Attack on Titan is probably my favorite anime of the last five years. It’s a gritty, violent, gut-wrenching experience that keeps you at the edge of your seat more often than I would have expected. It’s like the Game of Thrones of anime. And like Game of Thrones, I can’t wait for the next season. Koei Tecmo is one of my favorite Japanese developers of all time. I probably own more PS4 games from them than any other currently active developer, Japanese or not. So when I was told one of my favorite developers was producing a game based on one of my favorite anime, I was excited to say the least and I’m so happy that I got to review it.
Like with many other Koei Tecmo games, the graphics are extremely difficult to describe because there are so many different art styles used concurrently that it’s impossible to truly convey what the game looks like in text form. Especially not in any reasonable amount of words. There are different art styles for in battle gameplay, camp gameplay, in mission cutscenes, out of missions cutscenes, character specific flashback cutscenes, general flashback cutscenes, and probably some others I missed. Playing this game is like experiencing multiple stories at the same time taking place at different time periods in the same world from different overlapping points of view. But it’s not presented badly and none of them look bad either. I won’t go into detail about the cutscenes, but I’ll take the time to describe the battle gameplay visuals.
The battle mode graphics are good, but I don’t love them. They’re trying to walk the line between 2D animated cartoon and 3D rendered models instead of just committing to one style or the other. I think they look very much like Dragon Ball Xenoverse, which I wouldn’t argue is a bad looking game. But I will argue that this graphic style doesn’t do justice to the visceral nature of the show. It comes off too child friendly, if that makes sense. This game is based on an extremely violent show where characters die on a regular basis by getting eaten by giant naked humanoid monsters. Those same monsters, which do bleed, are killed by having the back of their necks slit open with blades the length of a small person. This is not meant to look accessible to a general audience. I wanted this game to gross me out. It should have made me feel uncomfortable on a visual level and it failed to do that. You have the option to turn down the gore, but I see no point in it because the game isn’t gory to begin with. Yes you can get covered in titan blood, but it’s less graphic than Mortal Kombat games from past gen consoles. Again, this is not a bad looking game by any means. It’s very detailed down to the wood grains and clothing wrinkles and it runs very smoothly even with several characters flying around the screen at once and titans moving sporadically as they get their necks split open and collapse to the ground, all of which is shown in detail on screen. But it doesn’t hit me in the gut the way the show does. I don’t feel the same discomfort when a character gets bitten in half or a titan gets its head lobbed off.
I really like the HUD in this game. It’s very informative without being invasive to the gameplay. It gives you a decent amount of information while taking up only a small amount of space in the bottom left corner. You have meters for tank fuel, blade durability, a morale boost meter, and items. There’s also a mini-map in the top right corner which is very simple, but helps keep track of battlefield locations of both titans and fellow soldiers very well. I also like that everything in this game is shown on screen. When you refill your gas tanks, the character actually pulls out the old tanks and puts new ones in. It’s done in real time and the battle continues as you do it. You can easily get picked up by a titan while trying to change out you blades or take a restorative (potion). Other soldiers talk to you in battle and they do so with both sound and text boxes. The text boxes look very traditional. About the same as you would see in any other JRPG. And you need them if you don’t speak Japanese because, like with all Koei Tecmo games, they aren’t dubbed. All the voice acting is done in Japanese with subs in the language of your choice. The menus are very similar to other Koei Tecmo games such as Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII and Samurai Warriors 4: Empires. Simple and straight forward while still having a quality of minimalistic beauty to them. All in all, this is a nice looking game that conveys the characters and setting in a manner very true to the show, but it lacks the visual bite that I would have wanted from an Attack on Titan game.
The gameplay, on the other hand, is in no way lacking. When I first watched the show, I wanted a game, but I was unsure of how a developer could properly represent the “Omni-Directional Mobility Gear” system in a way that would be true to the show, challenging yet fun, and not look ridiculous. This for me was the only part of the gameplay that I was unsure about going in. For the rest of it, I had full confidence in Koei Tecmo for because it essentially just needed to be a well-made sword slashing game once you get past the movement hurdle. This was not actually my first time trying out this game. I had played a tech demo of the Japanese version last year at Taipei Game Show. This was a very difficult experience for me because I don’t read or speak Japanese of Chinese, which were the only language options for text in this demo. This made the experience impossibly hard for me and it made me really worried about the final product.
