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The Ninja's Share

by Todd Ciolek, Aug 26th 2009

I tread carefully around emulation and fan translations in this column. While a lot of emulated, fan-localized games hail from long-dead systems, the entire scene, much like fansubs, still revolves around breaking laws. Yet I can't ignore the best fan-translated game since Mother 3. At long last, we have Policenauts in English.

Policenauts demands attention for several reasons, most of which involve Hideo Kojima. In between creating the first two Metal Gear games and returning to the series with Metal Gear Solid, he spent the late '80s and early '90s working on two graphic-adventure titles: Snatcher and Policenauts. Snatcher, best known to Americans through its Sega CD edition, is an expensive cult classic, praised for its detailed setting and enjoyable mix of Blade Runner and The Terminator. Kojima followed it in 1994 with Policenauts, an even more elaborate adventure game about conspiracies and rampant movie references on the human race's first major orbital colony.

For anyone into Japanese games, Policenauts was The One That Got Away for well over a decade. Konami planned to release the game's Saturn version in 1997, but it was canceled at an apparently late stage, with the North American box art nearly finished (if you wanted to torment yourself, you could also walk into an EB Games and look up Policenauts in their system for well into this decade). For those who tackled the Japanese version, Policenauts proved a challenge. It occasionally breaks into animated scenes or shooting stages, but it's mostly driven by still images and text. Lots and lots of text. A reviewer once joked that the game had over eight billion pages of it, and he may as well have been serious. Policenauts was a monumentally imposing game for any importer. Only those thoroughly versed in Japanese could enjoy it to the fullest, and it seemed unlikely that fans could handle a translation. It was too complex, too long, and too damn text-heavy for any fan project to tackle without self-destructing as fan projects usually do.

Well, sometimes fans come through. A cadre of translators, programmers, and testers put together a patch that renders the whole game in English. I won't link to downloads of the game itself, but I doubt they'll elude anyone who wants to play Policenauts.

And a lot of you should want to play it. Policenauts is the rare visual novel with both an interesting story and enjoyable action sequences. It crams in just about everything Kojima's known for: complex plotting, nonstop borrowing from popular movies (you can spot the Lethal Weapon tribute from here), loads of plausible little details, stories that gleefully jump the rails, and, well, risqué humor that veers into the disturbing. Perhaps it's not Kojima at his most mature, but it's an enjoyable game denied to English-speaking audiences for too long.

NEWS

THE NEW TOSHINDEN ROCKETS TOWARD MEDIOCRITY
The next Tōshinden fighter continues to get noticed by not seeming quite as awful as it did when first announced. To bring us up to speed, this is what Tōshinden for the Wii looked like back in 2008.

And this is what it looks like now.

Yes, it still seems to be a generic anime fighter, but it now looks slightly better (although that forest floor is ugly). Due to ship in Japan this December, Tōshinden for the Wii is the creation of Dream Factory, the once-promising developer that hasn't made a good fighter since 1997's Tobal 2 (or, if you want to be extremely charitable, 1999's Ehrgeiz). This new Tōshinden has its own tie-in manga, plus an original lineup of characters seemingly unrelated to the older Toshindens. That's “original” as in “based on every popular modern anime staple, including schoolgirls, pretty swordsmen, and Evangelion plugsuits and hair clips.”

Entirely new characters might be a plus, since previous Toshindens relied on uninventive designs, and the series had few fans once its visual impact wore off. Sony even offended some people by launching the original PlayStation with Tōshinden's whip-cracking Russian dominatrix Sofia as its mascot. Starting over from scratch can only help Toshiden on the Wii.

SQUARE ANNOUNCES CROSS TREASURES, NEW FRONTIER, MORE STUFF
Square Enix was busy this past week. For one thing, the company announced a DS-based action-RPG called Cross Treasures. It's a co-production involving V Jump, a monthly Shueisha anthology that keeps young Japanese readers supplied with the latest Yu-Gi-Oh! series, Dragon Quest spin-offs, and other juvenile manga. Cross Treasures has a similarly cute look courtesy of manga artist Shinya Suzuki, and it features squat adventurers tearing through colorful fantasy worlds. Those worlds figure notably into multiplayer mode, since you can design your own settings and draw in up to three other online players.

Always in the habit of making cell-phone games that may never come to America, Square Enix also launched It's New Frontier. The mobile-based game has you establish a medieval-fantasy colony by foraging for magical supplies and basic necessities. Townspeople are at your command, and each of them uses a specific magical ability. It's New Frontier resembles Harvest Moon by way of the Square RPG house, and the character designs should look quite familiar to anyone who played Final Fantasy Tactics (or any other Final Fantasy game where summoners wear pointy headbands). We probably won't see this on Western phones, but there's always the chance that, as with Parasite Eve: The 3rd Birthday, Square will port it to another system.

