Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Frame Gride (Dreamcast)

Before they hit the mainstream with the Souls series, From Software spent years making games aimed at very specific niches, like their slow-paced, high-difficulty first person action RPGs (the most famous of which being those in the Kings Field series), or their super in-depth Armoured Core series of giant robot sims. Frame Gride is, compared to those games, a lot simpler, easier and more accessible. Another difference is in the setting: while the AC series takes place in a futuristic world of capitalism gone mad, Frame Gride takes place in a medieval fantasy world, more akin to the likes of Aura Battler Dunbine or the Vision of Escaflowne, and with mecha that look like grand, ornate suits of giant armour.

It's a game of one-on-one giant robot arena fights, though with controls and setup being a lot simpler than the Armoured Core games. There's only a few different stats for each piece of equipment, and the stats are represented by simple bars, rather than pages and pages full of numbers. The way you acquire more equipment is also simplified: there's neither currency nor shops in this game. Instead, defeating foes rewards you with various gems, and in your home menu, you can combine two of these gems at a time, with each possible combination garnering either a piece of equipment or a "squire", which I'll get onto later. Luckily, there's no need to waste time and gems on trial and error, since the equipment screen does tell you what gems you need to combine for each item.

Now, the squires. They're self-operated robots you can summon to fight alongside you in battle (and your foes can do the same). You get them by combining gems, just like your equipment, and they all have their own properties and different kinds of weapons. They each also have an LF points value, which is like a quota. The maximum amount of LF's worth of squires you can summon depends on which pieces of armour you have equipped. They're not a massive help, but they're better than nothing. Also, destroying your enemies' squires gets you more gems.

The game, other than the menu between fights where you combine gems, change equipment and so on, is very simply structured. You just go from one fight to the next, until, after defeating seven foes, you fight the final boss. It's not a long game, but there's an obvious reason for that, though unfortuantely, it's one that I can't really tell you about in great detail. Frame Gride has an online battle option, and it's clear that it's this the game was built around, with single player being there as both an obligation and a bit of added value. Obviously, there's no way for me to possibly play Frame Gride online in this day and age, so I can't tell you about how it worked. But I can say that it's weird that it was never brought to the west, purely because Dreamcast owners outside Japan were starved of games with online play. Magazines and internet message boards alike would decry the lack of online games being released. We can now see that they did exist, in many genres, but only in Japan, another case of SEGA Europe and America's infamous ineptitude when it came to choosing Dreamcast (and Saturn) games for western release.

All that aside, though, Frame Gride is still a great-looking game, and single player mode is still a fine way to pass an hour or two. There's also a translation patch floating around on the internet, to make things that bit more accessible. I think the version I played must have been an early version of the patch, as I have seen mention online of the game being fully translated, and the version I played still had a lot of Japanse text left untouched. Either way, it's far from impenetrable as it is, and I recommend you give it a try.

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