I don’t get War of the Human Tanks (referred to from here forward as WHT). Looking back on my time with it, honestly I am probably not the audience that would, and while I can’t hold that in itself against the game, it really doesn’t earn it any points either.
WHT tells the story of the war between the Empire and the Kingdom, two warring factions fighting over Japon, which I am sure is some nether realm equivalent to our Japan, but missing fun and karaoke. Jumping between the two factions point of views during the story, the main focus falls on the “General from Hell,” Lt. (yeah he’s actually a lieutenant) Shoutaro and his sister, Chiyoko. Oh, and they control a battalion of robotic Japanese girls that function as tanks. At least I think they are robots.
Gameplay might be an unfair approximation with WHT, as you spend less then a quarter of the “game” actually controlling anything. The majority of your time is spent clicking through dialog representative of a manga.
Being a card carrying member of the Diablo Loot Pinata and Bake Sale Association, my clicking technique is strong, and yet even I found myself searching for a keyboard shortcut just to make it all go faster. There is a "Message Skip" option, but that simply pumps the Chibi sprites and their endless conversations up to Ludicrous Speed. Things, being as they were, would not have been serviced any better by going to plaid.
Most conversations are comprised of Staff Sgt Satou berating her boss Shoutaro for being childlike and not taking his responsibilities more seriously, or Satou berating Chiyoko for being childlike and not taking her responsibilities more seriously. Occasionally, Shoutaro and Chiyoko beg Satou to make them lunch/dinner, because without her they eat nothing but ramen. Strewn in between these riotous interactions is poor Heshiko, a human “command” tank, whose functions also include clean up and mail carrying.
Now I kind of get the point of the overall story, which is split into episodes, which themselves are designed as though they were an actual anime and not a game, complete with an opening title sequence (complete with cheesy j-pop song) and credits. Or rather I think I do. The human tanks are treated like absolute garbage, have zero rights within the society they protect, and are often treated like nothing more then simply cannon fodder by the actual commanders commanding them. Seeing them as an analog to traditional soldiers and the struggles they face within the military on top of the often tragic life that awaits their return, the portions of the story where they are mentioned and treated as though they are nothing are especially heartbreaking.
And then I am rocketed back to the fact that they are represented by black-eyed chibi Japanese school girls, some of them armed with machine guns, others with artillery strapped to their backs, a representation I found about as enjoyable as the last 20 mins of Happy Feet (a movie about dancing penguins turns into An Inconvenient Truth starring Elijah Wood and his antenna that left my then 5 year-old step-son saying “What is this?”).
Story aside, the ten minutes when you do actually get to “play” the game, are not bad at all. Starting in the Pre-battle area, you’re given the opportunity to build/purchase human tanks, each with a variety of functions. Each are also upgradeable in between episodes using the in-game currency (called “supplies” it represents requisition materials acquired by sending back parts to the Kingdom).
When you are done building your black-eyed school girls of war, you set a preliminary formation within your home grid before starting the match. Any hexes outside of your starting area are covered in a “fog of war” (they all just say unknown), and can be uncovered by general troop movements (all units vision extends one hex in each of the cardinal directions), or by the Recon command, which is can be used by either Command or Scout tanks and clears a larger portion of hexes. If not moved to quickly, hexes do revert back to unknown status, including hexes in the home grid.
Each human tank receives it commands wirelessly; this is represented on screen by a pulsing “connecting” icon, with individual units displaying the word “connected” when they are ready to be issued commands. With turns happening in real time, your mission is to destroy your opponents Command tank while keeping yours safe, which can be a bit of a pain depending on the tank load out you chose. Occasionally the enemy gets a bit fancier then single hex tanks, with some larger variations making their way on to the field. My favorite was the 5 girl/10 hex Super Tank, which I called “Creepy Voltron." Point of note, this was also the first tank that was not one hit, one kill.
Once the battle is over, you are cashed out and awarded crates based on your performance. If you are interested in playing more then just the story missions, which are not many, or simply need more crates to train up your tanks, you can engage in what amounts to replay battles. The only limit is your own enjoyment!
WHT also offers a new game plus mode, where your tanks and upgardes can be carried back through another telling of the story.
Dialog sections are presented on static backgrounds that look like photos that are slightly out of focus, with characters popping up from the bottom of the screen in dramatic, wide-eyed poses meant to instill life into the oodles and oodles of written dialog. The drawn sprites look nice, with some vivid colors, and some are rather cutesy, especially Chiyoko with her wild hair.
Battlegrid sections could stand to be a bit more detailed, especially with human tanks being represented by a picture of their chibi exterior. Some, like the scout tank with her radar helm, are easy to tell apart, but others, like the assault and artillery tanks are a bit more difficult.
With Dialog to game sitting at about 80:20, and having gotten nothing from the story, there was not a lot to keep me interested. I really feel like I missed something important, as I am normally able to find something of note even within the most lackluster of stories (I am looking at you Alpha Protocol) but there was just nothing here for me. I even replayed the first two episodes to see if I missed an important story beat, but alas, there was nothing. With nothing to keep me involved, grid battles, while functionally sound and by themselves at least slightly engrossing, became just simple back and forths, with nothing at stake and no real reason to care.
War of the Human Tanks is not for me. Whether by virtue of simply missing something culture wise to explain why the human tanks are all school girls, or even what the hell is going on in Japon anyway, working through this game was a slog and a half. If you happen to be a Japan-aphile and see something in this that I missed, feel free to leave a comment and let me know, because I would love for this game to mean more then it did while I was playing it.