Also in Square's future is Dissidia Final Fantasy Universal Tuning, the Japanese version of the slightly enhanced English-language Dissidia that we'll be playing in North America this week. There's also word of the company releasing Thexder Neo on the PLAYSTATION Network in Japan. Thexder's an old Game Arts mecha shooter that hit numerous PCs and consoles in the 1980s, though Thexder Neo's nature is unknown at this writing.

PERSONA 3 PORTABLE DETAILED FURTHER
One could tell that the PSP version of Persona 3 wouldn't be quite the same as the PlayStation 2 edition, and more and more differences are emerging. Persona 3 Portable features pre-rendered backgrounds in its school and city scenes, and the characters have the sprite-based look of the casts of the first two PlayStation-based Persona titles. Those scenes are visited in Persona 3 Portable by using a cursor and picking locations from a menu, much like many modern RPGs. Socializing is similarly streamlined in Portable, as conversations involving the game's Social Link system resemble the talking-head interface of a typical dating simulator. The battles, which now let you command party members individually, also feature a defensive option, plus new costumes.

Some things about Persona 3 Portable remain unclear. The biggest blank is the game's new heroine, whose quest clearly can't be an exact copy of the one undertaken original game's male lead. There's also the matter of how much the game reflects the enhanced Persona 3 FES, as Portable reportedly won't have the “Answer” part of FES. These questions and more will doubtless be answered on the game's official Famitsu journal in the coming months.

IN BRIEF: BLAZBLUE'S OFFICIAL MANGA, OKAMIDEN'S MYSTERY
In BlazBlue news, the official website recently uploaded shots from a BlazBlue manga (along with some disturbing promotional phone cards). Official comics like this pop up for all sorts of fighters, though Versus City reports that Yun Kouga (of Loveless notoriety) is drawing some of it. Hers is a relatively big name for just another game-based manga, so perhaps there's a good reason Arc System Works is limiting the book to two per buyer. The sample pages include compromising shots of the squirrel schoolgirl, so I don't think I'll order my own copy.

So what's Okamiden? Well, it's a name that CAPCOM owns, as Siliconera discovered. It could also be a sequel to Okami, though presumably one made without the game's original developers at Clover. CAPCOM broke up Clover shortly after Okami's release, and Clover's staff went on to form Platinum Games, where they're making Bayonetta and, well, probably not another Okami game.

INTERVIEW: NARUTO SHIPPUDEN: NINJA DESTINY 2

For years, Naruto games all shared the same problem in the West. Even when they were excellent, they were stripped of any and all Naruto Shippūden characters whenever they were brought to America. Fortunately, they're are no longer missing out. With Naruto Shippūden now available here from Viz, any Naruto games are free to show off characters and storylines from the next major chapter of the Naruto canon. Ultimate Ninja 4: Naruto Shippūden and Ninja Council 4 brought this new Naruto to North America's game industry earlier this year, and Tomy's Naruto Shippūden: Ninja Destiny 2 for the DS continues the trend next month.

The original Ninja Destiny delivered a visually striking 3-D fighter on a system not really known for them, and the second Destiny boosts its character lineup considerably, bringing in 18 new characters (or at least new versions of older ones) from the Shippuden series. The upper DS screen still displays the game's 3-D battles, similar in style to Tomy's Clash of Ninja series, while the lower screen activates special power-ups, whether they're randomly generated boosts in the game's versus mode or the story mode's collected items. There's more to Ninja Destiny 2 than a simple upgrade, and we went to Mike Jones, senior producer at Tomy, to find out just what's new.

What improvements does Ninja Destiny 2 offer over the first Ninja Destiny?

Mike Jones: Ninja Destiny 2 is, obviously, the Shippuden game, so that means a lot of things. First and foremost, it's new Shippuden story content, so the game will cover things from the beginning of Shippuden up through Naruto and Sasuke's reunion. So that'll be 53 episodes of the anime and the first two major story arcs. And along with that are all of the characters: Sai, Yamato, that type of stuff, all the way up to Orochimaru and Shippuden Sasuke.

There's also the story mode itself, which is unique for a fighting game. Typically people don't associate stories with fighting games so much. It's usually just fight-text, fight-text. In Destiny 2, you'll actually have a bit of RPG-lite, where you'll be able to walk around the village, explore some dungeons, pick up items. So the gameplay experience is a bit nontraditional for a fighting game.

The cast of Ninja Destiny was 16 characters, and the cast of Destiny 2 is 34 characters, so that's a pretty significant improvement as well.

How will this game differ from its Japanese release, besides the obvious voice changes?

The cool thing about this game is that it's not edited. It's not cut. The content hasn't been shifted at all. Historically, when we've tried to bring Naruto games over from Japan, we've always been at odds with what was going on with the TV series, and how deep into the storyline it was. Now, with that cool new streaming initiative and the stuff they're doing [with Naruto Shippūden] online, it goes straight to the games, so all the Shippuden content that exists, all the story modes and characters, go along with that.

How does the game's quest mode compare to the quest modes in past Naruto games?

