Girls und Panzer is one of my favorite anime franchises out there. It’s explosive, silly, and, by gosh, I just love tanks. Video games have come out for the series, but most of them were on portable platforms. Aside from a cross-over with World of Tanks, Dream Tank Match is the first time the series has come to consoles. A happy occasion that I was not going to pass up on.
The 7-hour recap episode
Girls und Panzer is a strange franchise in which tank battles are entirely safe and considered a popular sport. The anime itself follows the exploits of a school team that has to start up a tank unit from scratch in preparation for a major tournament. Dream Tank Match takes a weird direction by setting itself after the movie.
The story campaign of the game is framed as a post-match recap of the entire movie. Every team from the series and all its members, even many of the side-characters, have all gotten together for a big party and to discuss strategies.
It’s a logical thing to do in a competitive sport, but the way the game goes about it is very inefficient and kind of ridiculous. Each story mission is preceded by minutes of dialogue of characters summarizing the events of the movie scene by scene. Even the non-combat parts of it are addressed in unskippable interludes. Especially at the start of the game, you end up with up to 15 minutes of dialogue preceding 30 seconds of gameplay.
Even once missions get longer so the dialogue-to-gameplay balance is less skewed, the storytelling is far from ideal. It does give some insight into the events of the movie, but it’s so small, specific, and negligible that only the most dedicated fans will see the value of it. To most others, the visual novel-style dialogue will feel like an absolute drag. This isn’t helped at all by the overbearing amount of pandering to fans; everybody gets screen-time and banter, no matter how minor their role in the series.
It does have to be said that this results in a lot of fun interactions that fans can appreciate. It’s fun to see Pravda and the University Team interacting and seeing both its respective officers being very protective of their child-like leaders, or to play a campaign with Jatkosota and seeing them try to plunder the food and tanks of the teams they compete against. The dialogue feels loyal to the source material and that answers some interesting questions like how Katyusha and Anchovy would get along. Though again, such questions are probably exclusive to only the more devoted fans.
I don’t see the added benefit of going through such lengths to write an extensive amount of dialogue to explain the events of the movie, when it really could have just been a game adaptation of the movie with animated cutscenes taken directly from it. It’s so much misdirected effort that only serves to frustrate. None of the visual novel portions are skippable; in fact, if you fail any mission for any reason, you have to watch it again before retrying. Like with Sanctus Reach a week ago, I just set these scenes to auto and did some chores while I waited.
Story score: 4/10
The stuff of dreams!
The Girls und Panzer anime is made amazing by its ridiculous, explosive action. Tanks racing through city streets and the thundering barrage of shells, it’s absolutely great. Dream Tank Match is as close as an adaptation of these scenes as one could reasonably hope for.
Action is real-time, third-person tank driving with an accessible control scheme. The tanks drive as you would expect and the handling nicely mixes the fast-paced nature of the show with more realistic aspects. It feels enough like driving an actual tank, but you can still rev the engine for a speed boost and drift around like you’re in a heavily armored sports car. The tanks are also diverse and you are sure to notice the difference between lighter tanks such as the BT-42 and the heavier models.
The maps are diverse and take you to plenty of famous locales from the movie and anime. Large fields, narrow canyons, amusement parks, and the city centers where enemies might flank you from unexpected side-streets are all present. The action is not entirely unlike modern tank games. You seek out the enemies and take them down, but each tank has its armor and weak points. Missing, of course, means you need to reload and hope none of the enemies tear you to shreds while your crew fumbles with the shells.
Several features make this easier than in other, competitive tank games. An arc extends from your tank’s barrel that shows you how the shell will travel and, in a pinch, you can just press a button to lock unto an enemy automatically. Free aiming feels better, however, and allows you to really pick out those openings that wreck tanks in no time. There is also a very narrow QTE that lets you rush the reloading, but if you are even slightly off it’ll take even longer.
The feel of the game is just right. Shells explode with satisfying impact and it feels intense when you see enemy fire hit something near you or bounce off your armor. While you can’t do the crazier stuff from the movie and environments can’t be destroyed in any way, the game does have a neat mechanic to compensate for that. As you drive around and fire shots, a blue “Act” meter builds up next to your tank’s HP. Once full, you can press a button to activate a special skill belonging to your commander, like temporarily seeing the weak points on tanks or Miho becoming aware of enemy locations and secrets on the map. Alternatively, you can activate a Panzer High, which gives a bunch of buffs at once, but only lasts a few seconds.
The main feature of the game is its story mode and, sadly, it is really overshadowed by the optional content. You have to play it to unlock the other modes and get enough tanks for free games, but as stated before, it’s mostly just clicking through dialogue. The missions themselves are fine and let you replay the coolest parts of the movies, but are often short and not quite as exciting. Especially the BT-42’s battle can’t really match up with the movie’s counterpart and ends up being too short and easy.
