The X Button
Guilty Motivation

by Todd Ciolek, Aug 5th 2009

Well, well, well. Square Enix put up another teaser site for a game. And I'm not going to look at it or speculate on its secrets. As I've previously mentioned here, I'm tired of putting Square's teaser sites in this column only to have the games in question revealed by some magazine exactly when the column goes up. So I'm just going to ignore this teaser site.

Oh, what the hell. It's here, and it officially disgorges its game in three days. Siliconera dug up some images from the site, including the one above, and it's very possible that the game is tied to Square Enix's card-driven arcade attraction The Lord of Vermillion. So go and watch the website for the five or six seconds before everyone but me knows what it is.

NEWS

R-TYPE TACTICS 2 EMERGES
R-Type Command was an oddity, a strategy-RPG based on a revered shooter line. However, it was a strangely enjoyable oddity, and it was also a profitable one. That's what I assume from the fact that Irem made a second R-Type Command, or R-Type Tactics as it is known in Japan.

Bearing the best subtitle ever, R-Type Tactics II: Operation Bitter Chocolate further explores the use of R-9 fighters and other space weaponry in battles conducted upon hexagon grids. Familiar R-Type sights crop up, and everything's rendered in pretty impressive 3-D detail as the PSP goes. The game's also shipping in both retail-box and download-only versions, and I wonder if the latter will be the only way the game finds its way to America. An Atlus license wouldn't surprise me, though they'll likely wait to announce anything until the game arrives in Japan on October 27.

MASASHI KISHIMOTO JOINS TEKKEN 6 DESIGNERS
Tekken 6 added yet another costume drawn by a manga artist, and he's not just any manga artist: he's Naruto creator Masashi Kishimoto.

His contribution is a new outfit for Lars Alexandersson, the commander of the Mishima company's forces in whatever mess the Tekken storyline has now become. At least he gets a costume befitting one of the more stylish Naruto super-ninja.

AGAREST SENKI HEADS TO AMERICA
Agarest Senki was greenlit for a European release a while ago, and now Aksys up and decides that they're releasing the game in North America as a download-only PLAYSTATION Network title. It's an economical decision, though I suspect that the people who'll buy Record of Agarest War are the same people who like their strategy-RPGs with boxes, glossy manuals, soundtracks, and various preorder trinkets.

That's because Record of Agarest War is very much in the style of Cross Edge, Disgaea, and numerous other anime-esque RPGs of past years. It features combo systems and strategic placement much like other modern RPGs, but it enhances its dating-sim element by letting the main character sire new heroes with a chosen female ally. Granted, RPGs have tried that idea since Phantasy Star III, but they're growing more detailed about it. Instead of merely selecting a mate at some dry point in the plot, the player must court ladies properly, or as properly as a lewd RPG like Agarest allows.

The game has an official English website, but at present it's just a single image that I really don't want to look at very long.

WINDY X WINDAM GOES TO EUROPE
Remember Windy X Windam, the DS fighting game featuring the star of the Izuna series and a bunch of mostly forgettable stereotypes? Well, it's coming to Europe.

This would normally be good news for anyone interested in a DS fighter, and yet I can't find a single person who likes the game. Most accounts paint Windy X Windam as considerably flawed, which seems sadly plausible considering how poorly 2-D fighters often fare on the DS's double-high screen. But hey, it does have Izuna, ninja heroine of two dungeon hacks, leaping and slashing and switching into a different outfit when she pulls off super moves. The same costume-change rule applies to the other fighters, including Izuna's fellow kunoichi Shino, a fishlike archer, and a weirdly dressed boy robot who seems a horrifying parody of Guilty Gear's Bridget. That will all be out in Europe this September, courtesy of DHM Interactive.

IN BRIEF: SHADOW OF DESTINY COMING HERE, BUT YAKUZA 3 ISN'T?
Shadow of Destiny, an early PlayStation 2 adventure game, isn't just coming to the Japanese PSP this year. It'll head to the system in North America, presumably with the same localization that it saw back in 2001. Written and directed by Junko Kawano (Suikoden IV, Time Hollow), it's a bizarre, focused exploration of one young man's attempts to prevent his own murder, which of course involves time travel, Faustian pacts, juggling, and possibly hitting on his own ancestress. It was a highlight of the PlayStation 2's shaky first six months on the market, and it'll be good to revisit it on the PSP.

