This article is part of the NeoGeo Pocket Color: 10th Anniversary retrospective.
One of the few games released for the NGPC that didn’t piggyback on an established gaming brand, Faselei! is a turn-based tactical game about giant robots. It appeared in the UK right at the end of the machine’s life, with a limited quantity reaching the shelves before SNK made like Arnie and did a Total Recall. Complete copies of the game (with the box and manual) are rare – you’ll more often find the cartridge being sold on its own, sourced from SNK’s liquidated stock.
While at first glance Faselei! appears to be heavily influenced by (Square’s venerable mecha tactics series) Front Mission, it adds some innovations of its own to the formula. The most significant of these is the way that the game flow is structured. Each turn, you program in a sequence of commands (moving, turning, firing, reloading, defending, and so on) and hit ‘execute’, and then watch as all the units on the map play out their turns simultaneously. It’s reminiscent of programming the LOGO turtle at school, except with more explosions.
This system cuts out having to wait around for the CPU units to take their turns, and the need for fudgy rules about line-of-sight or interrupts to prevent units with lots of action points from running around ambushing everyone before they have a chance to react. The game’s giant robots are appropriately referred to as Toy Soldiers – wind them up and watch them go.
Faselei! is not a game that offers instant gratification. The starting robot is weedy and has poor manoeuvrability. The customisation options are initially bewildering, and the difficulty curve rises steeply over the first few missions. Melee weapons quickly become essential, as you simply can’t carry enough ammunition to dispatch every enemy that the longer missions throw at you. The fact that battles are played out in a tiny window by robots the size of favicons doesn’t help matters.
Persevere, though, and each of these obstacles gradually recedes. Upgrading your mecha not only lets you equip more and better weapons, but also expands the bank of commands that you can input, allowing you to turn and dash, take aimed shots and call for backup. With the onus taken off basic survival, tactical experimentation and customising your Toy Soldier come to the fore.
The spartan nature of the playing field is offset by unusually polished presentation for the narrative. Missions are peppered with radio banter between the characters and brief illustrated cut-scenes. A large supporting cast of is introduced throughout the game, and are given enough character that it actually seems a bit of a shame that you wind up having to kill a lot of them. It’s nothing more sophisticated than a Saturday morning smashy-robot cartoon, but it gives context to an otherwise very dry simulation.
The soap opera story also goes a long way to disguising the fact that all the missions boil down to traversing a small map and killing everything. With only thirteen missions, the game is also a little short, but balanced in such a way as to encourage multiple playthroughs (retaining your equipment and experience each time). It actually takes a few replays before you’re able to get your hands on the best Toy Soldiers and kit. The last few secret items (Obligatory Collecting Mechanic) only appear as random drops in the skirmish mode, so to complete the game 100% necessitates some MMO-style grinding.
Faselei! gives the impression of being a game that someone was passionate to see made. The user interface barely manages to fit on the NGPC’s tiny screen (swapping out different elements when they’re not needed) and a huge amount of attention to detail has gone into everything from the cut-scenes to customising your mecha. It was never designed for mass appeal, and has been left behind by the march of progress, but can still be appreciated as a polished, understated piece of craft.
It also has a multiplayer mode, which nobody has ever, ever played.
Supercede-o-factor: Advance Wars, Fire Emblem, Final Fantasy Tactics, Disgaea, Front Mission… fans of the turn-based tactical genre are spoilt for choice these days, and most modern tactics games have far more meat on their bones than Faselei!.
Next: Ganbare Neo-Poke Kun