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Tales of Tales

by Todd Ciolek, Apr 8th 2009

Did any of you catch the April Fools' joke last week?

No? Good, because there wasn't one. Plenty of sites had them, of course. I was most impressed by SNK's elaborate Star Radish mock-up, even if they gave it away with artwork a shade too modern. Now I'm set for this week's news, which includes something I only wish was a joke.

NEWS

FATE/UNLIMITED CODES COMING TO PSP, EUROPE
Boy, was I wrong about Fate/Unlimited Codes, Capcom's 3-D fighter based on Fate/stay night. I took it for a simple anime-based button-flailer, but it's actually quite complicated. Then I figured it would never leave Japan, and now Capcom's European arm plans to publish the PSP version. Or so it would seem, since they've submitted it to Germany's USK ratings board.

I suppose that those skittish German game-raters could deem Fate/Unlimited Codes too violent for the nation, but it seems certain that the game will be out in Europe and translated into English, among other languages. It's less certain if they'll bother localizing it with the anime's North American dub cast. Unlike Naruto or Bleach, Fate/stay night just doesn't rate that sort of treatment.

SILENT HILL REMAKE CONFIRMED
Proving some rumors true, Konami announced a Silent Hill remake from Climax, the British developer that created Silent Hill Origins. Appearing on the Wii and the PSP (and, surprisingly, the PS2), Silent Hill: Shattered Memories presents the same general story as the original, with everyman Harry Mason scouting a fog-draped Midwestern town in search of his missing daughter.

Since this is Silent Hill for the modern era, Shattered Memories gives Harry a cell phone for taking photos (one can only assume that traditional Silent Hill forces make a cell useless for communication) and a new system of enemy AI that tracks the player's “psyche reactions.” Silent Hill has known some rough receptions since the fourth game, but fans will find little to complain about if Climax simply enhances the original's strengths. Joking there. Someone will always complain.

VESPERIA HEADS TO PS3, WII AND PSP GET OTHER TALES

The Tales series truly has surpassed both Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest in sheer proliferation, since the latest Tales news adds two more titles and one port to the franchise. The port is the well-received Tales of Vesperia, which will arrive on the PlayStation 3 with a new character: pirate girl Patty Fleur. It'll be out in Japan this year, and I see no reason why it shouldn't come to America. After all, Vesperia was arguably the most popular installment of the series since Tales of Symphonia, which was the most popular since Tales of Destiny.

Meanwhile, the Wii is getting Tales of Graces. It appears to be a traditional Tales game with chaotic battles, a hero named Aspbel Rand (right), and art that really looks like it was drawn by Mutsumi Inomata, who usually picks up the character-designing slack when Kousuke Fujishima takes a break from the Tales series.

Less traditional is the PSP's Tales of VS, a 3-D fighter featuring characters from various Tales games. The first screens suggest a four-player mode, and the cast already includes Luke from Tales of the Abyss, Yuri from Tales of Vesperia, Shing from Tales of Hearts, and Richter from Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World. The final roster will have 35 Tales characters, so Namco doubtless means to dip into each game's supporting cast.

NIS AMERICA ANNOUNCES BADMAN GAME
Following a week of things that seemed like stray April Fools' jokes, NIS America announced Holy Invasion of Privacy, Badman! What Did I Do to Deserve This? for the PSP. Known as Yuusha no Kuse Ni Namaikida in Japan, it's a strategic dungeon-design game, one where players dig out elaborate underground mazes to ensnare would-be heroes in search of a demon called Badman.

In addition to planning out dungeons, players also balance their resident monsters, some of whom need special treatment to survive and kill valiant adventurers. The Japanese version (at left) was a unique delight, so I'm looking forward to the U.S. one, no matter what the title is.

