Manga and anime were two things I absolutely loved in my junior and senior high school years, but something that I don’t pay much attention to now as I’ve gravitated to traditional North American comics in my adult years. That being said, one series that I’ve found myself completely engrossed in is the Kodansha published Attack on Titan, a story about humanity’s desperate survival behind a walled city against monstrous titans with an insatiable appetite for humans. To combat the threat of the titans, humans developed a tool known as ODM (omni-directional movement) gear, basically two grappling hooks attached to harness powered by a gas cylinder that turns average people into Spider-Man, to even the odds. When watching the awe-inducing acrobatics found in both the manga and anime, it’s easy to stop and think “wow, this would make an incredible game”, however the first game to arrive on stores based on the property, Attack on Titan: Humanity in Chains, a download only game for the Nintendo 3DS, is not that game.
Humanity in Chains story is a retelling of the first arc of the anime series, starting with the attack of the Colossal titan and ending with the downfall of the Armored Female Titan. If terms like “Colossal Titan” or “ODM gear” mean little or nothing to you, the game does a decent job of summing up the events of several volumes of manga and a full season of anime. This is done via short text summaries as well as full, nicely compressed clips from the anime, starting the whole package off with the phenomenal opening sequence:
The issue with the story however is that the game’s campaign is divided among five different characters: Eren, Mikasa, Levi, Sasha and Armin. You have some degree of freedom in how you go about completing the campaign, but certain characters story lines overlap with one another, leading to repeated cut-scenes and duplicated missions. This wouldn’t be so bad if the game provided some sort of direction in how the story is supposed to play out, but it doesn’t. I finished a series of missions with one character which led to the roll of the final credits and this was when I only around twenty-seven or so of the campaign’s missions actually completed.
What attracted me to download this game from the Nintendo eShop was the prospect of using the ODM gear in a video game, and starting out, this game makes a great first impression. Hitting the R trigger makes you air born as you swing around like a certain wall-crawler. Unlike Spider-Man 2, you don’t have to anchor your grappling cables to buildings, which may turn away some but I found it completely acceptable, especially given the hardware the game is running on. Once you get a handle on movement, there’s the matter of attacking titans and like the first time you send your character zipping through the air, it’s equally satisfying dispatching your first titan . While air born, you can target several of the titans weak points by hitting the Y-button which sends you flying towards your gargantuan foe. Hitting the X button puts you into attack mode where you try to hit at just the right time to deal as much damage as possible. The goal mostly is to weaken a titans legs to line up a hit on the nape of a titan’s neck, the designated kill spot for those unfamiliar with the property.
The problem is that this activity makes up a majority of the game and it gets uninteresting very quickly. The titans get bigger and larger in number, but the way you take them out remains the same. Once you get a hang of the mechanics, which doesn’t take long, you can easily hit critical on nearly every attack run. Not helping matters is not only how small the environments feel, but how similar they all look. With forty-two missions, you’ll see the same interior city repeated for well over half of them, and run into an invisible barrier just as you’re getting in an excellent rhythm with your swinging. These small areas are more than likely due to the limitations of having this game on the 3DS, and while they make sense for quick portable play sessions, it doesn’t make the cramped playing arenas any more bearable.
Towards the latter half of each character’s campaign you’ll venture outside of the city stages and into a giant forest or a field where you can ride on a horse, but you’re doing the same things you did before, with the only added mission objective of literally running around in a circle while on horse back. A few missions put you in the shoes of a titan where you can fight enemies with your fists, but the mechanics are overly basic and the stages don’t last that long. Worse still you never really feel like you’re a giant, powerful monster.
The cast of five playable characters more or less play the same, which is both good and bad. Good in that you can easily switch from a character like Armin to Levi without a hitch, but also disappointing in that a character like Levi, a respected titan slayer in the manga/anime, doesn’t feel that much different from anyone else. One character that is different and stands out in the worst possible way is Sasha, whose missions made me want to throw my 3DS at a wall. Her missions add much-needed variety from the usual titan slaying, but not in a way that’s in the least bit fun. Each of Sasha’s missions charge you with locating five pieces of food that are represented by small, blue balls of light that are nearly impossible to stop while moving quickly around through the air, so you more or less have to methodically run up and down through each map on foot looking for these easy to miss collectibles. One of her more frustrating missions forced you to do this while at the same time defending a small area from titans and was much harder that what the game determines is the final level to roll the final credits on.
Outside of the main story there’s a second mode called “World Tour” that is a little bit more interesting, yet at the same time not that engaging. In World Tour you can do things like level up your character, recruit people to your army to bring along on missions, craft weapons and even play with a friend should you know someone else who has a copy of the game. With all of these additions however, the missions still boil down to the same, uninteresting goals as the campaign and thus fail to be an interesting alternative.
I played Humanity in Chains on my regular 3DS that I purchased at launch, and if you absolutely feel the need to play this game, at the very least pick up a circle-pad pro accessory. You can theoretically play this game on a regular 3DS, however camera control is extremely important and adjusting it with the directional-pad just doesn’t cut it. If you happened to upgrade to the New 3DS XL this year or plan to get one in the near future, you can use the additional stick for camera control, but I should stress that this game is not worth upgrading to a new system if you already own a 3DS.
I have no doubt there will be an awesome Attack on Titan game in the future, whether it’s the upcoming title from Koei-Tecmo or a far off project. Those hoping for a suitable alternative until those games arrive are still better off sticking with the anime or manga than investing in Humanity in Chains. While swinging around and toppling titans is fun at first, doing the same thing over and over in very claustrophobic environments quickly wears thin. Fans may like it when it drops price, but as someone who dislikes manga and loves Attack on Titan, I was left wanting.