On Christmas Day, I received the limited edition version (which they decided to tag as the "God Box" for no apparent reason) of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's Portable: The Gears of Destiny, a game that officially came out two days earlier on the 23rd. (Incidentally, I now have two decent-sized boxes with Nanoha characters on them, that and the 1st Movie limited edition DVD set. Pretty soon I will be able to store all of my stuff in Nanoha boxes.) Since then, I have logged nearly twenty hours of play time, unlocked all the characters, and ran the entire story mode through to completion.
Yes, I like what I got for Christmas. Is it that obvious? Anyway, I figured I'd ramble on about my new game a little, so I guess you could call this a review of sorts?
The game itself is a fighting game at its core. It's distinguished particularly by a mechanic that's carried over from the last Nanoha PSP game, the distinction between close and long range combat. At first, at close to medium range (defined by a circle around your character), the game is a 2D style fighting game, although lacking anything like the combos that you get in most such games. Once you open the range, however, battle shifts to a long range mode, and your controls change over to provide you with a new set of attacks.
Of course, like pretty much any Japanese game I can think of (certainly any of the ones I play), the game has a well-developed story, presented in visual novel style interludes between individual fights. I rather suspect that it helps for the game to call upon an existing cast of characters, and there's no doubting that the story would be much less understandable to someone who didn't know anything about the Nanoha world. (Setting aside, of course, the fact that it is all in Japanese. I'm sure I'm not the only one thinking of translating it, but I haven't bothered checking to see if anyone's actually gotten anywhere with that yet.)
The story itself is very typically Nanoha. Unknown new people arrive in Nanoha's world, and the antagonists from the last game are revived along with a whole host of new issues. The two original characters for this game, Kyrie and Amitie (or usually just Amita) Florian, are at the center of it all, and they're fighting with each other on top of that. Like pretty much every Nanoha story, it's gloriously over the top (time to save the world again!) and yet it's good at bringing out the characters and making them unique and interesting. Especially the original characters, or the original characters from the first game (the Materials, dark versions of Nanoha, Fate, and Hayate), all of whom get their own personalities and idiosyncrasies.
The game play itself is honestly a little more forgettable, to tell the truth. The AI in the game is... somewhat spotty. At close range, it's far more capable than I am, most of the time. Which doesn't stop me from scoring my own points in close range combat, but usually I just back away until I'm back into long range combat. And while the AI in the game is not half bad at defending or dodging in long range combat, it attacks infrequently at best, and even sometimes without thought for its attacks' actual capabilities.
I would like to be able to test the fighting out when playing against another human being, but for that I have to find another human being with a PSP and a copy of Gears of Destiny. I rather suspect close range combat with another human being would be an exercise in irritation, as it's set up somewhat like rock-paper-scissors. Attack beats throw, throw beats guard, guard beats attack. As for long range combat, well, that would be a little more interesting, especially with the wide variety of Nanoha-verse special attacks on display.
On that note, there are 23 characters in the game. Don't ask me who my main is, because I haven't decided. They're all fun to play as, although again I suspect a lot of that is my being familiar with all of them as a result of being a fan of the series in general. Some are better at close or long range than others, depending on their attack strength and available long range attacks. Though the game makes no outward note of this, they seem to have different amounts of health, even. Some attacks are repeated between characters, or at least versions thereof; usually there's some relation between the characters in question, and it's explained away in-universe with the "character X taught a version of that to character Y."
So what does this all boil down to? Like any game of its type, I certainly agree that Gears of Destiny appeals almost exclusively to fans of the source material in question. I'd like to believe that the fighting is exciting and interesting enough to be fun anyway, but first we have to see how long even I stick with it, and a week isn't quite enough time to judge. If you have even a passing interest in the Nanoha series, it's absolutely worth it; otherwise it's an odd kind of fighting game with a lot of shiny explosions and not a whole lot else.