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Exploring the Strange World of EVANGELION GAMES

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Even in the west, Neon Genesis Evangelion goes beyond almost every other anime in terms of its popularity and influence; this is only set to grow with the recent release of the series on Netflix. This got me thinking – where are all the Evangelion games? Turns out there’s a bunch, and despite almost all of them releasing exclusively in Japan, curiosity got the better of me. Action RPGs, visual novels, fighters, a strange rhythm game produced by Suda51… join me in this review/analysis as I attempt to figure out what it takes to turn this beloved show into a game.

Intro text animation by Draz –

While uploading this video I decided to see if anyone else had done anything on the Eva games—my Spanish is absolutely rubbish but from the little I can understand this dude Dinocov covers some similar talking points regarding the N64 game, so might be worth checking out (any similarities are entirely unintended—lo siento Dinocov!):

Video transcription:

A massive thank you to Audible for sponsoring
this video.Stick around for a super-limited time offer
that could save you 66% on the first threemonths of an Audible membership.I’ve always felt that Evangelion, if not
quite at the earth-shattering popularity seenin its home country, was always massively
popular in the West; going way beyond thecult followings of what most would deem “successful
anime” outside of Japan.Almost everyone I know had either seen the
series or had a pretty good idea of whereit went as a show.And with the recent re-release on Netflix
and a new Rebuild film on the horizon, thispopularity is only continuing to grow.Which got me thinking—where are all the
Evangelion games?For a series so ubiquitously merchandised,
how is it that I’ve seen so little aboutany kind of game adaptation of what is one
of the most profoundly influential seriesof all time?My first thought was that, well, it might
just be difficult to turn what Eva is intoa video game.It’s a mech show, sure, but most people
I’ve talked to know it primarily as “theshow that gets real deep and weird”.References to Schopenhauer and Kierkegard
abound as the show takes our anti-heroes atone of the most existentially tumultuous periods
of their lives—puberty—and psychologicallytears them apart in order to interrogate our
relationships with each other, God, the cosmos;the meaning of our achievements; our need
to belong vs the need to define one’s ownidentity.And sure, it might seem difficult to transpose
that… stuff onto a traditional mechanicalframework but think of it this way—Eva is
also a monster-of-the-week show.The city of Tokyo-3 is an arena, with its
jutting buildings providing less residentialcomfort as much as tactical advantage for
the combatants fighting it out down there,recalling nothing if not old Tokusatsu shows.Dazzling, theatrical combat between giant,
humanoid mechs and hulking beasts are certainlynot absent from the series—so where are
my cool video game robot fights, damnit?Well, as it turns out, the answer to that
question is a lot simpler than I initiallyimagined—there’s plenty of them; a veritable
cornucopia of interactive entertainment bearingthe show’s name.Visual novels, action RPGs, fighters, pachislot,
you name it.Games that apparently provide tangible backstory
to the series—the kind of thing die-hardfans would live for.It’s just so few of the games were ever
released outside of Japan, let alone hittinganywhere close to the West.This leaves anyone curious about exploring
the Eva adaptations with a couple of problems—firstand foremost, not knowing Japanese is going
to see you relying on intuition to get throughmost challenges set before you, aside from
the odd Gamefaqs guide here or rare fan translationthere.Second, and this might be a bigger problem
for me than anyone else, is just knowing whereto start with these games.There’s so much to dive into, all of it
incredibly varied.And so I thought it would be neat to see for
myself what the world of Evangelion gameshad to offer and what I took away were some
interesting thoughts on what it means to turnan IP from another medium into a video game.Unfortunately, even getting past the accessibility
issues of procuring the equipment needed toplay, let alone capture footage from these
games, given that a lot of them are primarilytext-based, this means that no matter how
hard I tried, that first problem of my languageskills not being up to snuff was inevitably
going to rear its head.Games like Secret of Evangelion or Neon Genesis
Evangelion 2, for example—games that seekto expand the canon of the show—are titles
I wouldn’t have much to offer on beyondwhat some decade-old online guide or forum
posts would illustrate.But honestly, digging into the classified
files and uncovering some greater truth aboutEva’s story, or even going into every available
Eva game was never my intention here.I was more interested in focusing on a few
