God Eater 2: Rage Burst Review

It’s been nearly a year since I reviewed God Eater Resurrection, an action oriented hunting game that was very promising, but struggled when faced with irksome minutia and over complicated mechanics.  It was the kind of game that could very much benefit from a fully fledged sequel that reworks things and tries to maximize the core appeal, but that is not the case with God Eater 2: Rage Burst.  Despite being a sequel that came out a few months after GER in the west, GE2 was actually released several months before GER in Japan.  This means that many of the mechanics of GE2 appeared in GER, and the notable improvements are slim as such.

God Eater 2: Rage Burst Review
Platforms: PC(Reviewed), PS Vita, PS4
Developer: Bandai Namco, Shift, QLOC
Publisher: Bandai Namco

Before getting too deeply into the comparison game that I gravitate towards when reviewing sequels, I should probably explain the game in more detail.  God Eater is set in a post-apocalyptic world where most of human society was destroyed by beings known as Aragami, monsters who are supposedly composed of a group of free thinking cells that can only be defeated by God Eaters.  Who are mostly a group of attractive young adults and teens with strange fashion senses who wield gigantic morphing biological weapons known as God Arcs.

Set three years after the first installment, part 2 begins by seemingly adopting another perspective on the conflict, centering around what is basically a subsidiary of the world controlling military organization Fenrir, and the unique members of the team, known as Blood.  For the first few hours it lulls the player into thinking the game is going to tell a parallel story of sorts, only to rather quickly converge back with the Far East branch of the first installment, and many of the characters featured there.

That is the set up, but as for the actual plot, GER was never particularly good at telling a focused and concise story.  It was a storythat frequently threw new plot points and subplots up in the air, often letting them dangle there for hours without any meaningful progress, before slowly unravelling them, or rapidly ending them before moving on.  Making it difficult for me to adequately summarize the story beyond: people go around and do stuff and maybe have emotions about it sometimes.

This was improved somewhat in the additional story campaigns that followed the original storyline, but apparently the focus and narrative discipline the writers had to practice there did not carry over to GE2.  Or at least the original campaign included with GE2, as I lacked the time to fully explore the additional Rage Burst campaign.  If anything, it seems to tread the same basic water as the first entry, and contains numerous familiar elements.

There is a conspiracy regarding the questionable motives of leader figures, the troubled past of certain characters, elongated issues that exist to make the world feel more cohesive, yet are both resolved unceremoniously and sideswiped after a while, a foreshadowed apocalypse that serves as the overly dramatic climax, and a tone that is caught somewhere between being a edgy anime-esque monster murdering romp and a post-apocalyptic monster battling drama.  I truly do believe that there is some sort of conflict at play with this series, where one party involved in it wants the games to be something, while another party wants it to be something different, and in the end, the story just comes off as something of a mess.

As for the gameplay, it is mostly the same as GER.  The player character and a squad of AI controlled party members rush out into an environment that is very clearly designed around the technical limitations of the PSP, as this was originally a 2013 PSP title, and hunt for Aragami who pop into the map at set times.  The Aragami can be rather aggressive foes who can deal a lot of damage if you are too gung-ho about the whole thing, like I am, and have a habit of fleeing from combat at inopportune times, which is to say any time.

Characters switch between melee attacks and gun attacks to deal effective damage to the Aragami, stun them when possible, and break off parts of their bodies to make new weak points.  Defence is often necessary, tasking the player to use healing items, block, but most often dodge their way from Aragami attacks.  Players need to search for openings in the often erratic attack patterns of Aragami, which also happen to deal slightly disproportionate amounts of damage that sometimes  has the act of an Aragami running into the player account for more damage than them actually attacking the player.

Along with this, players are encouraged to devour the Aragami during combat, dealing damage to them while granting the character Burst.  Burst is a passive time sensitive ability that grants characters extra strength, allows them to slowly generate Oracle, which is just a fancy way of saying ammo, and gives them access to specific skills that are only available while in Burst.  Devouring also grants the player special bullets that can be used to damage opponents, be used to grant Burst to allies, or be used to increase their Burst to the next level, increasing its effects.

