the Archangel but in a Mass Effect style. Here you could implement some kind of squad and relationship system, letting you talk to your crew members and allies to build relationships. A really ambitious Gundam game could even implement romance options, letting you build relationships throughout the experience, and get more background on each character.
In all honesty it might be interesting to see a game match the mold of a BioWare in terms of story and character development. That’s a lot to ask for, of course, but it’s certainly a series that could measure up. The AAA title wouldn’t have to be strictly an RPG, but it could only benefit from having RPG elements.
There are certain series you could draw inspiration from, depending on the tone you want to go for. For example, look at Gundam Wing if you want to focus on political intrigue and what gives someone the right to rule, or Gundam 00 for questions of morality, or even 08th MS Team if you’d want to go for the gritty war experience.
There have been good Gundam games so far, and experiences like the upcoming fighting game Gundam Versus certainly have their place. However, it just feels like the series hasn’t lived up to its full potential in the gaming realm, and could do so much more with an ambitious AAA title. For such a legendary anime series, it’s about high time we got a big game.