The X Button
The Old Frontier

by Todd Ciolek, Oct 28th 2009

You know, I tried not to get too interested in Final Fantasy XIII. In its early stages, it looked like the sort of thinly imagined techno-fantasy mishmash that I was getting just a little weary of seeing in most of the Final Fantasies that came before XII. Well, I think it's time that I give in and start looking forward to the game in earnest. This has nothing to do with the latest Final Fantasy XIII character being a tattooed, spear-wielding, dragon-summoning, coldly alluring woman with a vaguely Australian accent.

Oerba Yun Fang actually showed up in a Final Fantasy XIII trailer from the Tokyo Game Show, though no one knew her name or her true role in the plot. All we knew was that she's a l'Cie who, unlike other divinely cursed l'Cie characters, works with the government faction that's trying to stomp them out. Earlier this month, magazine spreads revealed her name and the fact that she summons a weird new version of Final Fantasy staple dragon Bahamut. Though some still speculate about her motivations, she's a fully playable member of the party. She brings the game's cast to six characters, the minimum for a modern Final Fantasy, with the Japanese release of the game only two months away. And, for the clincher, she's in the newly released line of Final Fantasy XIII soda potions and collectible figurines.

The “Oerba” part of Yun Fang's name suggests that she's from the same tribal background as a previously introduced party member, the much girlier Oerba Dia Vanille. Anime fans have also pointed out Yun Fang's resemblance to Balsa from Moribito - Guardian of the Spirit, driven home further by the two characters sharing voice actress Mabuki Andou. Of course, Yun Fang has that possibly New Zealander accent in the dubbed version of the trailer, and if Square changes her voice to some generic American drawl for the final game, I'll stop playing for an hour or two in protest.

But there are soldiers with smiling faces on their helmets, so I'll start playing again.

NEWS

CHO ANIKI COMING TO AMERICA FOR REAL THIS TIME
There's a list of game franchises unlikely to ever come to North America, and for the longest time, the Cho Aniki series was at the top of that list. A comical series of 2-D shooters (plus a fighting game and an RPG), the Cho Aniki games litter themselves with Parodius-like oddities and speedo-clad, musclebound men flying through space, blasting mostly naked Greek gods in bathtubs while sprouting flowers and lasers from their bald heads. No one ever thought a company would deem Cho Aniki suitable for Western audiences, but Nintendo itself went ahead and approved the original Cho Aniki for the Wii's Virtual Console last year. Now Aksys Games is bravely taking the lead by bringing GungHo's Cho Aniki Zero here as a downloadable PSP title.

Something of a prequel to the first Cho Aniki, Zero stars the original's spiky-haired hero Idaten and the lithe heroine Benten, though it's Idaten's two sidekicks, the bodybuilders Adon and Samson, who became Cho Aniki's most recognizable characters. Benten, meanwhile, gets two pudgy, freakish cherubs to accompany her through the game's numerous insanely decorated stages. Aksys clearly knows what they have on their hands, because their press release is full of references to men's beams, "bromance," and protein shakes.

OH YEAH, AKSYS ALSO HAS MIMANA IYAR CHRONICLES
Mimana Iyar Chronicles has no copious, humorous homoeroticism or preposterous reputation, but it's also joining Aksys Games' lineup of PSP titles for 2010. An RPG in the tradition of countless late-1990s genre fare, Mimana features sprite-based visuals, animated cutscenes, turn-based battles, and a cast of heroines grouped around a somewhat unremarkable swordsman.

It shouldn't surprise anyone to learn that GungHo enlisted Kogado Studio, maker of numerous dating simulators, for help with Mimana's characters and semblance of a plot. Aksys also touts the involvement of staffers from the original Lunar series and Tales of Destiny 2 (that's presumably the Japanese Tales of Destiny 2, and not the renamed-for-America Tales of Eternia). Unlike Cho Aniki, Mimana is coming here as both a UMD title and a downloadable PLAYSTATION Network game, because Aksys knows that people are much more likely to walk into a GameStop and reserve an anime-styled RPG than a Cho Aniki shooter.

CASTLEVANIA: THE ADVENTURE REBIRTH COMING SOON
Like Contra Rebirth and Gradius Rebirth, Castlevania: The Adventure Rebirth is a WiiWare tribute to an older Konami title, in this case the worst Castlevania ever. Castlevania: The Adventure is a clumsy, slow-paced nightmare of Game Boy architecture, but its remade version seems to improve on most of the original's flaws, or at least the lack of interesting levels or sub-weapons. It also borrows from other, less horrible Castlevanias by including multiple pathways similar to those in Rondo of Blood.

It'd be entirely appropriate if this Rebirth title arrived in time for Halloween, but so far it's only hitting Japan this week. Perhaps Konami will spring some surprise with the game, and in doing so make an apology to any kid who picked up a Castlevania game for the Game Boy and spent many thankless hours being killed by giant rolling eyes.

IN BRIEF: ARC RISE FANTASIA JUMPS PUBLISHERS, NINJA GAIDEN WRITER TALKS
Arc Rise Fantasia is the biggest RPG coming to the Wii next year, the multiplatform Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love notwithstanding. That may be why Ignition Entertainment wanted Arc Rise Fantasia badly enough to take it from its previous U.S. publisher, XSEED Games. It's exactly the same thing that happened with Murasama: The Demon Blade, which Marvelous also yanked from XSEED and gave to Ignition. Either way, Arc Rise Fantasia is a major RPG for the anime-fan sector, with its Yasunori Mitsuda soundtrack, character art by Eureka Seven's Ken'ichi Yoshida, and minor censorship. It's out in June.

