Gundam isn’t a Japanese niche, it’s huge all over the world with the same acclaim and widespread recognition as something like Dragon Ball Z. Whether it’s the anime, manga, or the huge selection of figurines and model kits that get their own dedicated section at Hobby stores, Gundam is a well-known commodity no matter where you are. That being said, fans outside Japan tend to get the short end of the stick when it comes to video game adaptations. Over the past few decades, and even now, most of the good Gundam video games almost never leave Japan. We’ve seen a few games show up in local shops over the years, in particular the very undesirable Dynasty Warriors: Gundam spin-off/crossover series. Also at this point, a Dynasty Warriors re-skin is quite possibly the laziest way to make a video game, not to mention that playing as a mech in a Dynasty Warrios game doesn’t even remotely feel like controlling a mech. In fact, Luke Halliday has been trying to give away his copy of Dynasty Warrios: Gundam for years now, and he has yet to find someone to take it off him… for free.
Now granted most Gundam video games aren’t very good, but there are certainly a few gems that would have been well received worldwide. Some of these gems really allow you immerse into the Gundam universe, but more importantly, obtain that empowering pleasure that comes with operating a Mobile Suit. Bandai Namco have been steadily pushing out a number of Gundam games over the years, but 20 years ago during 1996, back when Bandai was a separate company, they created a very cool series for the SEGA Saturn called Mobile Suit Gundam Side Story: The Blue Destiny. The series was spread across three releases/discs, one for each episode.
Now you have to understand that this was the early days of 3D gaming, and in comparison with the PlayStation and Nintendo 64, the Saturn’s 3D prowess wasn’t necessarily weaker… but rather too unique and complicated for developers to get their head around. Still, Gundam: Blue Destiny is perhaps one of the better showcases of 3D on the Saturn programmed and executed flawlessly. Now the smart thing developers did in terms of working around the memory limitations was to spread the game across three episodes/discs. So essentially you got 5 levels per disc, and you needed all three episodes to get the full experience.
Let’s start with the cover artwork, which looks to have a strong Star Wars influence as the retro sci-fi art are reminisce of the posters for classic Star Wars movies (Episode IV, V, and VI). Now these games can be found easily and not to mention they’re not very expensive (I paid $15 a piece), but the limited boxset edition is rare and expensive. Also, when it comes to Japanese imports you honestly don’t need to buy sealed/new copies, as even second-hand copies are usually in pristine condition. Gundam: Blue Destiny is a series not many people know about, be it Gundam fans or even Saturn enthusiasts. I only recently learned about it, and was surprised that something so technically impressive (by Saturn standards) never once came up in my many years of importing for the system. I ordered all three episodes straight away, and was pleased to know that there are still great games yet to be included in my Saturn collection.
Mech games back in the day were rather simple, and over the years they’ve only gotten more deep and complicated, becoming more simulation based and drifting further away from their humble arcade origins. Just look at the Armored Core series as an example: play any of the original PSOne releases and compare that with Armored Core V, and the difference is night and day in terms of the level of depth and complexity. Now I understand that many enjoy a deep mech simulator, with thousands of buttons and systems to master and take control of, but then there are people like me who yearn for old days when mech games were all about simple controls, and heavy-duty execution of gameplay mechanics that really made you feel in-control of a hulking war machine. Gundam: Blue Destiny is akin to early Mech Warrior games, or if you’re a Saturn owner, it’s very similar to the oft-forgotten Gun Griffon series.
Taking a first-person perspective, Blue Destiny plays like a classic,no-nonsense shooter but it has the mechanical quirks to make you feel like you’re controlling a giant Mobile Suit, and all the empowerment that comes with it. The controls are rather simple, but it gives you all you need to just focus on the combat and not get too caught up in the details like in most modern mech titles. You can boost around, jump, and dash into enemies for a melee sword combo. When it comes to firearms you’ve got machine guns, canons, grenades, and then later on missiles. Simplicity works in the game’s favour as the action is really easy and fun to get into, making Blue Destiny one of those games you can pick up and enjoy at any time. The score-based system gives plenty of incentive to revisit the three discs to improve your score and rank.
The mission structure is fairly simple as most levels simply require you to take out enemies, and the enemy variety is fairly decent here. Things shake up once in a while with missions requiring you to protect human settlements, take on some interesting bosses, and at times destroying enemy bases. Now given the simplicity of the gameplay and mission structure, Gundam: Blue Destiny becomes a safe import for those with little Japanese knowledge, as all you’ll be missing out on is the story and dialogue. Still, there’s ways to work around that given that the series takes place during the One Year War saga, and so the manga adaptations and other localisations should help fill in the blanks.
Mobile Suit Gundam: The Blue Destiny is no doubt one of the best games in Gundam‘s video game chronology, and a must have for anyone who is into the SEGA Saturn. The series would actually continue on the SEGA Dreamcast, retaining the same gameplay and design conventions. Alternatively, you could pick up the PlayStation 3 release by BandaiNamco, Mobile Suit Gundam: Side Stories, which serves as a both a remake and compilation of the Blue Destiny series. Unfortunately, that game too was never released outside of Japan but certainly worth an import if you can’t arrange old SEGA hardware.