Possibly the closest we have to an RPG on Sony’s latest handheld, Army Corps of Hell is the first Vita title to come from the Square Enix stable, also being the debut title for Japanese developer, Echosphere. Not many will be familiar with the studio, though dropping the name of its founder and CEO, Motoi Okamoto, will turn a few heads. Having previously worked on GameCube classic, Pikmin, it’s interesting to see the design influences that have gone into making Army Corps of Hell.
There isn’t much to elaborate on as far as narrative goes. Once having ruled over the surface world, the king of hell is banished to his dark dominion after being triumphed by the “Almighty.” His ambitions unperturbed, the king begins to rally his demonic horde, filling his ranks with the rampant denizens of the underworld in his conquest to reclaim glory. Serving more as a premise, the plot is extremely minimal which may come as a blessing in disguise; there may be no likeable characters or explosive set pieces but at least the story-telling is non-obtrusive and optional.
Army Corps of Hell is staggered across 40 linear stages, each varying in difficulty but sharing a common objective: either kill everything in sight or collect keys to unlock the path ahead. In each mission the king will appear with his horde of minions in tow, divided into three regiments: soldiers, spearmen, and magi. Soldiers usually make up the bulk of your force, dishing out melee damage and capable of swarming larger targets with “Salvo Attacks.”
Spearmen fulfil a similar role though can be ordered to charge collectively in one devastating attack, whilst the magi make for a defensive ranged option. The game allows you to structure your army however you please, though for the best results a combination of the three troop-types is recommended.
Enemies come in all shapes and sizes, some even imbued with elemental powers. Hurling an onslaught of soldiers at an enemy until they explode in a shower of gore will work for the first few stages, but the game soon becomes challenging, forcing the player to pick out weak spots on larger targets and evade ranged attacks.
The tactical element is certainly an enjoyable one but is often ruined by the cramped arena-based fighting. The game has a habit of cornering the player into a small area and bombarding them with ambushes, inevitably leading to unavoidable troop casualties. Fortunately, the king can resurrect minions which have been downed by physical attacks simply by walking within a close proximity, though the revivification process has a NeverDead quality to it in that walking over to help your goblin back to full health often leaves you vulnerable to a good rollicking.
Environmental hazards are also present; fire spouts and electric fences are scattered throughout most stages and though they do add a tactical element, their implementation seems like an afterthought. The main problem with them comes from units having a boomerang mechanic to them, always returning after being dispatched and striking their target. However, if the player makes a sudden evasive manoeuvre, the return journey for an attacking unit could lead them through a hazard, resulting in a quick death.
In a Patapon-esque fashion, troops will harvest fallen enemies for components that can then be alchemized when back at camp. Both weapons and armour can be forged, with elemental variants also available, much needed if you’re going toe-to-toe with hazardous enemies.
Items can also be crafted, though they play a significantly minor role in the game. Restricted to health/troop restoration and attack buffs, items are activated via touch screen mini games, which boil down to tapping either the front or rear screen as fast as you can. Sadly it’s the only Vita-specific feature the game uses.
Menus are well-presented but one area in which Army Corps falls short is in-game visuals. Notably one of the poorer looking games in the handheld’s launch line-up, there’s a real lack of aesthetic variety both in environments and the creatures that inhabit them, bar the cast of bizarre bosses. Even the storyboard custscenes repeat themselves, constantly re-using previous clips with altered subtitles, most of which add nothing to the wafer thin plot anyhow.
If not for the accompanying sound tracking, the same would apply to the game’s audio too. Heavy metal permeates through the entire experience, and though it suits the theme perfectly, some will only appreciate it simply because it drowns out the mediocre in-game sound effects.
- It’s something unique on the system.
- Troop/character customisation has depth.
- Enjoyable if you can see past the design flaws.
- Decent premise which fails to go anywhere.
- Needlessly challenging in areas.
- Looks poor, incredibly so when posing next to WipEout, Uncharted etc.
- Perhaps too linear.
If you can overlook the somewhat unyielding game design and slump in visual quality, there’s a satisfying strategy game to be found with hours of potential replay value. However, it’s hard to ignore the fact that the Vita has an oustanding launch roster, most of which outweigh Army Corps of Hell in almost every aspect.