Yuke’s spin-off of the popular Earth Defense Force series, Earth Defense Force: World Brothers is set to come to the West on May 27. While the game was already released in Japan in December last year, I got the chance to sit down with some of the team as well as the producer behind the entire series Nobuyuki Okajima on a Zoom call to get an early look at the game.
The demo began with the introduction that new players can expect when they start the game, complete with the tutorial. The new spin for the series is immediately noticeable – everything is made from voxels. Fans of the series, however, should not be concerned. This is still very much an Earth Defense Force title.
As one expects from the series the story revolves around an alien species of giant insects that come to earth. Only, in World Brothers, the cubic earth has already been destroyed. The destroyed Earth has fractured into chunks, stranding members of the Earth Defense Force away from one another and leading to the collapse of all world governments. After a cinematic explaining all of that, the tutorial kicks off with the player controlling the Ranger from Earth Defense Force 4, staring down a tower covered in giant ants.
The situation will feel very familiar for fans of the series and is something that Okajima says was very important to him. The tutorial runs through the basics of how to shoot giant ants well but then goes on to what sets World Brothers apart from the rest of the series. Rather than controlling a single character with a different loadout of weapons, as most EDF games have players do, World Brothers let players assemble a team of four units at a time.
The units cover every previous class in the series, and, in keeping with the familiar, the first new unit gained in the demo is the Wing Diver from EDF 4. New units are gained by rescuing them during missions and each mission has three to five units for players to rescue. It is possible for players to rescue units they already have, which then raises that unit’s level up to level 10.
Each unit also plays uniquely with their own weapon, skill, and SP move. Weapons can also be leveled up like the units, and once they are, they can be equipped by other characters of the same or higher level to allow some variety in playstyle. The single skill that units have been used quite frequently and seem to define the unit’s playstyle. The Ranger players started with can sprint, while the Wing Diver can fly with her rockets. The SP move, on the other hand, functions more large-scale moves that need to be charged back up after use. The Ranger’s heals everyone in the fireteam while the Wing Diver’s launches a barrage of missiles that seek enemies with devastating impact.
The player can switch between their two characters at any time, and it does not take long for the tutorial to be completed, which brought us to the main menu that players can modify their squad through in between missions. Here Okajima led us through the various options that players will have, including unlocking and customizing their emblem, swapping out their character’s weapons if they wish, and equipping accessories.
Accessories are items that have a chance to drop any time players find a new unit during a mission. Every unit has their own accessory that they can drop, and Okajima tells us that they are relatively rare. While none are unlocked in the demo at the time, one is dropped later on that increases the rate a character builds their SP meter when it is equipped.
Before jumping into World Brothers’ first proper mission, Okajima gives us an idea of the game’s scope. He says that the game will launch with 60 levels in total and five difficulty levels with the harder levels increasing enemy health as well as the percentage of damage players take from friendly fire. He also drops a hint that a sixth difficulty level will be available as post-launch content, although there is no mention as to whether or not it will be free or something players have to pay for.
The first mission launches with the ranger and Wind Diver again facing off against the giant ants, but they quickly rescue our first look at one of World Brothers’ original units – Tulip Sister. The Tulip Sister wields an explosive plasma launcher and can throw seeds that grow into giant Tulip mines for her skill. Her SP move lets her place a windmill turret that shoots small tornados at nearby enemies.
Then, they rescue Amigo Brother, a sombrero-clad agent that wields a shotgun-like weapon. Their skill is throwing firebombs while their SP move sees them joining a mariachi band that buffs the stats in an area around him, letting the player switch to another player for some seriously buffed damage. Before the end of the mission, a fourth unit was found that resembled a British Grenadier Guard, but as our roster was already full, they did not join our team.
The mission also gives us our first look at not only giant enemies but also the destructibility of the entire voxel environments. The destruction of the buildings is sharp and impactful, with blown away walls giving peaks at the building’s framework as small chunks are scattered about the map. The destruction is wonderfully reactive, fun, and adds to the sense of scale.
Okajima says that this sense of scale was critically important to him and the development team. He says that scale is at the very heart of the EDF series and that he made sure the player would be able to feel the scale despite the new voxel style before committing to it. The title’s election to use smaller voxels for the designs contributes well to the scale of everything, with the enemies, characters, and environments that players come across having a lot of characteristics and details to them.
For the environment, this really comes into play during the next and final mission we are shown. The mission is one later in the game on a save with everything unlocked. We are allowed to assemble a team from a very fast scroll through the full list of characters, and we pick a Viking Brother, a Dragon Sister, a Bear Brother, and a Baron Brother.
This final team shows the sheer variety of units that players can expect. The Baron Brother is modeled after a vampire and wields a curved sword as he dashes around the battlefield. The Bear Brother looks to be a man in a bear mascot suit that wields a minigun. The Dragon Sister flies around the level on a nimbus cloud to get up close to enemies and pummel them with a flurry of punches and kicks. The Viking brother is a square-bodied unit with a large explosive weapon that dealt some serious damage.
The gameplay with the four of them was chaotic and looked like an absolute blast. Since World Brothers allows players to play online in groups of up to four players, each with their own team of four soldiers, it is easy to see how hectic full multiplayer matches could be. The level takes place in Japan’s Akihabara district, and Okajima promises that players will visit multiple familiar real-world locations throughout the game’s 60 missions. The final mission also features our first look at how vehicles will look and work in World Brothers.
Vehicles in World Brothers work similarly to earlier titles in the series that see vehicles being placed in certain levels and being available for any player to get into and operate. This mission in particular gives the player access to a towering baraga mech that towers over the buildings. It lumbers about throwing enemies and chunks of buildings alike with slow, deliberate punches. Its size is tangible, and it looks fantastic as it stomps through the streets lined with traditional buildings.
The presentation wound down with Okajima sharing a story about trouble the team came across when working with the voxels in world design. The streets are flanked on either side with small divots that separate the road from the front of the lot next to it. Okajima told us that during development vehicles with wheels would often get jammed into the divots and be stuck, rendering them useless to the player. While we did not get to see any in the levels shown during the preview, the team’s solution was to put small jet boosters on the bottom of those vehicles so that they could more easily free themselves.
The story encapsulates much of how I felt coming away from the presentation. It was clear throughout just how excited Okajima and the team were about the game, and there was a very genuine sense of pride in what they had made. Much like the story, Earth Defense Force: World Brothers felt very human in the best way. While it is a big departure for the series, it takes advantage of what makes it unique, for better or for worse, and looks as though it will deliver something new while maintaining what makes Earth Defense Force as a series beloved to so many fans.
Earth Defense Force: World Brothers launches May 27 on PC, PlayStation 4, and Switch.
Arron is a writer and video editor for But Why Tho? that is passionate about all things gaming, whether it be on a screen or table. When he isn’t writing for the site he’s either playing Dungeons & Dragons, watching arthouse movies, or trying to find someone to convince that the shooter Brink was ahead of its time.
March 20, 2023