June 7, 2012 | J.J. Cappa
Heavy metal games are an undeniably good thing. Brütal Legend brought umlauts and 3 Inches of Blood to home consoles, and Army Corps of Hell (地獄の軍団) mixed Pikmin with death metal for a gruesome PlayStation Vita launch title. Unlike Brütal Legend, however, Army Corps of Hell lacked the polish that could have made it great; despite its solid premise, the game is mediocre. Metalheads might find its bloody gameplay and ripping guitar solos enticing enough to justify a purchase, but the average gamer is likely to be disappointed by the title. Japanese learners should be especially wary of the Army Corps of Hell, because the game makes language acquisition unnecessarily challenging.
There is actually a lot to like about Army Corps of Hell. The soundtrack is nonstop heavy metal, the gameplay a brutal twist on Pikmin. Cutesy characters from the Nintendo original have been replaced with demons and goblins, and its colorful environments drenched in blood and covered in bones. On paper, therefore, Army Corps of Hell sounds awesome, and even its trailers were rather impressive. The final execution, however, leaves a lot to be desired. Its graphics, for example, do not meet expectations for a next generation title, and the touchscreen mechanics seem tacked on. Everything about the game suggests it was originally slated for the PlayStation Portable, and rushed through development in order to make the Vita launch lineup. Given more time and polish, I believe Army Corps of Hell would have been excellent. It is not a bad game, but it is a disappointment.
I am often willing to invest time and money in Japanese games that I might otherwise skip in English, however, if they will benefit my studies; the chance to learn something usually outweighs minor issues like outdated graphics and mediocre gameplay. Unfortunately, Army Corps of Hell offers little that can even justify using it as a learning tool. There is no “true” voice acting, for example, as the minions of Hell communicate by grumbling at each other. Admittedly, this strange language does make the game world feel more evil, and there are subtitles, but they create yet another issue; text is never on the screen long enough to be read in its entirety, so it is extremely hard to follow the story. Furthermore, the soundtrack primarily consists of death metal, which means that the few Japanese-language songs in the game are virtually incomprehensible. In the end, absorbing any Japanese from Army Corps of Hell is an unreasonably difficult task.
The metalhead in me can ignore the many problems Army Corps of Hell has because rarely do I get to become a “devil king,” control an army of goblins, destroy demons and go to a heavy metal concert in the same game. The learner in me, however, is frustrated that such an awesome concept is marred by bad design choices that make the Japanese needlessly inaccessible. If the developers had simply given players the power to move through cutscenes and tutorials at their own pace, Army Corps of Hell would warrant a purchase for Japanese learners and metal fans. I rarely have high expectations for action-oriented titles, but this game just does not feel immersive at all.
Army Corps of Hell was a launch title for the PlayStation Vita. There is a physical version available, and it can also be purchased directly from the Japanese PlayStation Store.