The X Button
Feigned Frustration XIII

by Todd Ciolek, Jul 15th 2008

We're right in the thick of E3, which, as you may know, is no longer a grand parade of excess and carnality open to all. But that doesn't mean it's boring. No, there's still a great procession of surprise announcements and tragic disappointments, all of which are guaranteed to throw less-stable game enthusiasts into violent tantrums.
Very little of it has to do with the anime industry, as all of the big publishers are focusing on high profile titles like God of War 3 and Resident Evil 5 and Grand Theft Auto (for the DS!) and the soon-to-be-renamed Massive Action Game. The biggest anime-related news so far comes from Bones and FUNimation landing on the PLAYSTATION Network, which you can read about here.

So if there's a tantrum to be thrown, I'll have to throw it over the way this column's coverage is likely to be overshadowed by whatever news comes out tomorrow, when Sony will probably announce that they're merging with Microsoft while Nintendo rolls out Kid Icarus and Stack-Up Extreme for the Wii.

NEWS

FINAL FANTASY XIII ON XBOX 360, FANS AFROTH WITH RAGE
For the anime-watching, JRPG-playing crowd, there will likely be no bigger E3 announcement than the news of Final Fantasy XIII showing up on the Xbox 360. It's set to hit the U.S. and Europe at exactly the same time as the PS3 version, though Square's gone on record as saying that they won't start the Xbox 360 port until the PS3 version's out in Japan, and that Japan won't get the 360 version at all. At any rate, the PS3 still has Final Fantasy Versus XIII, though nothing short of landing Final Fantasy VII: Save Aerith This Time or Rad Racer 3 would make up for losing one of its biggest future system-sellers.

Some PS3 proponents appear to have taken this quite badly, and I think they need a bit of perspective. Think back to that fateful day in 1996 when Square moved Final Fantasy VII from the Nintendo 64 to the PlayStation, thus leaving Nintendo fans with absolutely nothing. You'll still have your Final Fantasy, PS3 owners, so suck it up.

For those of you who just can't accept this turn of fate, you can air your grievances through this petition. Go on and add your names to those of Rick Astley, A Giant Enemy Crab, IDoNotSupportThisPetition, and about five or six real people.

NINTENDO UNVEILS EXPECTED ANIMAL CROSSING GAME
A Wii incarnation of Animal Crossing has been an open secret for quite a while, but it was only at E3 that Nintendo outlined the game, to be subtitled City Folk. With the urban focus comes a bunch of new features, including Mii support and a microphone that lets multiple players interact with the growing city all at once. The game still limits its online mode to exploring friends' creations, as Nintendo must think of the children.

Nintendo's other major E3 announcements proved just how profitable Wii Sports and Wii Fit have been, as the company continues the trend with Wii Sports Resort and Wii Music. There's no sign of Mother 3 or that insubstantially rumored Kid Icarus game, leaving the devoted Nintendo fan to fume and foam and spit out the word “mainstream” like it was a mouthful of rattlesnake venom.

SOUL CALIBUR IV SQUEAKS IN ONE MORE CHARACTER
With only two weeks before Soul Calibur IV arrives, Namco Bandai has somehow introduced a new cast member, and, surprisingly, it's not another female warrior designed by a well-known manga artist. No, the new character is Algol, the imposing, leonine ruler of an ancient civilization. He's touted as the strongest combatant in the Soul Calibur world, so it's only fitting that he resembles a maddeningly tough boss from an old SNK fighting game.

For trivia fans, Algol just so happens to be the name of a star in the constellation Perseus, which became the setting for the Phantasy Star series. This will have nothing to do with Soul Calibur's Algol, I expect.

AMERICA GETS GAME SHOW'S GAME-WITHIN-GAME
Comedian Shinya Arino has it good. He's the star of the long-running Japanese TV series Game Center CX, where he's tasked with playing (and usually fumbling) some old-school game. Not only is Game Center CX headed for a DVD release in the U.S., but, better yet, Xseed Games will bring its DS off-shoot here as Retro Game Challenge this winter.

The game takes self-referencing to new heights: players are challenged to complete eight new 8-Bit titles created entirely in the style of Famicom classics, from the Dragon Quest take-off of Guadia Quest to the evolving Haguru-man series. It's not yet clear how Xseed will translate the meta-gameplay, which includes a virtual Arino and the entirely made-up Game Fan Magazine (not to be confused with the actual long-dead Gamefan), but this collection already seems perfect for anyone who still plays an old NES.

