Looking through a few pages and I came across these first impressions of the import version of Steel Batallion (Tekki in Japan). Keep in mind this is not a professional review, just impressions from a japanese gamer who purchased the game: After owing an X-box for two weeks with no games to enjoy with it, I finally picked up Tekki yesterday. I’ll start by saying that this game is godly. I was lucky not to have lug home the box by train from Tokyo, where I bought the game, to Yokohama, where I live. At 10 kg., the box is not that heavy, but it is easily as big as a medium size television, not to mention that is has the word “Tekki” plastered all over it. Would have been a bit embarassing taking that sh*t home on the train to tell you the truth, but fortunately, I had a friend of mine with a car who was just as eager to play the game as I was, and he drove me back, saying “dou natten no?” (“What the hell are games coming to?”) as he looked at the size of the box. (I later treated him to ramen as compensation for his services. For anyone who lives in a room (in Japan) sized 6-jou (tatami mats) or less, assuming you have a standard amount of furniture, you’re going to have a hell of a time once you’ve put the controller together and are looking for ways to set it up to play the game. I live in such a room, which is cluttered and full of sh*t like manga, clothes, my futon, CDs and other stuff to begin with, so although putting together the controller was a breeze (very easy to follow instructions, took only about 5 minutes), finding a way to set it up was a pain in the ass, it’s just too damn big (about 80 cm across, maybe?) Wish I had digital camera so I could take a picture of how I set it up and show it to you guys – it’s hysterical. Got the Tekki box (a very cool, camoflague/army type deal), the original X-box box, my DVD player box, and some other random cardboard box all stacked up to make a makeshift “desk” exclusively for the purpose of playing the game. Only problem is, I have nowhere to lay out my futon to sleep now , which kinda sucks. The things we occasionally do for entertainment… I’ve heard people complaining about the sturdiness of the controller, but for the money you pay for the game (19,980 yen listed price, but I paid about 17,800), I can’t imagine that Capcom could have provided one of better quality for the money. It’s sturdy, the plastic parts are not as flimsy as people would have you believe, and the pedals in particular have a weight to them that really feels like the real deal. The thing that will probably impress you most about the controller is that each button lights up/blinks during gameplay – but I’ll get into that later. On the bottom of the controller is several columns of names (Japanese names but in English) – I imagine these are the people who contributed to the design of the game (or controller only…?). Anyway, I give an A for the controller, I’ve never seen any peripheral so complex and complete, game center/arcade or otherwise. The first thing that will strike you when you first start up Tekki is the music, such as that in the title and menu screens. Very imposing, very hardcore. As I proceeded to the main menu, I noticed that there was no practice mode, which was disappointing at first, you’ll find that the first several missions serve as sufficient enough practice that you won’t care. In fact, you can replay missions that you’ve completed as many times as you want. After choosing a name (only the Roman alphabet is available, no Japanese characters/kanji), your campaign begins. You get some background information on the story taking place, which gets more detailed and deeper with every mission. It seriously serves to draw you in – that is, if you can read Japanese. While the initial background sequence has both English and Japanese subtitles, everything after that is completely in Japanese. And speaking of complexity, there are two manuals that come with the game. One is the basic commands manual contained within the disc case, the other is a separate manual entitled “VT Soujuu Oyobi VT Shoutai”, translated as “VT Operation and VT Platoons”. This second manual is, hands down, the most detailed, most comprehensive piece of writing conceived for a game I have ever seen, and it reads just like a tech manual. Detailed information on weapons featured within the game, firing archs, communications, it’s all in there. Even my friend, who’s a former “jieikan” (member of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces, hard to find them around these days) couldn’t put the manual down, marvelling how incredibly realistic and detailed it was. The creators of this game pulled no stops when putting it together. It is here that I have to say that I cannot recommend importing this game if you cannot read Japanese. While there is no real “Japanese” feel to the game, the aforementioned manual and mission briefings are all in Japanese, and