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Review: Damascus Gear: Operation Tokyo (Sony PlayStation Vita)

Damascus Gear: Operation Tokyo
Publisher: Arc System Works
Developer: Arc System Works
Genre: Action RPG
Release Date: 03/24/2015

Arc System Works is probably best known for their fighting games, such as BlazBlue or Guilty Gear. I’ve never really dabbled too much with them, as I don’t really follow the genre too closely, though I have been invested in some of their non-fighting game titles. Enter Damascus Gear: Operation Tokyo, a game I didn’t even know existed suddenly showed up for review having been both developed and published by Arc System Works. And it is labeled as an action RPG to boot. My curiosity got the best of me and I just had to see how their take on this particular genre would turn out.

You’d think with a title like Damascus Gear: Operation Tokyo that there would be a sweeping plot with anime style trappings. There is definitely an underlying story, though it’s not quite as epic as you’d expect. In the future, wars are fought with giant mechs called GEARS, though one day they go berserk against their human creators. The survivors are forced to flee underground until they can figure out a way to retaliate against these beings they now refer to as RAGE.

And how do they fight back? Well, with GEARS of course. As the nameless, faceless protagonist, you’re tasked to assembling a GEAR of your own and undertaking various missions dedicated to retaking Tokyo. Plot developments are light save for the banter that occurs between your comrades. It’s merely set dressing for the mech combat that ensues throughout the game, which is just as well considering the text is very difficult to read. Words are smashed together in one seemingly long run on sentence and it becomes so taxing to digest that you’ll likely skip the dialogue once you have an inkling of what your task is.

Fortunately, the combat is quite solid. The camera is fixated at an angled overhead perspective (not unlike the Diablo games) as you move from area to area. The left analog stick controls your GEAR, while the face buttons dictate your attacks based on what you have equipped. The R button allows you to expend energy to dash around, and if you have the items necessary, you can heal with L. It’s a simple setup that works pretty good and lends itself well to a portable pick up and play experience. The ability to lock onto foes could use some work, as it only occurs automatically and you’ll lose your lock if you move away from your opponent, which makes dodging attacks more of a pain than it ought to be.

Missions comprise themselves of a various selection of tasks, including eliminating enemies, delivering items, escort missions, and more. You’ll usually be allotted a certain amount of time to meet these conditions, and allowing the deadline to pass will result in the failure of the mission. Most of the time it’s a non-issue, though there are some that will encourage you to avoid combat in order to conserve precious seconds.

Where the game really falters is the A.I. There are some missions where you are accompanied by computer controlled companions with no sense of self-preservation. They’ll charge ahead of you to engage enemies, often at the expense of their own life, which is something that’s incredibly frustrating if the mission requires their survival. They’re even more useless during boss battles where a single attack can mean a devastating defeat.

And speaking of bosses, there seems to be a disparity between the health of standard enemies and end mission boss battles. Nearly every one encountered is a damage sponge, but can alternatively end your life in one or two hits. Yet, they’re not challenging at all. Because of the limited intelligence, they’re constantly getting hung up on the environment and follow very predictable patterns. These skirmishes become something of a bore at this point as you hammer out every attack at your disposal to try to drain their insane health bars.

Successful destruction of foes leads to new parts in which to customize your GEAR, and this is where Damascus Gear‘s biggest strength lies. Everything from the head to the weapons it carries can be configured at will, and if the parts you select don’t happen to match up aesthetically, you can even adjust the color. Your gear only has so much that it can power at once, so eventually you’ll reach a point where you have to prioritize. Do you want to power up your armor, or carry heavier weaponry? It’s in these decisions that showcases the game’s biggest draw. In fact, my Diablo mention earlier wasn’t too far off from the truth. Take a game of that style, set it in the future with some mechs, and you have a good inkling of what Damascus Gear is all about.

The presentation is about what you’d expect from a budget title. The GEARS are well designed and animate fairly well relative to their small size on screen. The environments definitely fit the atmosphere, though it’s a shame that there are so few of them. Each desolate area of Tokyo looks indistinguishable from the last and with mission objectives that are so similar to each other, you might find yourself wondering about deja vu before long. The audio is pretty solid though.

Despite its flaws, Damascus Gear: Operation Tokyo does enough right to justify its existence and $15 price tag by providing a compelling customization feature and solid combat. The artificial intelligence needs work, as does the balancing, but it’s a good fit as a portable title that you can pick up and put down as needed due to its mission structure. The experience can be extended further yet by way of DLC content. If you need some destruction on the go involving mechs, Damascus Gear is sure to fill that niche.

Short Attention Span Summary
Damascus Gear: Operation Tokyo is a top-down mech hack and slash game set in post-apocalyptic Tokyo where your mission is to destroy as enemy GEARs in a mission based structure. The combat is solid and the game works well as a portable title. On the flip side, both your enemies and allies are dumb and predictable, and some bosses take way too long to take down. Still, the customization feature makes up for these shortcomings and the game comes at a price that won’t break the bank. If you enjoy Diablo-style games with large loot tables, don’t let this one slip under your radar.

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