The truth is that the movement and combat in this game are very well done. It’s similar to some of the better Spider-Man games where you attach your lines to random unseen points, allowing you to play the game smoothly without getting bogged down by the reality of the situation. But this game does still make your ability to anchor and swing contingent on your environment. There are areas where you can’t anchor such as flat lands with no trees or in an area where all the buildings are collapsed. While you may not have to aim your anchors or think about them too much, you are limited by reality in at least some form, which I think ads to the gameplay quite a bit. Anchors can also come loose depending on the situation and your distance from them. The combat is straight forward but still challenging. It requires a combination of aim, timing, speed, and obviously hitting the right buttons at the right moments. While that may sound obvious, I guarantee you that at first the combat will seem very confusing and you will often hit the wrong buttons in the wrong order. The buttons are mappable but even so it takes some getting used to. But once you’ve learned it and practiced, it becomes very enjoyable and stops being a hassle. In many ways you really do experience the characters’ situation of having to learn how to fight titans in training and then needing to hone your skills in actual battle. Reading is an important part of this process and it’s the reason that I struggled so much in the tech demo, but had begun to excel at the combat by the end of the third battle in the English version.
The game is broken up into battles based on moments from the show. In each of these battles you have an ultimate plot based goal such as protecting all the townspeople as they escape invading titans. Within these battles are multiple main and side missions. Main missions must be completed but side missions are optional. You can recruit up to four teammates at one time who will fight alongside you and aid you in key situations like when you’re about to get eaten. Teammates have a ranking and you can switch them out for better teammates as the battle progresses. Side missions net higher level teammates and other benefits such as item refills. You have limited gas for your aerial movement and limited blade durability. These must be refilled/replaced with items found on the battlefield either picked up from dead soldiers or acquired from resupply soldiers, called “Logisticians”. You can also get grenades which don’t hurt titans, but will distract them so you can get away or get behind them. Just like in the show, you must target the back of their necks and slash them at just the right moment. You can miss, hit to slowly, or your anchors can detach, making you fail to get the kill. You must target specific parts of the titans’ bodies. You can hit the back of the neck, arms, and legs. Limbs will regenerate after a certain amount of time, but once you take out the weak spot on the neck, titans are gone for good. The reason for going after limbs is to temporarily demobilize titans to make killing them easier.
There are multiple types of missions that call on you to accomplish different goals. Some examples are rescue missions, where you have to save a soldier from being killed by titans. Escort missions require you to protect a character as they travel across the battlefield to a specific, marked location. Boss missions have you kill a specific titan. Base protection missions have you protect a building by stopping titans from damaging it for a period of time. These are some of the types of missions you will see in the game.
The game has a number of RPG elements which add to the gameplay. You do damage based on numbers and the titans have life bars. Just because you hit the right spot doesn’t mean you will get a kill. It depends on the amount of damage you deal and the amount of HP they have. There are also materials that can be collected. Often these are within the bodies of titans and can only be acquired when you take out a specific limb, which is always clearly marked. Materials, in conjunction with money, can be used to upgrade gear in the camp between missions. You can upgrade blades, ODM Gear, and item capacity. Materials are also acquired by completing missions. You get more items the better your battle ranking. You can get all the way up to S rank. You are judged on time completed, number of titan kills, and number of in battle missions completed. You are also graded gold, silver, bronze, or nothing for each titan you kill based on speed and performance. Excelling at all these things nets additional items, experience points, and money. There are at least 10 playable characters that change as the plot progresses. Each one has their own strengths, weaknesses, and special abilities. In “Attack mode” you must use them all at some point. In the “Expedition mode” you can choose whichever unlocked character you like. Characters unlock as you get them in the single player mode. Expedition mode is a more like a training mode where you fight battles in order to survey the area outside of the wall. As you do more missions you unlock more areas and some rewards. Completing missions in this mode nets experience, materials, and money just like in the single player mode and it carries over. Each of the 10 characters shares equipment but has independent experience, skills, and leveling. Meaning you can train up whatever characters you like in the expedition mode if you are struggling with a specific one in the single player mode.
The Expedition mode can be played offline or online with multiplayer. The multiplayer works really well. It’s just like playing the single player game, but the other soldiers on the field are actual players. You can have up to four players in a lobby. You are allowed to pick the same characters as other players and set up your own private and public lobbies. When creating a lobby you can set your own parameters and goals to be publicly displayed so people know what you’re looking to do. The lobby host controls the missions and when to start them. While I didn’t get a chance to try out the voice chat function, I can say the rest of the multiplayer system works really well.
