Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Clueless Gaijin Gaming: Gai Flame

Another PC Engine import I acquired recently is Masaya's Gai Flame, a fairly straightforward military strategy game starring giant robots and futuristic jets and tanks. This one is playable without knowledge of Japanese, given a little trial and error to figure out which menu items do what; there's no real story presented, other than the obvious something-is-at-stake-so-let's-fight-it-out-with-mechs scenario.

The game starts with a macro-level view of the world, with multiple six-square battlefields defined, each containing space for 3 player units and 3 enemy units. The player and CPU each deploy 9 units (from a larger inventory) at the start of the game.

Units can be moved from battlefield to battlefield -- when a battlefield contains player AND enemy units, the game shifts into a close-up of the local terrain, where individual units enter into combat.

In this mode, player units can be moved about and used to attack enemy units -- the display is not hex-based, but the movement squares are offset in alternate rows to produce a similar effect, with movement and attack distance factoring in. As far as I can tell there is no "surround effect" boosting defense or attack power, but placed units constrain the other side's movement and can be positioned to concentrate cumulative firepower and keep damaged enemy units from fleeing.

Whenever a battle takes place, the screen is overlaid by a brief animated display of the combat. Oddly, only one side does damage in each battle -- the other just sits there and takes it. And the turn model eludes me -- sometimes each side gets two turns in a row, sometimes just one.

If one side wipes the other out, the game returns to the world view. The battlefield retains its previous state, so new units can be brought in to take on or reinforce existing units already in place in that area. There doesn't seem to be any way to repair damaged units, although I may be losing something in the translation.

That seems to be about it. The AI can be outflanked pretty easily once you get a feel for it -- it tends to gang up on whatever's handy, ignoring more powerful units in favor of attacking what it can most easily hit. So you can sacrifice a low-powered unit to distract it, then swoop in and hit it from all sides.

Gai Flame is not a great strategy game, but it's better than the other one in my PC Engine collection, Gulclight TDF 2, a mech vs. kaiju (giant monster) strategy game that's simple and slow-moving. The only PC Engine strategy game to hit the US back in the 8-bit era was Nectaris, released here as Military Madness. I thoroughly enjoyed the original and the Playstation sequel, and I'm looking forward to the remake due soon on WiiWare, XBLA and PSN.

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