Ben's Top Mecha - Day 3: Macross Ultimate Frontier

Here's a series I've wanted to talk about for awhile, but I've never really had the chance to. It's a series that is pretty special to me, and one that actually would go on to shape the world of media as we know it! It's just, a lot of people don't actually know it exists, and those who do, they actually know it as the abomination that is "Robotech." What series am I talking about? Well, it's none other than Macross of course!

What Is Macross:

This is something I want to get more into later on, but for the sake of today's post I'm going to keep it simple. The Macross series is an anime that was created because of Shoji Kawamori (yes, the Armored Core guy), and his love for mecha design. After creating models of mechs that would go on to form series such as Transformers, another model of his would instead go on to become something else -- that being the Macross series. The "VF-1 Valkyrie" as it was called would actually be sold in the US as the Transformer Jetfire, but in Japan it was seen as the very start of a brand new mecha series. One that was unlike anything we had seen before. While Gundam was there to focus on realistic war storylines featuring giant mechs, Macross took a similar concept and put it's own twists on things. Rather than fighting in your standard giant mechs, the VF-1 Valkyrie was a jet plane that had the ability to transform into a mech (as well as a hybrid jet/mobile form) to allow for higher mobility and combat skills, but with more of a focus being put on it's actual jet form. This meant fights were typically hectic dog fights with enemy ships rather than robots, and the Valkyries themselves were a lot more fragile. Of course this isn't the only thing that set Macross apart from other mecha series, as it's also where the first "virtual idol" was born.

The original series of Macross focused on an alien invasion, and Earth's attempts at surviving the assault. The aliens are giants and easily outmatch Humanity, but thanks to an old abandoned alien ship that was discovered, a large chunk of Earth's population was able to escape the planet and head into space. This is where the vast majority of the series takes place, with humanity living aboard the "Macross," and doing whatever it takes to survive as they adapt to their new life in space. While the main characters of the series are your standard pilots (as you would expect out of a mecha), Macross did do things a bit differently by introducing music to the series as well. Voided by singer/song writer Mari Iijima, Lynn Minmay is a young woman who would eventually go on to become the "star" of the Macross. Through her songs, not only does she help bring the people of Macross together, but she causes quite the culture shock for the aliens as well -- a race that has only ever known war and destruction. And her popularity actually doesn't stop there. Minmay would go on to become the world's first virtual idol, and her songs would reach the top of the charts in Japan. This theme of having music as a central focus would be something that Macross would carry on into it's future sequels, with series like Macross 7 taking it a step further by focusing on a band. This band would go on to preform concerts in the real world, and release multiple albums as well. 

What Is Robotech:

I'll keep this brief. Robotech is trash.

Not kidding.

So the reason many people might know about Macross, including myself, is because of this series called Robotech. The original Robotech takes the first season of Macross (the only season at the time), and adapts it for the American audience. Surprisingly, this actually isn't bad. There were some name changes (main character was named Rick Hunter), but they actually kept the story mostly the same. They even went a step further with Minmay by creating English versions of her songs, and overall made a pretty decent adaptation. The problem is with what comes after. Rather than stopping Robotech at the end of Macross, they decided to bring two other shows into the mix to do their own thing. Yep, season 2 of Robotech does NOT follow the story of the daughter of two Macross characters. Instead it takes Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross's main character, Jeanne, renames her to "Dana," and then splices together scenes from Macross to attempt to adapt the story into a Macross story. Eventually they would go on to do the same thing with a 3rd anime (titled Genesis Climber MOSPEADA), and continue to make a mess of each series' storylines.

To make matters worse, the true sequels to Macross were basically completely shut out. While Macross Plus was able to get adapted for a movie release here, that's pretty much the extent of the Macross series outside of Japan. Robotech continues to keep "ownership" of Macross, and will continue pushing it's own "created series" simply because of all the kids who grew up watching it. It continues to be loved in the West, yet hated by fans of the original anime series it stole.

Macross Ace Frontier:

And now we get to the reason we are even here. Sorry about the long introduction, but it's pretty much required to explain what follows.

After I got into the Macross series (thanks to my friend Keith lending me his Robotech DVDs), I sorta became obsessed with it. I watched every series released multiple times, I would rent and play through the game Robotech Battle Cry every chance I got (because it was the only game we really had), and I would spend a lot of my free time reading wiki pages about the series. I became a "huge" fan in a short amount of time, and it didn't take me long to realize just how many games the series actually had in Japan. That's when I came across a PSP game titled "Macross Ace Frontier."

