There is absolutely nothing wrong with liking anime, and don’t let anyone tell you differently. It’s a form of entertainment, a passive one at that, which often has a lot more depth of story and character development than the average Western cartoon. Sure, we’ve come leagues in the past couple of decades than the Saturday morning lineup that once was presented (did Snorks even have a plot?) but I honestly feel that even the most “grown up” of American animation pales in comparison with the standard stuff that comes out of Japan. Hell, the fact that so many university aged kids latched onto Naruto, a show that is specifically intended for elementary school age, proves that people be thirsty for some in depth anime. And the games are certainly no different, especially when based directly on a show. So it should come as no surprise that there is a multi-layered, hugely expansive game that’s hidden inside the simple title of Attack on Titan 2. In fact, as much as this is a great experience for fans of the show, it may even be better for those blind to the storyline.
The story of Attack on Titan 2 takes place on a world where, one hundred years ago, Titans suddenly appeared. These grotesque, humanoid beings are anywhere from three to thirty meters tall, nonverbal, and solely eat humans for their diet. Worse, they’re regenerative, and rapidly so, so having their arms or legs removed is only a temporary problem. They can only be killed by a direct blow to the base of their skull. Humans have lived in guarded peace behind massive walled cities, but, suddenly, an enormous Titan appears, destroying a wall and allowing Titans to disrupt the uneasy peace that’s existed for a century. You, a survivor of one of the towns slaughtered by the Titan invasion, team up with characters from the manga/animation to join the elite guard that are dedicated to protecting the remains of humanity and vanquishing the Titans. Armed with swords and an incredible mobility device called the ODM (omni directional movement) gear, you and your squad hope to fight back and give a new future to mankind. But, as you soon find out, there’s more to the mystery of the Titans and what it could mean for the fate of the war and, indeed, the world.
Rather than stick you in the position of any of the existing characters, Attack on Titan 2 allows you to customize and design the look of your character, who has a massive number of quirks to adjust and finesse to make an avatar that almost but not quite looks like you, but also fits into the Attack on Titan universe. Your story is the same as Eren, Armin and Mikasa’s, surviving the fall of Shiganshina, and, indeed, there’s a lot at the beginning that runs directly in line with the first couple of story arcs in the manga. However, you quickly start to run parallel, embarking on an original arc that takes advantage of the expansive and dynamic world created for this game. If you’re disappointed you don’t get to be in the shoes of one of your favorite major or minor characters, don’t worry: there’s more coming later that’ll address those concerns. First, let’s break down the main story and the game’s mechanics.
The story mode of Attack on Titan 2 is long. Going into a game that’s based on a manga which started in 2009 and is still running, you probably figured that, but the the game is mercifully based more around the anime than the books. Still, it generously uses framing and ideas from the first season and then delves right into some key moments from the second, and each moment is a serious and significant part of the game. At first, your initial training missions and familiarization with the game will feel like they go quickly, but then the first “arc” will begin, and Jesus Christ is it a doozy. Since the game is fairly liberal about saving and letting you not totally waste your time, players won’t feel like they need to block off hours to play, but there is something to be said for what you need to do in order to both stay focused and also not forget where you are. Should you drop off in the middle of one of these giant arcs, the game will helpfully give you clues and ideas as to “what happened last time” so that you aren’t lost as to why you need to be protecting this Titan instead of fighting it. Keeping in tune with the strokes of the anime is quite important, and Attack on Titan 2 does capture that dynamic.
And the combat, which is 85% of the game, is fantastic. Not since the Spiderman games on the Gamecube have I had this wonderful sense of movement and energy, and that’s equal parts source innovation (the ODM Gear is basically Doc Ock meets Webslinger) and proper implementation of controller mapping. The player can easily and quickly get oriented and fly about the board, making themselves create a beeline for the nearest Titan and dealing with it in groups of AI or, as we see later, with friends/allies online. The Titans need to be targeted on the back of the neck and timing for engaging the swing of the blade needs to be just right for maximum damage and successful slaying. Additionally, cutting off the Titans limbs does double duty by a.) giving everyone something else to target to make more teamwork efforts and b.) making more material loot appear at the end of combat. You really, really need to work out the finer points of when to execute a normal strike, when to do a sneak attack and when a boosted Hail Mary-type rush is the right way to succeed, and you’ll have plenty of trial and error which could easily and quickly lead to you getting eaten. Again, Attack on Titan 2 plans for players to need to grow with the game and has an adjustable difficulty setting that really just makes the game more dynamic depending on how you scale it. Koei Tecmo seems to be really great at executing this idea: the easy difficulty makes the game almost lighthearted and lets players focus more on the storytelling, whereas higher difficulties really make for a better and more satisfying challenge.