select games to see how different titles tacklethe challenge of representing this fairly
hard-to-pin-down show through mechanics—bothits moment-to-moment action, as well as, perhaps,
its more introspective elements.And after seeing someone alert me to the fact
that the 1999 release of Neon Genesis Evangelionfor the N64 had its own version of Kom Susser
Tod using the console’s soundfont, I knewI’d found my starting point.And being only the second licensed Eva game
to be released after a visual novel carryingon the goofier timeline seen in the show’s
final episode, I can’t say I was expectingsomething so inseparably tied to the show
it was drawing from.Put it this way: if you were to take, say,
Cowboy Bebop and turn it into a game, youwouldn’t expect a level where you have to
sit around good while waiting for Asimov beforelaunching into a bespoke hand-to-hand combat
sequence that appeared nowhere else in thegame.No, you make up a bunch of scenarios where
Spike has to pilot his ship on rails, becauseyou want to keep things simple, with action
mechanics that people can understand.Better a coherent game where you can focus
on making the core systems as good as theycan be than a mess of every mechanically disparate
moment in the show.Well, here, we have the equivalent of that
initial scenario; an astoundingly literaltake on Evangelion as a show, where almost
every notable action scene has its own mission,and every mission has a unique set of mechanics
and controls (that almost always amounts tobashing out various, blister-inducing combinations
of A and C) replete with “supposed-to-lose”sections in which Shinji gets the heck beaten
out of him and Unit 01 goes berserk, for example.With the game’s reliance on quicktime events
to cover the wide range of scenarios foundin Evangelion proper, your interactions are
less of a priority here than the game guidingyou through its whirlwind tour of the show’s
key action scenes.And while visually it’s pretty striking
for an N64 game, what it doesn’t captureanywhere near as effectively is the feeling
of being in an Eva.The Evas, as seen in the show, animate, move
and bend in ways that are unrealistic forrobots, sure, but they aren’t really robots
in the traditional sense—they are humanoidin nature, they sync with their human pilots
to move as humans do.They’re fast, wiry; their movements as athletic
as they are balletic.And yet here, in the one-on-one fight sequences
where you’re arguably given the most directcontrol over your Eva, you’re sometimes
moving with seconds between each individualstep.To say these controls are clunky is an understatement;
contradicting even other missions in the game,which see the mechs bouncing and flipping
around in the manner you’d expect them to,just… not in a way you can control.Likewise, the game’s overall pacing is…
inconsistent to say the least.Certain missions are ruthlessly unforgiving,
even on the easy mode you’re required tostart with—meaning that for multiple levels
I’d find myself repeatedly sitting throughup to a minute of unskippable cutscenes in
order to get another chance at figuring outwhat was required of me in any specific moment,
on a screen where approximately 10% of whatis shown is actually useful visual information.On the other hand, some missions can last
as little as thirty seconds as you point thecursor at the thing.What it all amounts to is a fairly admirable
attempt to stay true to the show and let fansplay out its numerous iconic action sequences,
that ends up spreading itself far too thinmechanically to be any fun as an actual game
in its own right; following the letter ofthe law rather than the spirit.Point thing here, attack there, hope that
you don’t fall foul of the game’s ludicrouslywonky hit detection turning fights into a
deeply frustrating guessing game… all ofit means that Eva64 ends up resembling Dragons
Lair more than a traditional action title—youknow, press button to make the movie go.And given that you need to slog through this
set of missions three times to unlock thetrue ending (which is just a couple of scenarios
from End of Evangelion pared down dramaticallyto what an N64 could handle), the kindest
thing I could say is that the couple of hoursit’ll take you to do so once you’re used
to the way the game works is at the very leastmercifully short.In the end it’s not like I could even recommend
this one to anything other than the most insatiablycurious of fans.There’s nothing new here; it’s like watching
the barest form of the show but every so oftenNetflix stops and demands you hurt your thumbs
before carrying on.So not off to the best start here, but the
potential of a literal adaptation of the showis certainly interesting.Luckily we have 2009’s Evangelion Jo (I
guess?) on the PSP to attempt to fully realiseit.See, if Eva64 was a tour of the show, then
Jo is a literal, if infinitely more involvedtake on the first Rebuild film (and the events
of the show beyond that).It’s literal in the sense that you are yet
again playing through almost all the key actionscenes in the show, with the wild reimaginings
