For one reason or another, Monster Hunter and its ilk haven't really sparked a portable gaming craze like it did in its home country of Japan. Maybe it's the fact that portable gaming on a PSP isn't as big in North America as it is there, or maybe because the gameplay type isn't appealing to audiences here without multiple people connected online at any time, day or night. Whatever the reason, North America is the secondary market for these games, so we'll get them only after Japan has had them for a while. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, though, as we can get an improved version of a game instead of what was originally released. Such is the case with Gods Eater Burst, an improved iteration of the PSP game that was released in Japan last year.
Gods Eater Burst actually tries to attach a story to the game. It is a postapocalyptic future created by the presence of the Aragami, creatures that suddenly appeared one day but evolved quickly and overtook the human race. With a decimated worldwide population, the remaining humans have banded together and created Fenrir, an organization dedicated to the eradication of the Aragami. You play a new recruit in Fenrir as part of the hunting group known as God Eaters, taking up every mission as you do your part in getting rid of the Aragami once and for all.
The cut scenes rarely try to hammer the story into your head. Every scene feels more incidental than one that provides plot progression. You'll get scenes describing basic life in the compound, such as how the ecosystem is maintained or how the people in the outer ghetto want more action from Fenrir on better security and more rations. You'll also get more scenes about the daily life of a God Eater and how the missions, while exciting, still make this a job. Interestingly, the best ones at the job almost always seem to meet an early end. In a way, the game almost seems to know that the story is the least important part, so it doesn't bother you much with it.
Like the story, the characters are also pretty basic. Everyone, from your comrades in battle to the staff members at Fenrir, follow some sort of anime trope seen countless times before. You've got the leader who's all business, one of the fighters who's all too serious, a doctor who doesn't take anything too seriously, and so on. Your own character plays the overly silent type with absolutely nothing to say as everyone else around him or her speaks. No one really grows or has more depth as you progress though the story levels. While few expect the characters to have any depth since the cast in similar video games is usually window dressing, it is something to be aware of in case you were expecting them to further the story.
The game follows the same basic formula of other adventure role-playing games. You accept a mission, which will then tell you where you're going, what you have to kill, and how many of that monster type needs to fall before the mission can be considered a success. Once you gather the right equipment to take down your prey, you have 30 minutes to find them and take them down. Though you can easily take down enemies by hitting their weak spots numerous times, you'll still require some teamwork with up to three others to take down the largest monsters without too much health loss. At the end of each mission, you are rewarded with money and loot, and after viewing your stats, you go through the process again in a different area with even bigger and more dangerous monsters.
There are a few things that Gods Eater Burst does differently, though. With the exception of a few missions, almost every one of them can be tackled by any number of participants. While you can take on missions with all four team members, you could also try to tackle everything solo if you really want to challenge yourself. You carry two weapons in the game instead of one, since your sword also transforms into a gun. Interestingly, you'll need to master both play styles since guns tend to be more powerful than swords but are dependent on successful sword hits for their ammunition. Unless you're really bent on trying to master swordplay and swordplay alone, you'll end up switching styles often and coming up with some good strategies to maximize both.
Finally, there's a crafting system in place. You'll often get rewards for completing missions, and during those missions, you can also obtain materials from the battlefield or defeated monsters (by stabbing your sword into their corpses). The materials can then be put together and, for a fee, be crafted into anything from new clothes to new blades to new ammo for your gun. With a wide variety of items to craft, it adds some loot gathering to the proceedings since you'll want to grab everything you can to make the best equipment possible.
One thing you'll appreciate from the single-player experience is your partner AI. Unlike most games, the AI is competent. They attack with some intelligence, always making sure that everyone isn't rushing into battle and varying their attacks quite often. They'll also use their items intelligently and ensure that you are healed, so a respawn only occurs when everyone has been knocked out during a fight. They also fight well, dodging all possible attacks while still bringing the fight to the monsters. Their presence and actions make them valuable on the field, and they make the hunts more fun.