Quest mode only becomes available after you finish story mode. It creates a story-survival mode where you go through a randomly generated dungeon and fight a boss at every tenth level. There's a balance between how quick you move through the dungeon versus how long you grind and level up, because the ninja on the next level are going to be tougher. And that's a method to unlock more characters in the roster. It's not really story-driven, but you'll be unlocking characters to use in other modes.

So there are ten characters to use in the quest mode?

Yes, there's Naruto, Sakura, Sasuke, Kakashi, Sai, Yamato, Eiji, Shikamaru, Lee, and Guy.

Are there any characters in Ninja Destiny 2 that have never before been in a Naruto fighter, or any other part of the Naruto manga or anime?

You mean like in Clash of Ninja: Evolution 2, where we did Anbu characters like Komachi and Towa? No, there aren't any original characters. We stuck to the story of the first two arcs of Shippuden and put in all of the major characters for those story arcs.

What do you think anime fans will like best about Ninja Destiny 2?

The story content, for sure. The amount of Shippuden content is very robust for a fighting game, and the way you experience it is three-dimensional compared to the usual “one-two-three-four-boss-battle-ending-done.” This'll be more like an RPG-lite, where you go through different dungeons and have some random battles, so it's a little different experience for everybody in the story mode.

And, of course, the hardcore Naruto fans are all about characters. This has a lot of characters, so you'll have a long story mode. There are some pretty cool characters in there. Yamato is a total crowd favorite, and of course there's Shippuden Sasuke, and also the fox version of Naruto. So there's a lot that anime fans will like.

RELEASES FOR THE WEEK OF 8-30

FATE/UNLIMITED CODES
Developer: Cavia/Eighting
Publisher: CAPCOM
Platform: PSP (download only)
Players: 1-2
MSRP: 29.99

Fate/Unlimited Codes presents a difficult choice for both the Fate/stay night fan base and fighting-game enthusiasts. It might be the most complex anime-based 3-D fighter in recent memory, with a game engine well beyond the usual simplified Bleach and Dragon Ball Z flailing. The PSP version also differs ever so slightly from its PlayStation 2 and arcade cousins in terms of timing, combos, and other things that matter only amid precise, tournament-level play. It's also attentive to its origins as a visual novel (and later a manga and anime), since there are drawn-out conversations between teenager Shiro, his summoned warrior/girlfriend Saber, and other combatants in a time-traveling tournament where the least bizarre thing is the Holy Grail serving as the grand prize. Yet Fate/Unlimited Codes (which is best not rendered as an acronym) runs $30 for a game that's only a download on the PLAYSTATION Network. Will Fate/stay night's anime followers shun something that can't be stuck on a shelf next to a bunch of DVDs and a Rin Tohsaka Revoltech figure? Tough call.
Get Excited If: You know that the Rin Tohsaka figure was, in fact, from the Revoltech Fraulein series, thank you very much.

MURAMASA: THE DEMON BLADE
Developer: Vanillaware
Publisher: Ignition
Platform: Wii
Players: 1
MSRP: 49.99

Muramasa: The Demon Blade is perhaps the most beautiful game we'll see this year. An isle of hand-drawn, two-dimensional visuals in the modern sea of slick 3-D games, it's brimming with gorgeous backgrounds, elegantly animated characters, and the atmosphere of stylish Japanese myth. Then again, Vanillaware's last side-scrolling action game, 2007's Odin Sphere, was equally gorgeous and still fell victim to awkward gameplay and tedious storytelling. One would hope that Vanillaware learned from that, and that Muramasa will be more refined in its mix of swordplay and RPG-esque frills. The game's two playable characters, fugitive ninja Kisuke and supernaturally possessed samurai princess Momohime, offer slightly different methods of attacking, though the true depth of the game lies in the 108 weapons to be discovered, three of which can be equipped and switched out easily at any moment. Many of those blades are earned through slaying enemies, including the screen-filling bosses that show off some of the game's best animation. Even if this ends up like Odin Sphere, it'll merit a rental just for looks.
Get Excited If: You'd sometimes stop playing Odin Sphere and just stare at the screen.

SOUL CALIBUR: BROKEN DESTINY
Developer: Namco
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Platform: PSP
Players: 1-2 (Ad-hoc)
MSRP: 39.99

Broken Destiny is as close as the PSP will come to fully replicating Soul Calibur IV, and it comes impressively close. Visually, it couldn't match the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 versions, but the characters all look quite impressive. The game packs in most of the main lineup, with the only notable absences being the pointless Star Wars guests and the fighters designed by manga artists. In their place, Broken Destiny adds one new face and one loaner. The original one is the mustache-twirling Dampierre, who dresses like a 1910s cardsharp and secrets knives up his sleeves. The guest star is Kratos, the God of War anti-hero popular even with schoolkids far too young to be playing such games. Character customization and a questing single-player mode are also available, and one can reasonably expect the latter to be full of the overblown drama that few Soul Calibur fans genuinely care about.
Get Excited If: You can actually recite any Soul Calibur character's backstory.


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