Originally published at http://www.themandragora.com/
Mecha vs. Kaiju has a fairly simple idea at its core - the player characters are pilots of giant robots (mecha) against gigantic Kaiju (Strange Beasts) - giant monsters (think Godzilla, Rodan, etc.). These mecha defend the islands of Japan against these Kaiju. The RPG uses the core FATE system as its rulebase. I understand there was a previously published True20 version of Mecha vs. Kaiju, but for review purposes I'll focus on the FATE one though. You'll need either the FATE core book, or FATE Accelerated Edition (FAE) to play the game.
The author is definitely a huge fan of Japanese anime, and this shows through in the writing. The style is clear and concise and the whole concept has been polished. The first version came out in 2008, way before the Pacific Rim movie or the Evangelion reboot. I watched Pacific Rim before running this and it's definitely worth doing to get "fired up" creatively for this, or Robotech or Evangelion! He's obviously done his research and his love of the subject matter is evident throughout the Mecha vs. Kaiju rulebook. Although I'm not a huge fan of the older Godzilla movies, I did feel the enthusiasm he has start to rub off on me as I read through the book.
So what do you get? The Mecha vs Kaiju book is pretty extensive (just short of 180 pages), so I'll break it down into chapters, and summarise my thoughts at the end.
Chapter 1: Introduction. Not much to see here, but an interesting list of films for inspiration!
Chapter 2: Character Creation. This has a number of anime archetypes such as Dasaiko ("creepy girl/boy") and Raiburu ("rebel/rival"). There's enough here for you to come up with a basic character at least. However as one of my players pointed out no one really cares about the dice in your biology skill when your piloting a 100-ton mecha. The human aspect tends to boil down to how good a pilot you are or how accurate. As Mecha vs. Kaiju uses FATE, an example of character creation would have been great to have.
As an aside, FATE is very difficult to pick up if you've never played it before - or GM'd it in my case. The concepts of aspects, compels, stunts etc., is hugely overwhelming if you've never played FATE. Mecha vs. Kaiju could definitely have done with a bit more "hand-holding" in that chapter! Maybe an obligatory "what are roleplaying games?" chapter would be useful.
A number of new skills and stunts are introduced - one is "Mecha weaponry" which covers melee and ranged combat whilst piloting a mecha. I would have preferred two distinct skills for that.
Chapter 3: Mecha Assault Force. Largely a history and what I would call a "fluff" section, it's designed to give players a bit of background of the Mecha Assault Force's history. It's rather good.
Chapter 4: Mecha-related Rules. Mecha vs. Kaiju allows you to design your own mecha, using the FATE rules. There's a lot of flexibility here and there's some great ideas. Some of the stunts are right out of Saturday morning cartoons and anime! A very well written and well thought-out chapter. The only criticism I have is that there's only two mecha listed - again it'd be nice to see some more "off the peg" mecha than the two listed.
Chapter 5: Gamemaster's Section
Like Chapter 4: Mecha Assault Force above, this section deals with some sample kaiju, and their design using FATE. There's a lot of ideas here and again you can see the author/designer's love of the genre. The descriptions of the kaiju are largely a dialogue between a group of NPCs which really make for great reading!
Chapter 6: Secret History of Japan. Under no circumstances should players read this section. This is what is really going on in Japan and around the world. I'll not go into it here, but there's some seriously good plotlines here.
Chapter 7: Campaign Scenarios.
Sadly, this section has a lot of really annoying errors or inconsistencies. Not to mention plot holes. Some are basic spelling errors. For example, there's a "Battle at the docs". It's not always clear on the sections you need to read to the players, either. I'm not sure I understood those scene aspects - how are they used? Some clarification required.
There's also some pretty big assumptions made - for example at the gravel pit, and the ninja pitch up. The players are unarmed. Against ninjas. That's not going to go well.
They only have a few hours training before the roc-u kaiju turns up? What about the montage? Even with the milestone in training there's a good chance they haven't enough mecha-related skills so the whole battle with the Roc-u can prove frustrating.
Mecha vs. Kaiju has some great ideas. The design of the Mecha and Kaiju are solid. The meta-plotline is very creative.
My only major criticism is, like Cthulhutech, you essentially have multiple games. One is a mecha-based slug-fest against the Kaiju, the other facet a secret war being fought by normal humans in the shadows. It's all too easy to focus on one facet while marginalizing the other during a game - and frustrating for players too.
The production values are fine - the artwork, very evocative. Some images look stretched (e.g. page 59) though, and the spelling/formatting errors are jarring. The Kaiju on the cover should be stat'd up!
I'd have liked to have seen more suggestions for the GM to encourage new players to create aspects, engage players, etc. It takes the fact that you're already RPG players as read. That aside, FATE is a tricky concept if you're used to D&D 4e!
In conclusion: this is a great game if you've an established group that's already familiar with FATE. There's some great ideas. If you're not, it might feel like you're all ice-skating uphill - but that's not Mecha vs. Kaiju's fault, that's FATE!