SEGA REVIVES THUNDER FORCE
Technosoft's Thunder Force series was often there for us just when we needed a decent shooter. Thunder Force II was the best game in the Sega Genesis launch lineup, Thunder Force III was one of the leading shooters on a system crowded with them, Thunder Force IV (needlessly renamed Lightening Force: Quest for the Darkstar for Americans) was a beacon of joy in the shooter-deprived mid-1990s, and Thunder Force V was a nicely challenging “2.5-D” blasting festival for the PlayStation and Saturn.

This brings us to Thunder Force VI, a PS2 resurgence of the series that's been rumored since 2000. Technosoft is curiously absent, and Sega's taken up the cause. Japanese magazine previews show a game much in line with Thunder Force V's polygon side-scrolling look, though there's already a minor change to gameplay: the multiple weapons aren't lost when your fighter's destroyed. I'm grateful for that, as someone who played Thunder Force V as far as any conventional human possibly could.

PREVIEW: NARUTO: CLASH OF NINJA REVOLUTION 2

No modern console can escape a Naruto game. The Wii has inherited the GameCube's Clash of Ninja series, as last year's Naruto: Clash of Ninja Revolution felt much like one the four-player GameCube fighters, albeit with some remote-waggling added. For Revolution 2, Tomy and D3 hope to set the Wii-exclusive series off on its own.

Even the game's storyline is pitched as an improvement on the usual throwaway cul-de-sacs of anime-based games. Set after Tsunade takes up the mantle of hokage but just before the events of Naruto Shippūden unfold, Revolution 2's plot aims to dig into the histories of familiar characters.

Naturally, the gameplay retains its four-player interface, with at least four new, yet-to-be-revealed Naruto characters and two familiar ninja who've never shown up in a Naruto fighter before. Another innovation involves the Wii remote and nunchuck, which you'll use to simulate jutsu hand signals. Of course, you can always use the Wii's classic controller or a GameCube pad, but you'll miss out on some exercise.

It seems there's more to Revolution 2 than a simple upgrade, and we turned to Tomy product specialist Glenn Stotz to find out a little more about the Wii's next Naruto game.

The X Button: How does the storyline expand on the anime? Does each character have his or her own storyline?

Stotz: The characters don't have their own storylines. It progresses linearly. It incorporates all of the characters from the TV show, but they're in these new situations and facing these new enemies, so it involves a lot of thematic elements from the series.

Can you tell us about the original characters for the game? What about the returning Naruto characters?

I can't tell you too much about the fighters we've designed just for the game. At Anime Expo, we showed Anko, Asuma, Kurenai, Choji, Kiba and Nine-Tailed Naruto. As you know, the characters are really varied. Choji is a big heavy-hitter, and we go from that to someone like Asuma, who is quick and has those blades in his hands. Kurenai is also really fun to develop for our series, because her jutsu are very unique.

Will Revolution 2 have any characters from Naruto: Shippuden, even though the anime hasn't aired in the U.S. yet?

We have to very strictly follow what's happened in the American television broadcast, so there will not be any Shippuden characters.

What really sets Revolution 2 apart from other Naruto fighters?

It's a four-player fighter, and it's so easy to get into. It encapsulates the feeling of the Wii, since it's fun to get in front of the screen with three of your friends and shake the Wii remote around like crazy and do your hand signs. But there's so much depth to it, like tech rolls and guarded attacks, that it really stands out.

RELEASES FOR THE WEEK OF 7-20

FINAL FANTASY IV
(Square Enix, DS, $39.99)
You'll have to pardon some personal bias here, because I'll never enjoy a game like I did Final Fantasy IV back in 1991, when it was called Final Fantasy II and the idea of an RPG with an actual story was wondrous and new. It's been 17 years, and I'm still honor-bound to pick up Final Fantasy IV's latest reiteration. Granted, this DS version is an entirely 3-D remake, with redone visuals, voice acting, and a little extra plot on the side. It's also significantly tougher than the old 16-bit versions, so I hope this will recreate the days when it took pre-pubescent me a week to get through a single Final Fantasy IV dungeon. Even with the primitive-looking characters and the nagging fact that the game's been re-issued three times already, it's still a great way to rediscover the first Final Fantasy that mattered.
Get Excited If: You want the Final Fantasy IV fanfare played at your wedding. Not the easily disguised piano scale, but the bombastic overture that plays as those airships tear through the skies at the game's opening.

