As yet another game based on a Japanese cartoon, one might have reasonably suspected Girls & Panzer of being an attempt at easy cash from fans. Its characters and voices could have been slapped on a half-baked game and shipped out the door, but Girls & Panzer was handled with greater care than that. The result is a game worth playing and remembering.
The game follows the anime plot with exactness; Miho Nishizumi has transferred to a new school in hopes of getting away from the popular sport of tank warfare. Her efforts are in vain, however, as this new school starts up its own tankery program to drum up much-needed funds and recognition. As the daughter of a famous tankery master, she’s roped in. Time for secret anime powers.
All-girl schools from all over the world battle each other in a variety of arenas, their respective teams trying to take out the opponent’s flag-bearer. Trash that key tank for massive damage and epic win. Its laughably lighthearted premise and equally cheery cast make the story of Girls & Panzer enjoyable from start to finish.
Show fans should note that the game’s story follows the same arc, but leaves out a lot of the middle stuff and character building. Some moments in the game might not make as much sense or be quite as funny without the characters and their quirks being as established as they are in the animated series.
More important than the story are the tank battles themselves, of course. Controls in tight spaces can take some getting used to, but eventually feels fairly natural. Everything falls into place after a few warmup fights. Though not too elaborate and mostly free of stereotypical Japanese anime theatrics, the battles feel fun and exciting. Spinning circles around an opponent, trying to shake and bake to stay clear of their shots, then making your move to drive in for a critical provides a great rush.
Story battles use the standard rules of tankery, which make the victory condition the destruction of a dedicated flag bearer. Battle Royale mode allows players to take on enemies with this setting or a defeat-all condition.
While objectives tend to be one of the above, story missions are spiced up rather well, with changing situations and special circumstances; they really feel like you’re fighting in the battles from the show. I didn’t expect such an accurate, well-done, entertaining recreation of Girls & Panzer‘s combat scenes, but Namco Bandai pulled it off.
Gameplay doesn’t let itself get too wrapped up in customized loadouts or leveling things up; all tanks have base stats (displayed in English, incidentally) of ATK, DEF, MOV, and HP, and that’s it. Go fight.
The first few incredibly basic battles are just Miho and her schoolmates testing their skills against each other — thereby giving the player a chance to get a handle on things — but after that, each mission is a new beast. Upon completion of one battle, players can often choose to proceed to the next story battle or play that same mission again as a different member of the team. With the tanks having slightly different specifications and handling, as well as different roles to play in each battle, this adds good depth.
G&P also puts a game-only spin on certain missions. For example, [very minor spoiler, I guess] in the animated versions of one early battle, the student council squad jumped in front of Miho’s tank and ended up getting KO’d. In the game version of this, players can choose to control that valiant squad (after clearing it the canonical way), except… they have to not die right there. [End minor spoiler] It’s pretty tough, but an interesting twist.
AI is a bit inconsistent. Allies and enemies alike will sometimes take intelligent actions, other times do something that makes no sense at all, and too often try to make fights into awkward standstill blast contests.
Some of the AI screwiness is understandable, due to the show’s story. Enemy AI acted terribly in the urban environment, which would usually be disturbing from a pure gameplay standpoint, but that’s actually how that battle went in the show. The first time they lured an opponent into an urban fight, the other girls did indeed fall for all kinds of tricks and walk right into obvious traps. Miho went around a corner, the other tanks still blindly advanced without even rotating their turret to get the first shot, just went rolling along. True, the enemy left itself open for exploitation, but that’s what really happened, so it’s tough to complain about that instance.
In battle late in the series, the flag bearer was running away wildly instead of fighting back; contrary to the behavior of previous missions, the game’s version of this flag tank did exactly that. It was surprising.
But on the whole, it would’ve been nice to have slightly better AI, especially for allies. On more than one occasion, I had an allied tank just hanging out in the middle of nowhere. She didn’t need to guard anything, she wasn’t the ever-important flag tank, she was just doing her own thing. This happened in Battle Royale mode more than story modes, but it drove me nuts, especially in defeat-all missions when coming at the enemy one-by-one like a Kung Fu movie isn’t smart at all.
A big drawback is the skewed victory conditions. While true that Girls & Panzer can be a bit on the easy side in some missions, there are moments when you’ll be beaten by the enemies having advantageous win conditions. These tanks aren’t at war — even in the game — they’re playing a sport with clear rules. You win if you beat the other team’s flag tank, but they win if they take out your flag tank OR the tank you’re controlling.
Even in challenge missions, when both sides are trying to fully eliminate the other, the player’s singular tank being beaten means defeat. This sadly applies to defeat-all win conditions as well. The enemy doesn’t have to defeat all, they only have to defeat the tank that has the player in it; since they tend to be drawn to it more than AI tanks, the odds can be unfairly stacks against the player. Through a timed power-up, the mechanic to switch control to another tank is already in this game; why not use it if the player’s tank is destroyed in a defeat-all contest? It’s not like the devs would’ve had to program new things. The enemy’s team constantly has one more route to victory than the player.
That feels cheap, especially in the Challenge Missions. When I lose, I want to lose because of strategy and skill, not because the enemy is playing with a constant, unfair advantage that only exists because of a development oversight.
Controls were never an issue for more than maybe two seconds here and there, on very rare occasions, right up until they needed to be tight as possible: the final battle. Miho must race around in tight corridors to avoid extremely heavy firepower, yet the tank and camera can sometimes get caught disagreeing with each other. The results can be devastating. Since this battle is a long one and the fights have no checkpoints, this can lead to justified frustration.
The final story battle also pulls a Natural Doctrine, in that it takes the player’s hard work and undoes it for the sake of cutscenes. Say you’ve done a great job avoiding the enemy guns and creating space between yourself and the boss: too bad. Twice during the fight, Miho’s tank will be repositioned into danger. It’s one of those times when following the TV show’s story so closely kind of backfires.
The smile rarely left my face when watching the Girls & Panzer anime. It’s just too fun, too lighthearted, too simple and too cute to ever offend. The game captures its positive atmosphere and adds impressive tank battles to the mix. To get the charm of the characters and story, one could just watch the anime; gameplay therefore becomes the real selling point here, so it’s great that Girls & Panzer delivers. The tank combat is good stuff in all modes and provides a unique experience for PSVita.
Underneath all the schoolgirl “animu” tropes lies a legitimately entertaining, enjoyable game. Don’t let the school skirts and high-pitched voices fool you; this game kicks ass.
(Post-review notes for importers. Read the PSLS guide to importing here.)
This is easily importable for anyone of any Japanese level. If you can’t understand the story, there is a fully localized English version of the anime available. To see if you dig it, give it until at least the third episode. (I was skeptical myself after the first one.)
As with many Japanese games, the menus might take some trial and error here and there, but honestly, there aren’t many menu items to begin with. Within the missions, objectives are fairly obvious, and there are tons of visual cues if you somehow find yourself confused… which you won’t. Even setting up Battle Royale mode and taking the challenge missions can be done without knowing a lick of Japanese.
There is no extra equipment or items of any kind. Tanks have varying stats, but the stats are in English, written as ATK, DEF, MOVE, and HP and given a rank A, B, C, etc. Plain English, right in there as the default in this Japanese game. No worries.
Tank gameplay is self-explanatory. You don’t need to know Japanese to get through this game. And if you do speak it, you’ll love it all the more.
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