Here's this week's nostalgia dose: an interview with Masato Kato, best known for his scriptwriting duties on RPGs like Chrono Trigger, Xenogears, Chrono Cross, Baten Kaitos, and the upcoming (for America, anyway) Sands of Destruction. Yet this interview deals with Kato's first story-writing gig, a little NES game called Ninja Gaiden II. The piece is filled with interesting details, and the most surprising is that Ninja Gaiden III actually takes place between the first two games.

IMPORT ROUNDUP: OCTOBER

GRAND TRUCKER ANIKI: SHIGOTO TO KENKA TO KOIMOYOU
Developer: Genterprise
Publisher: Genterprise
Platform: DS
Players: 1

Grand Trucker Aniki isn't the first trucking simulator on the Japanese game market, though it may be the first to mix dating modes with the usual trucker's life of hauling freight and fighting off gangs of thieves. The trucking portions play a bit like the original Grand Theft Autos, with players guiding a chosen vehicle through confined Japanese city streets from an overhead perspective. Combat breaks out among rather tiny sprites, and mini-games involving forklifts and seafood-sorting also show up. Truckers can also date several women along their routes, using the time-honored interface of giving patronizing responses while your dinner companion pretends to like whatever truck-stop you've dragged her to, you clod.
Import Barrier: DS games need no special devices to run on North America systems, though the dating-sim sector of Grand Trucker Aniki will stymie anyone not up on his or her Japanese.
Chances for a Domestic Release: Slim, but Atlus, XSEED, and Aksys have all bought and released stranger things here.

MACROSS ULTIMATE FRONTIER
Developer: Artdink
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Platform: PSP
Players: 1-4

Macross Ace Frontier succeeded last year by drawing Valkyrie jet-robots from all across Macross anime history and slapping them into a 3-D space shooter. It did other things, but Namco Bandai clearly knows what brings in fans, and so Macross Ultimate Frontier is crammed with playable Macross fighters and missions that recreate notable canonical moments. In fact, Ultimate Frontier even goes beyond that canon and brings in scenarios from Macross II, which was so pointless that Studio Nue threw it in an alternate reality. All of the accepted Macross series are represented as well, including off-shoots like Flashback 2012 and Macross 7 Dynamite, and possibly a better-known Macross game or two. The game's also impressive on a technical level, with fairly detailed mecha models that convey the whirlwind dogfights of a Macross anime surprisingly well. Or perhaps my standards are just low from playing the Macross VFX games. Either way, the special edition of Macross Ultimate Frontier includes a UMD with a Shoji Kawamori interview and other extras (plus the novelty of using a UMD to watch movies, something no one does anymore). It also has an alternate cover showing the pop stars of each major Macross. You'll note that the Milky Dolls from the first VFX are nowhere to be seen.
Import Barrier: Flying and shooting need no special language skills, though some mission objectives will. The story, such as it is, also needs no explanation for a Macross fan. And Japanese PSP games play just fine on North American systems.
Chances for a Domestic Release: I'm sure that the companies squabbling over the rights to new Macross projects will set aside their differences for a single Macross PSP game, even though they haven't done that for Macross: Do You Remember Love?, Macross Zero, or Macross Frontier.

OSOUJI SENTAI CLEAN KEEPER H
Developer: Lupinus
Publisher: Compile Heart
Platform: PS2/Wii
Players: 1

Osouji Sentai Clean Keeper H's cover makes it look like an unwholesome yet superficially cute dating-sim “adventure” game, and…well, it is. But it's also a strange exercise in mini-games that all involve cleaning. See, the game's player-identification hero is charged with janitorial duties at a school where grime is symbolized by bloblike masses of contagion filling the screen. The solution lies in befriending female students and partnering them with specialized, high-voiced cleaning fairies. The Wii version of the game, released back in April, uses the remote for sweeping up classrooms and schoolyards, but the PlayStation 2 version doesn't have any motion-sensing controls, and so the cleaning plays out with a conventional controller. In keeping with the usual standards of console-based “adventure” games, neither version is all-out pornographic, though the official website shows big-eyed girls eating bananas in the bath.
Import Barrier: You'll need some Japanese knowledge to get anywhere in the game, and you'll also require a PS2 that runs Japanese games. And a high tolerance for this cute-anime-girl "moe" twaddle.
Chances for a Domestic Release: Nothing to speak of.

RELEASES FOR THE WEEK OF 11-1

DRAGON AGE: ORIGINS
Developer: BioWare
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platform: PlayStation 3/Xbox 360/PC
Players: 1
MSRP: $59.99 (PS3, XBox 360), $49.99 (PC)

The next week has no releases related to Japanese gaming, perhaps because publishers are all deathly afraid of Dragon Age. It's probably mere coincidence, but Dragon Age is unquestionably the big RPG of this winter. After making RPGs based on Star Wars, eastern mythology, space opera, and even Sonic the Hedgehog, BioWare takes Dragon Age: Origins to a distinctly bloody medieval fantasy world. It's part Dungeons and Dragons and part A Song of Ice and Fire, set in a stage full of elves, dwarves, and humans who all hate each other. Like most BioWare games, the story branches in many directions, through simple conversations as well as violent battles. Combat resembles the four-member party system from BioWare's Knights of the Old Republic, with both player-generated combatants and a handful of distinct story-based characters taking part. There's also no annoying alignment tracker, making the player's actions a little more gray in terms of morals. Lastly, Dragon Age: Origins has gallons of blood and player-initiated sex scenes, both of which I imagine you'll see when the game is advertised with Marilyn Manson songs.
Get Excited If: You like your RPGs with ugly realism and not a single spiky-haired anime hero in sight.


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