Namco Bandai's Latest Gundam Game Is Free*! (*Not Completely)Gundam is a bit like a Japanese version of Star Trek: It's an epic sci-fi fantasy series with multiple spin-offs and games (some of which fans don't like to talk about), a massive fan base, a gargantuan library of technical information, and it all came from an original series that was canceled during its initial run.
Now, with their latest Gundam-based game for the PS3, Mobile Suit Gundam: Battle Operation, it's hard to tell if Namco Bandai is being supremely generous or reeeealy sneaky.

Battle Operation is and online giant robot battle game in which up to 12 people divided into two factions (Federation or Zeon) can combat each other on various terrains and in various vehicles, giant robots, better known as Mobile Suits (Mobile Space Utility Instrument Tactical to you Gundam fanatics out there), or even on foot. While running around on foot against an 59-foot robot seems a little unfair, there are tactical advantages to braving the field au natural. Foot soldiers cannot be picked up on radar, can repair damaged Mobile Suits, can steal enemy Mobile Suits, and are more effective at capturing or destroying enemy bases and respawn points. Of course, Mobile Suits are the main ride of choice and are divided into three categories to suit (see what I did there?) player preferences and situations: Close-quarter, multi-purpose and long-range support. Players start out with the most basic Mobile Suits, but through combat can collect blueprints for other types to develop. Match victories are determined by the scores of each faction. Points are earned that can used to develop or upgrade Mobile Suits, vehicles or weapons.

The game is currently available on the Japanese Playstation Store for free.

Yes. F-R-E-E.

Basic play is free and players can collect every Mobile Suit without paying anything. There is, however, a catch. (And with Namco Bandai, there is always a catch)

First, players have "Deployment Points" that must be spent to enter combat. Battles cost 1 Point to enter and a player can have a maximum of only 3 Deployment Points at any time. Deployment Points regenerate at a rate of 1 Point every 2 hours but can be purchased at a rate of 1 Point for ¥100 (US$1.26), 6 Points for ¥480 (US$6.05), 13 Points for ¥950 (US$11.98), and 27 Points for ¥1,850 (US$23.33). There is currently an ongoing bargain campaign where Points can be purchased at a rate of 2 Points for ¥100 (US$1.26), 10 Points for ¥480 (US$6.05), 20 Points for ¥950 (US$11.98), and 40 Points for ¥1,850 (US$23.33). Any overflow over 3 points is converted to "Stock Points" which can be used when a player has run out of Deployment Points, but do not regenerate like Deployment Points do.

Second, while Mobile Suits, vehicles and weapons can be upgraded, there is a set limit. Player who want to upgrade beyond the limit can, you guessed it, pay a little extra to unlock the limit. Unlocking costs ¥300 (US$3.78) per Mobile Suit, ¥200 (US$2.52) per weapon and ¥200 (US$2.52) per special customizing item.

Once again, basic gameplay is free and it is possible to play and enjoy the game without having to spend anything. However, players who want to play more than 3 rounds every 6 hours and want their Mobile Suits to be the best that they can be will no doubt be spending money like quarters at an arcade.

Look forward to a Kotaku review of Mobile Suit Gundam: Battle Operation soon!

機動戦士ガンダム バトルオペレーション|バンダイナムコゲームス公式サイト [機動戦士ガンダム バトルオペレーション|バンダイナムコゲームス公式サイト]