Gods Eater Burst Review
Let it be known: The spring of 2011 is officially the season of Monster Hunter ripoffs. SquareEnix's Lord of Arcana came out a few weeks ago, but it disappointed with battles that took place outside the area you were exploring ("warp to battle" is what I called it in my review), bosses that were too difficult to tackle without friends and a general lack of variety. In that same review, I wondered if Gods Eater Burst from Namco could break the mold and challenge the popular Monster Hunter titles. Gods Eater Burst by no means unseats Capcom's epic series, but it is a change of pace for the genre and it manages to fix and showcase its solutions to Monster Hunter's biggest flaws.
If you are unfamiliar with this RPG sub-genre, here is a little explanation. The point of Gods Eater Burst (and Lord of Arcana and Monster Hunter) is to battle giant monsters in a series of increasingly difficult missions. Players then use materials found in the wild and salvaged from fallen enemies to build better armor and weapons. And the cycle repeats until your character is maxed out and once-difficult monsters fall to your sword in a matter of seconds. The genre isn't for everyone – dedicated action gamers aren't too keen on dozens of menus and the character-building elements and traditional RPG fans bemoan the lack of a narrative, often too difficult tasks and the absence of androgynous heroes – but those who love it are about as die-hard as gamers get.
This game sets itself apart from the others in the genre with a few key tweaks. The first, and most noticeable, is the use of teammates. Other games like this are strictly solo experiences, that is until you can convince a friend to play with you. Gods Eater Burst gives players a chance to select computer-controller teammates from a growing roster to help with missions. Selectable members all have different classes and strengths, and choosing who you'll need gets to be a vital strategic process later in the game. Your teammates' AI is generally good, and the help they provide in the form of extra muscle, healing, long range attacks, etc. is more than welcome. You can also tackle missions alone, and it can be very satisfying to finish tough missions by yourself once you've beefed up your character a bit. There is local online play as well (sadly, no infrastructure play or matchmaking), where friends can take the place of the computer-controlled allies, but I couldn't find anyone else with the game to try this out.
Gods Eater Burst boasts the most fleshed out story of any of the titles in the action/RPG/hunting genre. Things have taken a turn for the worst across the globe, with giant monsters called Aragami nearly wiping out the entire human population. The survivors band together into a pseudo-military group that has only one purpose – kill as many Aragami as possible. That's where you come in. After creating your character in a system that is as good or better than Monster Hunter's, you are recruited into the Fenrir unit and begin taking missions. In addition to that, you'll attend "Aragami school," where you learn the backstory of these monsters, and these bits are interspersed with segments detailing the struggles of your fellow hunters. The interludes that follow missions marked "story" keep the plot moving right up until the end of the game, and though the story isn't the biggest drive, it is nice to see that one is at least included and carried out.
The last major tweak is the bullet crafting system. Each character is armed with a God Arc, a huge weapon that can be freely transformed from a sword to a gun and back again. Defeating the stronger monsters takes careful use of both, and once a balance is reached you can become an unstoppable force. In most cases, the bullets you choose to use in tandem with your sword have a big impact on your success or defeat. By crafting your own bullets, though, you can tip the scales further in your favor. Basically, if you can imagine a bullet or effect, you can make it happen. Bullets can be designed with elemental effects, crazy firing patterns (a personal favorite is a combo that shoots balls of energy, which then freeze in mid-air before exploding like tiny electric pipe bombs, sending shrapnel every which way) or even the ability to heal yourself or your team. Playing with the bullet synthesis can become as addicting as fighting the monsters themselves, and the elation that comes with seeing your invention bring down a huge Aragami is priceless. Unfortunately, there is no real tutorial for this, so you're going to have to do some experimenting before you get the hang of things. Don't worry; it isn't all that tough to nail down, and once you've got it, you'll LOVE it.