QUEEN'S BLADE GAME A HORRIFYING REALITY
I hoped that I'd never have to cover Queen's Blade here, since its brand of grotesque, laughable titillation was limited to tabletop-game guidebooks, manga, and a TV series that's the designated train wreck of the new anime season. Namco Bandai won't let it stop there, however, and there's now a Queen's Blade strategy-RPG for the PSP.

Queen's Blade: Spiral Chaos looks like the world's most misogynistic Super Robot Wars game: squished, large-headed versions of the cast march around grids and then break into flashy, side-view battles. Since this is Queen's Blade, the game's rarely without a portrait of some character gasping and writhing and tossing her breasts around as she takes damage or gets plastered with milk. Unsurprisingly, the gameplay involves armor-breaking moves that shame enemies into defeat. And hey, it features all of your favorite Queen's Blade characters! There's the Maid One, the Shrine Priestess One, the Single Mom With the Huge Rack, and the Blonde One Whose Armor Covers Nothing. Much like any Super Robot Wars game, Spiral Chaos introduces two original cast members: the one who looks like a Popotan character is Cute (I swear that's an acceptable translation of her name) and the somewhat dignified one is her bodyguard, Jan.

Queen's Blade: Spiral Chaos is due out later this year, and I wonder how much strategy it will offer. The running joke about the book-driven Queen's Blade game is that no one actually plays it; they just buy the guides filled with illustrations of suffering women warriors, kinda like how I bought Shadowrun sourcebooks just to read about cyberpunk monsters and street samurai when I was fourteen.

IN BRIEF: PUYO PUYO 7 AHEAD, DESTRUCTION IS DELAYED, AND TRI-ACE HAS A SECRET
Truth be told, I thought Puyo Puyo 7 already existed, since it's pretty much Japan's most popular puzzle game next to Tetris. A seventh installment will be out in late July for the DS, with PSP and Wii versions following by the end of the year. The DS game will feature online play and, in Puyo Puyo tradition, lots of cute characters who will cringe and cheer as players stack, match, and delete multicolored blobs. Puyo Puyo should be readily familiar to most of you: it first came here as Kirby's Avalanche and Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine in the 1990s, and DS owner saw it as Puyo Pop Fever back in 2005. While recent Puyo Puyo ventures haven't had the cultural push they enjoyed many years ago (poke around and you'll find all sorts of toys and anime clips), it's still very much part of the puzzle-game lexicon.

Anyone looking forward to the U.S. release of Sands of Destruction, the Sega RPG that reunites members of the old Xenogears team? Well, don't look for it on its previously established summer release date. It's been delayed until Winter…2010. That doesn't seem to be a misprint, either. It's rather strange, since translated screens were shown months ago, and there's no legal issue surrounding the game. One theory suggests that someone wants to release it next to the anime series or related manga, though I can't imagine why that anime or manga would be kept from a timely North American debut if someone actually wanted to license it. At any rate, Xenogears freaks must wait to see if the game truly makes the most of bringing artist Kunihiko Tanaka, composer Yasunori Mitsuda, and writer Masato Kato together once again.

Lastly, anyone who enjoys tri-Ace RPGs (which includes me, if only for Valkyrie Profile) should watch the company's “new RPG” website, which will reveal its subject this Friday. Some are hoping for another Radiata Stories, though I think the broken palace in the background looks more like Valkyrie Profile scenery, or perhaps some all-new game with more realistic and medieval architecture. At this writing, we've got about 65 hours left to speculate.