of Angels found in You Are (Not) Alone andthe comparatively dazzling visuals of the
PSP to boot.Play through the first mission, with its equally
quicktime-driven version of the Sachiel fight,and you’d be forgiven for thinking that
Jo is merely Eva64 with a fresh coat of paint.The first sign that something is different,
however, comes as you take control of Shinjihimself; exploring each of the show’s environments
and making conversation with its key characters.And although my lack of Japanese kept me from
engaging too heavily in the game’s stat-basedrelationship system, it’s certainly neat
to explore these places that neither the shownor most other Eva games I played really flesh
out as residential spaces.And it all comes down to the fact that, as
the lengthy first-person boarding animationpreceding each battle would suggest, this
is a game as interested in immersing you inthe world of Evangelion as it is in guiding
you through the show’s action.But that’s only the entrance to this game’s
rabbit hole, opening up to something altogethermore tactical than anything seen prior.On the surface, missions see you move around
a city as you’d expect.Battles are one-on-one as you attack Angels
with guns or swords; occasionally dodgingor blocking using an AT field.The movement is so much more fluid than in
the N64 game, with running and rolling capturingthe more humanoid movements that were missing
from that title.But here things start to go deeper.See, Evangelion Jo is also a tower defence
game; with the network of tunnels and containersMisato would use to resupply Evas mid-battle
now falling entirely under your control—asyou dot turrets and weapons around the different
sectors of Tokyo-3’s surprisingly largemap.Like exploration makes the environments feel
more tangible, the use of the city’s architecturein combat gives the game a feeling of authenticity
as you’re required to utilise Tokyo-3 asthe same kind of arena you see in the show.And this really is a must because enemies
are fast and strong enough to wipe your healthout incredibly quickly.This is health, mind you, that doesn’t totally
refill at the end of a fight, so you needto talk to Ritsuko and select the second option
in her dialogue menu to heal your Eva lestyou enter the next fight at a fraction of
your vitality.It’s all incredibly involved, but like Eva64
before it, the difficulty curve is all overthe place; with certain missions requiring
little more a couple of quicktime events,and others seeing you frantically dipping
behind cover as you pile clip after clip intoyour enemy, only dodging when absolutely necessary
to save your slowly-filling AT gauge, tryingto lure an angel over to a turret without
losing a massive chunk of health thanks tothe game’s (again) inconsistent hit detection,
all while contending with ridiculously aggressivetime limits.The problem with this level of challenge is
that the win conditions are anything but consistent—evenan absolutely perfect run feels like it’ll
only sometimes break the enemy’s AT fieldor drain their health.Other times, it’s almost impossible to tell
if you’re even making a dent.The only way to know for sure is if a quicktime
prompt appears and you’ll perform some flashyfinisher.Otherwise, you watch the same excruciatingly
protracted game over screen before loadinga previous save and hoping you don’t have
to navigate a whole bunch of menus and previouslypurchased upgrades to attempt the mission
one more time.And given how arbitrary the win conditions
seem to be here, this is a routine you shouldget used to.Coupled with my personal frustration of actually
trying to play the game, seeing as its fileencryption makes emulation past the first
mission practically a no-go, it’s anotherinteresting experiment in directly translating
the show to video game form that is ultimatelytoo messy and tedious in its execution for
me to ever want to actually play.So with Eva64 and Jo, even with improvements
between the two games, we’re two-for-twohere; no closer to finding a truly definitive,
or even particularly enjoyable video game.But what about something that goes completely
the other way—a game that disregards theneed to adhere too closely to the events of
the anime and instead forge its own path inrepresenting the show.Well, enter Neon Genesis Evangelion Battle
Orchestra—a 2D fighting game produced byBroccoli, released for the PS2 in 2007 and
for the PSP in 2009.With the perspective and layout of the stages,
the obvious comparison is to Smash Brothers;a similarity solidified by the game’s roster—something
of an all-star line-up consisting of the show’smechs and monsters, complete with story campaigns
for every human fighter, with characters likeKensuke and Toji now working as agents of
Seele from what I can gather.This should be great!And as I’ve come to expect, upon closer
inspection it’s far from a perfect or evendecent fighting game.It features an awkward camera that’s constantly
zooming in and out to account for charactersat the edge of the screen; inconsistent difficulty
