There is a story, although a lot of it has to be discovered through optional areas and talking to people. The basic idea is that the main character wants to get revenge on the Grappler group, and since they control most of the world that turns nicely into a "save the world" plot as well.
World: The setting is post societal collapse, but not quite as "post-apocalyptic" as some settings. There are a lot of trees and water, and people don't seem to have lost the use of technology. There are a lot of interesting places to see and find.
Game Flow: The game is described as non-linear and open world. In reality there are specific things you have to do to win the game that (mostly) have to be done in a fixed order. There just aren't that many of them, and in order to find out what they are and have enough power to defeat the bosses along the way, you have to do a lot of the optional things as well.
For the most part the game proceeds smoothly. There's a lot to do so if you're stuck you can always explore around and see what's out there. A few of the choke points (where you have to do something specific to open up a new area) are somewhat unclear but as long as you explore everything you should be able to win without too many walkthrough lookups.
My biggest complain in this area is that I think the final bosses are too difficult. Without knowing some tricks to beating them you are going to have to grind a lot of levels at the end of the game, and even with the tricks I still had to grind 10 levels and barely beat the second boss. What they should have done is make the final bosses reasonable difficulty, and then using the "monster hunting" system to have optional bosses that were more challenging.
One minor annoyance is that the shops have very limited inventories so you have to take notes on where certain items are sold. And a lot of times the shops have no logos on them and there are multiple people in the shop selling different things, so this can add a lot of wasted time.
System: This is an area I think they could have done better with. You can customize the tanks a lot, and playing with those upgrades can be a lot of fun. But once you're actually in battle, there's not that much you can do. It's basically attack or item. If you're in the tank there are some special bullets you can buy like "hollow shells" or "napalm shells" which give you some more options but not much.
Side Quests/Optional Content: There's a large amount of optional content in the game -- wanted monsters to hunt, things you can buy to outfit your home, areas that aren't necessary to beat the game but give you backstory, tank customization, mini-games, and more.
Interface: Overall this is pretty good. You can customize the interface a lot, assigning commands to all the buttons (including L and R, which very few RPGs up to now have used). There are also different battle options, including one that suppresses all the messages about what happened in the battle and has all the attacks happen at the same time, which speeds up grinding a lot.
Graphics/Sound: The graphics are fine for this era; the wanted monsters are particularly well detailed. The sound and music are also fine -- some people praise the OST for this game a lot but I didn't find it anything special. Everyone likes the wanted monster track:
Overall I would rate this game as a solid Average for me, although if you really like non-linear stuff I can see upgrading it to Good.
Has anyone played the DS remake? I'd be interested to hear if it addresses any of the issues I mentioned.
Next up is Burai for the PC Engine. This is a game I skipped when it came up on the SFC rotation because the port was said to be so bad -- one big problem with it is that the PC game was released in two parts, and only the PC Engine had both parts ported. So the SFC version is basically half a game.
Finally, yesterday was the one year anniversary of this blog. Thanks to everyone who's been reading and I hope I can keep it up for another year at least!