With a pretty robust crafting system in place and a variable weapon system, the game has plenty of good things going for it. There are a few things that could have been remedied, though. The first has to do with the number of locales. While you may have a large number of missions at your disposal, just about every one of them takes place in the same small handful of locations with the same layouts. The maps are well designed, though a tad small, but seeing them used over and over again makes them less endearing each time. Also, there aren't any other activities you can partake in beyond missions and crafting. You can replay missions to get more items for crafting, but if you were expecting side games, like cooking or fishing, or a few missions where you only gather resources, you won't find them here. It's all about combat and loot grabbing in this game.
When it comes to the multiplayer, the common trait that has plagued most PSP titles is its lack of online gameplay, and Gods Eater Burst is no exception. All multiplayer gameplay is ad-hoc only, and the only way to get any sort of online gameplay would be to use your PlayStation 3 as a mediator for the traffic. Despite this, the development team did a few things to help ease the pain. The game supports downloadable content for more missions, and while the environments remain the same, the monsters and parts differ enough that it's worth going through, especially since the only pack released so far is free. Also, taking a page from the Nintendo 3DS, the game supports the trading of characters when the system is in sleep mode. New characters are obtained when you pass by someone who also has the game in sleep mode, and while you can't necessarily play directly with them this way, it transforms anyone you meet into NPCs you can fight alongside during missions. It's a nice option if you can find enough people who have the game, and it would be great to see others employ this feature in their titles.
The controls feature some improvements over the game from which it was inspired. For one, there is a camera centering and lock-on mechanism for your sword, so it's easy to get a bead on the enemy from a good distance. Item usage is also handled nicely, and even though the action won't pause when you're selecting items, the process is quick enough that you won't be affected if you pull out the menu at the right time. Other than that, it pretty much plays out like any other games of this type, with movement handled by the analog nub and actions handled by the face buttons. It also means that the camera is controlled with the d-pad, which is fine for swordplay but pretty bad for gunplay since the lock-on system doesn't work too well for guns. Unless you've become a master at the "claw" method employed by veteran Monster Hunter PSP players, you'll most likely stick with swordplay and save the guns for when you can attack slower enemies from safer distances.
The graphics look good despite its bleak atmosphere. The small character models look detailed, and unlike other PSP games, their textures are quite clean when viewed up close during cut scenes and in the character creation system. They also animate well and have fairly quick actions although they wield ridiculously large weapons. The monsters are also textured well and animate well, though their general designs, while grotesque, don't feel very original or memorable. As for the environments, the postapocalyptic atmosphere doesn't leave much room for creating an imaginative look, but the texture work is still good.
The sound is also good, even if you don't end up hearing a decent portion of it. The music is interesting as it tries to go for a sci-fi vibe. It works well during combat and in the main Fenrir hub, but it also makes way for some interesting choices in some situations, such as a jazz piano when characters are watching a news report or a modern j-pop song as you embark on a mission. Effects sound fine half of the time, with sword slashes and hits coming off cleanly. Other effects, like monster roars and footsteps, however, sound muffled no matter how close or far you are; it feels like the game was trying to go for a surround sound effect without balancing itself for only two speakers. As for the voices, the cast of anime veterans does a good job with their delivery, though you'll only appreciate it during cut scenes. Whenever anything is said in battle, the lines are barely heard, and that includes your silent protagonist, who suddenly learns how to speak during fights. Overall, the sound is good but could be much better with some balancing.
Gods Eater Burst makes for a nice alternative if you've either gotten tired of the Monster Hunter aesthetic or were interested in this subgenre without a medieval setting. The combat is familiar, but it's helpful to have some good AI companions when you have no one around who's willing to play. With the game's emphasis on nothing but combat and crafting, those looking for milder activities may be disappointed. As long as the developer can keep churning out more downloadable missions, the game will remain fresh and stay in some people's PSP systems for quite some time. It's certainly recommended if you're a fan of the genre, and it's a worthy rental if you've been bit curious about the hoopla.
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