Earth’s Dawn was originally released in Japan and titled Earth Wars back in 2015 and it’s now released for western audiences as we play it on Playstation 4. It's a fast-paced, side-scrolling action game with combos aplenty during waves of battles. While it had the potential to market itself like an indie version of games like Bayonetta, it’s much less polished thanks to a clunky targeting system. During a single player campaign we found ourselves choosing a range of missions which all focused on defeating an alien invasion named E.B.E by using guns and weapons we crafted ourselves. Choosing the order of missions didn't offer the unique gameplay we hoped for as poor pacing had us enduring repetitive battles and performing similar tasks through the entirety of the adventure which got boring very quickly. The potential to craft our own weapons could have helped the bland battles but unfortunately this also felt disappointing due to overly complicated systems.
Visually, this game is quite unique as the original Japanese release meant it was heavily influenced by manga, which is apparent from its hand-painted graphics. A lot of effort was made to create the dreary apocalyptic aesthetic but the painted characters can look a little awkward. During dialogue-based cutscenes only certain body parts squash and stretch to give the illusion they are moving. This story also won’t fill you with much drive as it's your typical unoriginal “post-apocalyptic” story arc. What will interest you to keep playing will be the gameplay, until it starts to feel like a tedious chore. The battle system is like any typical action-packed brawler which has players pulling off different combos and finding new ways to defeat enemies as they discover more powerful weapons. The character you create can be customised in a range of ways thanks to the weapon crafting system and skill enhancements. Be careful, as tutorials will be pretty difficult to follow from the start thanks to the Japanese subtitles, which can’t be turned off, and tutorial text popping up at the same time that doesn’t last long. Luckily you can re-read them all later in the endless reams of text which offer a bit of context for the game.
The core loop of the game is pretty dull as there is no epic campaign to pull you through. You get to choose a range of mini-missions to complete while a timer counts down. After each mission is completed the timer dramatically decreases until you've completed enough to move on with the story. The timer is just a weird way of presenting a collection of missions for the player to choose before the game wants you to continue. Unfortunately, these missions can be very boring and rarely challenge the player in new or interesting ways. They require you to play the same section of level over and over with different goals such as clearing an area of enemies, collecting so many items, racing to a certain point to clear this different part of the same level of the same enemies, and so on. In a nutshell the game just wants you to battle enemies in waves which feel endless. You’ll find yourself holding down right/left until you reach your wave trigger to complete your mission. After so many missions and defeating the same enemy for what feels like the hundredth time it will no longer feel fun. The race sections are especially uninteresting as there are no short cuts or speed boosts to make the challenge interesting. Levels try to mix up gameplay with annoying gimmicks like altering the gravity, but this just makes the already slightly irritating targeting system ten times more infuriating than it needs to be.
One-handed weapons can be equipped to each hand which will heavily influence the different combos you can make depending on the direction you attack. Enemies don’t offer much challenge and thanks to the limited side-scrolling space, once you have levelled up far enough you will most likely find yourself mashing square or triangle in whatever direction you may be running at that time. Some enemies have tricky shields which can only be broken as long as one of your weapon has an attribute named “TEC” attached to it. Once the extra layer is broke you you can easily continue to spam your primary attack to take down enemies health. Unless improving your rank and score at the end of each mission is your thing, then the battle system is also going to feel tedious after a few hours which means the most appealing draws of the game will lose their quality quite quickly.
Considering missions want to make the most of throwing you into battle, combat can be easily exploited by mashing buttons. You may find yourself missing a few blocks and needing to heal. The amount of enemies it throws at you can feel unfair and with an archaic lives system you're going to want to heal as soon as possible. Depending on the mission you can be given one life or sometimes three, but once they are used up after each death your mission is failed. Annoyingly, the only way to heal is to strip one enemy to low health and press square next to them. This is extremely frustrating if you're in too much of a combo flow or you have too many enemies on your tail. As soon as you miss your chance to heal for that tiny bit of health you're basically screwed. Clumsy targeting when you're surrounded from above and each side means you could miss that vital healing blow while your character aims for a different threat.
A redeeming part of this game is the crafting and customisation system. It will take you a while to understand it with lack of tutorials and the immense amount of crafting materials you can collect. While you progress you will find yourself collecting a whole load of collectible materials, each with its own individual information to read. Material is used to craft new weapons, which also reveal their blueprints over time. Each new weapon requires its unique materials from your huge collection. To be honest, there are so many you’ll give up trying to learn what is what. Luckily the system automatically tells you which materials you can use for which weapon which is handy as some materials give different boosts such as status effects. There are a lot of possibilities to make some epic weapons but it also requires a lot of thought to find what you need.
The vast range of material has its downfalls as crafted weapons can also be enhanced by sacrificing material. It's hard to tell if the material you're sacrificing has any decent value later on. You could have the patience to pay attention to what material would be important in crafting a weapon later, or you may find yourself just focusing on one weapon and sacrificing as much material as you can to enhance its stats. That is until you run out of energy. Energy is used to craft and enhance so when you run out you will have to sacrifice even more material just to be able to customise! Sound tedious or confusing yet?
The final part of customising your character comes down to setting skills. Completing missions on certain ranks will unlock new skills such as increased attack or increased defence. Some skills can also be linked to others to increase their power. All of this is poorly explained and we are left not truly understanding what the millions of lines and parts do. Like any typical RPG leveling system or skill tree you're going to look at this overly complicated UI and be intimidated. You can tell there is a lot of potential to make your character into a true badass, but it's a huge downfall when you have no idea what you're doing. There were lines, symbols and slots that still don't make sense. There is no worse feeling than trying to understand a complicated UI and then not really seeing the results of your work in-game.
Earth’s Dawn had a lot of potential, but the limitations presented by a 2D space for a battle brawling game like this has too many downfalls. Between its clunky battle system, pacing of enemy waves and repetitive gameplay, it doesn't sit well. If you have the time to really dive into all of the different crafting and upgrades then there is a lot of room to build it to the style you want. It’s just a shame the combat and uncreative missions don't make enough of all that hard work. For how much levels and goals are recycled it feels more like a mobile game - especially when they use the concept of a timer between revealing the story. If this is your kind of thing then give it a go, however Earth’s Dawn may be more of a grind for most players.