Based on: Disposing of Rabites using high-yield explosives.
By MCBanjoMike | December 14, 2007
Years from now, as alien scientists pore over the ruins of our civilization and attempt to piece together our history, they will find evidence of a golden era on Earth. A time when we were able to rise above our barbaric ways and create our most enduring works of art -- when Eastern and Western civilization held the same ideals and the galaxy was at peace. And while they will be astounded that our primitive minds were capable of such greatness, they will nevertheless have to acknowledge the magnificence of our accomplishments during this glorious time: the era of the 16-bit console.
As their videotaxonomists begin to classify the great works of the five-year period that we know now as the early '90s, they will begin to realize that one particular genre was sadly underrepresented: the action RPG. For every Secret of Mana or A Link to the Past? they find, their archeologists will unearth a hundred platformers, fifty side-scrolling beat'em-ups, and a dozen turn-based RPGs of a Japanese vintage. Of course, we in the present day are already well aware of the dearth of good action RPGs from that period for the simple reason that we've had about fifteen years to play them all over and over and over again. So what is a retro-gamer to do once he's polished off every last Illusion of Gaia? and, uh, E.V.O.??
Isn't that guy in Final Fantasy XIII?
Our extraterrestrial friends might just have the answer for you. Indeed, once they have completed their grand survey of SNES and Genesis games, their records will show one entry that no one from our time could ever have suspected. A true lost classic, deserving of a place among the greatest action RPGs. A game that you might even have already played.
That game would be U.N. Squadron.
The big reveal!
Certainly, our limited human brains might find this concept difficult to grasp. Could this humble game, appearing on the surface to be nothing more than a simple side-scrolling shooter, actually be a deep exercise in character development with layers of complexity underlying it? Obviously, U.N. Squadron has its share of action, but on what basis could one conceivably call it an RPG? Well, if you were to come back in three million years, you might find that Earth's new occupants have a pretty solid case to make...
U.N. Squadron: 7 Ways an RPG
1) Gain levels!
Any RPG worth its salt has some sort of leveling system, where most shooters are content to give you 3 different power-up levels for your lightning beam and call it a day. And if you die? Back to square one! U.N. Squadron, on the other hand, features honest-to-god levels, gained by picking up POW capsules left by fallen enemies. As your level rises, the power of your basic attack increases, going from tiny pea-shooter to massive wave of death. Furthermore, these increases are permanent. So don't fear the reaper: every time you die is just another chance to replay the stage and gain some more experience. Yes, that's right. A shooter with grinding.
Increase your Vulcan size in only thirty days, money back guaranteed!
2) Use items!
Most shooters only feature instant-use items (or, in rarer cases like Ordyne, buy-and-then-instantly-use items), but U.N. Squadron has a fully stocked item shop that you can visit before each mission. Depending on the craft that you're piloting, the items available and the quantities that you can stock of each will vary. As you play through the levels, you are free to select whichever item you have in stock and pull it out for use at any time. It's like the RPG-standard fight-fight-heal-fight, where "heal" is replaced with "napalm."
Left: The A10A is love. Right: You want the super shell? You can't handle the super shell!
3) Manage your HP!
Unlike most shooters, which treat your ship as if it were constructed of particularly volatile cardboard, U.N. Squadron gives you a health bar to manage. Any time your plane is hit, you plummet into temporary "danger" status, during which time another hit will finish you off. However, if you can stay out of harm's way for a few seconds, your health bar will return, depleted but ready for your next visit to the danger zone. Different amounts of HP are lost depending on the attack that hits you, and there are even healing items that can be found to get you back in the fight. It's an entertaining system that keeps you on the edge of your seat without being overly cruel, which brings us to our next point...
4) It's actually possible to finish!
RPGs, especially those conceived after 1990, are usually criticized for being pretty low on the challenge front. While U.N. Squadron isn't a cakewalk like, say, most of the later Final Fantasys, it barely even registers on the shoot'em-up difficulty scale. Any game that is actually playable from start to finish by human beings on its default difficulty level MUST have more in common with an RPG than a shooter.
Left: That's what you get for your flagrant disregard of the principles of aerodynamics, Mr. Giant Plane.
Right: Um, Shin? What exactly are you trying to tell us?
5) It's non-linear!
Are you up for some exploration? What sounds better, checking out the mysterious forest, or the scorching desert? You might not expect to find difficult decisions like these in a shooter, but then I guess you aren't playing U.N. Squadron!! As many as four different paths may be available to you at a given time, including some areas that could be construed as optional side quests (if you were a man who was desperate to prove a point). Quartermaster corps missions are totally optional! You don't even have to play them! Like when you go and fight monsters inside Cyan's dream so that he can love himself again! Would you deny poor Cyan that, just to get out of playing a great action RPG? You make me sick.
Where to now, fly boy?
6) It has magic spells!
Look, all I'm saying here is that when you touch the floating unicorn, a mystical energy barrier appears around your plane to protect you from harm.
7) Rocking heavy metal soundtrack!
Blue Dragon has metal. Final Fantasy X? has metal. Obviously, from a scientific standpoint, the harder your soundtrack rocks, the more of an RPG your game is. From this perspective, U.N. Squadron is the slowest, stat-heaviest turn-based RPG to ever grace a home entertainment console. Because nothing, nowhere, nohow rocks harder than the Capcom SNES era electric guitar sound. You might be tempted to argue that a truly rocking soundtrack would require not one synthesized electric guitar, but two -- twin guitars playing harmonized solos. Don't you think Capcom knew this? Oh, they knew! The only reason U.N. Squadron's sountrack lacks twin guitar solos is because your mind couldn't have survived their onslaught. Because the Capcom SNES era electric guitar sound knows no mercy.
Watch where you point that chin, Kazama; you'll put someone's eye out.
Seven compelling arguments, and we haven't even touched on the pointy-chinned anime protagonists that comprise three quarters of the playable characters. Clearly, anyone who still refuses to accept that U.N. Squadron owes a great debt to the RPG genre is a 'tard of the highest order and deserves the utmost in harshin'.
And now that I've convinced you of this incontestible truth, dear reader, I would ask two things of you. The first is to spread the good news to your fellow geeks, in hopes that one day all the world will recognize this game for the action role-playing game that it truly is. Then, when extra-terrestrial CSI units are reviewing our records in the far-flung future, they will find proof that our race was not so ignorant as the thousands of issues of Oprah magazine that they have unearthed would indicate.
The second thing that I ask you? Why, only that you go play a round of this wonderful game right now. If you've read this far, you deserve it.
Images courtesy of MNicolai