WEIRD-ASS IMPORT ROUNDUP: MARCH

DENGEKI GAKUEN RPG: CROSS OF VENUS
Developer: Pegasus Japan
Publisher: ASCII Media Works
Platform: DS

No one will notice the multi-series mix of Cross of Venus with a massive Shonen-comic fighting game hitting in the same month (more on that later), but I refuse to ignore something that involves Kino's Journey. That's one of several light-novel lines mined for this game, which puts characters from various Dengeki Bunko series into the same modern high-school setting. Instead of going with a cheap graphic adventure, the developers made a complete J-RPG, with big-headed sprites and a menu-driven battle system. As two unremarkable students wander around investigating various incidents, they recruit characters for their party, which grows to include Kino from Kino's Journey, Shana from Shakugan no Shana, Taiga Aisaka from Toradora!, Dokuro Mitsukai from Bludgeoning Angel Dokuro-chan, Index from Toaru Majutsu no Index, Misao Minakami from Asura Cryin', Haruka Nogizaka from Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu, and Kana Iriya from Iriya no Sora, UFO no Natsu. Each heroine is joined by the principal cast from her respective series; Ryuji, Minori, Yusaku, and Yasuko from Toradora! all show up, for example. In-game items make references to yet more light-novel series, Spice and Wolf among them. No sign of Baccano! characters, though.
Chances for a Domestic Release: Next to zero.

REI CHO ANIKI
Developer: GungHo Works
Publisher: Masaya/NCS
Platform: PSP

There are actually people who claim the Cho Aniki games are not rife with comical homoeroticism. Their logic takes several bizarre turns: the games cannot be homoerotic because they're clearly supposed to be funny, or the games cannot be homoerotic because they also feature women now and then, or the games cannot be homoerotic because this might keep people from playing them. All of these flimsily reasoned arguments fall apart when one notices that Cho Aniki games invariably feature hordes of posing, hypermuscular men in all sorts of ridiculously suggestive positions. Rei Cho Aniki is a remake of the PC Engine game that started the series, and it's actually less bizarre than the later Cho Aniki shooters. Of course, the game still has bosses that consist of posing musclemen in giant seashells or nightmarish steam-engine creatures with bloated human faces. The two selectable characters, conventional anime hero Idaten and conventional heroine Benten, are accompanied by grinning bodybuilders Samson and Adon, who shadow Idaten while sprouting lasers from holes in their heads. Meanwhile, Benten gets two pudgy, angel-winged midgets. (To give you an idea of where Cho Aniki went from here, most of the later games made Adon and Samson the leads.) As a shooter, it relies on somewhat routine play mechanics, though the characterscan flip and shoot left or right, a tactic seldom used in old-fashioned shooters. And when you're gunning down fan-waving Japanese versions of the hawk-headed Egyptian god Horus, Rei Cho Aniki is anything but conventional.
Chances for a Domestic Release: The first Cho Aniki is available on the Wii's Virtual Console, though I doubt that'll have publishers scurrying to license the PSP remake. Those of you who frequent the Hong Kong PlayStation Store will find Rei Cho Aniki downloadable at half the price of its Japanese UMD release.

SUNDAY X MAGAZINE SHUUKETSU! CHOUJOU DAIKESSEN
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Platform: PSP

Shonen-comic crossover games have been done before, most ostentatiously by Jump Super Stars on the DS, but I can't recall one as ambitious as Konami's Sunday X Magazine Shuuketsu! Choujou Daikessen, which draws thirty playable characters from Shonen Sunday and Shonen Magazine. The fighting system seems another case of 2-D gameplay with 3-D visuals, with support characters sweeping in at times to aid the regular fighters. Of course, this is a game sold mostly by its lineup, which eclectically chooses from various points in the publications' 40-year history. From the Shonen Sunday camp, there's the lead from InuYasha, Ryo Takatsuki from Project ARMS, Noboru Takizawa from Blazing Transfer Student, Tokine Yukimura and Yoshimori Sumimura from Kekkaishi, Kosuke Ueki from The Law of Ueki, Recca Hanabishi from Flame of Recca, Hayate Ayasaki from Hayate the Combat Butler, Yaiba Kurogane from Yaiba, Kaoru Akashi from Zettai Karen Children, Ken-Ichi Shirahama and Miu Furinji from Ken-Ichi: The Mightiest Disciple, R Tanaka Ichiro from Kyukyoku Choujin R, and Ushio and Tora from, uh, Ushio and Tora. The Shonen Magazine side is even more impressive, with Joe Yabuki from Ashita no Joe, Shinichi Mechazawa from Cromartie High School, Natsu and Lucy from Fairy Tail, Ippo and Mamoru from Fighting Spirit, Ban Mido from GetBackers, Kotaro Shindo from Kotaro Makaritoru!, Negi Springfield from Negima, Ikki and Croissant Mask from Air Gear, the Demon Eyes version of Kyo from Samurai Deeper Kyo, and the title heroes from Devilman, Tiger Mask, and Cyborg 009. There are certainly hidden characters in there, and I'll be surprised if one of them isn't Conan from Case Closed (and disappointed if another isn't someone from Urusei Yatsura). The supporting characters come from all of the series represented by the main cast, plus some other manga like Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei and Gu Gu Ganmo.
Chances for a Domestic Release: With Tatsunoko vs. Capcom still tied up by copyright issues, things don't look good for Sunday X Magazine. Perhaps Best Buy will carry the Japanese version, as they did with Shonen Jump All-Stars.

