Publisher: Natsume Inc.
Platform: PSP (PSN}
Release Date: March 19, 2013
A download code was supplied by the publisher for this review.
Chances are, most people haven't heard of the Carnage Heart games. The first game was released to an English speaking audience in 1997 for the PlayStation, but none of the sequels or updates made it to Western shores. After the PS1 era, the series sort of died off until recently, where a PSP update and the PS1 games being re-released onto the Japanese PSN eventually led to a new game in the series.
What may be even more surprising is that Natsume picked up the new PSP game, Carnage Heart EXA, translated it, and brought it to the US's PSN. With many companies doing the same with other obscure PSP games, it's not a big surprise, but... is EXA worth your time, or should you look to other PSN offerings?
First, we need to get something out of the way: Carnage Heart EXA is a very different type of game. Natsume says that it's a strategy game, but that's not quite right. Rarely will you be controlling your units' movements, nor will you be doing any micromanagement in the battle itself. It's also not an RPG, as there's no leveling up or any other genre staples. It's not even an action game, as the very short battles don't revolve around any combos or mass amounts of enemies to kill.
What this game, and what the Carnage Heart series is, is a programming simulator. The vast majority of your time will be spent creating and tweaking the software for your mechs (called OKEs, or Overkill Engines) to follow. These programs give directions to the OKE about absolutely everything, including what buttons move it forward and shoot, what activates melee attacks as opposed to shooting, and even whether or not you're physically controlling the machine itself. Therefore, software has to be programmed flawlessly; one misplaced chip or arrow could cause the OKE to jump when you want it to move right, or attack when you want to defend.
Because of this need for perfection, and how complex programming itself can be, most of Carnage Heart EXA consists of tutorials. All of the various chip types, OKEs, and manual and auto controls will be introduced slowly. Even so, though, things get complicated very quickly, to the point that even programming an OKE to move in eight directions and attack can be a daunting and difficult task. Thankfully, example solutions are provided that you can use to help understand the flow of the program of a correctly working mech.
In fact, you can use and paste these solutions whenever you like. By the time you're through with the lengthy tutorial, you'll have example solutions for each OKE type for both manual auto input. With the ability to simply copy and paste correctly working, complicated programs, what's the point of trying to build one from scratch? There are those out there that will enjoy looking at the large blank space and seeing how they can make a perfectly working OKE, but to the rest of us it's more of a frustration than a feature.
On the other hand, modifying your mech's hardware is both easy and in-depth. You can change the OKE's model, what weapons it carries, how much armor it has, and so on. The options available are pretty vast, but everything has its purpose, and more importantly, is easy to understand. Any time I would have spent struggling in the programming I instead spent tweaking weapon payloads and weight. Unfortunately, working with the software is the main draw of Carnage Heart EXA, so even with its vast options, the hardware seems lacking in comparison.
For all this talk of hardware and software, you may think that making OKEs to fight is the only purpose of this game, but there's also a story that holds all of these tutorials and battles together. It's not very interesting, though. EXA's story is the typical tale of revenge and love lost and found again, with a pinch of conglomerate conspiracy and deus ex machina thrown in for good measure. If you've played any Japanese RPG or action games, you've seen this story before, and you've seen it done better. The plot itself is stunted and feels incomplete, and given the few plot twists given it feels as though so much more could have been done.
All in all, Carnage Heart EXA is made for a very specific audience: Those that enjoy having complete and utter control over how their units act and react in a real-time 3-on-3 fight. If you don't want control over every aspect... while there are alternatives in the game itself, you won't get that much enjoyment out of it. If you don't think programming and tweaking perfect software for your mechs to follow, place your money elsewhere.
+ Example solutions are helpful to lessen the redundancy of software programming
+ Modifying hardware is in-depth and intuitive
- Programming is needlessly complicated and difficult to perfect
- After the tutorials, the game practically plays itself
- Bare bones and cliched story offers no motivation to see the game past the lessons
Overall Score: 4.5 (out of 10)
Carnage Heart EXA isn't going to be most people's cup of tea. It's complexity and need for perfection will likely drive off all but the most dedicated of fans.