The X Button
Only Shallow

by Todd Ciolek, Nov 19th 2008

I'll warn you all right now: between a new Dragon Ball game and a port of Chrono Trigger, this column's heavy on Akira Toriyama. So if you're among those possessed by a pathological hatred of everything he's touched, it's best to turn back now. Before you do, however, I'd like to complete the trio of popular Toriyama material by showing his best-known creation.

That's right, it's the Dragon Quest slime. Despite the undying popularity of Dragon Ball Z, I'd bet real money that the gelatinous building block of the Dragon Quest games is more famous, at least in Japan, where I swear I once heard the Dragon Quest theme played by an elementary school's opening bell. For all the trouble Toriyama stirred up in the lives of devoted Dragon Ball Z fans and anyone who had to sit next to them in Japanese 101, we can all still come together and bask in the adorable serenity of a Dragon Quest slime.

The Toriyama loathers can clear out now. We'll do something on Fumito Iida or Studio 4°C next week.

NEWS

SQUARE FINALLY CLEARS UP BLOOD OF BAHAMUT
For a while, Blood of Bahamut was yet another Square Enix game known only as a trademarked title, and some even theorized that it would be a sequel to Bahamut Lagoon, Square's just-sorta-decent Super Famicom strategy-RPG about raising dragons. However, the real game appears to be a DS action-RPG set in a city that's built atop a massive, dragon-like stone giant. If it's a premise brazenly swiped from Shadow of the Colossus, Square is at least emulating that game's gorgeous look with Blood of Bahamut's art, which I must post in its entirety.

The game's site shows sprite-based warriors fighting enemies on the lower DS screen while the creature lumbers in the distance, occasionally attacking the puny mortals before it. Up to four local players can cooperate in exploring this living city, though only the swordsman Ibuki and the staff-hefting Yui (whose design says “generic mage girl” in every way) have been revealed so far.

SHINJUKU'S WOLF REVIVED BY SPIKE
With Sega's Yakuza now a promising franchise, there's money to be made in emulating its degenerate urban underbelly of organized crime and impromptu fistfights. In Wolf of Shinjuku for the PlayStation 2, however, a scraggly detective named Eiji Mikami is out to clean up one Tokyo district, whether it's by punching lawbreakers to the ground or hauling them off for brutal interrogations. Mikami's also able to declare perps innocent or guilty on the spot, resulting in a heaven-sent acquittal (right), a prison sentence, or a fine decided by a spinning wheel. Spike resurrected the game after CAPCOM ditched it back in 2007, and that's the same Spike that brought us flops like Crimson Tears and Samurai Western. Yet it's hard to ignore Eiji's theatrical style of law enforcement, which recalls both Phoenix Wright and Death Note.

ATLUS SPOILS NEW RPG ROTTEN
Self-centered princesses form a staple of the Japanese RPG world, but rarely are they used as creatively as in Atlus' upcoming My World, My Way. Spurned by a traveling warrior, a royal brat named Elise sets off to make a name for herself in the world, and she does so by re-ordering that world through sheer will and the DS stylus. Elise's extreme solipsism is carried out by moving tiles around on grids, thus changing the locations and relationship of everything Elise runs into during her self-centered quest.

The official Atlus trailer, shown above, has only brief glimpses of the overworld and battle system, both of which play out much like the Dragon Quest norm. The developer, Global A, is no stranger to J-RPGs heavy on user customization, and they also created last month's Master of the Monster Lair.

KING OF FIGHTERS XII COMING HERE, BUT PROBABLY NOT IN ARCADES
Ignition Entertainment brought out many SNK titles over the past few months, making them the logical choice to publish a North American version of The King of Fighters XII. And they'll do just that, as a new press release tells us. Said release doesn't specify if it'll be the arcade version or the eventual Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 ports, but I suspect it's the latter case. Then again, it's hard to say what will make it to North American arcades nowadays; Aksys made a domestic version of BlazBlue, but CAPCOM has balked at releasing an “official” English version of Street Fighter IV, instead letting arcade owners import the game and play with the language options.

REVIEW: DRAGON BALL ORIGINS

North America has played through Dragon Ball's story more often than many realize. While Dragon Ball Advanced Adventure covered the basics on the Game Boy Advance a few years ago, the first ever Dragon Ball Famicom game actually made it to the domestic NES back in 1988. Of course, it was renamed Dragon Power and stricken with changed names, censored plot devices, and a short-haired version of Goku. Dragon Ball Origins suffers no such drastic changes. It's a hearty vision of Akira Toriyama's cartoonish creation, before the Z was added and everyone started fighting all the time.

Origins forgoes any animated cutscenes, instead rendering the story of Dragon Ball fully 3-D. It looks quite impressive for a DS title, and Game Republic takes few shortcuts, recreating even minor visual details of Goku's meeting with Bulma and their subsequent quest to find seven wish-granting Dragon Balls. The game progresses through encounters with Master Roshi, Yamcha, Chi-Chi, Puar, and Toriyama's Borderline Misogynist Commentary on Women's Mood Swings (also known as Launch). For those concerned about such things, the game even recreates the scene where Bulma unwittingly flashes Master Roshi, with the space between the DS screens keeping the game T-rated.