very “katai” (hard/formal) Japanese at that. There’s too much to the game to enjoy to be figuring everything out by trial and error. As the mission objectives become more complex, you might find yourself getting in a bit of trouble. My advise is to wait for the translated version, although I have no idea when the game is scheduled for release in the West. The communications that take place throughout the game are also in Japanese, but there is an option to change these to English. As my friend and I played the game with the Japanese communications, which are extremely realistic and well done, I’m not sure how good the English ones are. However, it seems that some of the English communications are mixed in the introductory/title screen music, and these sounded pretty cool, so… Going back to the beginning of your campaign, the game starts with this 2D image of a black guy claiming to be your instructor in piloting the VTs (I think VT stands for Virtual Tank, or something like that – it’s the name of the robots you pilot throughout the game). He gives you a briefing (in English with Japanese subtitles), and you obediently reply to his statements. I have to say that the voice acting here is a bit on the crusty side, both his and that of you character…at least Capcom is consistent in this regard (brought back memories of Biohazard). All of a sudden in the middle of the briefing, your hanger/base is attacked, and the instructor’s leg is injured. This leaves you to pilot his VT in turn off him, and it is here that the game thrusts you right in the action. The real meat of the game, piloting the VT, is a phenomenal experience that I can’t liken to any game I’ve ever played before. More than a game, I would liken Tekki to a simulator. I imagine that this is what it feels like to learn how to pilot a “sensha” (tank) or similar vehicle in real life. Flip up a series of switches to initiate the VT’s systems. Push a button to activate the ignition after power has achieved a certain level. Watch the controller light up as your VT comes to life. It’s so real that it’s unreal. The physics of the game are also incredible. Although it takes several runs through the first several missions to get used to controlling your VT, it is completely intuitive, and you’ll find that your reflexes have taken over halfway through playing. The actions of the VT onscreen reflect in perfect tandem your commands through the controller, offering a perfect sense of realism in terms of speed, movement, gravity, whatever. The game is so realistic that you even have to make sure your VT retains its balance. For example, in the second mission, you and a platoon are dispatched right off a beach shore in the middle of the water (in a scenario I can only liken to D-Day or something, you have to see it to believe it, it’s incredibly intense). Moving too fast or turning abruptly in the water will cause your VT to tilt and fall. Other nice touches on the realism side include the ability to wash you monitor, which gets clouded by rain, scorched by enemy fire, etc. As you proceed though the various missions, you gain a set of points that you can use to requisition new, more powerful VTs (looks like there’s a lot in all) and other stuff, including a huge variety of main and sub weapons as well as other attachments. The various merits and uses of each are discussed in the manual in complete detail. You can even get a boom box to install in your VT, which allows you to select the music that you want to listen to during the game prior to mission start. Speaking of sound, this game has some of the best sound effects and music I have heard in a game. Although this game supports Dolby Digital, my stereo does not, so I just used a standard stereo connection to play the game. Even with this though, it’s an amazing experience. You can hear the sounds of your VT walking, the sounds of jets overhead (these even appear on your radar!), the sounds of explosions far away and close by, sound of artillary – and everything sounds exactly the way you imagine it should, with the placement and emphasis of the SE exactly how it shoud be. The music is also top notch, featuring a variety of tracks that include dark ones, upbeat ones, ones that get your blood pumping, etc. The music when you die, fail, or succeed in a mission is a bit cheesy, but it’s easy to overlook this, and actually provides for a relaxing atmosphere right after the intensity of the battle. A for sound. On to the graphics…I can’t begin to tell you how real this game looks. The in-game sequences have a dithered, washed out look that is perfect for the dark atmosphere of the game, and it seriously makes you feel like you are in the middle of a war zone in the same way that “Private Ryan” did. The detail on just about everything is astounding, with perfect animation. Bullet shells fly. Mechs explode, sending pieces of machinery all over the place. The water in the