Super Heroine Chronicle — PS Vita game

Super Robot Wars about girls with superpowers and a sequel to Spiral Chaos. Featuring Symphogear, Infinite Stratos and, well, Super Sonico.

NB: This review was sitting in the drafts for half a year due to how rough and confusing it turned out, should revisit it later, but in the meanwhile I want to talk about other things, too.

Developer: Banpresto, Tose, EdgeWORKS
Publisher: Bandai Namco Games
Platforms: PS3, PS Vita
Genre: Tactical RPG
Sold digitally: In the Japanese Playstation Store

tl;dr synopsis

Super Heroine Chronicle (超ヒロイン戦記) is a Super Robot Wars game that everyone wanted since forever. It’s a crossover between anime series featuring many cute girls with powerful abilities, albeit with some notable exceptions. And it gets rid of the original male protagonists, had they existed in the source material.

featured series

The first thing to mention about a crossover game is, of course, its cast. For that’s the main appeal of crossovers to begin with.

I’m sure you’ve dreamed, as I often did, of seeing Takamachi Nanoha duking it out with Tachibana Hibiki in a battle of befriending between mighty lasers and unstoppable fists. You’ve spent hours watching CyberBotti’s Battle Fantasia clips or that Super Robokko Wars animation imagining all of the different possibilities in a game of such scale and brilliance (okay, that was probably just me). Well, sucks to be us, as surprisingly the game does not feature Nanoha or, for that matter, any other famous magical girl series you’d expect to see in this kind of crossover. However, Hibiki is indeed in the game, which originally brought my attention to it, and the entire list of featured series is as follows:

Kaitou Tenshi Twin Angel
Kyousogiga
Di Gi Charat
Swan Song of the Valkyries: Symphogear
Super Sonico
Higurashi: When They Cry
Aria the Scarlet Ammo
Infinite Stratos
The Familiar of Zero
Dream Hunter Rem
Angry and excited are the only two emotions available to cover artists.

Yes, you’ve read that right, this list already feels mismatched — and even so the inclusion of Di Gi Charat and Super Sonico of all things is completely flabbergasting. I’ve been one of the few who wasn’t surprised to see Higurashi, as a lot of those above-mentioned fan videos had it included as well, but many reasonably consider it to be an outlandish choice as wielding a bat and an axe are about the only fighting-related superpowers there. And what the hell is Dream Hunter Rem?! (may contain spoilers)

Boy does Rem deserve a review of her own, but as there are some across the internets I’ll just tell you to go watch it to get a good feel for OVAs released in the 80-s. It might just be the pinnacle of that very phenomenon, and some episodes feature scenes drawn by the king of robot poses, Masami Obari. And do it before playing the game as Ayanokouji Rem is one of the most important characters in SHC.

gameplay

Super Heroine Chronicle is a niche game within a niche so most of you probably have some experience with the Super Robot Wars series or you wouldn’t have even heard of it. That, or maybe the Spiral Chaos games.

Wait, Spiral Chaos, what? What does a borderline porn franchise like Queen’s Blade have to do with anything?

Well, SHC is effectively a sequel to the second Spiral Chaos game, the one called Queen’s Gate. Both in plot and the gameplay mechanics, and let me touch on the latter first as it is, first and foremost, a game.

Fighting slimes and nerds in a comic store, to drive the point home in case you somehow didn’t realize it’s otaku-fodder.

The core gameplay is taken from Spiral Chaos but adjusted to look more like a traditional Super Robot Wars game — although they are quite similar to begin with. Each mission lets you place a selection of units on a grid-based map and pits them against the enemy squad in a turn-based battle with excessively fabulous animated clips for each attack pattern of every character should you wish to turn it on. Clips very much like those videos linked above. Between the story missions you can equip and upgrade your characters and, unlike SRW, grind levels as much as you wish in the free stages, of which there are quite a lot.

“I will break you…r stats in a totally non-SM way, trust me. It might be a bit hard to believe when you see my final form, though.”

I have not played Spiral Chaos, but from what I gathered there are two main mechanics unusual for SRW that either carry over from or are inspired by those games, Stat HP and W-Impact. Every character has three additional HP gauges for attack, evasion and accuracy stats that deplete along with the main HP bar upon being attacked and get partially restored next turn unless they are completely gone. Damage to Stat HP, naturally, is reflected as a debuff to the corresponding stat. W-Impact is a mini-game that activates if you simultaneously destroy the opponent’s HP and all of their Stat HP that allows you to get additional experience points and rare items. And watch special pictures of the attacking characters, quite often fairly lewd ones. You do know what kind of franchise Queen’s Blade is, right? But don’t worry, it’s not that lewd.

