The cardinal rule of entertainment: know your audience. But enter the realm of licensed games, where exists Mobile Suit Gundam Seed: Never Ending Tomorrow, and its mission not so easily accomplished. Is this for hardcore fans? No one’s ever survived developing games for one tiny audience, and anyone who says otherwise is either lying or they just laid a stinker of an egg. Or is Never Ending Tomorrow for someone like me—becoming in effect, a digital guide book to the Gundam universe? I may only be a bumpkin tourist, but that’s no disadvantage. After all, who needs a TV show to tell them a game sucks?
Fans of the series will already know what’s going on here. It’s the future: space is colonized, people fight in symmetrical robots, and everything’s built for maximal cool explosion death. There’s the Earth Alliance who is trying to suppress ZAFT, who believe they aren’t getting their due. Kira Yamato belongs to the Earth Alliance, while his childhood friend, Athrun Zala, is on the other side. Naturally, this puts a few strains on the relationship, so don’t expect to share a cab or anything anytime soon. Kira and Athrun are both playable from the beginning of the game and each present their own story, neither of which is terribly different from each other. We’re all brothers underneath the skin, after all.
While it’s true that a Gundam is a skyscraper of a war machine, the game controls take that fact a little too much too heart. Take Steel Battalion, for example. Or, better yet, consider Skygunner. The biplanes in Skygunner were tough to control, but that’s all part of the training. Fear the man who could tame those petite beasts. There’s no other way to feel you control the sky other than to make controls that are a bitch of master, ones that need commitment to master. Skygunner (and Steel Battalion) were tough by design, while the Gundams are just plain clunky and awkward. Afterwards, there are no fancy maneuvers or exciting actions, nothing to impress beyond the initial weird controls.
But Never Ending Tomorrow’s continuous stream of missions does take on a kind of mindless entertainment. Utilizing nearly all of the buttons on the controller, Gundam presents a variety of ways to button mash your way through the game. There’s the regular fire, a Panzer Dragoon-esquelock-on, and a special move that drains a bar every time you use it or take damage. Pressing the triangle button causes the Gundam to bum rush an enemy, where both of you continue to trade hits in melee combat. And that’s the essential flow of the game, with several dozen modes and Gundam models to unlock. A lengthy commitment is required to see this game fully complete, but mostly because each mission takes a while to end. The life bars drain very slowly in this universe; up there, these guys feel as punchy as paper lanterns.
Who is in mind while this game was in development? Fans of the series can’t learn a thing from the series as nearly all of the footage is taken from the TV show. In fact, it’s chopped up and edited so badly, that most footage ends mid-scene, while watching the characters interact can be a jolting ADD experience: sometimes it’s very obvious there are whole minutes missing in-between their words and actions. A narrator endlessly chatters to fill in the blanks, but this "start-stop, start-stop" presentation makes the missions feel like intros to episodes that never begin.
So much is obviously cut out that someone like me can never find a footing in the story, and for everybody else who knows the series, what’s the point? I guess there may be fetishists who take pleasure from looking at the backside of a flying robot through 10 hours of subpar gameplay. But don’t the developers know that the anime geeks already know a thing or two about video games?