Get In The Robot, Terra
Once again, I am humbled after playing a game for the first time in judging a book by its cover. After playing Kadokawa Games' other recent entry, Metal Max Xeno Reborn, I came into Relayer not expecting a lot. A bit of a recap, Metal Max Xeno was a game where I felt like the characters were soulless, the environment was just as bland, and everything else barren. I was concerned with the beginning of Relayer but over time it began to slowly win me over. After my first battle, I became invested in its familiar yet welcome plot.
Relayer is a bit of an outlier as it's uncommon to see space-based anime-inspired mecha video games outside of Japan. Super Robot Wars, one of the flagship series that centralizes major IPs into one, sees a rare appearance outside of Japan on occasion. The latest game, SRW 30, remains available in certain regions only. While I won't say Relayer is a replacement for Super Robot Wars, it is convincing enough to be an alternative. Releasing in the States and tying the game's original release for a global one certainly helps.
Sibling Rivalry And Monotone Delivery
Speaking of Super Robot Wars 30, the plot for Relayer is similar to the former, and by extension, other mecha-anime of its kind. In the near future, humanity is at risk of extinction when the Earth's gravity is suddenly turned off. During this event, half of its population is shifted into space, including the sister of Terra, Luna. Terra recalls the event of losing her sister and blaming herself for her "death" by letting go of her sister's hand. Two years later, Terra still has survivor's guilt as she travels the world and parts of space, visiting locations that her sister would have liked to visit. Of course, this moment of peace is broken as the moon base that she's visiting is under attack in a similar manner.
This prompts several characters, including a pilot named Himiko, to arrive and address the situation. There's a young woman who orchestrated the attack and after an introduction battle, it's revealed to be none other than Luna. Not only did she survive, but it seems she's working with the Relayers in dooming humanity and killing her sister for leaving her for dead. Perhaps the funniest moment in the entire opening section is her own sister pulling out a gun in front of her. The scene is unexpected and while it was meant to stir up drama, it became a highly humorous turn of events. But, my sense of humor is dark anyway so what can you do?
There's Little In The Way Of Emotion Via Dialogue
While Relayer's story is okay if not cliche, the voice delivery leaves a lot to be desired. No matter who is speaking, the context of the scene, and the severity of the situation, everyone talks with a hushed monotone. The kind that you would expect to hear from something like Ghost In The Shell. But even the voice actors were able to portray a delivery in their words.
There are times when it seems like the voice actors are making some effort to convey anguish, like the initial separation of Terra and Luna. Otherwise, it just feels muted. In battle, this conveys the flow of fights perfectly, ironically. It lets the player know that this is a dystopia and there's no "right or wrong," it's war. There's no happiness.
Relayer's Combat Visuals Are Way More Expressive
Speaking of fights, Relayer's gameplay is like most TRPGs or SRPGs in that you control units across a grid. While I drew references to Super Robot Wars 30, the gameplay is similar to Fire Emblem due to its initial camera and movement. You've played this game before. Players take control of several units each with a specific class. Fighters, Snipers, and Tanks all perform differently, utilizing close-range, mid-range, and long-range weapons. If two units of the same type fight, then the defending unit will counterattack should they be in range.
Unlike most games of its type, the counterattack animations are just as impressive as the actual combat itself. There are cool cut-ins and camera work with the fully rendered 3D mecha. One such example was when two snipers engaged in a fight, both firing their shots at the same time. My attacking unit dodged the enemy's bullet just as my bullet destroyed their mech. Pictures don't do it justice, but there are moments like these where Relayer is given life.
Relayer Has A Strong Woman Cast And That's Pretty Cool
This was something that also impressed me about Relayer, in that the story direction makes the rare decision on having a woman as the lead protagonist in a mecha-oriented story. While there have been important women in anime such as Gundam 00 and even an all-woman mecha cast like Rinne no Lagrange, these are exceptions rather than the norm.
The rivalry between Terra and Luna, Himiko, the head of the Starchildren (the pilots of the mechas), and even the mechanic. All of these are characters the player is introduced to in the beginning. This helped me get into Relayer personally as I felt this is something you don't see often at all and I wish more mecha plots featured this.
While Relayer is not a perfect game by any definition, it does things that offer players a unique experience in a genre that's ripe for it. It's no Super Robot Wars, sure, but it has the potential to be a hit among fans of the genre. I'll come back to this game in the near future, but first impressions are admirable, to say the least.
Relayer is currently available on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5