Capcom's upcoming title, Gaist Crusher, a multi-media series already dipped into anime and manga adaptations, has recently outfitted itself with a demo on the Japanese E-Shop. With a tutorial, three single-player missions, and a segment where gamers can try out their real-life "Gai-Metals" (think Skylander toys), there's a sizable degree of content in the Gaist Crusher demo, and provides a trial as intriguing as it is enjoyable.
*Note: I do not have any of the purchasable Gai-Metals, which can unlock an additional mission and Gaist Gears for this demo.*
Being touted as a "Monster Hunter for Kids," from what is gleamed in the demo is that Gaist Crusher isn't really that. Capcom's other 3DS (and PS3) entry, E.X. Troopers, offered a much closer likeness to an MH-Lite than what is seen from Gaist Crusher here. Instead, Gaist Crusher appears to be little more than a heavily stripped down action-game that obliges basic RPG-tropes like Elemental weakness'/strengths, a leveling system, and very little else (within this demo, remember). While the game boasts some very detailed and interesting settings, from the three available stages the player's sole interaction with the environment is to proceed from one checkpoint to the next. There aren't collectibles nor interactive options anywhere on the three maps; the player solely proceeds along the prescribed path, battling enemies after activating each checkpoint before eventually culminating into a boss battle. In terms of calling this a Monster-Hunter game, the lack of player-interactivity with the map mostly negates that similarity.
What Gaist Crusher does have going for it is that the graphics are excellent, and that the gameplay, while limited, works very well. While Gaist Crusher won't go breaking new-ground with it's spiky-haired heroes and elemental color-tonalities, it still hits the intended mark of being colorful and lively, independent in the meaningful places (particularly your characters costumes/weapons), and expressing an inspiring excitement as the player battles and proceeds. While the actions and attacks are animated terrifically, I think the success of the art-direction is expressed best when your character is venturing between checkpoints; the camera zooms in, and your characters speed increases just enough to summon wind-streaks. It's a small thing, sure, but it's one of those meaningful additions that so often turn an "Okay" game into one memorable.
The battle-system is very simple, but fortunately that simplicity is expertly applied. All Gaist Gears (combat outfits) have three forms, the first being a hand-to-hand brawler and the second being weapon-equipped. Both of these forms have only three attacks that may or may not be applicable to combos, and ultimately follow the weak/medium/heavy structure. What separates the two forms is that only in brawler form can the player guard against attacks, and only in weapon-form can the player dodge/evade. It's a small divide between the two, but in Gaist Crusher these seemingly arbitrary differences are what compose the experience. One of the bosses in the demo, an Electric Black Dragon, was absolutely devastating me. Realizing that evading was not working, I chose to take the fight more slowly in Brawler form so that I could guard against his unavoidable tail-spin attack. Sure enough, my swapping evade for guard, as well as speed for patience, was the very thing needed to conquer the boss. It's in the small decisions like this that Gaist Crusher takes on a Monster Hunter aesthetic; the bosses are as much a puzzle to be solved as they are a punching bag, and it's up to the player to discover and apply the strongest strategy per battle. It's a rewarding design that truly makes the player not only rejoice at having conquered a challenge, but also the fact that they used their own genuine human-intelligence to do it.
The third battle-form is as pictured above; throughout each level the player will build up power to perform either a special attack (a singular, super powerful attack), or to transform into Extreme Mode. Extreme Mode has the player become a mammoth creature for a brief period of time where they can simply devastate enemies and bosses alike. In the demo, the five available Gaist Gears each have an Extreme Mode applicable to animals, such as an electric shark or gigantic hippopotamus, but there are also two unlockable Gears that allow the player to become something non-animalistic. By clearing a level without dying, the player earns a "Gaist Chance," which is essentially a chest that the player beats open. From the two earned in the demo, both offer the player a new Gaist Gear whose extreme mode is the boss that they've defeated (a cloud-riding genie, and a wind dragon). While I didn't find playing as either boss much more exciting than the animals, I'm sure that Gaist Crusher will have a slew of boss characters that are sure to meet the fancy of each gamer, and getting the chance to play as them will be a nice incentive for striving toward a perfect level-run.
Gaist Crusher's demo leaves a lot of questions though. Each of the Gaist Gears have an attached "Level 10" to them, which would imply some style of leveling up. As none of the defeated-enemies conclude with experience points though, and that there aren't any materials found amongst the maps, exactly how Gaist Crusher handles its leveling system remains a daunting mystery. Furthermore, while the tutorial segment of Gaist Crusher has two side-characters speak to you, the single-player missions are solely gameplay. What the world is like outside of the linear levels is uncertain, and exactly what it offers to accentuate the experience is also unknown.
No less, from this gameplay-focused demo I am extremely excited to get my hands on the full product, little that I understand of the overall game despite. It's simple in all the ways that E.X. Troopers was, and alike E.X. Troopers also capitalizes on that simplicity with expert craftsmanship aimed solely at creating a downright fun experience. Despite this being yet another Capcom entry that leans heavily towards their hugely successful Monster Hunter design, it is looking to be yet another project that succeeds in all the places that its source-material simply cannot go toward, and will offer that unique, adaptive style of gameplay that Capcom does best.