This mechanic very much drives the flow of gameplay, and makes it feel far more vibrant, if only because it gives the player a meter they constantly need to refill by devouring Aragami.  In GER, the player had many customizable ways to devour Aragami, and many ways in which that could be customized via a mechanic known as Predator Styles.  Unfortunately, this mechanic is not present in GE2, and instead there are only two ways to devour.  By using a regular charged devour that leaves the player vulnerable, or a combo devour that can only be done following a melee attack.

This was surprisingly hard to get used to after spending 100 hours in a game where the combo devour could be done without being a follow-up attack and there were aerial devours, but I eventually managed to adapt to these new mechanics… after looking up how they work.  You see, God Eater is a hunting game, and there are few worse genres than hunting games when it comes to explaining mechanics to the player.  To illustrate such an example, I went through GER without knowing about a surprisingly useful combo for the variant scythe, a weapon I used 99% of the time in both games.  I only learned about said combo because it was mentioned as part of a new mechanic in GE2.  Blood Arts.

Blood Arts are passive abilities that change the properties of a specific attack tied to a weapon.  Only one of these can be equipped at a time, but by using a specific move available with a weapon, the player will be leveling up that specific Blood Art.  This encourages the player to be more mindful of the full extent of their movepool with a given weapon, and thereby allows for them to better strategize how they would go about dealing damage during a mission.

As for guns, they have Blood Bullets, unlockable upgrades that allow for the player to more greatly customize the bullets used by a given gun, and generally increase both the usability and damage per second of use.  Mind you, actually creating new bullets for a given gun is greatly intimidating due to the sheer range of this customization, but now the game throws the player some already useful bullets for their trouble.  Though, going any deeper than that will likely require some understanding of advanced 3D geometry.

Shifting away into the RPG and stat portion of the game, I complained about the sheer breadth of minutia and stat management that went into GER, and if anything, GE2 handles it worse by making the equipment available to the player not as useful of inviting in itself.  In GER, weapons could be upgraded fairly early on, the upgrades were clearly presented, and they often came with substantial improvements both in regards to their stats and the weapon’s skills, which were often paired together to have each piece of equipment give the player a lot of skills.  

In GE2, equipment upgrading is locked early on, and is kept needlessly cryptic.  No longer can the player look at the next stage their weapon to any extent before progressing in the story, preventing them from knowing what the weapon they choose will ultimately become, or have any idea when they will get it.  Even then, upgrades seem to occur less often, requiring the player to reach the end of the original GE2 campaign in order to reach stage 3 of the starting weapons.  On top of this, the skills that come with each weapon are rarely compounded together, and generally felt lacking compared to GER, which allowed me to get most of the skills I wanted very quickly.  

All I really want out of my equipment is to have a good neutral damage scythe, heavy shield, assault gun, and a collection of skills I grew used to having from the prior game.  Health, Oracle, Stamina, Automatic Recovery, Auto Guard, Devour HP Absorb, Melee ATK, Gun ATK, Defense, Trigger Happy, Frugal, Guard Speed, and Athlete.  But no, instead the game forces me to wait until I play it for long enough before I can even attempt to gain a set of equipment reaching my admittedly high specifications, and it does a rather poor job of satiating me with minor upgrades made over time.

Along with my frustration regarding this, I also must admit how I really do not care for this mentality of equipment being a character’s stats in a game like this, as aside from the Blood Arts and Blood Bullets, they see no meaningful improvements throughout the entire game.  Other characters have innate abilities by default, ones that upgrade themselves as the player partakes in social links character episodes with them, but the player character themselves never really improve, and are entirely based around their equipment, and something about that, compounded with this glacial and vague form of character progression just bothers me to no end.

Continuing to vent my gripes, GE2 also reprises the same boundless excess of collectible and craftable materials for weapons, which is overly common in games like this.  While I have no problem with collecting things for upgrades or new items, the sheer quantity of these things and inability to either sort or easily link back to them is just archaic and frustrating to manage, as it is in every game that adopts this lazy means of elongating playtime by encouraging tedious research and grinding for rare drops.