IZUNA 2: THE UNEMPLOYED NINJA RETURNS
(Atlus, DS, $29.99)
The first Izuna was a simple dungeon-hacker that sold itself mostly on personality, and possibly with help from an ad campaign that showed the pink-haired ninja girl of the title getting joyfully groped by her sister-in-arms. Yet those who bought the game found no such shameful moe titillation within. They instead got a mildly challenging “Roguelike” action-RPG perked up by charming characters and a rather amusing Atlus translation. The second game returns with a similar story and significantly improved design, allowing you to play multiple ninja and switch between them during dungeon crawls. In turn, Atlus has ramped up the utter salacity of its ad campaign, and buying the game on Amazon nets you a poster that would likely violate this website's work-safe standards if I were to show it. Ignore the poster and whatever other creepy-cute Izuna ads you might see, because there's a fun and largely innocent game behind it all.
Get Excited If: You like exploring dungeons and watching ninja girls insult feudal Japanese country bumpkins.

NEW INTERNATIONAL TRACK & FIELD
(Konami, DS, $29.99)
Konami's long-running Track & Field franchise has rarely interested the same crowd that loves the company for Castlevania, Contra, and Silent Hill, but the latest DS version fixes that with lots and lots of character cameos. New International Track & Field's list of Konami regulars includes Simon Belmont, Frogger, Solid Snake, Sparkster, Rumble Roses' Evil Rose, the penguin from Penguin Adventure, and that misunderstood Silent Hill icon, Pyramid Head. The gameplay runs through the same Summer Olympics simulations we've seen before, though all of the Konami characters have uniquely themed events. I'm not sure I want to know what Pyramid Head's might be.
Get Excited If: You actually know what Konami Man looks like.

EXTRA LIVES: THE LOST KIMBA GAMES

Jungle Emperor, or Kimba the White Lion to the West, may well be Osamu Tezuka's second most enduringly popular creation, just behind Astro Boy. Yet you'd never guess this by studying the realm of Tezuka-based video games, where Astro Boy gets multiple titles to his name, Dororo gets a PS2 action game, and Kimba goes wanting. It's not for lack of trying, though, as two separate Kimba games were planned and canceled.

Taito announced a Jungle Emperor game for the Famicom (the Japanese NES) in 1990, and several company flyers depict a side-scrolling action title where Kimba/Leo races through temples and forests, conversing with the familiar variety of animal friends, including the parrot Coco and the lioness Leah, as well as stock Tezuka characters. Heavily promoted in company catalogs, Taito's Jungle Emperor inexplicably vanished in 1991. Did Tezuka Productions back out? Or did Taito simply not think the game could sell in a market rapidly being taken over by the 16-bit Super NES?

Whatever the reason, the Jungle Emperor license went neglected until 1996, when Nintendo announced a Jungle Emperor game for the Nintendo 64. The programming was to be handled at Nintendo and supervised by the esteemed Shigeru Miyamoto, while Tezuka Productions supplied the music, art, and storyline. Tezuka Productions originally billed this new Jungle Emperor title as a revolutionary brand of action game “where you also use your heart.” No one ever revealed how this heart-based gameplay would have worked, but a promotional video of the game shows a fairly standard 3-D platformer.

Jungle Emperor was first slated for a 1998 release, but Nintendo later pushed it back to the ominous “unknown” section of its schedule. At 1998's E3, Miyamoto remarked that the game was encountering problems because its director wasn't very experienced at creating games. Then, during a Game Developers Conference in 1999, Miyamoto mentioned that the director, referred to only as “a popular celebrity,” didn't have the time to work on the game, and that they “could not release it to the market.” This was the last anyone heard of Jungle Emperoruntil Nintendo quietly canceled it later that year.

Jungle Emperor's only game appearance since then was a cameo in Treasure's GBA action masterpiece Astro Boy: The Omega Factor, which hid all of Tezuka's characters in its stages. The Jungle Emperor license apparently now lies with Sega, though there's no word of another game. Yet Tezuka properties are remade and re-imagined constantly, and it might not be long before Jungle Emperor takes another shot at the game industry.


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