RELEASES FOR THE WEEK OF 4-12

BLACK SIGIL: BLADE OF THE EXILED
Developer: Studio Archcraft
Publisher: Graffiti Entertainment
Platform: DS
MSRP: $29.99

Every few years a Western developer will make a game clearly inspired by Japanese RPGs, and the results can be anything from the entertaining Anachronox to the unpleasant mess that was Shadow Madness. Originally planned as a Game Boy Advance title, Black Sigil is patterned after 16-bit RPGs in both gameplay and story, the latter of which concerns Kairu, a young man who can't use magic in a world where everyone else can. Shunned by many, he's forced to wander around with his plucky sister and a devil-may-care con man, eventually meeting up with another person who can't use magic…and consequently tried to take over the world years ago. A cast of eight characters recalls the Square Enix school of stereotypes, while the gameplay seems a pastiche of several 1990s RPGs, as it features active battles where enemies move around the playfield. Black Sigil clearly has the soundtrack and visual flourish of any impressive RPG from the last days of the Super NES, though it's uncertain if the story will do more than repeat conventions that were well-frayed a decade ago.
Get Excited If: You'd make a game like this if you had your own Canadian developer.

THE DARK SPIRE
Developer: Success
Publisher: Atlus
Platform: DS
MSRP: $29.99

Atlus traffics heavily in dungeon-crawler RPGs, and most of them resemble Etrian Odyssey or Izuna, with big-eyed anime characters glossing over just how groin-kickingly tough the games can be. The Dark Spire offers no such coddling. It's a dimly colored trek through a decrepit, monster-filled tower, and it wants to kill you at every turn. The player's four characters are sorted by time-honored classes and alignments right out of early Dungeons and Dragons, and the quest that follows plays out with menu-based random battles and lots of manually mapped labyrinths. Rather than mimic current anime standards (or older ones, for that matter), The Dark Spire looks more like a heavily shaded Western RPG with a dash of the Killer 7 red-on-black palette, and the soundtrack's full of creeping tones that recall those grueling, plot-free computer RPGs of the 1980s. It's about as far from Final Fantasy and Mass Effect as you can get in this day and age. Get Excited If: You'd prefer a world where RPGs haven't evolved significantly since 1988.

DOKAPON JOURNEY
Developer: Sting
Publisher: Atlus
Platform: DS
MSRP: $29.99

Dokapon Kingdom, which hit the Wii and PS2 last year, created a fun multiplayer RPG by filling a board game with all kinds of greedy, backstabbing options. The DS-based Dokapon Journey tries the same trick again with local wireless, multi-card play (no online?) and simpler visuals. Pick a character class, name your adventurer, and set out to make some cash by freeing towns and ripping off other players. This extends not only to items and monetary gains, but also to experience points, as you can jump into another player's battle to claim their quarries. The artwork's gotten even more cutesy for this DS version of Dokapon, and it seems hampered only by the demand of any multiplayer game: you can play against the computer, but you need other humans to make it remotely interesting.
Get Excited If: You're sick to death of Mario Party.