This is all so irritating because of how the core gameplay of God Eater is so enjoyable.  On the surface, it is a simple hack and slash, but the general flow of combat, the switching between satisfying melee attacks and somewhat clunky yet very satisfying ranged attacks, while breaking away and simply wailing on an Aragami has a level of enjoyability and catharsis to it that I honestly have not grown tired of even after fighting the same scattering of enemies over and over again.  I’m not sure what specific blend of visual and auditory feedback help make the game feel so good, but it is a simple yet excellent hack and slash combat system that I never seem to tire of despite having played this and GER for over 130 hours at this point.

The only points where I feel the mission gameplay falters are instances where a large number of Aragami are attacking at once, as it is difficult to keep an eye on all of them and focus the team’s attacks.  Missions that the game tasks the player to do without a full squad of four, which were annoying in GER, and are only slightly less annoying here before of how well I understand the gameplay now.  There’s also fact that items used in combat need to be repurchased despite them costing next to nothing, and it being very easy to forget to revisit the shop before rushing into the next battle.

As for the presentation, I am tempted to simply copy over what I said about GER, and will to some extent.  The game is ultimately a PSP game polished and updated to look good in HD, with a lot of minor effects applied to the game.  The textures are high quality all things considered, which means some things still look muddy, but the whole thing largely resembles an HD PS2 game, and I am perfectly fine with that being a graphical standard.  Meanwhile the art style is kind of all over the place.  

Environments are largely grimey post-apocalyptic set dressings occupied by various monsters whose designs range from plausible genetic mutations that exist for the sake of survival to just goofy.  Such as mister skull tank.  Oh, and as a note, basically every visual asset from God Eater Resurrection returns here, but there are thankfully a scattering of new environments and Aragami to prevent the game from feeling like a direct copy and paste, and more like an expansion on the original, for better or worse.

Meanwhile, humans are primarily presented as cel-shaded youngsters who adorn themselves in fashion that is brow raising in a post-apocalyptic world, and even more when considering that they are effectively soldiers who mutated themselves to defend the remnants of mankind.  I keep going back to this idea that the freedom of expressing oneself with fashion is a luxury in this world, and only a select few are given the privilege of indulging in it, namely the God Eaters.  However, it is more likely just an attempt to appeal to the Japanese youth market.  

As for the music, soundtrack, and general handling of the audio, it can be uneven.  The audio balancing in cutscenes is often poor, with imposing music or voice clips that play at a higher volume than they are suppose to, while the music in combat is drowned out by the repeated lines and sound effects.  It’s a real shame, as I like the assortment of anime voice actors that were gathered to dub this game, and after listening to some of it outside of the game, the soundtrack actually has some pretty enjoyable tracks on it, especially the ones with lyrics.

As for the PC port, God Eater 2: Rage Burst features breadth of visual and gameplay options, rebindable controls, and general stability considering how I think this is the third rendition of the game to be ported.  However, loading times can still take too long for a game of this fidelity installed on an SSD, though I’ve admittedly gotten used to it by this point, and the game uses the unobtrusive DRM known as Devuono.  It really is not that bad, and people have been able to thankfully crack through it, but it is well worth noting when a game has DRM of any kind, as DRM has been proven time and time again to be an ineffective means of stopping piracy and an inconvenience to those who purchase the game.

I could go on with minor issues I have with God Eater 2: Rage Burst, such as the fact that the names of ally characters are presented entirely in lowercase, which is just grammatically improper.  How the God Arc Soldiers the game bangs on about for hours are not available as allies in any mission.  Or how the game barely even mentions the protagonist from God Eater Resurrection, and pushes most of the returning characters away for several hours, yet teasing their existence due to DLC included in the western versions of the game.

To summarize my thoughts here, as I ended up writing about 2,500 words about this game, much like its canonical predecessor, God Eater 2: Rage Burst is a solid action hunting game that has a bastion of good ideas that could and should be refined in subsequent installments, yet feel uneven due to a myriad of minor issues.  As for how it compares to God Eater Resurrection, they are very similar regarding their quality, but I cannot help but view God Eater Resurrection in a slightly brighter light.  

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