Saturday, July 5, 2014

Retro Review: Tech Romancer - Sega Dreamcast  


RetroReviews: After being at @GameCritics for the last fourteen years or so, I’ve built up a pretty good backlog of write-ups and reviews.

I’ve been kicking around the idea of republishing some of that old stuff for a while now… Partly because later-era retro gaming is gaining steam* and partly because it might be interesting (to me, anyway) to look back at how my writing has changed, and to compare what I thought of these titles then to how I look at things now.  If nothing else, you may come across something I reviewed that you didn’t even know existed!

I’ll republish these in the chronological order that I wrote them, I’ll add any extra notes or info that I might have, and I’ll only do minimal edits, leaving them more or less identical to their original state – sometimes that extra comma has just gotta go, though.

I hope you enjoy, and any comments are most definitely welcome.


Tech Romancer
Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Platform: Sega Dreamcast

Originally reviewed at @GameCritics on August 9, 2000


Any gamer worth their salt will be familiar with the efforts of the company that practically defined fighting games with their breakthrough Street Fighter series, and made fighters the force in gaming they are today. Capcom is known for their colorful characters and hand-drawn art which is intimately familiar to gamers across the world, and now Capcom strikes out in a bit of a departure from the norm to introduce an all-new, 3D cast of giant robots and pilots in place of the usual assortment of martial artists, mythical monsters or super heroes. These new characters are featured in the recently released Dreamcast game Tech Romancer.

Tech Romancer is a fast-paced, 3D robot fighting game for the Dreamcast in the same vein as its close competition, Virtual On. The battles take place in fully 3D arenas, but true to Capcom's roots, most of the action takes place on a 2D plane (i.e. face-to-face similar to SF).

In addition to the frenetic battles full of laser blasts and explosions, Capcom adds a new twist. Rather than relying on a simple formula of action, they have included a heavily anime-influenced system of storytelling with multiple paths, and a wealth of secrets and extras to unlock through a points system similar to their recent efforts in Marvel Vs. Capcom 2.

The combat system is elegant and easy to learn, while having a reasonable amount of depth mostly consisting of simple direction-plus-button commands. It features most of the attacks you'd expect from hundred-foot robots -- an incredible abundance of rockets, lasers, satellite attack systems, detachable projectile fists and giant swords being the order of the day. It’s not as combo-heavy as the Vs series, but with enough there to satisfy people who love a good juggle.

During play, the combatants are free to move into and out of the background and foreground at will, with the side view of battle shifting accordingly. This works well by allowing the freedom to dodge and parry using the entire arena for movement, but keeps the simplicity and effectiveness of a classic 2D matchup.

Scattered about the areas are power-ups hidden in houses, bunkers, radio towers and other breakable structures. The power-ups include extra weapons which deal out much more damage than the standard attacks, and various health, speed and armor-ups as well. This makes paying attention the surroundings important -- instead of simply ignoring the backgrounds as in most fighting games, one or two found items can turn the tide of battle quite easily.

Another feature which hasn't seen much use in fighters is the "Final Attack." After accumulating a certain amount of damage in the deciding round, each robot can activate their Final Attack which will end the match instantly if it hits. Visually impressive and generally hard to connect with, the Final Attack adds a nice level of tension since it means that the player who has the upper hand in a match can quickly find themselves on their face if they get careless and let their guard down before they see the smoking wreck of their enemy.

Unlike the competition, Capcom wasn't content to rely solely upon the game's enjoyable fighting engine to induce replays. The programmers have also included other tangible incentives and extras such as a sound test with a huge amount of voice samples, extra characters, a two-minute long hand-drawn anime film, as well as a selection of shorter CG movies featuring the robots launching into battle -- a nod to virtually every robot series in movies or TV. All of these are unlocked by earning points in battles or in the three downloadable VMU minigames.

As if these extras weren't enough, the branching storyline system is an excellent addition which offers significantly different plots for each character, most of whom are based on instantly recognizable anime influences.

In the roster of available fighters, there are characters designed to give props to famous Japanese influences such as Ultraman, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Gundam, Macross (and yes, the faux Valkyrie does transform), Great Mazinger and even Virtual On. The only common thread between all the plots is the battle against the final boss, who happens to be a friendly swipe from Power Rangers

The tone of each plot is wildly different. From a serious wartime mood in one, to the wacky "too many lovestruck girls" shtick in another, there's definitely a lot here for even a casual anime fan to enjoy. And, according to which story requirements you fulfill during gameplay, it's possible to unlock between one to nine different branches and endings depending on the robot and pilot selected.

As a total package, Capcom beats Sega at Sega's own game with a title that is not only more accessible, but easier to get into. It also offers a higher level of personality and flair, as well as having a healthy dose of extras for gamers who like to have objectives in their fighters. It’s a solid purchase definitely recommended for fans of Virtual On, mecha or anime, and another great addition to an already strong library. 

Rating: 8.5 out of 10


Notes: This was the tryout piece I sent to @GameCritics back when I was just a random dude playing games, and I saw that they were looking for writers. It was written when I was living in Honolulu, and had a lot of free time on my hands – you can only go to the beach so much, amirite? I bought my copy at the Ala Moana mall, and plowed through it pretty quickly… I had no idea how to write a review but I copied some styles that I saw and gave it my best shot, and the owner of the site, @ChiKongLui brought me aboard soon after. It must have been okay, because GC has been my online home ever since.


* I’m old enough to remember when these ‘retro’ games were just ‘games’, soooo…  Kind of a weird feeling.  ^_^


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