PSP Fanboy review: Yggdra Union

This used to be a GBA game? That's what you'll think to yourself after only a few hours with Yggdra Union. While the map sprites are taken directly from the GBA original, everything else about this PSP remake shows incredible polish. The redrawn high-res sprites used in battle and story sequences look sharp on the PSP screen. But what really steals the show, on a technical level, is the impressive amount of voice acting. Nearly every important story sequence is voiced in both English and Japanese, which makes for a really immersive experience.

Of course, a game needs to do more than look and sound pretty to be good -- and thankfully, Yggdra Union offers tons of gameplay. In fact, it may offer too much with an adventure that clocks in at about 30 hours. The lengthy story is far from original, but a growing cast of likable characters and a few nice plot twists make it an enjoyable adventure that kept me chugging through the lengthy story.

At its heart, Yggdra Union is an epic about underdogs that overthrow an empire. Your starting cast of a group of bandits and an exiled princess is severely outnumbered in an obviously one-sided battle. As such, players shouldn't expect a cakewalk through the game. Yggdra Union can be a relentless difficult game at times, so much so to the point of frustration. However, the challenge only emphasizes how important a solid strategy is when approaching each situation. Players must understand the importance of character placement and card selection -- a single error can lead to game over. However, the game's greatest hook comes from the exuberant ability to seize victory in a rather dire situation. Each battle is hard fought and incredibly rewarding.

As mentioned in our preview, Yggdra Union will test your tactical capabilities through and through. It's rather unique in its genre, and takes a few hours to understand what the game has to offer. We really appreciated the growing complexity of the game as it progresses. For example, characters must be positioned in a certain way to tag-team enemies. However, as the game progresses, the way Unions are formed changes slightly, adding another layer of complexity to the game. The game slowly introduces new elements, like cannons and catapults, level hazards and more. Even the core gameplay evolves, as players learn more about their cards capabilities. Eventually, players will be able to unleash interesting special attacks by managing their momentum in battles. Thanks to the way the game is structured, players will never feel overwhelmed by the mechanics -- each new tactic is introduced and reinforced. The real challenge comes from mastering new tactics to gain an advantage over the overwhelming enemy force.

Yggda Union isn't for everyone, but those that fall in love with its charm will find so much to like about the game. Unlike other games in the genre, there's no grinding here to be found. Some may find the battles too lengthy, as they're usually multi-tiered: just when you think you're done with a level, a new set of increasingly difficult reinforcements appear. However, because your character's morale (essentially, their HP) carries over from battle to battle, across every level, each battle is decisive. If you make too many mistakes with one character, you'll notice that they'll be at a serious disadvantage in upcoming battles. And don't think about grinding to level up your characters: you can't. The story moves at such a brisk pace that your success depends solely on your ability to choose the right cards, and decide exactly how to move your characters through the map.

There are ways to overcome a character's continuously dwindling HP supply. There's a Refreshment card, which can heal players when it's Noon. There are also consumable items which can be used before each level. While they're limited in supply, we found that proper use of the Refreshment card left us plenty of Medallions to use for only the most dire circumstances. The lengthy battles, which can take upwards of an hour, are alleviated by a few tricks. Pressing the R button will fast forward through story sequences, and will also increase the speed of battle. Suspending the game will create a save state for you to return to -- it's a great way of creating your own checkpoint before decisive battles. Forgetting to suspend may lead to incredible frustration -- starting a level from the beginning, and losing an hour's worth of work, will undoubtedly anger many. Save whenever you can!

Ever since I got my review copy of Yggdra Union, I've found no reason to play anything else on my PSP. This is an incredibly addictive game that's both challenging and rewarding. I absolutely loved the increasing complexity of the title, and while the story is far from original, the lovable characters really hooked me in. That being said, I understand that this game may simply be too difficult and frustrating for some gamers. For those that are looking for a new game on the PSP, definitely pick up Yggdra Union. Just be warned about the quirks and challenges you'll face.

PSP Fanboy score: 8.0

This article was originally published on Joystiq.