Yggdra Union is a mess. It's got dozens of contradictory elements happening at the same time, and yet still manages to be boring. The combat is complex yet dull, the characters are really cute but involved in a serious story, and there's tons of info available at all times except when it matters most. About the only consistent thing is the menu system, which is always a complete mess. I've wasted hours of my life trying to get the good parts of Yggdra Union to add up to something worth playing, and I'm never getting that time back.
Princess Yggdra is having a bad day. The Empire has just kicked her out of her kingdom on its march to extinguish the indigenous peoples of the world, blending them into a homogenized, non-multicultural whole. It's what evil empires do. Yggdra and her army of sword maidens run into Milanor, who's got an army of thieves at his back. A bit of battling leads to an escape from the empire, and then new allies join one by one as Yggdra crosses the world, leaving devastation in her wake. It's a decent enough story, but the fun character designs don't fit with the serious tone at all. That's only a mild complaint when compared to the battle system, however.
It's possible to skimp in a few places and still come out on top but Yggdra Union only manages to get the characters right.
The problem with the combat is that, while there are stats and info at every turn, the strategies are pretty simple and combat is just plain dull. Each battle plays out on a map of connected squares, and at the start you choose a set number of cards that govern movement, magic, combat strength, and weapon advantage. Choose a card at the beginning of a turn and it effects strategy on both attack and defense rounds.
Take the Steal card, for example. It's got an incredibly high movement of 12, which is how many squares all the units combined can make in the round its played. One unit can move all 12 spaces or all units can move together, whatever the situation calls for. The Steal card's special skill, however, can only be used by the thief Milanor. It also gives Milanor an edge in combat, seeing as it's an Axe card and that's his weapon of choice. From a strategy point of view that means it's best if Milanor is the attacker this round, since if someone else has to attack instead they won't take full advantage of the card's bonuses. Each faction can attack once per round, meaning that Yggdra's forces only get one hit in while they might have to defend from multiple enemies, depending on how many different armies are taking part. Fortunately, good use of the Union skill combined with careful positioning can prevent her troops from being too much of a punching bag.
Each character in the game can form unions with the other characters, and the formation depends on the gender of the attacking unit. Male units ally in an X formation and female in a plus, and it's important to arrange units properly before attacking so that the largest number of allies join in. Sticking with the Steal card example, placing Milanor beside an opponent would mean that you might want Yggdra standing diagonally from him before attacking. It's also worth paying attention to the gender being attacked, because enemies form unions too. You'll want the maximum number of allies attacking the largest amount of enemies in a single turn, after all.
Once the attack commences, battle turns incredibly dull. The armies face off one after another, although most armies are comprised of seven foot soldiers plus the leader. The two opponents stand on either side of the screen swishing their weapons, and it's a war of attrition as each side whittles down the number of enemy soldiers until finally the leader falls. It can be a tense moment when the only ones left fighting are the two leaders, but only because there's no way to tell how many hit points an individual character has. It's frustrating to not have the slightest idea who's winning in a close battle, and close battles happen on a regular basis.
While all this ranges from bland to blander, it's the menu system where things go off the rails. Basically, as near as I can tell, someone took all the information anyone could ever hope to have on character stats, item enhancements, terrain effects, magic requirements, and much, much more and threw them into the air. When they landed a line was drawn from each item to its neighbor, and this was faithfully reproduced in-game. There's a lot of information to pour through, but it's so poorly laid out that just equipping an item before battle is a chore, and even a command as common as End Turn is found at the bottom of the Select menu.
It takes more than good characters to make a good RPG. It requires elements such as a fun battle system, a good story, and a streamlined user interface. It's possible to skimp in a few places and still come out on top but Yggdra Union only manages to get the characters right. Finding out what happens to them involves wading through hours of repetitious and tedious battles, however, and that's too high a price to pay.