Also Shipping Next Week: The Wii version of Samurai Shodown Anthology, which was delayed while the PSP and PS2 editions hit shelves. If you grab it, make sure you've got more than just the Wii remote to play it.

EXTRA LIVES: MACROSS 7

The Game Boy Color wasn't around long enough to accomplish anything. It amassed a large enough library during its four years on the market, but much of it was licensed twaddle and re-issued Game Boy staples. Even Nintendo itself couldn't be bothered with making a lot of A-listers, and it's hard to think of many notable Game Boy Color games. Pokémon Pinball might be one. Shantae is definitely another, and I wish it had the anime connections to justify my writing about it here. The Game Boy Color's catalog isn't the sort of place you'd expect to find a stellar Macross shooter, and you won't. You'll just find Macross 7: Ginga no Heart wo Furuwasero!! Those exclamation points are not mine.

Even with sequels and music videos to drag it out, Macross 7 was a few years faded by the time the Game Boy Color arrived. With no new Macross series to exploit, however, Epoch went with Macross 7 and, like just about every Macross game developer in history, made a shooter. The player chooses three of six available characters: Fire Bomber frontman Nekki Basara, bandmates Mylene Flare Jenius and Ray Lovelock, pilot Gamlin Kizaki, and put-upon Macross regulars Max Jenius and Milia Fallyna Jenius. Each combination produces different conversations over the course of the game, if not particularly divergent storylines.

As a side-scrolling shooter, Macross 7's first impression is a flop. Primitive looks and a tinny soundtrack can be excused by the Game Boy Color itself, but the game feels cramped and boring. A huge portrait of the active pilot fills a third of the screen, flinching whenever the player takes a hit. The small playfield itself doesn't scroll up or down as it moves forward, resulting in limited space to maneuver. Not that the enemies are any real trouble.

Macross 7 offers the freedom to switch among your three chosen characters at any time, but there's little difference in their methods of attack. In fact, the game makes an unforgivable mistake for a Macross title: you can't freely change to a ship's jetlike fighter mode, its robotic Battroid mode, or its goofy plane-with-limbs Gerwalk mode. Instead, you're stuck in one form until the end of each sub-level, when an eager bridge operator will let you shift your fighter's mode. Each has its advantages: jets fire straight double shots, Gerwalks spray three ways, and Battroids launch penetrating lasers. Worse still, the game sometimes rules out choices, forcing you to fight bosses as a Battroid or Gerwalk.

As it drags on, Macross 7 finds a few good ideas. Fighters have the ability to dodge behind obstacles that can't be destroyed, and the technique adds to what's usually a series of blandly designed stages. Some boss encounters prove surprisingly inventive, particularly when you've got to watch current flowing through circuit maps and tap the A and B buttons accordingly. There's also a fair amount of dialogue to sort though, and it all hearkens back to routine Macross 7 plotting: Mylene likes Basara but also likes Gamlin, Roy is a stable older figure, Max and Milia's marriage has seen better days, and so on. Even the show's unnamed, flower-clutching girl shows up.

Perhaps I'm being too hard on Macross 7: Ginga no Heart wo Furuwasero!! here. The Game Boy Color saw all sorts of awful licensed games, and this is certainly better than a throwaway platformer based on Antz or Woody Woodpecker. Yet it's really just for the anime fan who has both a Game Boy Color and a love for an oft-detested part of the Macross franchise.

It's not too hard to find complete copies of Macross 7: Ginga no Heart wo Furuwasero!! in the thirty-dollar range, with a little extra for the usual eBay gouging. That's still better than tracking down Shantae, which commands ninety bucks for just the cartridge. Then again, Shantae is actually fun and…sorry, I'll shut up about Shantae now.


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