Attack on Titan: Humanity in Chains Review (Nintendo 3DS)
Everything you love about Shingeki no Kyojin is here in Attack on Titan: Humanity in Chains, excluding one major focus of the series — that titans are supposed to be dangerous. In an anime where its main theme revolves around mankind's perpetual fear of an unstoppable force of nature, this Attack on Titan game makes slaying giants a repetitive, mundane task where the same exact quick-time event is your primary combat mechanic.
Similar to most other anime- and manga-based games, Humanity in Chains primarily focuses on retracing the steps of the source material's main story while trying to put you in the shoes of its main characters. A few decent presentation choices and the solid Omni-Directional movement system helps make things feel authentic for the hardcore fans, but this sense of nostalgia will eventually wear off quickly due to the title's overall boring gameplay.
One thing Attack on Titan: Humanity in Chains gets right is its presentation, to an extent. The sound effects and songs of the game were taken directly from the anime series, which perfectly cater to what is supposed to be the grand task of flying around on mechanized grappling hooks and slaying giants that can crush you with ease. From its unforgettable intro song to the fight with the Female Titan, Humanity in Chains uses a bunch of sequences taken directly from the anime in order to replay its most unforgettable moments, but the game unfolds most of its story by posting pictures of various scenes from the series with captions telling the tale.
This would have been acceptable maybe 15 years ago, but this act has become tiresome and overdone for licensed anime games to tell a story in this way, especially given the 3DS' capabilities. Spike Chunsoft could have at least redone some of the big scenes with its in-game models instead of heavily relying on the anime's content so much as a crutch, especially when its Story Mode only took five hours to complete.
Humanity in Chains' visuals range in quality. The human and titan in-game models are surprisingly well-done and feature some fluid animations, but they do mess up every few minutes (like a titan that randomly runs in place without changing its location). As you would expect, most of the titans have dull faces with equal parts of hostility and stupidity thrown in to give them an idiotic look that inspires dread. There's a good handful of different titan models, with many of them taken directly from the series, and you'll be seeing them many times. The titan's body sizes and faces are varied by the abnormal titans, which act a funky way compared to the giants' regular, sloth-like movements.
These abnormal monsters can run, jump and dive after you, breaking up the gameplay's monotony a little. Unfortunately, most of the human bodies are the same, which is particularly noticeable during Story Mode, where everyone is wearing the same clothes with the same jacket wrinkles and everything. It's even worse from the mission select screen, where everyone's default standing movements and breathing patterns are perfectly synced together. Luckily, the trade-off here is that you can have multiple humans and titans on screen without significantly dampening down the game's frame rate, which can certainly get hectic.
Playing as Levi, Mikasa, Eren, Armin or Sasha grappling through town and slaying tower-sized titans sounds like fun on paper, until you see how boring it can be. As you would expect, gameplay primarily consists of zipping around with your Omni-Directional Mobility gear until you find a titan to fight. The game is split into dozens of missions that are roughly five minutes long in length, where you must accomplish one of the following objectives: kill X amount of titans (or a specific one), defend something/someone by killing titans in the area, collect mission items/rescue soldiers throughout the level or run through checkpoints. Ultimately, it boils down to just running to bright, sparkling stuff on the ground or fighting titans using the same mechanic over and over.
Despite the game's attempt to be serious and its portrayal of the titans' horrors, Sasha's Story Mode missions revolve around finding food (depicted as giant blue sparkling icons on the streets), which undermines the dire situation mankind is portrayed to be in throughout most of the anime. Humanity in Chains' gameplay is uninspired and riddled with poor design choices, such as the limitations on the inventory system where you must use up your important items, like water or gas, just to pick up something you found on the ground (which cannot be revealed until you actually add them to your inventory).
The Spider-Man-esque controls of the Omni-Directional gear is one of the games few saving graces, replicating the authentic feel of the anime in which a pair of gas-powered grappling hooks are helping you maneuver around the towering titans. Humanity in Chains does a decent job of making flying around on cables fun, but you'll see that Spike Chunsoft takes the fun out of things really fast through repetition. Even the act of actually slaying the giants is undermined by some poor design choices. In particular, the primary mechanic of killing titans is reduced to an automated sequence where your character rushes towards a giant while a mini-quick time event happens where you push the attack button once the large, shrinking circle on your screen reaches its highlighted area. If successful, you deal a critical attack, which usually chops off a limb of a titan and puts you in a position heading towards the nape of its neck (their only fatal weak point), where you must repeat the same exact QTE to kill it. It might take a couple of tries to master everything, but once you get into the habit of the two hit stun-and-kill QTEs, you'll be slaying titans like they were nothing.
By the end of my first two hours of playing, Humanity in Chains had successfully taken out all the fun and excitement from killing titans, as I was doing it over and over with minimal effort. Surrounded by multiple titans? Be ready for the QTE spam. The only difference is the speed of the QTE's shrinking circle, but nothing else really changes.
Humanity in Chains' Story Mode takes roughly five hours to complete, and most of it consists of replaying the same missions repeatedly. Going back and forth between the five characters means that you have to participate in the same exact sequences multiple times for when Mikasa, Eren and Armin were together. Protecting Eren while he's carrying the boulder? That's right: you have a mission where you have to do it as Armin and another mission where you do the same thing as Mikasa — likewise for when Levi and Mikasa take on the Female Titan in the forest and in the Stohess District. Expect to see the same anime scenes, repeated storyboard sequences and the same missions multiple times because Story Mode is divided among five characters who were present at the same events.
If you were to take away the repeated missions, anime sequences and storyboards, you would find that the five hours it takes to clear Story Mode is comprised of only an hour or two of original in-game content. Even then, these sequences are plagued by the horrid repetition of the game's combat system. You do get to play as Eren's titan form a couple of times, but he can only spam the same three-hit-combo, which (surprise) gets old really fast. After beating Story Mode, there's a World Mode unlocked, where you can make your own character, customize/manage your own team, try out firearms/bombs on titans and explore, but you're still anchored to the same horrible combat system. You might spend an extra hour or two toying around with World Mode until you realize it doesn't change much. Why bother firing explosives at a titan for 30 seconds to knock them down when your QTE attack can slay them in about 10?
It's really hard to recommend Attack on Titan: Humanity in Chains, and that's coming from a die-hard fan of the series who owns a Survey Corps/Scouting Legion hoodie and put a Wings of Freedom decal on his car. Humanity in Chains' gameplay is obviously uninspired and riddled with poor design choices. Considering all of the reused assets from the anime, the excessively redundant combat system and a short Story Mode that goes in circles, it's hard to not regard Humanity in Chains as an attempt to make money off of the series' followers. Once you factor in that a game this bland and short is a digital exclusive and costs $39.99 on the Nintendo eShop, it gets pretty obvious that this is a blatant cash grab. The series' famous first words come into mind: On that day, mankind received a grim reminder. We lived in fear of licensed games, and Attack on Titan: Humanity in Chains reminded us why.
This review is based on a purchased, digital copy of Attack on Titan: Humanity in Chains for Nintendo 3DS.