Attack on Titan: Humanity in Chains 3DS Review
The Attack on Titan Anime series can be viewed as one of the most recent examples of instant mainstream success; since its 2013 television premiere, the animated adaptation of the cult hit manga series immediately exploded in popularity across the globe, thanks in part to the simultaneous streaming of its episodes through services like Crunchyroll and Funimation (previously, the only way to get access to the latest Anime shows was to either download unauthorized fansubs or wait a year or more for the official Western release). In no time at all, Attack on Titan would be referenced virtually everywhere in various forms, from the memetic reproductions of its opening theme on YouTube to a licensed crossover with The Avengers, turning it into one of the fastest growing Anime successes in the last few years.
Obviously, a videogame tie-in would be added to the growing list of merchandise; the premise of the series is particularly set up for a potentially great videogame experience, featuring human soldiers performing Spider-Man-like swings and wielding specialized blades in order to fight against giant zombie-like monstrosities. But, as history has proven, what should be an easily adaptable Anime premise tends to become a clunky and quickly made cash-in more often than not. It took more than a decade until Dragon Ball Z eventually received decent videogame representation (one would think a fighting game based on a fighting series would be easy to adapt), and it may take a similar number of attempts for Attack on Titan if this newest 3DS release is any indication.
Developed by Spike Chunsoft, Attack on Titan: Humanity in Chains is the first 3D action game based on the franchise, not counting the fan-made browser game or the bonus Visual Novels released on Blu Ray. Based on the original story, Humanity in Chains takes place during the invasion of Trost, one of the border towns making up Wall Maria, which in turn is one out of three massive walls that protect the remaining survivors of humanity from the Titans, massive humanoid creatures who hunt and devour every human in their path. New recruit Eren and his companions (including his sister Mikasa and best friend Armin) lead the charge to defend Trost from the Titan invasion, spurred by revenge over the destruction of their home five years ago. Unfortunately, the Titans grossly outnumber and overpower the scouts by a wide margin, including specialized Titans with even more absurd abilities (such as the Colossal Titan, an oxymoron that doesn’t begin to describe its ridiculously large size, and the Armored Titan, which just as self-descriptive).
Since the game sticks to the Anime adaptation rather than the Manga, this means that players will only get a small chunk of the ongoing story, much of which takes place in a single city and sets up just a few of the ongoing mysteries. This is made even more evident with the inclusion of clips from the actual series itself, including its hugely popular opening theme. Anyone that is sticking to the Anime without choosing to spoil themselves on future plot points with the Manga, but are hoping that the game may offer additional hints on things to look forward to, think again.
Instead, what the game offers is playable missions based on the first season of the series, which are categorized by the playable characters offered; you have the primary protagonists with Eren, Mikasa and Armin, but also the two fan favorites Levi and Sasha. Regardless, every single one of them plays the same and have about the same types of missions, which mainly revolve around defeating a set number of Titans per stage.
Sticking to the rules of the series itself, Titans can only be permanently destroyed by attacking the weak point behind their neck. This is where the crux of the gameplay comes in; players use their omnidirectional gear to swing around buildings (or latch onto specific targets on the Titan’s body) to get into position and slice the exposed weak point. Since Titans tend to be more mobile than they appear, the ideal strategy is to first stagger the beasts by chopping off a leg or two, then going for the kill once they are momentarily disabled. While airborne, attacks come in two stages: the first is gearing up for the attack, the second is waiting for the onscreen reticule to line up. Succeed in lining up the reticule, and you will perform a critical strike.
Ultimately, this leads to one of the major problems with Humanity in Chains; when targeting their weak points, Titans can only be dispatched with a critical strike. Sticking to regular attacks will only result in far more attempts to take down the titular beasts while also risking the lives of players from retaliating Titans. Worse yet, your character’s blades suffer from durability, and will require stopping to repair them after a few swings. The omnidirectional gear also requires changing gas cylinders after repeated usage, while water is another consumable that hastens health regeneration (because videogames). None of these restoration mechanics are cumbersome as they can all be done with a simple tap of the bottom screen, and the Titans give you plenty of leg room to distance yourselves to apply the repairs.
Another problem lies with the camera; even when using a New 3DS or Circle Pad Pro, the camera speed is too slow. Your character’s view is especially crucial as most of the time you’ll be attacking a Titan from the front, ideally to cripple it with a leg blow, and then immediately make a 180 degree turn to attack its neck. While the camera can be instantly centered with the left shoulder button, it’s not nearly snappy enough for the quick-paced nature of the battles the game is attempting to replicate.
Speaking of replicating the series, it’s pretty telling that Humanity in Chains lifts so many sequences from the show itself in addition to its soundtrack. One look at the in-game visuals makes it clear enough that the game cannot measure up to the high production values of the Anime, especially when it comes to the look of the Titans (who tend to come across as unsettlingly creepy with their exaggerated appearances; here, they just look goofy.). Swinging around the city works somewhat well, but lacks the real sense of flying across the air that several Spider-Man games accomplished many generations ago. There should also be a disclaimer to warn people about playing the game in 3D mode: the framerate is a virtual slideshow and downright unplayable when 3D is enabled, which begs the question on why they didn’t just disable it in the first place.
A lot of the game’s faults could be overlooked in light of a fanservice-fueled package catered to the Attack on Titan fanbase, but the truth is that the overall content is incredibly sparse; the Titan-slaying mechanic makes up almost the entirety of the game, while the special Titan-slaying ability that will stay spoiler-free in this review is also criminally unsatisfying compared to the gorgeously violent visuals from the show itself. The game’s multiplayer-focused World Mode is an interesting feature that has both local and online multiplayer missions, but it will likely remain ignored by all but the most hardcore of Titan fans.
In the end, Attack on Titan: Humanity in Chains is precisely the kind of Anime game that many expected it to be: a quick and uninspired cash-in that tries to utilize its source material to hide the boring and sparse gameplay within. There is no doubt that someone will eventually make a game that replicates much of the thrilling battles that made the series such a breakthrough hit, but for now fans should save their money until these companies get a few more experimental titles under their belts.