There's a bit of debate over a Sega marketer's recent statements regarding Yakuza 3 in North America. Some have taken it to mean that the third Yakuza game will never see a translated release, while others maintain that the remarks are only one person's opinion and that Sega hasn't officially confirmed or denied plans for Yakuza 3 in the West. Still, the second Yakuza moved a paltry 40,000 copies in North America, and Sega might be reluctant to localize a game that's unlikely to sell more. The solution for fans is obvious: go out and buy every copy of Yakuza that you see.

INTERVIEW: DAISUKE ISHIWATARI AND TOSHIMICHI MORI

Perhaps no one stands as prominently at the often strange crossroads of anime and fighting games as Daisuke Ishiwatari and Toshimichi Mori. As the leading designers at Arc System Works, they've brought anime-styled theatrics to fighters like few others have. Fueled by heavy metal and post-apocalyptic visions, Ishiwatari's Guilty Gear series was the standard-setter in cartoonish, magnificently insane fighting games for over ten years, while Mori's BlazBlue positions itself as the industry's brightest new fighter. They're both busy men, but they found the time to answer a few questions during Anime Expo 2009.

The original Guilty Gear started off with rendered 3-D visuals, which were later overhauled into hand-drawn artwork for the final game. What was that like for you, having to turn a computer-rendered game into a hand-drawn game?

Daisuke Ishiwatari: Well, I never had to do any design on the computer – I've always done everything by hand. So for me, the experience wasn't any different than it normally is.

In a previous interview, you mentioned that Arc System Works has a lot of female fans. Why do you think games like Guilty Gear [above] are so popular among female fans?

Ishiwatari: The recent games are designed to target a female audience as well as a male audience; the main purpose of the game is to appeal to everyone, to interest everyone, to attract a broad audience.

When you're designing a character, how does the creative process work? Do you go for what you think the hardcore fans want to see?

Ishiwatari: Actually, that process has changed a lot in the last 10 years. I used to imagine the character first and then fit them into the game, and now I create the game first and create characters that fit into that world.

You two have been working on games for a little more than 10 years; what's the biggest change you've seen in the way games are made?

Toshimichi Mori: Definitely 3-D character designs and 3-D gameplay. With the PS3 and the Xbox 360, it takes 10 times the effort to create one character, so that's probably the biggest change.

Were there any anime series that were a big influence on the character designs for Blazblue?

Mori: Trigun. Definitely Trigun.

How'd you come up with the Drive moves for Blazblue [above]? Did that concept make it difficult to balance the gameplay?

Mori: Well, I don't really worry about balance; I concern myself with the gameplay, and how people enjoy the gameplay, and it's not as if balance equals enjoyment. When it comes to combos, the character designs had a lot to do with how the Drive moves worked out.

Outside of your own titles, do you have a favorite fighting game?

Mori: Vampire Savior.

Ishiwatari: Street Fighter III.

This question is from the fans; do you have a favorite character from either Guilty Gear or Blazblue?

Ishiwatari: When creating a game, it's not really about each individual character or a favorite character, it's about creating the world of the game, and each character is like a puzzle piece that fits together to create the world, the atmosphere. If I had to pick one I guess it'd be the main character of each since they're the face of the game, but otherwise, it's more about the world and the atmosphere.

Mori: Hakumen from Blazblue.

