Earth Defense Force has always been a super Japanese B Move of a game. Massive battles against hordes of massive enemies; ants, spiders, wasps, aliens, landing pods, drones, and spacecraft.
Coming in on the ‘janky’ end of the 3rd person shooter spectrum, it’s fast paced, over the top, unashamed fun and has done OK in the west, but largely appealed to its home audience in Japan. The rough graphics, occasionally hilariously translated voice acting, and unexplained upgrade systems
Understandably they want to appeal to a more western audience, so Sandlot has handed over development reins to Yuke’s in a spinoff from the numbered EDF series:
Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain
I went hands on at PAX East before meeting with series producer Nobuyuki Okajima to chat about the changes, the monsters, and making EDF more accessible to the west.
The most immediately obvious change is the graphics. These have had a massive overhaul, with the bugs being bigger, more menacing, and clearly featuring many more polygons in their models.
Similarly the world geometry has had an upgrade, with more angles and textures. The locales have been modeled on San Francisco and LA and it looks more like the US than ever before.
Meanwhile our player character is customizable beyond the standard colours and loadouts. While I didn’t spend long tinkering with my EDF soldier, there appeared to be a large number of helmets and armour to strap on. I hit the random button and away we went.
Notable this time is that weapons are not tied to a specific class of EDF soldier. Previously weapons were locked to class, but now you can expect to spend a set number of points on equipment allowing a much greater range of options. Also the possibility for making terrible choices.
Speaking of classes, up to battle in Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain:
Trooper – The standard infantry of the EDF, Troopers are versatile soldiers equipped for any battle. Fast and agile.
Jet Lifter – A soldier designed for assault and reconnaissance. The flyers of the team.
Heavy Striker – Essentially the tank of the party, can dual wield weapons.
Prowl Rider – OK so you know how I said the Heavy Striker was the tank… The Prowl Rider can summon a giant ant and ride it into battle!
I only had a few minutes to get acquainted with Iron Rain so took the old favourite the Trooper for a fight.
The western influences of Gears of War were immediately felt – the game taking a much slower, and more strategic pace.
The enemies are fewer in number, but absorb more hits before going down, meaning crowd control is more important than ever. The chatter between members of the EDF platoon was always funny, but the show floor meant I couldn’t really make out the noise.
Wading into battle I took down some ants. Not that many ants. Where are all the ants? Before taking out my flamethrower to bring down a nest. Gems littered the battlefield – replacing the ammo, armor, and health crates from the numbered EDF series. Formerly these leveled up your hit points and unlocked/upgraded random weapons. I’d have to find out more about these two gem types later.
I came a way a little confused. EDF was always about the overwhelming numbers, fast paced explosive gameplay, and B Movie charm. Now it was slicker, slower, but still falls short of a AAA title. The weapons felt less effective, the enemies far, far, fewer in number.
I needed more time to form a proper opinion; it could be my character, my class, my loadout that had affected things. Perhaps those gems added speed? Maybe later levels have more enemies?
No time to waste! On to a meeting with series producer Okajima-san to find out what Iron Rain means to Earth Defense Force as a series.
Interview with Earth Defense Force Producer Nobuyuki Okajima
Thank you for your time Okajima-san. I’m a big fan of EDF, the speed, the explosions, the overwhelming numbers… it’s great to see a different take on the EDF series.
It seems to be slightly slower more strategic game, was that a deliberate design choice?
You are right about the speed, it is probably a little bit slower because of the character design, however the strategy part is that you can now pick and select all the weapons, it’s hard to compare Iron Rain with the previous EDF
Speaking of weapons, there were no weapon crates on the battlefield, how do the gems work?
In Iron Rain you collect two things, credits and gems – you need both in combination to unlock and earn the weapons.
EDF is known for its super-hard difficulty at higher levels, where you have to level up and earn the ability to survive. Is this the case in Iron Rain?
There are 5 different levels, similar to EDF’s easy normal, hard, hardest, inferno.
Now Easy normal, hard, hardest, disaster! *laughing* I think you’ll feel Iron Rain is even more difficult in the disaster level. Easy in Iron Rain is similar to normal in a numbered EDF.
In the demo I played, despite there being fewer enemies, it felt much more challenging to take them down.
You’re right, in Iron Rain you can pick any weapon which gives you more flexibility, but if you pick the wrong weapon it’s going to be more challenging. That’s going to bring another layer of the challenge you have in Iron Rain.
This is the first non-Sandlot developed game in the series. How did that relationship come around to take EDF in a new direction with Iron Rain?
First of all to give you a little bit of background, Sandlot has been doing great, however we wanted to create an Earth Defense Force specifically for the western countries and people like you guys here at PAX East.
So we decided to work with Yuke’s.
So we had some bullet points we wanted to achieve for this game, and working with Yuke’s I think we achieved everything
Graphics – it’s a lot different now. I personally really like the graphics in the original Earth Defense Force, so that is part of why we still have the regular Earth Defense Force numbered games with Sandlot – we’re keeping that.
But with Yuke’s we have a very western graphics like this points at screen in interview room.
The second is location – we wanted to take reference from western cities in the US. Specifically we have San Francisco and Los Angeles, so we wanted to create and design a new environment with Yuke’s.
The third is system – with the numbered EDF titles we will be sticking with the same engine. Same system, same engine. Versus Iron Rain which we’ve created almost from scratch. More aligned with other 3rd person shooting games we like to play from the west.
The next is customization – you’re free to create your own character and pick your own weapons, which is very different to the numbered Earth Defense Force. We understand that you guys love to customize your own characters right?
It’s true! Different hats, trousers, armour….
So we wanted to demo the very good online experience so now we have online match, online co-op, plus Split Screen.
It’s so much fun multiplayer, co-op on the couch, having some drinks…
I’m very happy split screen is back.
Yes we have split screen in Iron Rain so don’t worry and please have fun.
I think we have to keep the split screen because we understand everyone asked for it. If we don’t then it’s going to be a BIG problem!
How would you promote this game to someone who’s never played EDF before?
So for all the people who played TPS games have probably heard of Earth Defense Force before, so Iron Rain is really easy to enter now because of the bullet points I gave you. So I want all the people to come join us this time.
Seeing all the people on the stand here at PAX East there’s lots of smiling faces on people enjoying the game, so congratulations on Iron Rain and thank you for your time!
The game is coming now so we don’t yet know how it goes but we really appreciate your support.
Thank you for playing, we’re here for people like you.
Last question – have you had the opportunity to go out on the show floor and are there any games at PAX East that you’ve enjoyed.
starts drawing a creature
He likes the game right there with the three faces smushed together. He was in shock. I think he regularly thinks about that, he’s always thinking about crazy and creepy ideas. I don’t know the name.
Have you seen it?
Great choice. Go and tell them, I’m sure they’ll be very happy to know. (note I saw the EDF Iron Rain team at the Struggling booth shortly after – if there’s ever a crossover I want to know about it!)
I’ve produced over 200 games until now in my career and we made a lot of creepy, crazy, characters. This is one of the craziest ones that I saw. I’m really inspired by these people and really respect them.
Thank you and best of luck with the launch of EDF: Iron Rain!
The final trailer ahead of global release:
I still have hope that later levels in the game will bring back the charm and sheer force of enemy numbers, but we’ll have to wait and see.
Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain launches exclusively on PS4 on April 14th 2019. It is currently available to pre-order from the PSN Store.
Robin Bates – Earth Defense Force, not Électricité de France
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