Missions where you actually have larger battles feel a lot better by comparison. You don’t directly command your AI allies, which can work in your favor or cause problems. It makes it harder to coordinate a strategy because you might be taking up a defensive position on the high ground, only to see your flag tank rush the enemy lines. On the flipside, allies and enemies often surprise by flanking around or physically blocking off roads, along with other impromptu strategies.
By the way, if you really want a good laugh, then play any mission that will permit it with Rosehip and her Crusader.
Gameplay score: 9/10
Professional tank drifting
The game is entirely in 3D and features lovingly-rendered versions of all the tanks from the show, including alternate skins they have used. Interestingly, the game also has full 3D renders of all the characters. It look a bit strange and can suffer under awkward lighting, but it’s a nice touch nonetheless and it looks very nice to see the likes of Anchovy atop the tanks instead of just looking at a tank model with its hatch closed.
Characters report on their status throughout the match and also have visual novel-style dialogue scenes, both of which just use 2D images. The voice actors from the show reprise their roles and sound good doing so. There is only the Japanese audio track, so fans of any of the dubbed versions are out of luck there. The amount of voice acting can also be annoying, such as the announcer of the battle talking over the tank commander, and during a fight with enough tanks you’ll constantly hear characters talk over each other with pointless status reports.
When it’s all in motion, Dream Tank Match really is a fantastic game to look at. It’s very colorful and exciting with explosions and shouts all around. Like in the show, you can build up some speed and drift around or use the speed of your tank to get some crazy airtime when going over hills in the terrain. It’s also satisfying when you blast away tinier tanks as a heavy and actually see them roll over and land on their sides.
A downside is that the game never uses any cutscenes from the movie, even if that seems much more efficient. You’ll get static screenshots of scenes with dialogue and that really takes the punch out of the more exciting moments like the rollercoaster scene. You could argue that they didn’t want to put video in there because it might discourage people from buying the movie on BluRay, but the game is hardly a replacement for the actual film and would appeal most to people who have already seen it anyway.
Presentation score: 8.5/10
The entire rest of the game
The story mode won’t take long to work through and most of its runtime is in the long dialogue scenes and having to rewatch those every time you have to retry a mission. Even then the mode isn’t too long, which is when you realize just how much side-content there is.
Domination Mode has you pick one of the schools and complete 5 battles that pit you against a random team on a random map and with a random mission. You have to win all 5 battles in a row in order to receive a prize at the end. These are little mini-stories and sadly also come with lengthy cutscenes before, after, and between each battle. It is, however, much shorter and I found it quite enjoyable to work through these. It isn’t truly random because you’ll always have to play each of the 5 game types and some of those always have the same map, but it still offers a lot of variety.
My gripe with this mode is that it highlights the development team’s unwillingness to consider balancing. If you play as Finland, you only get Mika’s team and their un-upgraded BT-42, because they are the only unit featured in the movie. We know from short scenes in the anime and the manga that there is a Finnish team, yet they didn’t want to fill in any blanks and thus you only get Mika. This heavily impacts the balancing of Domination mode, because you are very dependent on the RNG. You’ll have to hope that you end up playing the gimmicky modes like the race to the finish against the heavier teams and then have to play the survival and annihilation rounds against weaker teams like Italy.
There is, of course, a “Free” match where you select what tanks are on your side and which are on the enemy’s team and enjoy a regular match. However, there is also the festival mode, where you select your character and a team-mate, and then have to play a tournament against other teams of 2. The fun twist is that you select a member from the losing team who will then join you, so each step up the bracket increases the team-size until a big finale happens. The festival is great fun, but it’s a bit annoying that choosing your character and partner at the start boots you to the tank editor, which means going through 2 loading screens just to pick a preset anyway.
The game also features “Extra” matches that act as special challenges with rewards. These let you replay battles from the animated series, what-if scenarios, and provide a preview of content that will appear in the Das Finale series. Lastly, there is an elaborate tank editor for which you unlock new elements by hunting for BOCO teddy bears in the game’s maps and by winning in any of the other modes. This is fun for the fans, but I personally prefer just using the tanks with their proper commanders and looks.
Extras score: 9/10
The only thing holding Girls und Panzer: Dream Tank Match back is its skewed priorities. It has a ton of writing behind it that offers too many details about the story of the film and provides a lot of screentime for even the most minor of characters. While I appreciate seeing Mika and other favorites get more spotlight, I would have appreciated it even more if all the effort was put into polishing up the content.
A wishlist of should-have features for Dream Tank Match would be:
- Cutscenes from the movie instead of screenshots.
- More efficient menu-design.
- Skippable dialogue/fast-forward.
- Random tanks to balance out underpowered teams in Domination mode.
- A retry button during story missions
Barring the balancing issue, all of these should be simple to implement and some are basic features of modern video games. Such oversights are jarring, because they get in the way of enjoying an absolutely fantastic game with beautiful art and gameplay that feels as exciting as watching the anime.