God Eater 2: Rage Burst opens with your stereotypical animated intro: it's got punchy Japanese rock, a nice sense of style, and it does a fine job of getting you pumped for some God eating action. Bandai Namco's latest export gives a good first impression, then, but you may struggle to maintain your enthusiasm as you begin to tear into the title proper.
Now, that's not to say Rage Burst is a bad action role-playing game – far from it, in fact – but it tries its hardest to put you off before you've had a chance to really get stuck in. The release prides itself on the sheer amount of customisation that it offers: there are six different fighting styles to choose from, you can craft your own weapons, guns, and shields, equip specific skills to your gear, and you can even retool your party's abilities to give each member a different role to play in combat. There are countless combinations of skills, equipment, and character abilities to experiment with, but the underlying problem here is that the title barely explains how it all works.
Look at it this way: we were nine hours into the game before we discovered that we could switch elemental bullets on the fly. We were around 15 hours in when we finally worked out how to use our long blade's 'Zero Stance' – the only guidance we had on the matter was a non-playable character telling us that it was the weapon's unique ability, but neither he nor the game actually told us how to pull it off. Put simply, Rage Burst is an unnecessarily obtuse release that would really benefit from having a step-by-step tutorial.
You could argue that there's a distinct learning curve at work here, but almost all of this stuff is thrown into your lap after you've completed a couple of basic training missions. It's an overwhelming amount of intricacies to wrap your head around, especially if you haven't tested the waters with God Eater Resurrection – Rage Burst's predecessor. Compounding the problem further is the story's initially slow pace and boring missions. It takes a good few hours for the plot to offer up anything that'll truly grab your attention, and it takes even longer for quests to start posing any real challenge.
However, if you can get through the first five to ten hours of Rage Burst – and we admit that may be a big ask – then there's a good chance that you'll start to get hooked. By this point, you'll have come to understand many of the systems that we mentioned earlier, and you'll have found firm footing within the story. Like any good monster slaying RPG, God Eater is hard to put down when you're making progress, whether you're upgrading your weapons or getting to the bottom of the latest plot point. When you've got something to work towards, everything seems to click into place, and you're left with a structured, rewarding, and addictive experience.
There's no doubt, though, that the game's at its best when you're in the thick of it, bringing down huge beasts with your team. As is the case with Koei Tecmo's Toukiden series, your CPU controlled companions are very good at what they do – they very rarely get knocked out during combat, and they're quick to heal you or back you up if you're struggling. While their prowess in battle does mean that the title can feel a bit too easy at times, there's a pleasant sense of camaraderie as you and your buddies fight side by side.
Speaking of fighting, the game's combat system offers up a lot of fast paced fun. At its core, Rage Burst is a relatively simple hack and slasher with a shooter twist; you can switch between your melee weapon and your secondary gun at will, allowing for a quick change of tactics whenever you feel like it. Couple the switching mechanic with combo chains, powerful special moves, and a slick evasive dash, and you've got the recipe for some dynamic and engaging action.
Needless to say, another layer of depth is added to battle when you bring other players into the mix. Online co-op allows for up to four God Eaters to group up and tackle missions together with their custom characters, and although some objectives can seem trivial when you're working with three competent players, harder quests demand a touch of teamwork, and when you and your comrades click – taking down colossal monsters in the process – it's incredibly satisfying.
Co-op play may emphasise what the release gets right when it comes to combat, tactics, and teamwork, but you don't have to get social in order to enjoy the huge amount of content that the game houses. Set aside from the main story objectives, optional hard missions provide plenty of opportunity to get back onto the field of battle and hone your skills, while special missions pop up from time to time and give you a chance to grab an abundance of extra crafting materials.
But even if you ignored all of the title's optional content, you'd still be presented with a lengthy campaign to cut through. As we wrote earlier, the game's plot does take a little while to really get going, but once it does, it makes for a reasonably interesting post-apocalyptic tale, despite its fondness for anime character archetypes and cliches. Indeed, the cast isn't the best written or the best developed that you'll find in an RPG, but their personalities do bounce off each other quite nicely, and as the main character, you're always made to feel like you're pivotal to the plot, with an emphasis on dialogue choices and your ability to form bonds of friendship with your ragtag allies.
So, Rage Burst plays well and it tells a decent story, but how does it look and sound? Being a PlayStation 4 port of a Vita title, it's perhaps no surprise that it appears rough around the edges, but a colourful art direction and a host of cool character and monster designs are usually enough to keep you from getting hung up on the title's shoddy textures. Meanwhile, the audio features a surprisingly great electro-rock soundtrack, but the voice acting doesn't fare quite so well. The Western release is dubbed in English only, and while the voice work is solid across the board, there are baffling moments where the dialogue sounds horribly compressed – like it was recorded through a phone in someone's bathroom. We don't know whether this is some sort of bug or if the developer ran out of working microphones during production, but what we do know is that it's insanely jarring, and can really take you out of the moment.
God Eater 2: Rage Burst provides hours upon hours of monster slaying fun, but only if you have the patience to wrap your head around its overwrought progression systems. Once you've broken through the initial slog and you're confident in your God eating abilities, you'll find an addictive action RPG that's enjoyable as both a snack and as a three-course meal.