Although Macross has quite a few games under it's belt, the problem is the fact that they were mostly on consoles that were region locked. The PSP was one of the few out at the time that didn't have such a restriction, and seeing such a "robust" Macross game being released for it, completely took me by surprise. From what little info I could find about the game, it appeared to be an action game that took you through every single story in the series, up to the end of part 1 of Macross Frontier (the series that was currently running at the time). Needless to say, I HAD to have it. Thankfully it was getting close to Christmas, and I stumbled upon a little known website called "Play-Asia" where it could be ordered. My parents agreed, and I couldn't wait for Christmas day to arrive.

While Macross Ace Frontier was a fun game (and the one I spent the most time with), it's not the best option. A year later, once again around Christmas, a second game titled Macross Ultimate Frontier was released, and one again I received it as a Christmas gift. By this point Macross Frontier had finally finished airing, and I wasn't any less of a fan of the series than I was the year before. I would still rewatch episodes from time to time, and pick up Ace Frontier whenever the mood struck me, but with the release of Ultimate Frontier I had very little reason to go back to Ace. You see, rather than being a standard "sequel," Ultimate Frontier was actually a full on expansion, and improved pretty much everything about the original.

The basic gameplay of Macross Ultimate Frontier was the same as it's predecessor. When you start the game you're asked to "create" your own original character, as well as a support character who will fight along side him/her. These characters would then be thrown into different different battles from across the entire Macross series, and by completing said missions you would unlock different features. Gameplay wise each mission was pretty simple, with you basically being thrown into different battle arenas loaded up with enemies, but because of the unique transformation nature of the Valkyrie's, there were different ways you could actually complete these missions. If you remained in your jet form, these missions played a lot like some of the fighter jet simulation games on the market (Ace Combat comes to mind), but your full on mecha mode featured gameplay more similar to Gundam. In fact this game was actually built off of the Gundam Battle series PSP game's engine, so not only could mechs fight with ranged weapons, but they had access to melee combos as well. It helped keep things from getting stale as you jumped from mission to mission, but the real fun came from actually unlocking all of the game's content.

While Macross Ace Frontier basically only focused on the main characters of the series, and their mechs, Ultimate Frontier took it all a step further by introducing more characters, and different forms for said mechs. For example, the main character of Macross 7 was a man named Basara. Rather than fighting to kill, he would shoot "speaker pods" into enemy mechs, and then sing until they lost the will to fight. This is how he fights in Ace Frontier as well (with a meter appearing above enemies as their "will to fight" drains), but Ultimate Frontier included attachments that were added to Basara's mech later on in the series. These new upgrades allowed his mech to harness the power of his music, and turn it into a weapon. (Which of course Basara doesn't fully agree with, but he is happy about them amplifying his music in general.) It's just a cool extra that was a part of the show, and was originally left out of Ace Frontier, so it was nice to see such things get added into it's sequel. Of course Basara isn't the only character who received similar treatment, with a wide range of unlockables spanning the entire series. Mix in the fact that you could use your own custom soundtrack (so I was able to add in all the Fire Bomber songs not included in the game's OST), and what Ultimate Frontier ended up becoming is exactly what it's title implied -- the Ultimate Macross game. One that covers the entire series. But even it too would be replaced.

Sadly I was never able to play the sequel "Macross Triangle Frontier," but even if I could there was one major problem with it. This game introduced an "Academy" story mode, where you basically played through a visual novel type story, with your custom character. While the first two games could easily be played without knowing any Japanese, that really isn't the case for the third one. Sure, you could skip through most of it's new story content, but that would be missing out on the reason the third game even exists. It takes Ultimate Frontier and expands on it further, but only if you can actually understand it. That being said, this game actually came out after my PSP was pretty much shot, so I wouldn't have been able to play it anyway... If I could've however, I'm sure it would've been my new favorite.

So yeah, overall the Frontier games are great, and perfect for Macross fans. If you've never seen the series then they might just seem like "generic mech battle games," but if you're already invested, then these games are a dream come true. I had a lot of fun playing them, and I hope one day we can get a sequel... (Then again, there is Macross 30 and Delta.... But that'll be a story for another time.)

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