In the wake of Monster Hunter, it shouldn't surprise anybody to see a lot of copycats. After all, Capcom's multiplayer adventure game is the biggest series in Japan right now and is starting to crack Western markets. At first glance Gods Eater Burst looks like just another knock off. But dig deeper, because Namco has a PSP game that outdoes Monster Hunter in almost every way.
Let me start with a confession: I've never been enamored by the Monster Hunter franchise. Not on the PlayStation 2, PSP or, most recently, the Nintendo Wii (see: Monster Hunter Tri). I find this series to be too slow for my liking. The graphics look good and I'm intrigued by the depth, but I find the user interface to be unruly and hate waiting for the long attack animations. Monster Hunter is not for me.
Gods Eater Burst looks a lot like Capcom's popular adventure series. It feature anime characters with gigantic swords, enormous beasts to take down and wide open arenas perfect for the four-player action. But that's where the similarities end. Namco's newest PSP game is a fast-paced action title with just enough RPG elements to keep things interesting. Gone are the 30 second animations and sectioned off levels. Goodbye confusing controls and the complete lack of a targeting system. As far as I'm concerned, you will not be missed.
The first thing I noticed was that this game actually has a storyline. Gods Eater Burst takes place on a post-apocalyptic Earth, where evil monsters (called Aragami) roam around killing anybody that gets in their path. You play a group of young spikey-haired warriors known as Gods Eater (though they confusingly refer to themselves as "God Eater" in the game), looking to take down the monsters and bring order to the planet. The set-up may not be very interesting, but the game provides enough interesting twists and turns to warrant a play through.
The story is really just an excuse to assign a bunch of missions to accomplish. The game starts off easy enough, usually only throwing a few enemies at the player and letting them explore (and find hidden loot). We're given a sword and gun; this allows each member of the Gods Eaters to have both long and close range attacks, making them a serious contender against these gigantic baddies. But don't get too comfortable, because it won't take long for the enemies to show their teeth and become a real challenge. Thankfully the game allows us to party up with two to four friends or computer-controlled helpers.
The game's missions are straight forward and easy to locate. For the most part, each mission gives you thirty minutes and a list of monsters to track down. Usually this is an easy task, something I was able to do in just a few minutes (sometimes less than a minute). But don't let the relative ease of the first few levels lull you into a false sense of security, because the difficulty ramps up in a hurry and boss fights can take a huge chunk of that thirty minutes. The end result is a game that is good at quick on-the-go bursts, as well as times when you really want to put some time into your questing.All of the combat happens in real time, with the player only controlling one character (who can be customized before and after battle). There are two different attack buttons, as well as a jump and sidestep button. The idea is to find each enemy's weak point and do as much damage as possible. You can do this a number of ways, including using your giant sword or heavy duty gun. The long-range attacks are a reliable way to gain the upper hand, but you can't just sit back and shoot the bad guys from a distance. The gun can only be used after the player has landed a certain amount of melee attacks, giving you incentive to mix up your tactics. There are also items, grenades and other weapons which can really come in handy in a pinch.
Aside from the usual weaponry, Gods Eater Burst features an even more interesting form of attack. By holding down the triangle button, players can charge up a creature of their own and "devour" their opponent. This means that a beastly mouth will leap out of your sword and take a bite out of your enemy, taking some useful items with it. Devouring your foes is a good way to collect the materials needed to upgrade weapons and craft new armor.
The reason this game works so well is because the combat is fast and exciting. You never have to wait thirty seconds for an animation to conclude, in Gods Eater Burst that's enough time to perform at least a half dozen hack and slash moves on your opponent. Better still, the game offers a couple of different targeting options, a feature that would have made my experience with Monster Hunter much more compelling. You can lock on to an enemy, but that will only help you so far. There is no lock-on option for the gun, so players will have to manually aim every time they want to hit their target. The combination of faster gameplay and targeting already makes this Namco game better than Monster Hunter.
I was also impressed with the levels, which look great and offer a lot of area to explore. Because there are so many missions to accomplish, players will have to repeat the same backgrounds multiple times. Thankfully these levels are worth checking out. Unlike Monster Hunter, there is no loading between parts of the level; you can go anywhere you want at any time. The seamless levels keep the action intense, especially when you're forced to flee a powerful bad guy. I'm also a fan of the post-apocalyptic look of these worlds, especially the cityscapes.
While I don't have a problem with the levels repeating, I do take issue with the lack of enemy diversity. It didn't take long before I started running into the same enemies a few too many times. Even when the bad guys aren't the same, their basic shape and weaknesses are similar enough to disappoint. Thankfully the game's story is compelling enough to overshadow the lack of variety, but it would have been nice to see a few more types of giant monsters.
I also take issue with the game's camera system. In order to look around the player is forced to use the D-pad, which means taking their hand completely off of the analog stick. This isn't a big deal early on, since the enemies can be few and far between. However, in the later levels I found myself constantly fighting the camera. Thankfully the player can hit the left shoulder button to center the camera, but this is hardly an elegant workaround for a real problem.Some will find the game's repetitive mission structure to be a negative as well, though I didn't have a big problem with it. This style of game is known for its repetitive gameplay, so as long as you are interested in crafting and upgrading, you really shouldn't have a problem with the lack of mission variety. Besides, you'll likely never notice the repetition if you play with friends.
Speaking of multiplayer, Gods Eater Burst supports both Ad Hoc and online WiFi (through the PlayStation 3's Ad Hoc Party). Getting a game started was easy enough and I had no problems with latency or communication. Each level has a map with highlighted letters, that way it's easy to tell your friends exactly where you are. Team work is the key, especially when it comes to later levels. The good news is that you will be able to revive fallen teammates. Unfortunately, it's going to cost you half of your health. The end result is the most exciting multiplayer PSP game since Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker.
Don't have any friends to play with? Don't worry; Gods Eater Burst also works as a single-player experience. The computer-controlled fighters are generally pretty good, especially when it comes to healing and resurrecting. In some of the later levels I found myself constantly dying, but there was always somebody there to pick me up. And even if they didn't, I was allowed a couple of respawns before ultimately failing the mission. The game is certainly more forgiving than some of its competitors.
Regardless of whether you tackle this solo, with friends or a mixture of both, you're going to have a great time with Gods Eater Burst. Not only is it an exciting game with fast-paced action, but it has all the RPG hooks to keep you coming back for more. And did I mention that the graphics are outstanding? The presentation is first rate, even if nobody can decide whether it's Gods Eater, God Eater or God Eaters. No matter how you say it, this Namco adventure game is definitely worth diving into.