My only real gripe with the combat is that you spend way too much time trying to juggle everything that’s happening and rarely get to just focus on one thing. Besides your main mission, there’s also sudden side missions that crop up and should be dealt with immediately for better bonuses and unlocks. At the same time, some characters may suddenly enter life or death situations and only your intervention by being in the right place at the right time will save them. Plus there’s this whole thing with building bases for fighting the Titans, replenish stations, mining, etc. etc. The game is already full to the brim when you finally get moving and things only get more hectic beyond the first couple of levels. Part of the chaos does also help bring to life the horror and magnitude of the neverending war that the humans are waging and how a the value of the group is more than the individual, but you still feel like you want to do and help everyone at the same time…and you simply can’t.
Ducking back into town and visiting the other areas of the human’s kingdom is where Attack on Titan 2 decides to put in the most critical (but also expected) element in an anime based game: friendship building. Yes, when not trying to forge new weapons and scabbards out of stones and elements you found inside giant carnivores, you’re also trying to tap into the mental states of upwards of thirty other characters at the same time to see how they are taking things. There’s not as big of an importance here in terms of other games (you aren’t going to be getting marriage proposals or whatever), but the friendships act as important catalysts for both improving your game and expanding your story. Additional friendship levels unlock important passive skills that up your stats and make combat easier, and also give you additional dialogue and cutscenes to explore more about select characters. If you really wanted to know if Annie was worth getting to know before she went all rogue, then this is the way to do it, and you have a very limited window. Not to mention it really helps keep your strength up, because it can take several battles before you finally happen upon the right ingredients for that ODM Gear with the proper reel speed that you’ve been dreaming about.
Performance wise, Attack on Titan 2 ran damn smooth in both handheld and docked mode, with the only real flaws appearing in terms of draws with NPC soldiers on the field. Since there’s so much to see in this game, the developers have chosen to only draw enemies and friends alike on the screen when it’s relevant, and this can sometimes leave you at a disadvantage. Almost every Titan has the same generic red icon on the minimap, but there’s a world of strategic difference between happening upon a “large” beast and a “holy frigging huge” monster. Still, I distinctly remember the game being a bit choppy in the very first introduction event, and I braced myself for the game to be horrid from that moment onward. I was wrong: the first combat is probably the jankiest, and every subsequent battle, while not butter smooth, ran pretty damn skippy and, best of all, looked fantastic. There’s a difference between the animation of the cutscenes, the controlled dialogue moments and then just being in the thick of it all, but nothing would count as subpar. Your avatar chronically looks like you’d expect: tailored to fit the world, but still out of place because, well, it’s an everyman placement. Even the faceless narrator who crops up between story arcs refers to your character as “our man” in spite of whichever sex you decide. Oh, and thanks for not localizing it with English voice, K/T: the Japanese voice acting remains spot on.
Once the game really gets up and running for the fans at large, I imagine that Attack on Titan 2 is going to be a huge, huge pull for all platforms, not just the Nintendo Switch. A massive story mode, a totally separate “Another” mode to let you run missions and explore story arcs of all 37 (!) story characters, and, yes, there’s online Titan hunting. You don’t battle against other people, but you will compete in teams against each other for Titan bagging and other missions. Some people waited and plotted for months until Fire Emblem was released, and I couldn’t totally understand why. Attack on Titan 2 lets me finally see and get the appeal of these sprawling anime-based games. You aren’t picking up another title tomorrow, or next week, or maybe even next month. This is what you’re doing for the foreseeable future. You’re going to fight giant monsters. And, with the Nintendo Switch, you’ll be doing it in portable style.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.