If the 21st century has given us anything it's the ability to mix and mash completely disparate art forms together. One has to look no further than the record industry to see popular "Mash-Ups" that involve taking a little Jay-Z and mixing it with The Beatles. And the movie industry is no different, I can't even begin to count how many YouTube clips I've watched of two different movies being mixed together to make something beautiful. So maybe I shouldn't have been all that surprised when I first started playing R-Type Command, Irem's first attempt at a mash-up video game.
Like all good mash-ups, R-Type Command takes elements from two products that are as opposite as they come. Instead of just make another 2D shooter, Irem decided to mix their popular shoot-em-up franchise with a tactical role-playing game. In other words, they successfully managed to take the R-Type we all know and love and mix it with Final Fantasy Tactics. And the most shocking thing of all? Irem's potent concoction is actually a whole lot of fun.
Long time R-Type fans should use extreme caution when going into this spin-off, because R-Type Command is unlike any other 2D shooter on the market. Instead of weaving in and out of enemy fire and plowing through a level in a matter of minutes, R-Type Command requires you to actually plan your attacks, move slowly across the board and take the logical approach. Instead of being the smart-mouthed pilot you take the role of commanding officer, literally telling every other ship what to do while you sit back (in relative safety) watching it all play out. For some R-Type fans this slow-paced take on the series will drive them crazy, but as a long-time champion of slow-paced tactical role-playing games I found this to be a real shot in the arm for the genre.
The one thing I wasn't expecting was the amount of story introduced in this game. While I have played dozens of versions of R-Type in my day I had never really sat down to think about the story. Where do all of these creatures come from? Why are they here? How is it even possible that one guy is able to kill every bad guy and then come back for multiple sequels? These are questions I just never pondered, for better or worse. And now I realize it was for good reason, because the R-Type story is actually a lot more heavy-handed than it needs to be. At its core this is a story about the evils of man messing with science, which is told through a series of painfully boring text-based log entries.
But like all long-winded tactical role-playing games, R-Type Command's writing is just there to get you from battle to battle. For the most part gamers can completely skip the tedious story, which is for the best because the real excitement comes from the actual gameplay. While a bit on the simplistic side, R-Type Command manages to combine the chess-like gameplay of a tactical game with that of a 2D shooter, something that doesn't sound like a very good combination. But they make it work ... for the most part.
If you've played any of the other tactical RPGs on the PSP (Jeanne d'Arc, Final Fantasy Tactics, Dungeons & Dragons Tactics, etc.) then you'll feel right at home with this game. Instead of being set in some fantastical world full of dungeons and, well, dragons, R-Type Command is situated in space, high above planets in the middle of stars and other space debris. But don't let the different location (and time period) fool you; this game is still played by moving a different characters one at a time through a grid preparing to kill enemies and defend your home base.
In past R-Type games you really only got to know one or two different ships, but in this spin-off you'll be introduced to all sorts of crazy units. Not that this is unexpected, a role-playing game with only one or two classes of characters would be the very definition of boring. Instead we get some main ships and a lot of back-ups, including ships that can refill depleting fuel, flame ships, sonic ships, guys with laser swords and much, much more. Of course, these cool characters don't come cheap. You're going to have to spend time and resources to develop these different characters. There's just one big problem, the various resources are extremely rare, so you're really going to have to think about what you decide to spend it on. Worse yet, if you make something you don't like (which can happen all too frequently) you're out of luck, you'll just have to go back and earn more resources (usually by replaying levels). It's not the worst thing in the world, but it's disappointing that the best aspect of the game has to come with such a heavy price.
Fans of traditional tactical RPGs may also be disappointed by how simplistic the combat mechanics are. As you would expect each unit has multiple attacks that have their own pros and cons. On top of the regular attacks, some of the ships have a large beam that they can shoot if they are able to charge it up (just like in the original R-Type). This charged beam is definitely worth waiting through, as it does massive damage to the enemy and can hit multiple units at the same time. Unfortunately outside of the basic attacks and a few specials (most of which trigger a cinema), R-Type Command has a very limited amount of combat moves. A lot of the battles come down to nothing more than using your missiles on whoever is nearby.
But don't be discouraged by the disappointing lack of firepower, because this is one game that manages to work despite its flaws. There's just something cool about commanding so many different units at once, it's an exciting feeling to swarm an enemy unit and not even give it a chance to counter. All of the levels in this game are totally engrossing, to the point where you'll lose all sense of time. The battles themselves aren't long, but they are so much fun that you may do two or three in a row without realizing how much time had passed. Like I said, it's not without some serious problems, but I was able to overlook some of these issues.
Unfortunately the problems do keep popping up, like it or not. For example, the game has a serious problem with load times. Even though the graphics in this game are nothing special (outside of the 3D effects, pretty much everything in this game could have been done on the Super NES 15 years ago), the game seems to want to load a whole lot. And I'm not just talking about when you start up a level; I'm talking about between attacks, whenever you go into a special move and at other inconvenient times. On a slightly related note, the computer characters in this game take entirely too long to move their units. I don't know what it is, but the computer is even more indecisive than I am. This is the kind of thing that will drive R-Type loyalists up the wall.
But even with all of these negatives this is still an easy game to recommend to fans of slow-paced tactical role-playing games. No, this certainly isn't a perfect game by any stretch, but as a first attempt at a completely different genre I have to give Irem a lot of credit. It may not hit you until you see the amazing bosses (many of which you'll remember from past R-Type games), but when R-Type Command grabs you it will never let go. This is a solid mash-up, despite its many faults.