From the opening cinema, it's quite obvious that EX Troopers takes inspiration not just from Lost Planet, but from the hundreds, if not thousands, of anime series aimed at young boys. Indeed, playing a drinking game of spotting the Shonen anime tropes during the intro is ill-advised, such is the amount of box-ticking going on. Upbeat, eternally optimistic lead? Check. Mechs fighting in space, resulting in many a large explosion? Check. Quiet, mysterious girl who may or may not play the role of love interest? Check. If, to reference David Jaffe's famous quote, God of War 3 was a "painting come to life", then what we have here is anime (or more accurately, manga, given the storyboard and speech bubble presentation) come to life. The back of the box lists the genre as 'intense manga action' and that couldn't really be a more fitting description.
Yet, while this may instantly feel like a negative for those less enthused about the world of anime and its cliches, it's also the main thing that helps EX Troopers stand out. With many modern examples of the genre having a gritty and serious tone, the cast and setting here immediately stand out and feel like a breath of fresh air for the genre.
That's not to say that it innovates the way Gears of War did, but taking what was an enjoyable template in Lost Planet and tightening it is no bad thing. With the camera fixed behind the character at all times, a strong and weak attack, as well as a melee option and boost (something that will no doubt please those frustrated by the sluggish Lost Planet movements) are the basic controls. Most important though, is the lock-on feature. Holding R1 locks on to the closest enemy, and is the only way of effectively killing them. A meter on screen will build when thermal energy (dropped by defeated enemies) is collected and, once full, performs a special attack with a press of R2. The gunplay feels solid and is easy to get to grips with, meaning it's easy to jump right into.
A hub forms the base of operations, allowing weapons to be bought and upgraded, side-quests taken on, new outfits purchased, status-boosting items to be consumed and story missions to be accessed, moving the main plot forward (although the game is more or less entirely in Japanese, exclamation marks on the map allow a quick reference of where to go or who to talk to to progress the main storyline, making the game relatively import-friendly). This hub essentially acts as a school and, although this may dig up some bad memories for those who fell in love with Valkyria Chronicles on PS3, only to be completely turned off by its PSP sequel which had a similar setting, it fits in perfectly with the Shonen manga presentation. The optional P.E. uniforms and swimsuits for characters may be a step too far for some though.
These additional outfits are important though in that they are a part of the customisation on offer throughout. Although making your character look sexy or tough is nice, it makes no difference in terms of altering stats and so on. Instead, money and items gained throughout missions can be used to buy and upgrade weapons, defense and resistance to enemy attacks. Main weapons are mainly the automatic, machine gun type, with the secondary ones predominantly grenades or slower, more powerful guns with fewer bullets. Running out of ammunition is no problem either, with the guns working on a cool-down mechanic, taking a brief moment to reload once empty. As most are mid-range, enemies will need to be relatively close in order to be dealt damage, so boosting and melee become increasingly important during the brief reloading time, adding a nice risk/reward balance to the gunplay. Before engaging on a mission, loadout and costumes can be freely selected, with the exception of a couple of story-based ones that demand a certain type is selected, so the player is free to experiment with their options to see what works best for the situation as well as their own personal taste.
Whilst on a mission, things are fairly straightforward. As mention before, defeated enemies drop both thermal energy and health refilling items and come in a few different varieties. Human types are the norm, but it's the larger creatures (known as Akrid) that really shine throughout. Taking cues again from Lost Planet (some are more or less exact replicas of enemies faced in the original game), they have one or several glowing orange weak points that must be attacked in order to deal damage. Slowing down the pacing and requiring a little more thought than run and gun, it's these enemies that help make another feature of the game – the online play – a lot of fun. Accessible from within the hub area, competitive and cooperative online multiplayer are on offer. The former is standard deathmatch type events, with the latter allowing two others to join in, tackling a variety of VR missions. Taking down a giant creature with a couple of buddies is a great experience and one that has the potential to add quite a bit of time to the twelve to fifteen hour single player campaign. Whilst the enemies don't possess the kind of clever A.I seen in the Halo series, they're generally set up so that they pose a danger from long and short range, so holding down the fire button and moving towards them isn't enough.
Online or off, successfully completing a mission awards experience which levels up the character and there are quite a few throughout the single player mode across the game's five chapters. Things are kept both varied and snappy in each mission, with some requiring enemies - and subsequently a boss - to be defeated, some seeing waves of enemies needing to be repelled as an NPC opens a door and others give control to one of the mechs, or Vital Suits as they are known here. Controlling similarly to regular characters, they still provide a nice change of scenery every now and again. Side quests vary again, with the time attack styled ones a particular highlight. The length of missions tends to feel like a result of the game also being available on 3DS, with few taking more than ten minutes to get through, something that is of importance on a handheld. The linear approach to level design is something else that makes it feel more like a portable game, although the environments are well designed and varied enough to keep things interesting.
In the end, EX Troopers takes influence from several different sources. It takes its cues most notably from Lost Planet, with some Monster Hunter elements visable in the boss encounters (not to mention the fact that producer Shintaro Kojima was assistant producer on Monster Hunter Tri, also taking on a planning role for Freedom 2 and Unite), and was rumoured to be the game that rose out of the ashes of cancelled 3DS title Megaman Legends 3, something Capcom deny. Add a healthy dash of Shonen anime and manga and you have the finished product. To simply judge it on what it has been influenced by is to overlook just how much fun the game really is. The single player campaign is infectiously energetic, with a classic 'one more go' mindset to the mission structure. The variety in the mission types, environments, weapons and costumes keeps things from feeling too familiar and the online play further enhances the overall package. With a Western release currently not on the cards according to Capcom, importers should take note and consider taking the plunge on what is perhaps the years most overlooked title. Cliches abound in the story and character tropes, but to add on more, EX Troopers is definitely more than the sum of its parts.
- Fast paced, varied and solid gameplay.
- Online has potential to extend playtime dramatically.
- Good amount of customisation options.
- Setting and presentation isn't for everyone.
- No Western release currently planned.
Version Reviewed: Asian
Other Versions: 3DS