Japan: August 26, 1999
North America: April 28, 2000
Jump Pack compatible
This is a game that really doesn't get mentioned a lot and I'm not really sure why. In fact, none of the Gundam games for Dreamcast are often mentioned. Perhaps it was because Gundam Wing was popular during the time of the Dreamcast and all of the games released for the console focused on the UC timeline of Gundam. Read on to hear about the game you've been ignoring for nearly 12 years and why you should stop doing that.
Gundam Side Story (referred to as GSS from here on out because I'm not really sure what to call the game since there are several options) is an action game that leans to the tactical side of things. You're in charge of a squad of three (including yourself) Mobile Suits and one support unit which will scan the area for enemies. The tactical aspect is admittedly thin, but you will have to use it to progress in the game. I made the mistake of thinking that since there didn't seem to be much to it that I would probably be able to make my way through the game without ever relying on my CPU allies. Dead wrong. Not because the game is a great challenge, but because your enemies are as strong as you are and there are more than one of them. I say the tactical aspect is thin because you'll always be using your support unit to scan the area (it's really not worth anything else and I don't know why you have options for it) and your fellow Gundams will pretty much just be used to attack the same target as you or to distract one unit while you take out another. It does give the game a bit of a rhythm and at times you feel like you are in the middle of an actual battle. The team controls are handled in a somewhat clunky way, requiring you to access the pause menu every time you want to issue commands.
Adding to the feeling that you're in a battle is the fact that the game takes place from the cockpit view of the Gundam and you don't have any choice in the matter. There are no other camera views. I quite like the interior view, it makes the game engrossing but it also leads to some issues. Those issues would be the Dreamcast pad's lack of a second control stick. The D-Pad is used to move your Gundam around while the analog stick moves your aim. Thankfully the game includes a lock-on function which alleviates the possible massive headaches that this control scheme could induce. To lock on though, you'll have to get a good look at the enemy you want to lock on to and, unless you're on a perfectly level footing with the enemy, you'll have to adjust your aim for a second. That'll probably lead to a few free hits for the enemy. Perhaps the greatest failing in the control scheme is that when you adjust your aim it will not snap back to a neutral position. It stays there, which can be a pain in the ass.
Of course an important part of Gundam is the close combat and GSS has that. The learning curve is frustrating on the combat, but once you get the hang of it it's quite enjoyable. It'll take a few deaths before the strategy of the combat is understood. Speaking of deaths, this game has no checkpoint system to speak of. If you die, it's back to the start. It's not a huge problem since levels aren't too long (neither is the game) and combat is pretty fun for the most part. Which brings me to one more thing; you don't seem to be able to fail a mission unless you die. I don't know what the idea of that was. I guess for the game to feel realistic? I'm not sure.
While this game has a lot of voice acting, there isn't a whole lot of story in the game. I'm not familiar enough with UC Gundam to know if this is considered a canonical event or not. A Space Colony has been dropped on Australia and Federation forces are at war with Zeon over the continent. The game is rather light on story because you play the role of silent protagonist around a bunch of loud mouths, which is disappointing considering the voice acting quality.
I really love the menu system in this game. Something about it just feels like how I would imagine a computer from the Gundam universe to be like. I do have one complaint about it though, and it's something that probably wasn't noticeable on CRT screens and that's probably why it happened. There are some characters that show up occasionally in the background and I thought that they would probably say something. I was wrong. It looks like someone just went aslkht;ans;ln;ast on the keyboard. I don't know if the original developers did that or if it was laziness on the part of the group doing the translation. Enough on the menu though. This game has some pretty decent graphics for coming early in the DC's lifespan (in its original Japanese release). Mobile Suits are detailed quite well, again considering the time frame. Enemy suits in particular seem to be well detailed which is good since you'll probably be getting damn close to them with a beam saber on more than one occasion.
Environments aren't as well detailed, unfortunately. Buildings in particular have low quality textures. This is okay though since you're probably going to blow them up to get them out of your way. The game features a lot of FMV between missions and has a great intro FMV. The FMVs are of a good quality, animation wise and encoding wise. I didn't notice any macroblocking in the video to take you out of the idea that you're watching a live briefing video stream.
I want to give special attention to the voice acting. This game definitely has some of the best voice acting that had been heard up to this point in gaming, alongside Metal Gear Solid of course. The voice acting is on par with what you would hear in a high budget title that would be released on current generation consoles. Of particular note is Steven Blum (Spike Spiegel in the US dub of Cowboy Bebop), who does an excellent job as always. The music is about what I expected from a Gundam game, if you're unfamiliar with the franchise I can't really explain it. Gundam music just has sort of a sound to it. It's nothing incredible but it goes pretty well with the content. On a technical level, some of the audio has a slightly distorted sound to it coming from either a poor quality recording or shitty encoding.
For as much as I have to say about this game, it doesn't quite come together right. I like the game a lot, it's a game that obviously had a lot of time put into it and was well produced. The sum of the parts isn't anything incredible though. It's a slightly above average game, but it's also one that deserves more attention than it has gotten. Gundam fan or not, there's definitely something here for you to enjoy but it's kind of hard to recommend for some reason.