RELEASES FOR THE WEEK OF 8-10

PHANTOM BRAVE: WE MEET AGAIN
Developer: NIS
Publisher: NIS America
Platform: Wii
Players: 1
MSRP: 39.99

The original Phantom Brave was an early arrival in the wave of cutesy strategy-RPGs that invaded America following Disgaea's success, and it brought one major innovation. Instead of relying on grids for character movement, Phantom Brave let its cast roam battlefields freely, with movement and attacking ranges denoted by circles. NIS quickly went back to grid-driven battles for their subsequent games, but you can't blame Phantom Brave for trying. That aside, it's similar to other NIS creations, with a young girl named Marona and her ghostly protector roaming a semi-tropical world of spirits, humans, and prejudiced bird-people. The Wii version is pretty much the PlayStation 2 game with two new faces: Carona, an uncomfortably scantily clad version of Marona from another dimension, plus her fungal sidekick God Enryngi.
Get Excited If: You ignored Phantom Brave the first time around but somehow played every other NIS strategy-RPG.

EXTRA LIVES: MYSTIC DEFENDER

Sega fans are a nostalgic bunch. They have to be, considering how their beloved company went from nearly dominating the industry to making games for less-ruined former competitors. A lot of that nostalgia's centered around the early days of the Sega Genesis, when the system blew into the market with a wall of impressive software and rattled the seemingly impregnable defenses of Nintendo. Alongside arcade ports like Strider and Altered Beast, one of the major first-wave hits on the Genesis was a made-from-scratch action game called Mystic Defender in North America.

In Japan, Mystic Defender was based on the Kujaku-Oh anime and manga series, but Sega had already turned a Kujaku-Oh game into the semi-Americanized Spellcaster on the Sega Master System. Kujaku-Oh 2 got the same treatment, and Sega didn't even warp it consistently. While Kujaku was called Kane in Spellcaster, Mystic Defender saw him renamed “Joe Yamato.” The rest of the cast is similarly overhauled, as the villainous Zareth plots to resurrect the sinister god Zao by sacrificing the heavenly affiliated princess Alexandra. All of this is detailed in a hasty introduction that replaces the slightly more anime-like imagery of the original game. Kujaku's robe was also changed into more conventional pants, making the resulting Joe Yamato look almost more like Ken from Fist of the North Star.

While it was never an arcade game, Mystic Defender plays like one. No story appears in between the stages, and the slow-paced graphic-adventure scenes of Spellcaster are gone. There's only a quick and dirty battle through fierce enemies. Streamlining Spellcaster's action stages, Mystic Defender gives Joe Yamato a chargeable fireball, one that can send off small shots or launch a cluster of destructive fire, depending on how long the attack button is depressed. The rest of Joe's arsenal works along similar lines, featuring a series of bouncing flares and a flamethrower that covers Joe while launching a fiery stream of destruction.

It's a reasonably tough game, built on the same ideas as Altered Beast and other Sega side-scrollers. Joe's life meter is easily worn down by constant enemy attacks, and while the game starts off with drab forests and fog-swept villages, it leads to more bizarre sets, including a bone-filled temple and a stage inspired by the work of H.R. Giger. Every action game of the 1980s had one of those, and Mystic Defender likes Gigerian décor so much that it uses it twice. Even when repeating itself, Mystic Defender looks quite impressive for its day. Like many early Genesis highlights, it's stocked with large characters and colorful effects outclassed only by the arcade games of the day.

Mystic Defender is, of course, an old-fashioned action game. There's nothing in the way of stunning voice effects or catchy soundtracks, and the game's ending spends more time on the credits than any plot resolution (Sega fans will note that Phantasy Star's Rieko “Phoenix Rie” Kodama worked on Mystic Defender's visuals). One oddity arises near the final boss, however: Alexandra, the blonde princess held captive, is completely naked when she's freed from the end boss's clutches. At least, that's how some versions of Mystic Defender show it. Later editions of the game put her in a pink dress, suggesting parental complaints and some hasty revisions by Sega's American branch.

Some first-wave Genesis games don't quite hold up, with Last Battle, a censored Fist of the North Star title, being one of the worst offenders among them. Yet Mystic Defender's kept its slick, faux-arcade appeal. It's a nice memento of Sega's rise to power and an amusing case of after-the-fact censorship. Every anime-driven game should be so lucky.

Copies of Mystic Defender are plentiful and rarely clear ten bucks, even when they've got boxes and manuals. Surprisingly, no one bothers separating the censored cartridges from the ones with unclothed Alexandra.


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