And here’s the biggest problem with SHC. It’s already a very long game, counting over 60 missions in a single playthrough, plus branching and trophy hunting might make you want to replay it several times. Although with a mere 0.2% of platinum achievers, statistically speaking you probably won’t. The issue is with the animations, every single one of them. They’re slow, they’re so terribly slow you can brew yourself a cup of coffee, clean your monocle and fix your moustache after every action, and maybe watch the entire Super Sonico anime series while she’s attacking an enemy unit. Both the map actions and the attack clips suffer from this.

One of the reasons to play SRW and similar games is indeed to watch the nicely done attack clips, so their length should be welcomed as they can be skipped if you just want to get the level done ASAP. Except the thing is, if you’re aiming for all that delicious exp and items, you’ve got to W-Impact the enemies, which requires you to watch the animation before activation. And every attack consists of up to FIVE moves and, each with a clip of its own. W-Impacts are not necessary to clear the game, but those items are required for trophies, especially the Skill Coins, and often help out in the long run, especially since they’re carried over to the next playthrough.

Thankfully, there is a partial solution — and that is to keep holding R+O (or R1+O if you’re playing on a PS3) that significantly speeds up every animation. This should have by all means been the default in the map mode since you’re gonna keep constantly holding R+O for the entire game. There is absolutely no reason not to unless your fingers really hurt.

I eat, sleep and watch attack cut-ins. A true /m/an knows nothing else!

The attack clips are indeed great. Your mileage might vary, as is plenty obvious from other reviews and comments I’ve seen, but even though SHC eschews the classic 2D battle sequences of the Super Robot Wars series in favor of mostly 3D-rendered, but still SD-sized characters — the animations look brilliant, very dynamic, with lots of proper animated 2D cut-ins here and there and a heartwarming abuse of special effects. And the cel-shading looks surprisingly decent. The length allows for complicated sequences like the sniper Reki from Aria trapping her opponents with strategically placed auto-firing rifles or Hibiki going all berserk on the enemy before regaining sanity and finishing them off with a really painful-looking move. Or Rem going all Obari as fuck for a good minute. Or an original character playing magic tricks. Or Sonico doing a whole live NicoNico broadcast, all during a single attack move. Yes, that one looks very stupid, in fact quite a number of attacks have more comedic value than anything (and it’s awesome).

As for the difficulty, if you’ve played SRW before you won’t have a problem except for maybe a few missions if certain characters are underleveled — again, not an uncommon occurence in SRW itself. The game is downright easy unless you make some challenges for yourself like not grinding free stages too much or something. The enemy attack patterns are single-minded, usually going for the same unit all at once if it’s within reach. The only difficulty is not to get bored in the free stages. They are sometimes required as with a difference of over 5 levels in your opponent’s favor your hit rate is reduced too much to land a single hit. You do get experience for missing, too, in fact some special free stages expect you to use it for leveling the weaker portion of your roster, but generally speaking enemy attacks at such a difference really hurt so it’s best to avoid it for normal missions.

Yeah, finishing this game definitely takes time.

music

Super Robot Wars are known for pretty awesome remixes of energetic robot anime songs and great original musTROMBE OVERRIDE

Naturally, I went in expecting badass Symphogear singing while fighting. Well, the thing is — the game does not have a single track from any of the featured series. Not from Symphogear, not from anything else. Someone mentioned the Twin Angel theme was from its OST, but I don’t remember it all too well so I can’t even confirm that much.

Actually, there was one person who performed a song, but the screencap is self-explanatory.

Not only was this disappointing at first, it kept creating an eerie feeling for the entire game since the characters occasionally discussed the way Armed Gear users sing during battles. Because they never, ever actually sung anything. Or anyone else, too.

On the flip side, the new tracks that replaced the original themes are not bad at all. Perhaps the most disappointing one was the Symphogear theme — and only because the expectations were set too high. In general the tracks fit the series mood and OSTs well and I can listen to some on a loop which is quite a good sign. So no worries, Banpresto cheaped out but the soundtrack is solid, enjoyable and won’t get on your nerves by the end of the game.

story and some more words

There’s a reason I haven’t mentioned the plot up until now, it’s not the kind of game where having a good story is vital. And it’s, naturally, the most debatable aspect of this game nevertheless. As a twitter friend of mine mentioned, in a rough translation — “it’s a Bandai Namco character-based game, did you really expect it to have a deep original story or decent pacing?” — and I’m afraid he’s got a point.

