Acquire is one of those developers that tends to put out very hit or miss games; either you understand their vision and really appreciate what they’re trying to do despite their often low budget nature or you shy away in disgust. Titles like Akiba’s Trip, Sumioni, and even Clan of Champions managed to illicit a lot of enjoyment out of me even though they may not have been the most critically well received. For that reason, I thought I’d really dig Aegis of Earth; Protonovus Assault, coupled with the fact that tower defense games in general are pretty hard to screw up. I suppose it was about due time for one of their titles to strike the wrong chord with me.
The setting of Aegis of Earth is a post-apocalyptic version of our planet where humans must mine an ore known as Altenite in order to continue to survive. What makes this a challenge are all of the large monsters roaming about also attracted to this ore. The end result is that the remainder of mankind have taken up residence in cities built like fortresses in order to fend them off. As the player, you are tasked with turning one of these cities into a sprawling metropolis while warding off bloodthirsty critters.
You are joined in your endeavors by a team of specialists that, if I can be frank, could possibly be the most annoying group of anime tropes ever assembled in a video game. Look, I’m no stranger to these. In fact, if the Tales franchise is any indication, I take comfort in them in a lot of cases. But Aegis‘ crew is one that made me want to shake each and every one of them and scream “What’s wrong with you?” You have Towa, a deputy commander obsessed with finding a husband (and her lack of success is a running joke that the rest of the cast drives into the ground). Then there’s Tarkov, who likes to practically wet himself any time there’s even a slight hint of danger. Oh, and let’s not forget Chisa, the food obsessed damsel whose key personality trait hits you over head every time her portrait is shown licking her chops (which is all the time).
None of this would bother me so much, but the characters never seem to stop talking. They all say a lot while saying nothing, and even something so simple as researching a new weapon is met with gobs of text to scroll through. Every time you build something or encounter a monster, the same lines are spouted off ad nauseum. On top of it all, the plot struggles to justify why you need to kill a dozen ants using only lasers in order to progress the plot forward, and it doesn’t take long before you start rooting for the monsters.
But I digress. The actual gameplay portion takes place in two phases. In the development phase, you get to construct your metropolis SimCity style. For each space in your circular fortress, you can opt to place things like cannons to ward off attacking monsters, or housing for new residents to take shelter in. The key is finding a balance between being able to adequately combat any danger that comes your way while still being able to grow your population and collect taxes. And since some areas may not be constructable, unit placement is key. It’s actually pretty fun putting together your city in this mode.
The strike phase is where the action happens, so to speak. Warnings will flash on the side of the city that danger is coming from and you have a window of time in which to react before unwanted critters are at your doorstep. Using either the analog stick or the directional pad, you can select a ring of the city and rotate it with the L and R buttons. This will shift the guns/missiles/barriers on that ring in a different direction so you can deal with whatever might be coming your way. Some weapons have better range than others or are more effective at destroying certain monsters. The key is aligning your weaponry in such a way that you can not only slaughter what’s coming at you, but defend against anything that slips through the cracks.
Eventually, your strategy will expand based on such added functionality as USW’s (or Ultimate Strike Weapons) that put you in the seat of a massive gun to manually aim and fire at the enemy. There’s also the capability to line up multiples of the same weapon and have them lock together like a sort of super cannon to take down tough monsters and bosses. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention all the various gun placements and defenses that you get to purchase as the game progresses. Really, there’s so much potential in the design that it’s downright tragic that it’s all squandered by poor execution.
If you design your city properly, you can set things up in such a way that you really don’t have to do much of anything during the strike segments. It’s in these situations that you wish there was a fast forward button or, really, anything to maintain interest during the proceedings. Monsters move incredibly slow (even the quick ones) and you spend the majority of your time waiting for them to wander into range so that your cannons can blast them into pieces. There are some flashes of brilliance during boss encounters where you have to constantly rotate the weapon placements in your city to keep up, but the rest of the time is a very boring affair.
Further, the game expects you to grind strikes in order to meet increasingly obtuse objectives to advance the plot. Even the easy ones take way too much work to figure out what to do. The most common request is to kill X number of Y monsters. But how do I know what those are? When you choose a strike, the available options only show an icon representing what the monster is. They don’t flat out tell you what it is. Sure, you can look in the status menu for a description of that critter, but the icons for them aren’t depicted here, so it’s still a lot of guesswork. The most annoying mission criteria by far are the ones that request that you collect (or build units that otherwise require) certain colored crystals with often pitiful drop rates. Nothing could alienate me from a game more.
There’s not a whole lot to do outside of the main story mode either. Eventually, more cities will open up for you to customize and go on strikes with and new characters will join your team (ugh), but other than a few changes in the mechanics, the gameplay rarely evolves beyond what you see in the first hour or two. Which is ironic considering all manner of things gain levels in this game: You, your team, your city, and damn near everything in the city. I would complain that there are no multiplayer offerings, but 1) I don’t know how that would work within the confines of this game’s mechanics and 2) I like my friends too much to ask them to play this with me.
Visually, things are a little bare bones. Most of the locales are almost entirely desert landscapes, leaving you with drab areas filled with generic looking insects to defend against. Since the camera is zoomed way out most of the time, it’s equally hard to be impressed with the cities you build as the finer details get lost in the mix and you can’t even see the activities of the civilians living there. On the audio side, the soundtrack is pretty forgettable and the only option for voice acting is the English dub. Normally I wouldn’t care, especially since the voice acting is pretty good, but having the dialogue in Japanese eliminates the tedium of repeated dialogue. At least there are options to turn it off.
Look, I really wanted to like Aegis of Earth. I think it had all of the framework of an addictive tower defense game, but the pacing is such that it outright disrespects the player’s time with mundane tasks that require a lot of guesswork and grinding. Further, despite all of the tutorials the game throws at you, they do a poor job of explaining how to perform simple functions (such as getting back to the development phase after going into the main menu… I’m embarrassed at how long that took me to figure out). The cookie cutter characters and their annoying behavior didn’t help matters. I think Aksys did a really good job localizing this game, I just don’t think there was anything they could have done to salvage the script they were given. I like a lot of what Acquire does, but I have to give this one a big thumbs down.
Short Attention Span Summary
Aegis of Earth: Protonovus Assault is Acquire’s attempt at a tower defense title set in a post-apocalyptic future. There are a lot of good ideas at play here: a circular metropolis that you can design yourself, weapons that lock together when lined up, rows full of cannons that can be rotated at will to combat danger, and the list goes on and on. But in practice, the player’s role is far too passive to be of any fun save for the occasional boss encounter, and since the game forces you to grind strikes that aren’t very diverse from one another, the tedium wears on you quickly. Compound this by adding one of the most irritating casts in anime-style game history, and you have a recipe for disaster. For all of the time that game spends coercing you to buy shiny new guns, it’s a shame that it couldn’t design a defense against boredom.