When not recalling the prurience of Dragon Ball's plot, Origins sends Goku through overhead stages full of dinosaurs, pigs, armored wolf bandits, and other recognizable enemies. Everything's carried out through the touch screen, which lets the player drag the stylus around to guide Goku or unleash attacks with his fists or extending pole. It's similar to the exceptional The Legend of Zelda: The Phantom Hourglass, though Goku's repertoire of items is far more limited. The puzzles presented are also far less complicated, though it's sometimes hard to work out exactly what the game wants you to do. It's ultimately easier to use the directional pad for movement and the stylus for attacks, particularly during boss battles.

Despite Origins including all sorts of Dragon Ball regulars, the manual tells you up front that you're only playing as Goku. Bulma tags along, peppering enemies with gunfire and building up a power meter to be unleashed as a single strike at the player's choosing. In true shonen-hero tradition, Goku also has to protect her, which can be troubling when her AI doesn't move her away from enemies or out of Goku's line of attack.

Game Republic, last seen developing overlooked PlayStation 3 titles like Folklore, put together an enjoyable Toriyama tribute with Origins. While the story sequences can drag, there's a light, well-crafted action game behind it all. Most importantly, Origins excels at capturing the colorful appeal of Dragon Ball's world, from the pterosaurs to the communist pigs to the wide-eyed, gape-grinned characters and the bouncy soundtrack. Regardless of what one thinks of Dragon Ball in animated form, it suits a video game just fine. The older crowd may reject it just as surely as they reject the anime version, but Origins is sturdy entertainment for any Dragon Ball fan, and perhaps even suitable for younger players whose parents deem them mature enough to repel the psychological damage of seeing underwear gags and a half-second glimpse of Goku naked.

RELEASES FOR THE WEEK OF 11-23

CHRONO TRIGGER
(Square Enix, DS, $39.99)
Yes, it's Square's DS port of Chrono Trigger, the RPG that you're not allowed to hate. You could point out that it's a little too easy, that it leaves one cast member hanging, and that there's not too much to do in battle once you've seen all of the characters' team-up attacks. But those are inconsequential flaws. Chrono Trigger is still a terrific, easily embraced game, and its time-travel premise is as captivating as ever. It loses surprisingly little in moving to the DS; every era of history still looks spectacular, the soundtrack remains brilliant, and the battles flow smoother than any other 16-bit RPG. It's also able to wring endless charm from stereotypical characters, even if this port has the rarely necessary animated cutscenes from the PlayStation version. The DS version gets a monster-raising game, a randomly-generated dungeon called the Dimensional Vortex, and a previously unexplored area known as “The Lost Sanctum.” There might also be a new ending in there someplace.
Get Excited If: You saw all of the original game's endings twice, just to make sure.

COOKING MAMA: WORLD KITCHEN
(Majesco, Wii, $49.99)
Cooking Mama will supposedly be on shelves this week, but Majesco is, and I say this with the utmost affection for the company that published Guilty Gear XX #Reload here, not above a delay or two. If they've made good on last week's ship date, consider this a belated study. Cooking Mama fans will remember that the original game involved culinary challengers from many nations, raising the question of just what's new about the “World Kitchen” part. It refers to a broader selection of international recipes, yet returning players will find the most striking change in the overall look of the game. As opposed to the somewhat flat characters of its predecessor, World Kitchen has Mama and her cohorts in full 3-D, possibly improving the occasionally touchy remote-flicking. There's also a round of new diversions, one of which involves saving dropped burgers from Mama's pet dog. Cooking Mama has apparently never heard of the floor-food clause in every household pet's contract, but we should all buy it just to rile up PETA and their Cooking Mama flash-game parody.
Get Excited If: You had the shrimp-peeling move from the first game down to a science.

THE KING OF FIGHTERS OROCHI SAGA
(SNK Playmore, Wii, $29.99)
Hey, The King of Fighters Orochi Saga, didn't you come out on the PlayStation 2 and PSP a few weeks ago? And didn't the PS2 version cost only $14.99? The more expensive Wii edition has the same assortment of titles: The King of Fighters '94, '95, '96, '97 and the Dream Match version of '98. The middle three form the Orochi Saga, in which Iori, Leona, and several lesser characters (note the editorial bias) contend with a dormant power that's left a lot of people dead. The 1998 installment is a plot-free, all-stars version of the first four The King of Fighters titles, and the 1994 one is the original, made before fighting games needed stories. The Wii set appears to offer no online play or anything else that would improve on the PS2 version, and the Wii remote all but forces players to shell out for a joystick or a classic controller. However, the PS2 collection wasn't perfect, with load times and the lack of a dedicated versus mode (meaning that the winner of a two-player bout can't change fighters after victory). Perhaps the Wii version will correct that.
Get Excited If: You bought Wii or GameCube joystick for Guilty Gear XX Accent Core and want a new reason to use it.