as certain enemies will wipe half your healthin one combo; AI that doesn’t know whether
to flail around wildly or just stand boltupright; as well as, again, some super dodgy
hit detection when characters are close toeach other; but despite all of that, movement
here is undoubtedly fast and it still feelsgood to control these mecha as the quick-footed
humanoid creatures they are.The Evas move like Evas here.The problem is that, well, so do the Angels.These often-monolithic creatures whose abstract
forms see them representing vague religiousconcepts as much as they resemble traditional
monsters now run, jump and bounce around thesestages as if they were Evas themselves.It speaks to the difficulty of balancing characters
for a fighting game, where everyone more orless has to be on equal footing, so to speak.And there are some neat aesthetic workarounds
to be found in this regard, where an orb likeLeliel extrudes previously devoured skyscrapers
instead of arms.It’s just that these workarounds are outweighed
by scenarios that regress into the straightup goofy; with the nondescript octahedron
Ramiel somehow managing to pick up a littleaxe or the terrifying scale of Sahaquiel being
reduced to flapping around like a fish.That is to say, this game is silly.Which is fine—it’s hilarious to see a
skyscraper size Pen-Pen chilling in the backgroundas two Eva units battle it out, and the developer
has made interesting use of the show’s loreas item pickups, such as the dummy plug allowing
an AI to take over and presumably fight ina slightly more efficient manner than a human
player.But when you consider that stage hazards can
include things as daft as monster sharks thatbite your Eva to death, it’s clear that
the developer’s attention to detail in thatregard fail to stretch across the whole game.For as big and celebratory a project as the
game seems from the outset with its rosterand surprising emphasis on story, the silliness
of its action combined with a general lackof polish when it comes to things like the
viability of certain characters on certainstages makes the whole experience feel fairly
cheap and slapdash.Battle Orchestra is an example of bending
and breaking the show to fit a fighting gameframework rather than accurately representing
it.It’s less an Eva game and more a Smash Brothers
clone with an Eva skin on it.If it were tighter as a fighting game I’d
recommend checking it out, but as with everythingelse we’ve seen so far, it’s the territory
of curious fans only.So is that it?After all that exploration, all the hassle
of getting things to run properly, is thisreally all that the world of Evangelion can
bring to the world of video games?Surely there has to be something legitimately
good in there, right?Well, what if I were to tell you that said
game definitely exists and, rather than attemptingto literally convey the show, the best Eva
game I played turned out to be a rhythm gamedeveloped by Grasshopper Manufacture, produced
by Suda51 of Killer7 and No More Heroes fameand featuring the series’ music rearranged
by Silent Hill composer Akira Yamaoka?Yeah, things are about to take a turn here.But before we get into that, let me take a
minute to tell you about something else that’slegitimately great, today’s sponsor, Audible—home
of the largest selection of audiobooks onthe planet.As a regular user of the service for a while
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something I can personally recommend is theautobiography of Scottish comedian/Twitch
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by the man himself makes this a must-listenin my eyes.And what’s more, by clicking the link in
the description, Amazon Prime members cansave 66% on your first 3 months of Audible
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so you’ve only got a few days from the publishingof this video!Visit audible dot com slash WRITINGONGAMES
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support the show in the process.Thanks again to Audible for sponsoring this
video, and now let’s get back to the Suda51-producedEvangelion rhythm game, I guess.Named Evangelion New Theatrical Edition: Third
Impact (no, wait, “thirnd” impact?Ohhh, because It’s the Japanese number 3,
so it’s “saaaand impact”… “soundimpact”…Yup, this is absolutely a Grasshopper game…
wait a minute, where were we?).Oh yeah, Evangelion New Theatrical Edition:
Saaand Impact was released for the PSP in2011 and honestly flew completely under my
radar as a massive fan of the studio’s output.Suda has previously talked about Grasshopper’s
licensed work as a necessity to pay the billsand allow the team to work on their own projects,
but after coming back to the game time andtime again it’s hard to view this as something
churned out to make a quick buck—even asyou load into the main menu and you’re greeted
with a montage of game footage set to a wonderfullyupbeat version of the show’s “next episode”
theme, you know this is coming from a placeof genuine appreciation for the property the
