There are lots of things that have disappointed me with modern gaming. Unfinished games, patches used to finish games which players still have to pay full price for on release, the awful milking of downloadable content (specifically disc-locked content), rehashes of various games, and an all-round bad approach from publishers and (some) developers to gamers - the people that, after all, keep the gaming market rolling. So when I first read of a Lost Planet spin-off to be released by Capcom only in Asia you could imagine my pessimism and lack of excitement: I have been on a boycott of Capcom games as of late in relation to many of the negative practises which they in particular have been involved in. But I was interested, or at the very least curious. As I am more comfortably understanding now, the majority of Western games aren't currently my cup of tea apart from a few particular titles from certain developers (developers such as CD Projekt Red, for example). An Asia-only release for this title intrigued me - why would it not be released elsewhere? I thought, "If Capcom can make money from it worldwide there's no doubt they'd go for it, so there must be some reason why it's not being localised elsewhere". Eventually I found myself poking my nose into articles about the game and watching different chunks of footage from it. Even though it was from Capcom (and I did regularly remind myself of this fact when I needed to) I found myself wanting the title, and after giving a heads-up to a friend of mine who also liked the look of it, it seemed set that I was going to get it. Actually pushing myself to buy the title was a little harder as I felt like I'd be a bit of a hypocrite to cave in when I was supposed to be staying away from Capcom games, but considering the chances of me getting a second-hand copy of E.X. Troopers were slim-to-none, I went for it.
Now I have little knowledge of the Japanese language. I have been teaching myself it for a few short weeks but I have only just begun, so this review is basically one from the viewpoint of a player that can (for the most part) only rely on common sense to get through the game. In terms of the story, I'll be honest, I didn't really know what was going on much of the time. It's not impossible to put some of the threads together though. You play as the rather energetic and animated Bren, a pupil of a school of fighters on the planet EDN-3rd which has 3 different bases which you can travel between. ... Well that's kind of the limit to what I know. There are monsters on the planet which you have to take out and you'll have other types of missions, but for the most part you'll pretty much just always be busy kicking some monster behind.
OK, I kid. I know a little more than that at least, but to go into detail of what I perceive to be this or that fact or snippet of the story and inevitably make myself look like a fool through my ignorance would be pointless, so let's talk about what I do know for sure. E.X. Troopers has a big cast of major characters which you will encounter and which you can take along with you in missions, but you can only control Bren unless you're playing in the VR area. For a game that you would presume would have a large emphasis on combat, E.X. Troopers actually has quite a lot of dialogue and scenes and Capcom made a very good effort with what seems to be a pretty deep narrative. Even though I got this game only really for the gameplay, I genuinely wish I knew the required Japanese to understand the majority of what was going on because even in just trying to decipher scenes through the tones of voice-acting and general reactions (physical and verbal), I felt pretty engrossed in the events playing out. On that remark, E.X. Troopers' voice-acting is exquisite, particularly that of Bren, Julie and Chris.
Scenes predominantly take the form of a comic-book style exchange. These scenes rarely intrude upon the game though, and you're free to skip the majority of them as you please and watch them later if you like in case you missed something. However the start of the game is quite scene-heavy and can be a bit slow to get going as the player is introduced to the world and gameplay of E.X. Troopers - it may become a little frustrating as you wait for some longer missions to sink your teeth into, but that wait pays off in the end. Cel-shading is a type of art style that isn't used very often in modern video-games, but when done right it can give off a really pretty look. Unfortunately, particularly during the comic-book scenes of the game, cel-shading here isn't of a particularly appealing look. In fact much of the time it can look a little weak, lacking in colour and sharpness. However apart from in those scenes the game does look decent, particularly during combat.
There's a certain witty element to E.X. Troopers and the nature of the humour of the game is perhaps one of the reasons why the title isn't likely to be localised outside of Asia. Random exclamations of phrases that would translate into something like "We're Number One!", walking into women's bathrooms and getting caught literally with your trousers around your ankles (if you're lucky), going into battle in swimsuits... just maybe these sorts of jokes and features are things some people outside of Asia wouldn't find particularly funny, but I sure did. Customisation is one of the more fun aspects of the game. You can earn medals from completing missions and from completing missions with particular constraints in the VR area, and these medals can be used to buy either music, or different outfits for characters (including the aforementioned swimsuits, not to mention other teasing getups). You can also buy and upgrade a decent number of weapons so you have a range of different attributes you can focus on. In order to upgrade weapons, however, you'll need specific items which you'll be able to obtain from large enemies, from NPCs, or on the ground scattered around the bases of the school.
The thing that most surprised me and impressed me, though, is the phenomenal soundtrack. It's hard to describe it precisely because of how varied much of it is and how differently synth and other instruments are used over the range of the whole soundtrack. E..X. Troopers' OST boasts over 80 tracks, but not only does the high-speed, lively music suit the world and the gameplay of E.X. Troopers, but it has some magnificent tracks that could be just as good anywhere else. Many tracks take on a very peaceful, relaxing tone, such as Frontier Base which plays as you travel around that location, while other tracks are a lot more vivid and vibrant like Dogfight. And while I'm not usually one to dig J-pop, I can't help but admit that I'm in love with one of the game's main tracks, Starry Conversation (Triangle Mix). Even listening to just these 3 tracks one can see how different much of the music in the game is, and this is just one of many reasons why this soundtrack is so incredibly impressive and, put frankly, awesome.
