Gigantic and nightmarish humanoid titans have run mankind to the brink of an extinction. What’s left of humanity has been cornered into within three reinforced walls of the last remaining city. It’s only a matter of time until these hulking monstrosities break through. Every capable young are enlisted to join a desperate war against the titans. Fighting in the air with their omnidirectional mobility gear, brave cadets and seasoned veterans alike constantly engage their overpowering enemies. This is the world of Attack on Titan, a popular and long-running manga which has enjoyed a worldwide success as anime TV-series too. The video game adaptation Attack on Titan: Wings of Freedom, released two years ago, was based on the first season of anime. Surprisingly, Attack on Titan 2 isn’t so much a sequel than a re-imagination of the first game. It’s not only about action anymore but closing in on JRPG conventions too.
Getting into Attack on Titan 2 doesn’t require any prior knowledge of the franchise. After all, it’s a third interpretation of the story already seen in manga and anime and told through plentiful narrative throughout. The game recounts the same events as its prequel before poking into the second season of anime. At this point, one might ask why it takes two games to tell much of the same story content? A good question, but the one with a plausible answer. Attack on Titan 2 is the game the first should have been. It was pretty okay but marred by disjointed narrative and some wonky camera which couldn’t keep up with the high-octane action.
Attack on Titan: Wings of Freedom featured exploits of the franchise’s heroic trio; Eren, and his best friends Mikasa and Armin, who all were playable during different parts of the game. They were joined by the scout supreme Levi and other characters from manga and anime too. In the main campaign of Attack on Titan 2 there’s only one playable character, and the best part is – and the most important improvement over the original game – that we get to create our own rookie to join the 104th Cadet Corps. The game is told through flashbacks of his or her recently found war diary, depicting the events the new recruit took part in with familiar faces of the series.
Character creation is a rare treat in Japanese roleplaying games that almost always come with preset heroes. Even though the rookie looks like an anime boy or girl, the creation tools are pretty comprehensive, easily better than those in the recent JRPG Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet. After fiddling with the editor for quite a while (and later tweaking some details in the private room of the barracks), my brave cadet girl, Pihla Rinne, was ready to enroll. I can’t stress enough how rewarding it is to have my own character to join the fray alongside the established series cast. It also gives the video game adaptation much-needed focus missing from the prequel.
Attack on Titan 2 conveys the frantic fight against the titans on a whole different level than the manga, or even anime, can do. It looks similar to the 3rd person action of the first game but is refined further. The controls are streamlined and the camera is pulled back to give a better view of the action. The camera swoops and spins like a tamed dog, smartly picking up and following our brave cadet high in the air, zipping between the towering titans with wire-operated ODM gear. Gone is the wobbly view of the original game, which made especially scaling the buildings a real pain. Think of Spider-Man spinning his webs to move across the Big Apple and you get the idea of the player movement. Suspended in the air and moved forward by gas-powered wires, nimbly animated acrobatic fighter flips and yanks ahead to close in on towering enemies.
The titans totter around, their dreadful eyes hungry for human flesh and arms groping to snatch unwary meat popsicles. You fire your wires into titan’s body and zoom in for the attack with dual-blades. The arms and legs can be cut off to hamper the movement, but they will eventually grow back. The critical point of any titan is its nape, a small area on back of their necks. When critically hit, it’s one less titan to worry about. Blades wear out and the gas depletes in the heat of battle, so they must be replenished time to time from buildable supply bases. You don’t need to face the titans all alone, though. Brothers and sisters in arms buzz around them like angry bees, and even though they can be issued orders, AI controls them well enough, rarely needing your input. Their special attacks, activated through corresponding d-pad button, can take titan out in a single blow. You need to earn the comrade’s respect first, and that’s the other side of the game.
In-between story missions, Attack on Titan 2 goes further beyond the original game into JRPG territory. Building up relationships with the series cast is often optional, but if you skip it you’d be less endorsed in the action and miss out some interesting story details. Meeting up with a character brings up little scenes with dialogue choices. If you strike the right chord with their innermost feelings, the relationship status increases, eventually giving ability points and skill bonuses. These can be equipped as the player character is leveled up, giving much needed leverage in the ever-increasing titan threat. More options are presented by progressing in the game, like regiment politics, different exercises and further advancing in relationships, all to strength abilities with. Even after the player character has officially joined the scout regiment and spends most of the time on the field outside the walls, it’s possible to relive daily life as flashbacks and improve relationships through there.
As often is the case with most of JRPGs, the build-up can be slow. Sometimes it feels like there’s too much yapping around before getting to the point. Some scenes don’t even add up, like so-called further training. You’d expect at least some level of interaction to gain ability boosts, but the training here is a collection of flimsy cutscenes with random outcomes. Luckily, there are plenty of optional scout missions to do in between the story quests to escape boredom. Consisting of a few mini-missions, they actually exist to grind materials to upgrade and develop weapons and ODM gear, and to gain Wings of Freedom points to earn respect among your peers. The core gameplay of fighting titans is so thrilling that I was actually looking forward to do more and more scout missions as I went on. There’s also a separate “another mode”, a series of scout missions playable either solo or via online co-op with the franchise characters.
With character creation and an abundance of things to take part in to build up relationships, gears and skills, Attack on Titan 2 is a competent JRPG but it’s not sacrificing any of the frenzied action. The 3rd person combat is better than before, and true to the Japanese school of making of games, the fast and smooth gameplay is more important than finer technicalities. Attack on Titan 2 may not look as clinically pretty as some Naughty Dog title but in its own right it’s not any less beautiful. The grandiose music and the vigor of Japanese voice cast, reprising their roles from the anime, make the game cool on ears too.
Attack on Titan 2 follows anime so much to the point that missions are even named after the episode titles. Lengthy spells of narrative re-create the tension of the series but you could say the game elevates the events further. Even though Attack on Titan 2 repeats much of the first game, having your own character to fight against the titans and socialize with the franchise cast makes it a more whole, personal and motivating experience. It’s constantly rewarding to go through the paces of the story, even if you have devoured all the manga books and anime seasons. The player’s new cadet has also enabled never-before-seen scenes that deepen the established characters. As such, Attack on Titan 2 is a comprehensive take on the franchise and a good entry point to it. You just might miss jumping into the action yourself when reading manga or watching anime after playing the game!
Video game nerd & artist. I've been playing computer and video games since the early 80's so I dare say I have some perspective to them. When I'm not playing, I'm usually at my art board.