With Gungnir: Inferno of the Demon Lance and the War of Heroes, Atlus and Sting have officially placed the PlayStation Portable back on life support. Admittedly, it’s been about a year since the last time I booted up my PSP (to appraise the disappointing Patapon 3, no less), and I’m pleased to report that, for any anime-style strategy RPG fan who hasn’t yet invested in a current-gen handheld-gaming device (3DS and/or PS Vita), Gungnir scores firm par marks across the board. While the game is indeed nothing special, it’s a particularly adequate time killer, rarely boring, and visually appealing throughout. Yet because of much better SRPG titles still being released for old-gen systems (the DS’s Pokémon Conquest, for example), the overall package is one that’s, essentially, altogether unnecessary.
What’s admirable about developer Sting Entertainment is that they recognize the boundaries of their direct comfort zone and, instead of taking risks via haphazardly wandering beyond it and tarnishing their clean reputation, they take their chances by slightly reformatting the formulas they known best. Their Dept. Heaven series is praiseworthy for precisely this reason, avoiding any cockamamy deconstruction of the genre at hand, resulting in memorable software with high replay value like Yggdra Union: We’ll Never Fight Alone and Knights in the Nightmare. Gungnir deserves to be listed alongside those notable Dept. Heaven episodes, but almost singularly by default. Gungnir’s greatest strength is its dedication to its mythological Norse backdrop, and translating that fantastical authenticity to a simultaneously fresh and sometimes frustratingly listless flow of battle. Although Gungnir’s exterior is quite cartoonish, the heavy-handedness of its often woebegone storyline bleeds into its combat, making for some downright ultra-calculated rounds of warfare. The process scarcely ever drifts into a painfully lethargic state of play, but it also seldom feels as if there’s a quicker way to progress through each assigned mythical crusade.
If you’re at all familiar with Norse legends, you’ll know that Gungnir is the name of Odin’s famed spear with which he rules over Asgard (yes, viewing Kenneth Branagh’s Thor is still very optional). Gungnir’s story finds that godly weapon in the possession of a budding Cloud Strife-esque soldier named Julio Raguel, lead to the holy halberd by Alyssa, whose character checks every box beside the Mysterious Heroine cookie-cutter stereotype. From then on Gungnir is the standard isometrically displayed warring nation-set SRPG, with its difficulty level incrementally rising as each mission is unhurriedly accomplished. I tend to stress the languidness of Gungnir’s succession rate because, even from its earliest stages, each altercation takes a commodious temporal duration to effectively consummate. For those who appreciate lengthy, chess-like tactical bouts populating their RPGs, picking up Gungnir at its fair market retail price tag of $29.99 is a no-brainer. Conversely, anyone seeking more than just another modern interpretation of Final Fantasy Tactics or Ogre Battle should look elsewhere.
Roughly translated, “Gungnir” means “swaying one,” and that’s a pretty accurate description of Sting’s latest take on the SRPG. Gungnir is generally imbalanced, attempting to give off the impression that it has some creative, intuitive tricks up its sleeves, but really these supposed enhancements fail to efficiently add to the comprehensive bundle. Opportune maneuvers like sneakily bypassing an opponent’s turn or jointly executed character specials are fluent and fun to pull off, but because of the habitually pocket-sized, consolidated mapping presented, the ability to productively perform these actions is repeatedly numbed like a stubbed toe cutting around the corner of a coffee table in a shoebox studio apartment. However, despite these faults with the core mechanics, Sting and Atlus (once again delivering a laudable port) have managed to make Gungnir quite the addictive, marginally curious experience. With its periodic graphical panache, defined setting, and standalone narrative qualities (playing other Dept. Heaven chapters is not required), there’s enough here to justifiably ensnare SRPG completionists until they can find the means to acquire a current-gen handheld.