Capcom’s E.X. Troopers may not be the latest or biggest Japanese 3DS game around, but it’s certainly no less worthy of inclusion here than any other game we’ve previously covered on Matters of Import and — as this and its high-resolution PS3 port are the only E.X. Troopers games so far — it is sadly still the latest, greatest, and indeed only entry in the series.
“Only? Isn’t E.X. Troopers just a Lost Planet spin-off with cel-shading?” somebody probably said in a comments section somewhere at some point. It is a handy way of describing the game if you’re in a hurry, but to leave it there would be a huge disservice to the thought and effort that’s gone into creating this lively and entertaining title.
That difference, as if anyone needed any help guessing, is anime.
Most other games treat the term as nothing more than a simple visual filter – make it look a bit like Jet Set Radio and the job’s done. But E.X. Troopers does much more than apply a thick black outline to the 3D models and a few screen-tones slapped on the artwork; every inch of the game, right down to the character’s personalities, lives and breathes it.
The Lost Planet trappings are never far away, of course – the game’s still set on a mostly chilly E.D.N. III, Thermal Energy still drops in viscous blobs from fallen Akrids and you’ll occasionally find yourself piloting a Vital Suit at a few points along the way — but the sort-of military high school setting that frames this new take on these familiar themes has enabled the development team to show them in a whole new light. The characters are all pleasantly larger than life and fall into a variety of stylised (and stylish) stereotypes — the gun nut, the quiet one, the sexy teacher, the aloof top-of-the-class guy – and it would be easy for this sort of characterization to fall flat on its face, but E.X. Troopers is so breathlessly energetic and sincere in its delivery of every line that you can’t help but smile at things like lead character Bren’s ridiculously over-the-top “UMMAAAAAIIIIIIIIII!” (“Delicious!”) after a simple sandwich at the on-site café.
It’s not all fun and games though, and thankfully E.X. Troopers has the gameplay to back up the setting. The base areas act as a hub, a place for Bren to upgrade his weaponry, undertake any available side missions, chat to his fellow students and get ready for the next mission. Impatient players or those chronically short on time will be pleased to know that the person you need to speak to to start a story-progression mission always has a very helpful red “!” over their head, so it’s easy for even the most inattentive gamer to decide if they want to rush straight into battle or not.
Missions tend to be on the short side (some can even be finished in under a minute with a bit of skill), and you’re always given a clear list of objectives and failure conditions at the start so you can get stuck into the action as fast as you’re able. There’s a danger that this could feel restrictive rather than focussed, but the freedom to choose your own weapon load-out for most missions and tailor the game to suit your own preferences — as well as take on extracurricular VR missions (alone or with friends - unfortunately only local multiplayer is offered on 3DS), NPC challenges and even sneak into the girl’s toilets should the mood take you — means that it’s very rare that there’s only one single thing for Bren to do at any one time.
If you find you are the sort that diligently checks every corner and speaks to every character all the time, E.X. Troopers still has some tricks up its sleeves to keep you engaged. Many missions have optional extra challenges — such as “Don’t die” or “Use the EX-T Blast twice” — that reward additional medals upon completion; these medals can then be redeemed for extra costumes for Bren and co., or used to add music tracks to the sound test menu. Fans that find they still need more E.X. Troopers in their lives can print off a selection of AR cards from Capcom’s official website and have six cast members pop up on their desks, beds and chairs, if they so wish.
Graphics don’t make a game, but they can help a good one become great. The presentation in E.X. Troopers is flawless, but most important of all it’s consistent and it enhances what was already there, highlighting the hot-blooded cast and underlining the plot in a way that just wouldn't work if it was done differently. Plenty of games try to copy that cartoony look, but many of them fail to really embrace it (Gaist Crusher, we're looking at you) – E.X. Troopers is different, proud of it, and we’re all the better for having it. Sorry — Japan is all the better for having it. Sort it out, Capcom — this game's great and really needs to come to the west as soon as possible.