Some gamers may find it easy to slap a well-worn “Monster Hunter knock-off” label on the entire God Eater franchise and call it a day. After all, the series borrows a lot of elements from Capcom’s influential monster-slaying adventures, from the way it handles and distributes missions to the vast assortment of weaponry you have at your disposal at any given time. In truth, God Eater wouldn’t exist if not for Monster Hunter, so if you dismissed the entire franchise as nothing more than a cash-in from an opportunistic developer eager to get their hands on some of that creature-crushing cash, no one would blame you for it. However, if your preconceived notions prevent you from checking out the genuinely enjoyable God Eater 3, the latest installment in series from the folks at Bandai Namco, you could miss out on something special. Yes, you’ve likely encountered the game’s mechanics and what-not in various Monster Hunter games, but the title’s reliance on anime-fueled teenage shenanigans and lightning-fast combat allow it to stand on its own, even when you may find it difficult to ignore the similarities.
I need to set one thing straight right off the proverbial bat: God Eater 3 makes some pretty bold assumptions about your working knowledge of the franchise as a whole. After a brief sequence that introduces our heroes and their lives as monster-slaying slaves, as well as a few brief tutorials that teach you the basics, you’re tossed into a story that, honestly, doesn’t make a lot of sense if you’re unfamiliar with some the lore. While the game has that “easy to play, hard to master” mentality, you will do a fair amount of head-scratching in-between confrontations if you don’t spend some time getting to know what, precisely, happened to the world and why children have no choice but to wield weapons called “God Arcs” and battle monstrosities called Aragami for the sake of mankind. Granted, you can get by without knowing anything whatsoever about God Eater 3, though you’ll benefit greatly from a bit of research. Thankfully, God Eater’s lore doesn’t reach Kingdom Hearts levels of absurdity, but possessing some knowledge of the story helps matters considerably (the game has mountains of text to read on this front).
The question remains: If you don’t give two salty licks about God Eater lore and simply want to smack around monsters with your squadron of adorable anime tropes, will complete and utter ignorance of the material stand in your way? Thankfully, not at all. The plot involves shady and ruthless government types acting in shady and ruthless ways as they attempt to locate a locate a weapon called Odin that could, in theory, rid the world of enormous creatures called Ash Aragamis (this, of course, is a gross oversimplification). God Eater 3 also manages to offer up a little political intrigue, some interesting plot twists and turns, and a bit of character growth, all of which benefit from the lore. That said, you can use the third installment as your entry point for the series and still enjoy everything the game has to offer. For example, I’m no God Eater expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I still found myself invested in the characters and their monster-hunting plight. In fact, my enjoyment of the story as a whole surprised me, as I didn’t really expect God Eater 3 to deliver on that front whatsoever.
After you create your silent protagonist and spend some time burning through the tutorials, you’ll begin to experience the simple, irresistible joys of God Eater 3’s game loop, which, again, doesn’t stray too far from its contemporaries. Basically, you spend your downtime in a central hub (you start from a jail cell before moving on to more interesting accommodations), where you’ll accept missions that involve traveling to a certain area, locating your target, and mashing buttons until the Aragami in question collapses in defeat. You’ll receive some goodies for your efforts — ranging from blueprints for weapons and clothing to the materials required to bring these creations to life — return to the hub, chat with your peers, and do it all over again. Because of God Eater’s brisk pacing and its focus on more arcade-y combat, the loop never feels like a burden or a mind-numbing grind. Which is a good thing, because you’ll spend a lot of time hunting creatures, crafting gear, replenishing supplies, and accepting missions. It might start to feel repetitive after a while, but it never runs out of fun.