The scenario was penned by EdgeWORKS, the company responsible for the first 15 episodes of Fafner of the Azure, a fairly well-known robot series that recently had an unexpected sequel. Essentially, they are a company you go to when you want to outsource the script for your game or cartoon. They’ve got skills, for what it’s worth they did work hard on SHC — but you can still easily tell it’s hired work, something what I’d call “professional fan-fiction”.

The PLOT is heavy in this one. Did I mention it’s 50 foot tall, too?

Most of the game, naturally, deals with the half-comedic, half-serious misadventures of the crossover cast, but it cannibalizes any attempt at a solid plot. Only by the very end of the game you understand that everything was in fact tied together and the setting had some solid ground, but at that point it’s too late to change the impression. Even then, the plot is lovably retarded.

The general synopsis is that two magical girls hailing from a school from Spiral Chaos are looking for their missing teacher, stumble upon a guy with Akari-tier lack of presence and for a mysterious reason start jumping between different worlds, dragging their respective characters into the mess that was starting to unfold. Like SRW, plot points of some of the series are somewhat revisited in the process while others aren’t featured as much. And in the last missions of the game the original plot is finally unveiled, but it mostly ends up being exposition that should have happened half a game back. Especially since the twist, at the moment when it happened with not much foreshadowing at all, felt very unnatural and even disappointing, which could have been easily avoided.

The saving graces are character interactions and occasionally peeking through self-awareness of the game, mostly expressed through Rem, Di Gi Charat cast and Kurumi from Kaitou Tenshi.

Translated by some good person in the internets.

As the game is thankfully missing all of the harem leads — and Claude, the original male character, is not interacting with anyone much outside of the optional plot-unrelated Free Talks between missions — characters from one series frequently take the role of missing characters from the other ones. For example, Hibiki, not having a plot of her own in the game, effectively replaces Ichika from Infinite Stratos and almost gets forcibly married to Laura and Aria fills in for Keiichi from Higurashi in what is arguably the best arc of the world-jumping part of the game, throwing some mystery and paranoia into the mix as should have been expected of that franchise.

Another good thing is, the game doesn’t forget about anyone, there are no placeholders in your cast, everyone gets a chance to shine. And most importantly, you really get a feeling they’re all traveling together and normally interacting, something that does not always happen in Super Robot Wars. It might seem obvious, but I remember playing, for example, SRW J and wondering what are all these characters doing on the same spaceship if barely anybody exchanged a word with a person hailing from a different franchise from their own. It felt odd to see them going places together, yet each one dealing only with their own series-specific stories and enemies, them all being in the same place being felt like a coincidence more than anything. Super Heroine Chronicles, on the contrary, handles the “crossover” aspect really well, it makes up for the severe deficiencies of its trunk storyline. By the end of the game you don’t feel that anyone was an unnecessary addition, yes, even Super Sonico.

Explosions, explosions and hammer-induced explosions will make you as flat as the seiyuu-related joke you just thought of.

SHC is full to the brim with jokes pointing out differences in the settings or similarities between characters with some occasional meta-humor like Houki from Infinite Stratos feeling uneasy around Haruka from Kaitou Tenshi as she shares the same seiyuu with her older sister. One flat Kugimiya-voiced character pointing out how the other flat Kugimiya-voiced character acts way too much like flat Kugimiya-voiced characters. Cecilia and Louise constantly comparing their respective nobility. It’s all handled surprisingly well, the scriptwriters paid attention to lots of details from the series.

What’s odd is the choice of the characters whose stories unfold along with the main scenario. It’s been a long-time tradition in SRW that the stories from the more recent robot series are often revisited while the older ones are only there to increase the character roster with an exception for a show or two. You’d think Symphogear, the stupidly popular series that is basically why most people would even consider buying SHC, would have more of a presence. And Dream Hunter Rem would just be this old series that is cheap to include for the sake of fun and oldtimers. By this point you can likely guess it’s the exact opposite.

In fact, I would take it to another level entirely. Ayanokouji Rem for most intents and purposes is the main character of the game. It’s not one of the two girls you end up choosing to follow, it’s not that Claude guy who is barely even there, it’s Rem and she usually shares this role with Aria, leading the party and solving the mysteries. The main villain from the series is also the most recurring enemy character, and ironically the only non-recruitable one in the game (the old geezer still gets lots of love). Don’t get me wrong, I love Dream Hunter Rem and its titular character, maybe even too much, but you’ve gotta admit the choice is rather unusual. Let me just remind you that Rem is an old 80-s OVA series that started out as a hentai video.