EXTRA LIVES: SWORD OF THE BERSERK: GUTS' RAGE

To the untrained eye of 2000, Sword of the Berserk: Guts' Rage didn't look like anything out of the ordinary. Sure, it was a reasonably pretty Dreamcast game with an uncommonly stupid title, but was there anything special about a hack-and-slack medieval-fantasy game full of spraying blood and bellowing monsters? Yes. Yes, there was. If you were remotely fond of Kentaro Miura's Berserk and accustomed to watching anime-based games moldering in Japan, it was a minor triumph to see a major publisher like Eidos bring out a Berserk game in the U.S.

Just as self-contained and non-canonical as any other anime offshoot, Sword of the Berserk transpires at some point after the blood-drenched demonic feast that ended the Berserk anime series and the Golden Age arc of the manga. Guts, the traumatized Casca, and their babbling fairy sidekick Puck (whose mere presence suggests that the game's based on the manga) wander into a small fief beset by Mandragora plants and their lethal screams. Baron Balzac, the leonine ruler of the region, asks a distrustful Guts to retrieve a rare Mandragora heart. Guts agrees only because the MacGuffin stands a chance of shaking Casca out of her warped state. Along the way, Guts picks up Rita, a knife-throwing gypsy girl, as a sidekick and runs into a few recurring characters from the broader Berserk mythos.

The resulting story's entirely faithful to Miura's vision of a bleak medieval world wracked by death and supernatural horrors, and so is the game's style. While this results in a lot of bare castles and filthy town streets, it emulates the manga quite well. The look of the characters won't impress by modern standards, but they're still serviceable and provide a reminder of how well the Dreamcast could push 3-D, even though the cast sometimes resorts to the spastic gestures that many polygonal games used to replace actual dramatic perspective. It also helps that Eidos shelled out for actual names in the voice acting department. Kris Zimmerman, who also handles Metal Gear Solid's dubbing, directed a crew of experienced actors: Michael Bell plays Guts like a more jaded version of G.I. Joe's Duke, B.J. Ward is both the psychologically damaged Casca and a benevolent nun, and Cam Clarke somehow manages to make Puck less a little less annoying than he should rightly be. The real scene-stealer, however, is Earl Boen, who turns Balzac's simple role into the most memorable part of the game. In many ways, the voice work outdoes the admittedly good dub the Berserk anime received over here.

The setting keeps Casca or the ominous Griffith from being playable characters, but Guts gives Yuke's, the developer, plenty of gameplay material. He's able to jump and freely swing his massive Dragon Slayer, with a crossbow, throwing knives, a sliding tackle, and his hidden hand cannon at his disposal. It's almost a bit too much for the opposition he faces, since Sword of the Berserk is a bluntly violent brawler at heart. Whether it's a village of possessed soldiers or a giant floating Mandragora fetus, Guts hacks through it all, with Shenmue-like button presses cropping up on occasion. Each kill fills a meter that eventually grants him a brief rush of berserker insanity, as he becomes a reddish blur and the deaths of his foes get even bloodier.

In a way, Sword of the Berserk is almost a little too realistic. Guts' sword would be ridiculous in real-world combat, and it causes problems within the game as well. It's effective in open-field confrontations, but the blade frequently gets snagged on walls when Guts is murdering his way out of a town or building. Guts isn't terribly precise in his control, either, and he balances it out with the Dragon Slayer's wide range and his ability to take lots of damage. Yuke's wasn't experienced in making 3-D action games by the late 1990s, and it shows in Sword of the Berserk.

Sword of the Berserk isn't particularly long, either. The talky cutscenes pad it out a bit, but most of the run-of-the-mill enemies put up no more fight than they do in the anime or manga. The bosses are a tougher bunch, with Zodd (called “Zoddo” here) providing a frustratingly hard mid-game difficulty hump, but even they can't make the game last more than five hours or so. Many a Dreamcast owner beat Sword of the Berserk on a rental, and some critics decried it for lacking substance.

That may be why Eidos didn't take a chance on any other Berserk games. The publisher courted many Japanese titles in 2000 (even going so far as to make a buyout offer for publishing house Working Designs), but gave than up after a year or so of lukewarm results. Yuke's made a second Berserk game, focusing on the Millennium Falcon arc of the manga, for the PlayStation 2 in 2004, but no North American publishers bit, a testament to how much more crowded the PS2 library was in comparison to the Dreamcast's.

Some fans were satisfied by Sword of the Berserk's treatment of the manga and its momentary hint of a recovered Casca, but the game proved too brief and awkward to impress a wider venue. Within the Dreamcast's often deluded cult following, Sword of the Berserk is remembered as a decent B-lister, a bloody little side attraction for anyone fascinated by other forms of Berserk.

Between Berserk fans and Dreamcast enthusiasts, prices on Sword of the Berserk can get well into the $30 range. The PlayStation game can be had for about the same amount, unless you're after the expensive, limited-edition box set.


discuss this in the forum (24 posts) |
bookmark/share with:

this article has been modified since it was originally posted; see change history

The X Button homepage / archives

Around The Web