What most people are probably wondering at this point is whether or not you can play as a titan. Specifically as Eren if you’ve actually watched the show. This was one of my first questions as well. I’m happy to report that yes you can and must play as Eren in titan form as part of the single player campaign. Now honestly this form of the gameplay doesn’t require all the skill and craft of the human characters but it is quite fulfilling and fun. Essentially you just run around button mashing the crap out of other titans with exaggerated punches and throws while roaring, but those sections do not disappoint.
There are three difficulty modes, but even on normal the game is not too challenging. You’re more playing against yourself than anything. Titans can and will chase, capture, and eat you, but if you aren’t playing stupidly it’s actually pretty hard to get eaten. You also have a struggle period where you can escape the titan’s grasp. And often fellow soldiers will rescue you. Really it’s about improving your ability to kill titans rather than a battle against them. But in the event that you do die, the game has a very fair checkpoint system. You can also leave the battle and go back to camp to buy upgrades if you really do get stuck. Overall, I really enjoyed the gameplay. It took some getting used to and at first I was fumbling around a lot, but eventually I became a full-fledged titan slayer and felt awesome doing it. It’s definitely a fun experience.
I’ve never played a modern Koei Tecmo game that didn’t do sound well and this is no exception. The voice acting is all in Japanese, but as with the anime, the dialog is about expression. Characters speak with extreme levels of emotion such as sadness and rage and you can feel that in the voice acting. The sound effects are quite good as well. You have sounds for everything including walking. Slashing, gas boosting, and so on all sound great. The background music, of which there are several tracks, is quite good but in this particular game you can’t control which tracks are playing. It’s all based on the gameplay location and situation. This isn’t a serious issue because that’s how it is in most games, but I thought it worth noting, because usually in Koei Tecmo games you have the option to control the music. You can hear the tracks in the gallery whenever you want though. You can set independent volume levels for music, sound effects, dialog, and cutscenes from the options menu. In general, I was very happy with the sound in this Attack on Titan.
The writing is kind of confusing in this game. It sort of assumes you’ve seen the show in a lot of ways. The story follows multiple characters and switches between them at random times between battles. At the same time, it also gives you general information through narrated cutscenes. The narrative jumps forward years at a time at certain points and jumps between several art and writing styles while trying to convey the plot. The overall story is also broken up into chapters to add another layer of disjointedness. There are also a ton of unlockable reading passages in the gallery. Some tell you about specific characters and others give you “public information”. It’s only by experiencing all of this that you get a fully coherent story if you haven’t watched the anime. I’m not saying that you have to have watched the show to enjoy this game’s plot, but it definitely helps. As this is an action based game, much of the character development is glossed over or rushed in order to keep players from getting bored. But at the same time that weakens the overall plot of the game in comparison to the anime and undoubtedly the manga as well, even though I haven’t read it.
The tutorial writing is very well done though. It’s extremely informative and helpful. The opening mission is a training mission that does follow the plot of the show. But it also really helps new players learn the controls. I was so thankful to get to do it in English, because it’s the exact portion of the game I had first played in Japanese and absolutely hated. When you understand what’s going on, it’s a much better and extremely helpful tutorial sequence.
There is a decent amount of replay value in this game not to mention a large amount of additional missions in the Expedition mode. Most of the replay value is for the purposes of character development, item development, and rank improvement which may not appeal to everyone. But the Expedition mode offers a wealth of stuff to do with 10 different characters to choose from. There are also a decent amount of unlockables, but all of them are either text to add to the story or 3D models of characters and titans. The titan field guide is an example of this. As you play through the game and encounter more titans, they will be added to your field guide and can be viewed from the gallery page. There are also 43 trophies, including a platinum, that require various accomplishments. I feel that there is a fair amount of replay value and original content in this game, but because the game circles around just killing titans, it may get stale after you complete the campaign. I’m not exactly sure how many areas can be surveyed in Expedition mode, but I can’t personally say I would want to complete all of it unless I was playing with friends, which thankfully you can do. I can’t say for sure that you will get 60 hours out of this game, but this is definitely AAA quality and it’s based on an existing IP so the $60 price is certainly fair market standard and appears to be fair to me, having not yet finished the game. I can say that it for sure covers all the plot content of season one and may possibly go beyond that.
Attack on Titan the game is an excellent interactive recreation of the show. It does justice to an anime that I wasn’t sure would be made into a good game after seeing that first handheld game some years back and that awful movie adaptation. This is the game this show deserved and it’s available on all platforms with cross-play for PS4, PS3, and PS Vita. The gameplay is strong, the sound quality is good, and the rest of it isn’t bad. I highly recommend this game to anyone who is a fan of the show and I believe that people who haven’t watched it before will also enjoy this game quite a bit. I would rank it at just a single step down from the must play list.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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