Onto what is surely the main attraction of the game - the gameplay! The best way I can describe E.X. Troopers' mission layout and gameplay sections is to say it is like a smaller-scaled Lost Planet (what a surprise), but with the speed and pandemonium of combat in Vanquish. Missions are in general relatively short (especially if compared to Lost Planet), and the area in which these missions take place is fairly small, but there's tons of action in-between. You have main and secondary weapons, the first usually being used to gradually drain health from the enemy while the second can have a variety of effects depending on which particular weapon you choose to use (you can use a mini-LMG which deals heavy damage in close-quarters, you can use rocket launchers, you can use grenade launchers which launch stun explosives, or one of the many other types to choose from). All of your characters have jet-packs in order to travel decent distances at quick speed, and these jet-packs also allow you to prolong dodges just in-case you need to gain an extra few yards of space. Melee attacks are also at your disposal, some of which allow you to juggle enemies in the air if you can time attacks well (and kicking someone away as they fall from the sky is something I personally never tire of), which can give you an advantage if in close range to certain enemies. A well-timed dodge will leave your enemy open to what may effectively be regarded as a parry attack, where you can launch a powerful, piercing shot that will knock enemies back. If you're looking for pure damage, though, the EX-T move is your best bet. Underneath your health bar are 5 stars, and once you fill these stars up by collecting yellow goo from enemies as you take them apart (OK this obviously isn't the proper explanation but this way it sounds less dull) you can use this move which will launch either a large ball of fire, or a rain of arrowed attacks depending on which type of EX-T attack you choose before you suit-up for a mission. Speed, timing and skill is the core of E.X. Trooper's combat and makes pretty much every mission different from the rest. Perhaps the only downside to the game is the lack of real variety in mini-bosses and bosses throughout the game, but that doesn't make most missions any less fun to play through.
Bren can also pilot a robot-like AI prototype which can speak to its owner, called Gingira. In other words, if you like mech battles, you'll like using Gingira. You will only participate in these battles a few times throughout the game but it just adds another dimension to combat in the game and mixes things up a bit more. Admittedly, Capcom could have developed a more unique usage of it against bosses, but for the most part in boss battles it is just a case of evade, evade, evade, attack. Nonetheless Gingira is still pretty fun to use when you get the chance.
In general missions are pretty short especially if you compare them to those of a game like Lost Planet, but there are a lot more missions here so you're hardly missing out. At the beginning of the game these small battles can become a bit of a nuisance as you're slowly introduced to the game, but later on as they become more challenging and as more enemies are introduced (particularly the larger ones) they become more enjoyable. There's also a huge host of VR Missions which you can choose from, and particularly late on in the game as more become available to you, this is where you'll find some of the more challenging encounters of the game. Some NPCs around the bases will have particular challenges for you to complete and try and obtain the top position in, although a few more of these wouldn't have gone unwanted. You can also play any VR Missions with other players through co-op if you need a hand or if you just want an extra bit of fun. If you really want a test of your skill, there's a Versus mode to try, but unfortunately due to the relatively poor sales of E.X. Troopers it's not always a very easy task to find other players to play with. But when you do find them, chances are you'll be in for a hiding with the skill of some players online (oh, is that just me?), but it's always for fun, there's no real competitive edge to it.
E.X. Troopers has its flaws like a lack of a deep variety of bosses, and perhaps some missions that may be a little too short, but it has been for me one of the most enjoyable games I've played this generation easily. In fact I don't even want to enclose it in any type of category, it's just a ridiculously fun and addictive game regardless of generation or platform, and it won't disappear from my gaming memories any time soon. It has an unforgettable soundtrack, a wide cast and a seemingly pretty good story, and some high-paced, but most importantly fun combat. Do you need Japanese (or whichever Asian language you use in the case that you opt for the Asian version of the game) in order to be able to enjoy E.X. Troopers? No, you really don't which is why Capcom deserve praise for making such an import-friendly game. Rarely will you look at the screen in wonder and say "well what am I supposed to do here?". There are tons of very simple and clear icons for almost everything you'll need to tamper with. Mind you, knowing the language the game is in would be a big plus because you can derive even further enjoyment from a game with a thorough focus on combat but which is also highly story oriented, not to mention some of the fantastic voice-acting that goes along with it. It isn't by any means a revolutionary game, but with the freedom you get through exploration and interaction in each of the bases, the fluidity of combat and the eccentricity of characters, it'd be hard to walk away from the game and say you didn't have a heap of fun with it. Capcom haven't won me over just yet, and sadly the low sales of E.X. Troopers will most likely mean that we won't see another title like this any time soon, but thanks to this title they've easily convinced me that I ought to give some of their titles more of a chance in the future.