Among legendary shows that have become fixtures of pop culture, Hideaki Anno’s Neon Genesis Evangelion is a beast in a league of its own. Airing nearly 25 years ago in 1995, it maintains status as a foundational mainstay for anime fans and something of a go-to for those who wish to explore the “mature” side of the medium. Exploring themes ranging from what free will truly is, to transhumanism and the mental ramifications of religion, Eva plunges deep into its characters’ psychologies and the plight of the human condition.
Of course, this is all well-documented and understood at this point. End of Evangelion has long since come and gone, leaving us stranded in an LCL-drenched liminal space, waiting on Anno to finish the Rebuild series, a reimagining of the show as he (supposedly) originally wanted it to be, unconstrained by technical limitations or budget restrictions. Regardless of opinions on the three entries thus far, it’s hard to deny the fact that they have fueled the hype train of Eva‘s insanely devoted fanbase like nothing else. Not unlike the original show, Rebuild has spurred all sorts of spin-off material, including but not limited to: pachinko machines, an expansive section at a Japanese theme park (complete with giant Eva-01 statue and Lance of Longinus), crossovers with Godzilla and Transformers, and, of course, video games.
So many video games.
However, one stands out among the themed mahjong titles and bizarre Tamagotchi-like bishoujo releases: a 2011 Japan-only PSP rhythm game developed by Grasshopper Manufacture, helmed by the legendary Suda51. Donning the moniker Evangelion Shin Gekijōban -Saundo Inpakuto- (Evangelion New Theatrical Edition: 3nd Impact), Suda51 sets out to cover the story of the first two Rebuild films through music arranged by Akira Yamaoka of Silent Hill fame, with a variety of playmodes set against them. To say the least, it’s just as weird as one might imagine an Eva rhythm game to be under the guidance of someone like Suda.
Broken into chunks that mirror the episodic structure of the original series, 3nd Impact (“3nd” being wordplay on the Japanese transliteration of “third”, 「サード」(saado), and the “nd” of “2nd”, producing “saundo” i.e. “sound” ) presents a handful of tracks for the player to cover back-to-back before unlocking the next selection. Typically, each section opens with a call-and-response segment as the U.N. launches an offensive against the Angel of the week, culminating in a button-mashing assault on the monstrosity. From there, the remaining tracks tend to be line-guiding ambient moments focusing on a specific character and their mental state, or fights against Angels presented with growing AT Shields requiring timed button presses to shatter them.
A few tracks here and there experiment with different forms of play. Some feature two opposing lines, ferrying notes along as the player presses buttons when they reach the center of the screen. Several character-centric tracks cover the screen in red hexes, gradually chipped away as beams of light approach highlighted hexes and are cleared by player input. One form, used only thrice, in succession no less, has an Eva unit running parallel to the camera, requiring input to leap over various obstacles in its path.
Beyond that, 3nd doesn’t have too much in the way of content. There are 30 tracks that cover the story up to the end of 2.0, a gallery with an assortment of random images to unlock, and that’s it. Sadly, as weird as the minigames can be, the concept of 3nd is far more surreal and odd than the game itself. Suda is obviously a fan of the source material, and seems to have reined in the trademark weirdness, careful to do right by the series.
If you’re very much into Evangelion, 3nd Impact is worth checking out, should you have the means. It sits comfortably alongside Eva‘s other venerated game spin-offs, such as fighting games Battle Orchestra and NGE64, or Sega Saturn RPG 2nd Impression. If nothing else, it serves as a stopgap to get you through one more day without a solid release date on 3.0+1.0. God knows the fans need anything to keep the dream alive.
Catherine Brinegar is a trans game developer and filmmaker who explores the surreal and abstract in her work. Beyond her creative endeavors she enjoys losing herself inside other worlds, interactive and not. Finding inspiration in everything, Catherine aims to see all the world has to offer, through the continual conversation of art. You can keep up with her on twitter @cathroon.