Even over a decade and a half after the release of the anime that started it all, the Evangelion franchise is one of Japan's most lucrative properties. Each year, it floods the market with accessories, spin-off manga and action figures — and I mean heaps and heaps of action figures. On top of this, a year can hardly go by without a game or two being released.
In the past, the majority of Evangelion games have been either dating sims or pseudo-fighters. But last year, Grasshopper (the Studio run by the ever eccentric Suda51) set out to create something new: a music game based on the Rebuild of Evangelion movies called Evangelion 3nd Impact. (And no, that's not a typo. It's an Engrish pun mixing the Japanese pronunciation of third, "saado" and second "sekando" to create "sando". In other words, they pronounce the title of this music game as "sound impact.") But while an Evangelion music game is a downright novel idea, is Evangelion 3nd Impact a musical masterpiece or is it just another run-of-the-mill music title that might as well be forgotten?
Good — Music From Evangelion
If there is one thing 3nd Impact delivers on, it's the promise of Evangelion music. Over the course of the game's 30 stages, you will play nearly every track from Evangelion 1.11: You Are (Not) Alone and Evangelion 2.22: You Can (Not) Advance. This includes everything from background music such as "Angel Attack" to the traditional Japanese children's song "Tsubasa Wo Kudasai" — the song sung at the climax to You Can (Not) Advance. There are also new remixes of many of the series' most memorable songs, adding a nice bit of musical discovery to the game as well.
Good — Tells the Story Through The Soundtrack
3nd Impact is structured in the same order chronologically as the films and even follows their plots. So whenever an angel appears, you play the first song to beef up the UN forces for their conventional weapon attack on the angel. The next song either focuses on syncing the pilots to their Evas or is a look into their psyches. In the last song in each set, you set about breaking the angel's AT fields while the fight scene from the film plays out in the background. And best of all, you even get a Misato-narrated "next time on Evangelion" promo video after each angel is defeated.
Mixed — Some Good Music Mini-Games — and Some Bad Ones
3nd Impact has six different types of music games as you play through the 30-track set list. Some of these are very good. The "repeat the pattern" gameplay whenever the UN attacks the angels is great fun, as are the "standard music game" hexagon and AT field destruction levels.
However, the stages where you read the characters' minds are just plain horrible. The "music" is nothing but ambient noise — often with no rhythm. And when you guide the brain scan line through a memory, all you get is a random voice clip from the films. There's no theme, really, just tons of out-of-context quotes. The worst level of this type is for Kaoru, who had had no more than a dozen lines in both films combined — and yes, it uses them all.
Bad — Visual Prompts Fade into the Background
While the graphics are generally good, there is one glaring problem that affects several of the levels: the button prompts can be quite hard to see. This is because the prompts often share a colour palette with the background video. It doesn't happen all the time by any means, but when it does, the gameplay practically disappears into the flashy backgrounds, ruining any chance for a high score.
In addition, as you play, your sync-ratio goes up for each correct button press you make. When it reaches 100 per cent, you switch to a second gauge that this time fills up to 400 per cent. However, when one gauge changes into the other, the entire screen fades to white for a moment, making it impossible to see the game. I can't count how many times I lost a perfect combo to a sudden blinding flash of white.
Bad — Same Songs Over and Over
When it comes down to it, there are only about 15 memorable songs in Evangelion 1.11 and 2.22 combined. This means to reach a set list of 30 tracks, about half the levels are either filled with sound clips and ambient noise (5 levels total) or are repeats of previously used songs. The most egregious example of the latter is "Angel Attack" which is used in every single UN versus angel level. That means it is played a grand total of seven times. Granted, each time it's a remix of the original song; but you can only hear the same six-note, constantly repeated bass line so many times before you start to go insane.
Bad — Fails to Hit the Most Musical Moments of the Source Material
When you think of Evangelion 2.22: You Can (Not) Advance in terms of music, two tracks will no doubt stand out in your mind: the gleeful song about becoming friends as Eva 01 tears apart Asuka's Eva and the children's song "Tsubasa wo Kudasai" playing as the soundtrack to the Apocalypse. Both are discordant with the actions on the screen and thus have a deep emotional effect on the viewer. And, as you would expect in a music game based in part on this movie, both songs are included in 3nd Impact. However, neither are used as the soundtracks to their respective scenes. They are both replaced with the standard battle music and are instead used in levels that showcase a single character as random clips from the movie appear in the background. Simply put, taking these tracks out of their unique, unsettling contexts undercuts the greatest potential the game had.
In the end, Evangelion 3nd Impact is a game that falls far short of its potential. On one hand, it looks great and sounds great; and many of these music mini-games are just fun to play. But on the other hand, the occasional graphical hiccups, often repeated tracks, and the utter mishandling of the most musically relevant scenes in the films make this game run-of-the-mill at best. If you need more Evangelion music in your life, you're better off just listening to the soundtracks themselves.
Evangelion 3nd Impact was released on September 29, 2011, for the PlayStation Portable in Japan. There are no plans for an international release.