I’m an avid anime fan, so giant robots fighting in a post-apocalyptic world is a standard set up in storytelling to get my attention. When you combine that story setup with a Diablo-style dungeon crawler, in addition to customizable mechs, then you really have my attention. The creative minds over at Arc System Works did just that with Damascus Gear: Operation Tokyo on the PlayStation Vita. At first glance. I was all smiles when starting up the game, but upon further inspection, I found more than a few kinks preventing the gears from turning smoothly in this game.
The most obvious comparisons that Damascus Gear with receive are towards Diablo and Mobile Suit Gundam, for its gameplay and story respectively. The premise on paper sounds awesome. Take the idea of giant robots fighting it out for the salvation of the human race as the main plot, and then implement the action RPG-style gameplay and looting system from the Diablo series. For a portable game, this seems like the most ideal approach, yet the problems begin to show up in the execution, rather than the idea itself.
You play through a series of missions that tell the story, divided by ascending ranks. The story itself is a convoluted series of events that comes off more as confusing and shallow, rather than deep and interesting. As you complete an entire series of missions in one rank, you level up and gain access to more missions in the next.
Missions have different objectives, ranging from destroying a number of enemy mechs, to reaching specific points on a map. Completing objectives can sometimes be a bit inconsistent at various points in the game, with situations radically changing without much buildup or warning in earlier sections of the game. You’ll go through a long mission decimating enemies on a map, and then be greeted with a mission that last less than a few minutes to travel to a designated point on the map.
You can customize your own mech with different parts and weapons that change its attributes when you go out on a mission. You can even change up the color palette of your parts to give a more unique look to your mech. A lot of the parts you find will be from looting enemies, but you can also purchase others from a shop in the pre-mission menu using money you gain from completing missions. At some point when playing however, the shop becomes completely useless because of the vastly better gear you’ll find from dead enemies. And while you can repeat missions over and over with the chance to get better loot, you might not find yourself doing so because of a myriad of design issues.
The action on the Vita screen plays out exactly like any sort of Diablo-styled dungeon crawler, a three-quarter top down view with battles being fought in real time and enemies dropping loot. You’re accompanied by two to three allies sometimes that are supposed to assist you on your missions. The AI for your allies though is horrendous. Allies will stand around and not attack enemies at times, or inexplicably separate from your group and go off to random points on the map. More importantly than this, your allies won’t assist you when you find yourself in a jam, such as needing to heal up or combining attacks on an enemy. They feel more like proxies for what should be other players in a multiplayer mode.
The biggest sin that Damascus Gear commits is the exclusion of multiplayer. For this type of game, it would be ideal to have up to three other friends with you making runs on missions to gather loot and gear for customizing you own mech. And while you play and curse at the uselessness of your AI partners on missions, you’ll beg for the ability to play with other human controlled characters, only to be disappointed that there is no multiplayer functionality. It’s a huge missed opportunity for the game, especially when the single player campaign does not have enough pull to justify continuous play.
Damascus Gear: Operation Tokyo has some good groundwork ideas, but there are so many problems that hold it back from being a fun experience. Too many bugs with enemy and partner AI, the randomness of mission objectives, and the absence of multiplayer, make this a frustratingly flawed experience. Even with the extra missions DLC available, you won’t find yourself wanting to play this game for a long period of time. This is one post-apocalyptic giant robot tale that is definitely not worth saving.
This review was based on a digital copy of Damascus Gear: Operation Tokyo provided by Arc System Works for the PlayStation Vita.