team is working with.And this vibrancy carries into the gameplay,
which combined with the game’s strikingUI design makes for an absolute treat for
the senses.Missions see each major narrative beat of
the rebuild films confined to a group of threelevels or so, each with their own mechanics
and tracks.Initially you’ll have a kind of call-and-response
with an Angel as you analyse its movementsbefore moving into an attack stage where you’ll
usually be hitting buttons in sync with graduallyfilling octahedrons as footage from the films
play out behind it all.It perhaps seems like an abstract way of gameifying
the property, but consider that those movies,the show as a whole is also fairly abstract
in itself.What Saaaand Impact does is realise that trying
to cram every moment of the show into an actionand RPG and visual novel and fighting game
framework will only result in a mess of afinal product, and so they decide to work
within their limits by taking a step back,examining the broad thematic strokes of the
show, and see if they can find a design thatgracefully encompasses as much of it as they
can.When examined in that sense, you can say that
Evangelion is a show about harmonisation andsynchronisation—terms literally used by
the show on multiple occasions—as our pilotsattempt to become one with their Evas, or
in a broader sense become one with themselvesas they try desperately to figure out who
they are and what their place in this worldis.What better way to represent that struggle
than musically-focused mechanics that requireliteral synchronisation with a beat?The music is often energetic enough, the focus
required from players intense enough, thatenemy encounters feel truly frantic.Way moreso, that is, than the more traditional
action sequences found in prior games thatmore often than not devolved into quicktime
events anyway.And for a series with music so iconic, a good
deal of the tracks featured here focus onodd, lurching melodies, the occasional irregular
time signature and sometimes full-blown ambientdrone with a discernible downbeat occurring
only every four bars or so.The challenge of the game in instances like
this is internalising a rhythm where saidrhythm might not be readily apparent—where
there might be some time between button pressesand no real rhythmic indicator as to when
the next will appear.The communication of visual information is
maybe an issue, with the debris of fillingoctahedrons making it difficult to concentrate
on exactly what’s required of you (let alonethe movie footage) but then again, multiple
points in the show feature the charactershaving to remove themselves from outside distractions
in order that they can focus on the missionat hand.For a game so seemingly abstract, no Eva game
prior has featured mechanics so thematicallycohesive; for as literal as those other games
are, they miss out on all these details thatmake Evangelion the show it actually is.It all goes to show that, when it comes to
adaptation, the most literal approach mightnot always be the most appropriate one.It makes for some interesting curios and it’s
neat to see the show’s iconic scenes renderedin varying levels of fidelity; however, when
it comes to capturing the essence of whatEvangelion is, it’s obviously far more than
big action scenes with robots.A focus on combat requires a set of animations
and tightness of control that reflects theoddly humanoid movements of said robots and
we largely have that in Jo and Battle Orchestra,but what I’d be interested in more in future
is the Grasshopper approach—tapping intothe more conceptual themes of the show by
going for a less orthodox mechanical framework.We already have the Dragons Lair thing down
multiple times over—give me more weird rhythmgames.And with the popularity of Evangelion burgeoning
outside of Japan perhaps more than it everhas done, it seems now would be a better time
than ever to experiment with the gameificationof this beloved franchise on a more global
scale.So I hope you enjoyed this piece on Eva games.Once again I’d just like to thank this video’s
sponsor Audible and remind you to check thelink in the description before the 31st July
2019 for the great offer I mentioned earlier.I’d also like to thank my wonderful patrons
for their continued support.Videos like this take a lot of effort to produce
and I really cannot thank you enough for allowingme to spend the time necessary to make it
all happen.In particular I’d like to thank Mark B Writing,
Rob, Nico Bleackley, Sivaas, Artjom Vitsjuk,Bryce Snyder, Tommy Carver-Chaplin, David
Bjork, Lucas, Hibiya Mori, Dallas Kean, WilliamFielder, my dad, Ali Almuhanna, Timothy Jones,
Spike Jones, The NamlessGuy, Chris Wright,Ham Migas, Zach Casserly, Samuel Pickens,
Shardfire, Ana Pimentel, Jessie Rine, BrandonRobinson, Justins Holderness, Nicolas Ross
and Charlie Yang.And with that, this has been another episode
of Writing on Games.Thank you very much for watching and I will
see you next time.


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