Seriously though, go watch Dream Hunter Rem right now. It has everything from giant robots to ghosts and lesbians.

Outside of the character interactions, the Symphogear crew has the least plot out of any other series in the game. You spend half of the time in the Inifinite Stratos academy, you solve the Twin Phantom incidents, but nah, Symphogear doesn’t get much, and even then, surprisingly, Tsubasa is the character to get relatively more attention than Hibiki. It’s not something that bothers me, I like crossovers changing things up for fun, but things like this are why other people are often overlooking this game so it has to be mentioned. ’Cause, well, yes, even Super Sonico has more plot, and it’s not even her PLOT I’m talking about.

Last thing I want to mention are the animated scenes, of which there are about a dozen throughout the game. What should have been one of the selling points of the game — actual crossover anime, holy bonkers!— turned into what I think is a complete trainwreck. The scenes, mostly animated by Remic (a lesser known studio that nevertheless produced a great short comedy Doujin Work and a fairly popular Magipoka that wouldn’t look out of place in this very game) with an occasional pitch in by J.C.Staff, look… for starters, very low-budget. Low FPS, almost no shading, overly simple backgrounds, barely any actual character animation, even some visual novels look better animated than this. Even the very opening movie is plagued by this. There is a much better one, but you don’t actually get to see it until you clear the game — that, well, or on youtube if you don’t mind the giant in-your-face spoiler. All would have been not as bad if the animated scenes were exclusively slice of life, but near the end of the game they are plot-related and somewhat contradicting what was actually happening. This was, I presume, an issue of having the scenes finished before the rest of the game, but it harms the perception nevertheless. Basically, anime scenes were a fantastic idea on paper, but a shoddy execution in reality.

the good

  • It’s Super Robot Wars about girls with superpowers;
  • Absolutely beautiful animations;
  • Character interactions that I would have kept reading for another 63 episodes;
  • Despite the odd series roster, by the end of the game you’re fond of almost every single character of the party after going through so much with them;
  • Solid, coherent (not always the case with SRW) and cute spritework;
  • Decent, fitting original music;
  • Not too hard — I’m a casual player, that’s a plus for me;
  • Script written with love, even when completely stupid;
  • Riko Mine Lupin IV.

the bad

  • Plot? What plot?
  • Original characters are for the most part on the sidelines;
  • No licensed music, not even Symphogear;
  • Unfitting, low-budget anime scenes;
  • The lewd kind of fanservice, although mild, feels out of place when it happens;
  • Can’t take screenshots. Seriously, why…
  • CGs are used too randomly and only feature single characters — much like the anime scenes, feels like they’ve been drawn way before the script was done;
  • Dreadfully slow map animations that make you keep holding R+O for hours, W-Impact requires watching long attack animations;
  • Insufficient play-testing of certain missions;
  • Grinding free stages is ridiculously boring;
  • Because of the maths the difficulty almost never falls somewhere between “too easy” or “not enough levels to land a hit”, not even in the final episode. Keep missing > Grind a bit > Curbstomp. Always.

afterword

If you have ever watched Kamen Rider series, a good comparison for Super Heroine Chronicle would be the anniversary crossover season Kamen Rider Decade or the more recent movie that pitted the old Showa era Riders against the newer Heisei era Riders. The plot of both is the very definition of “lovably retarded”, yet for the fans of the featured series it is a real treat full of the authors having fun with the characters and the settings they’ve been given, even when it makes no sense at all.

Super Heroine Chronicle is by no means a great game if taken out of the context of the series it includes, although the TRPG part of it is plenty enjoyable and on the level of other Super Robot Wars titles. What it is, nevertheless, is an awesome, beautiful, action-packed and funny crossover. Not a perfect one, no, not without its share of flaws, but by crossover standards I would put it pretty high up there. Hell, I had tons of fun, that’s what ultimately matters.

If you like at least some of the featured series, play this game, it’s for you, otherwise there’s probably no point.

And no, you don’t have to struggle through watching Kaitou Tenshi. Nobody but me ever enjoyed that.

Next time on Super Heroine Chronicles (I will never lose hope… for now)

Japanese difficulty: medium. Expect to google to understand some of the references. I’ve bought this game when it released two years ago, dropped it because the language was too difficult for me at the time as I had little experience reading anything back then. But now I’ve completed the game without much trouble so it gets a solid medium.