aforementioned second mission is incredibly real, with hordes of other special effects. Of particular mention are the fires and explosions, which look completely and totally real, as well as the rain, which hits your windshield looking exactly how pelting rain should. I’m sure you’ve already seen images of the cockpit, which looks incredibly detailed in its own right. Screens move in and out, lights flash, the monitors fizzle/short out when you get hit, etc. Amazing. As for the non-in-game sequences, such as the debriefing screens and the menus, they are simple yet cool, not overdone (nothing in this game is visually overdone, which is why it’s perfect). The aforementioned VT instructor, who pops up in the beginning of the game, is a still 2D image that reminds me of the victory screen in SFIII – nothing over the top and gets the job done just right. You’ll be so wrapped up in the game and mechanics of Tekki that the only way to truly appreciate the graphics is to watch the replays. Tekki gives you the ability to watch and save a replay of your mission, whether or not you fail or succeed, live or die, after the mission is over. The replays offer multiple views, and one can even superimpose a number of different effects (up to 6, if I recall correctly) on the screen, such as infrared, nightscope etc. Sit back and watch the action at your own pace after you’ve completed a mission. If you’re a graphics nut, this game will make you hard. A for Graphics. Are there any faults in the game? Well for starters, the game takes immense concentration and practice in the beginning to get used to the controls. It really is as complicated as it looks. However, you really will feel rewarded for trying and keeping at it once your reflexes start taking over. This game was made to be complex and realistic, making the initial difficulty a moot point. Other than the aforementioned cheesy music after the missions end, the only other gripe I had was that apparently there is no free camera in the replays. You have a fixed set of views that generally revolve around your VT as the center point. I suppose the complexity of the game environment (which is utterly huge!) made a free camera impossible at this stage, but the camera views available to you (in-cockpit/crosshairs/birds-eye/etc.) are completely sufficient, making replays a joy to watch. I also have to mention the game’s zoom feature, which can be used during the game while in the cockpit and during the replays. The zoom functions exactly like a real camera. Zoom in and out, watch the screen get blurry, then watch it come into focus again. The graphics are so detailed that unlike scaling effects of the past, nothing gets pixelized even when viewed up close. Amazing. There are already people griping about the high price of the game. While I’m not sure what the N.A. price will be, this game is worth every yen of the 17,900 I paid for it. It has evolved past the standards previously set by games that I can’t even consider it just a videogame – it is seriously a piloting/battle simulation. There is so much to do, so much to master, so many different mechs and weapons, and the story is deep as all hell. I myself have only got to the 3rd mission and feel that I have yet to touch the surface of this game. The communications element, which allows you to request fuel drops and platoon formation changes, has yet to fully come into play, and I’ve earned, what…2 VTs out of 20 or so? I’d give this game an A for playability, which is sure to double once the online version is released (sure to be an intense experience as well). Final note: Regardless of what people may say, the controller is absolutely integral to the game. People saying that a lot of the buttons are superfluous and useless, that the basic game commands can be pulled off with the standard controller, have either not played the game properly or are bitter that they can’t afford it (I’ll admit that this is a one-sided conclusion, but…). The point is that this game is more than a game, it is an experience. The controller is an absolutely integral part of that experience. Selling both as a single package is a no-brainer in this case. It will be interesting, however, to see how Western audiences react to this game. Traditionally, westerns have sh*t on mech-based games out of Japan, right? On top of the complexity of learning the commands and the basic reluctance to pay xxx dollars for a single game, I could see it being a tough sell. All I have to say is: If you have an X-box and you can afford the game, try it. Give it a chance. If you like games, new experiences, virtual piloting simulators, any of the above, I can’t imagine you will be disappointed. Tekki is enjoyable on so many different levels. In the case of you guys, it’s worth every penny/pound/dollar/whatever. Hats off to Capcom and the developers of Tekki, which has singlehandedly changed the standard I hold towards videogames.