Like its brethren, God Eater 3 caters to a wide variety of play styles. Want to rely on slow, methodical attacks that can deal impressive damage to your foes with each and every strike? God Eater has you covered. Interested in picking up a scythe (my weapon of choice) and drowning your ugly adversaries in an onslaught of slashing attacks that will leave your tender fingers gasping for air? God Eater 3 aims to please. Additionally, you can use your God Arc to literally extract energy from these humongous enemies and use that power (called Burst) to increase the damage you deal, adding yet another layer of strategy and technique to a game that, on the surface, doesn’t look overly complicated. Additionally, you can easily switch between your oversized melee weapon to an enormous gun with the press of a button, allowing you to switch up tactics depending on the monster and its behavior. If you need even more features to keep you occupied, you can upgrade your weapon, learn and level up different Burst abilities, assign attributes to your squad of like-minded God Eaters, learn how to use traps to make downing monsters a little easier — it can get overwhelming pretty quickly if you don’t take the time to learn how each piece fits together.
Thankfully, God Eater 3 truly excels at combat, which involves a fair amount of button-mashing and a little bit of strategy, though you can forego the strategy and spend your entire stint in the Ashlands spamming attacks and hoping for the best. While this might work during the early missions, you’ll soon discover that building a strong team, learning which fighting style works best for you, and utilizing tools, grenades, and buffs will help turn the tide in your favor when the fray gets messy and complicated. Mindlessly pressing the attack buttons works even less when you’re squaring off against the Ash Aragami, giant creatures that possess lightning reflexes and seemingly unstoppable strength. Fortunately, you’ll have plenty of practice before one of these behemoths pops up on the radar. By that time, however, you should possess a rudimentary understanding of the systems and mechanics, not to mention a play style that feels comfortable when things start to get fast and furious. Encounters can get chaotic in the blink of an eye, so building that muscle memory early on will make the late-game fights a lot less taxing on your brain and patience, especially when the Ash Aragamis seemingly focus all their attention on you and you alone.
“But what about the monsters?” you ask in desperation. Sure, you might enjoy knocking them around the screen, but do they offer any sort of appeal on a purely visual level? Well, yes and no. While God Eater 3 certainly looks fantastic — after all, it’s the first entry in the series that didn’t originate on a portable platform — the creature designs themselves don’t really dazzle the senses. Many of the creatures appeared in earlier God Eater games, which brings a nice sense of familiarity as well as a feeling that you’ve already scaled this particular mountain. Still, some of the monsters look intimidating due to their size and the number of grotesque embellishments they tend to sport (the horse-like thing with the tank treads unnerved me on a level that I’m still not comfortable discussing with anyone at the moment). The monsters never look particularly bad, mind you, but when compared to the foes you’ll face in both Monster Hunter World and Toukiden 2, they start to feel a little drab and nondescript. Besides, if you’ve eviscerated one spider that explodes upon death, you’ve essentially eviscerated them all.
God Eater 3 also sports some sweet co-op and multiplayer options, assuming you’re the type of person who enjoys gathering together a group of friends to battle these twisted albeit familiar horrors. The assault missions offer the most bang for their buck, as they allow up to eight players to team up against one of the game’s mightier, more ferocious foes. Fortunately for those of us who don’t have any friends who also enjoy teen-oriented anime-type games with a focus on hack-and-slash combat, you can work with a team of AI God Eaters to wage these epic battles. You’ll also earn some nifty skills during these assault missions that will help you during the campaign, so it’s wise to jump in there every so often to take advantage of the perks these conquests have to offer. While working with AI companions allows you to complete the job and reap the rewards, it goes without saying that playing with friends will up the fun factor in a number of different ways. In theory, anyway.
All in all, God Eater 3 excels at providing a tight, fast-paced monster-hunting experience that caters to people who love to think their way through encounters and those of us who might spend a little too much time mashing buttons for the win. Sure, the story doesn’t strive for excellence, and use of a silent protagonist forces his goofy companions to do the heavy lifting in terms of exposition, but the game still serves up a rewarding narrative while delivering some truly engaging combat. While you can certainly smash your way through every encounter without putting much thought into strategy, God Eater 3 definitely rewards those players who put a little thought and planning into their assaults. If you’ve always believed that the combat in the Monster Hunter series felt a little too slow at times, the third installment of Bandai Namco’s enjoyable franchise offers a fantastic alternative that will keep you entertained until the final Aragami has taken its bow.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game. A copy was provided by Bandai Namco.