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System Wars

by Todd Ciolek, Sep 1st 2010

The Wii's Virtual Console is no longer making news like it once did, but something important happened last week: it let us play Ufouria legitimately in North American.

Why is this important? For one thing, it's because Ufouria was One That Got Away back in the NES era. It was supposed to come out for the system back around 1992, but Sunsoft canceled it for reasons that some still speculate about (a few blame a programmer's illness). Whatever the cause, North America was denied Ufouria and another Sunsoft charmer called Mr. Gimmick, while Europe got both.

What's more, Ufouria is a very enjoyable game, one where four lost creatures explore a subtly deranged world of drooling ladder-faces and giant jumping lips. Ufouria's built a little like Metroid or Legacy of the Wizard, where paths extend in many directions and different characters reveal new areas. It's also got one of those catchy old NES soundtracks like only Sunsoft could deliver.

Ufouria's Virtual Console debut was helped along by Gaijinworks, led by former Working Designs head Victor Ireland. He's strongly suggested that other old Sunsoft games, with the unspoken promise of Mr. Gimmick, may follow if this one sells well. And that's another reason Ufouria is important.

ZILL O'LL NOTICES NORTH AMERICA
So why hasn't Tecmo or KOEI brought any Zill O'll games to North America? Sure, the original PlayStation title arrived in an era where Japan-made RPGs weren't likely to get U.S. releases, not even when those RPGs had distinctly Western-style fantasy aesthetics. On the other hand, Zill O'll Infinite hit the PlayStation 2 and PSP, and it could've easily been translated (and possibly renamed). Well, KOEI, Tecmo, and developer Omega Force (better known for the Dynasty Warriors games) are done playing around: they've made a PlayStation 3 prequel called Trinity: Souls of Zill O'll with Western players in mind.

Trinity: Souls of Zill O'll plays to Omega Force's talents by sticking to a simple tale of heroes toppling a would-be world conqueror and adding all sorts of cinematic flourishes and large-scale battles. Gameplay finds the three-character team (consisting of well-rounded hero, large guy, and magic-user) traipsing through forests, castles, dungeons, and other venues, while facing huge bosses as well as massive throngs of enemies in the style of Dynasty Warriors. Trinity was delayed from its March release in Japan, and it's now looking at a winter launch, perhaps in both Japan and America.

Tecmo and KOEI's other appeal to Western audiences is the shooter Quantum Theory, and it's also getting delayed. While the game's gory, grimy look has earned occasionally cynical comparisons to Gears of War, there's an interesting premise at work: the characters are the usual band of soldiers fighting a last-ditch battle in a post-apocalyptic world, but they're doing it all in a massive, living alien tower that changes its layout and doesn't seem to like people very much.

Quantum Theory's leads are the standard, square-jawed, square-armored SYD* and the mysterious, sword-wielding Filena, who looks like she wandered out of a Final Fantasy remake.

Tecmo's described Filena as an attempt at appealing to female fans, and they're doing it by…well, apparently not making her playable in the solo mode. She's there so SYD* can toss her, blades and all, at various enemies. There's no two-player cooperative mode, though, so you'll have to get by with using Filena in online multiplayer matches. Quantum Theory's set to ship here on September 28, two days before it hits Japan.

NEW YAKUZA: BLACK PANTHER DEMO OUT IN JAPAN
Black Panther: New Yakuza Chapter takes full advantage of being a spin-off of Sega's mobster-simulator Yakuza games. It's sticking with the general idea behind the games, as it follows a brawlsome young man named Tatsuya. He's soon expelled from school, and a street fight with a loan shark leads Tatsuya to fighting in the underground circuit of the Dragon Heat Arena. This leads to a greater emphasis on fighting than the well-rounded earlier Yakuza games, and what's more, the story scenes in Black Panther are told with stylized manga panels full of muted colors.

Of course, Tatsuya can still partake of the usual Yakuza festivities: wandering the streets, romancing club hostesses, shopping at convenience stores, and pounding rival thugs into the pavement.

It's set in the same world as Sega's other Yakuza titles, and Black Panther might be a more interesting look at the intersection of the criminal world and mixed martial arts. There's a demo up on the Japanese PLAYSTATION Network right now, and the game's out in September. In Japan, that is. There's no word on an America release, so start pestering Sega just like you did for Yakuza 3. That worked.

You can also ask Sega about the next console-based Yakuza, currently in development alongside the PSP title. It stars Goro Majima, the eyepatch-sporting mob boss who appeared in previous Yakuza games as a rival, ally, and punching bag for main character Kazuma Kiryu. He's played by Hidenari Ugaki in Japanese, and Mark Hamill supplied the English-language voice in the original Yakuza. Sadly, the days of Sega spending dub money on Yakuza games are lost past. This fifth proper Yakuza is far from complete, but it'll hit the PlayStation 3 next year.

BANGAI-O HD: MISSILE FURY COMES OUT OF NOWHERE
Even Treasure's best games can be contentious, as they're often too chaotic for some. Yet it's hard to imagine anyone failing to enjoy the Bangai-O games on some basic level. You're a tiny robot, and you fly around the screen blowing up everything with missiles and lasers and baseball bats. That's the sort of simple, immediate fun this here game industry was built on, consarnit.

The only real drawback to Bangai-O and its DS sequel, Bangai-O Spirits, is the fact that everything's so small on the screen. Treasure's out to fix that with Bangai-O HD: Missile Fury. It's coming out for XBox Live this fall, it costs ten bucks, and it has over 100 new levels. You can also make your own, much like you could on Bangai-O Spirits. I hope Treasure will remember to make the game's dialogue a complete nonsensical mess, but even if they don't, the screen above has everything I could want from a game called Missile Fury.

ATLUS MERGES, GETS ABSORBED, NOTHING CHANGES
In news that's interesting but not terribly likely to affect us, the Japanese branch of Atlus will be merged with the mobile-game division of its parent company, Index Holdings. It's essentially just some business shuffling by Index, which also owns anime Studio MADHOUSE. Atlus and its American counterpart will still make games, and none of those games will be canceled by this event.

SAKURA WARS VI ANNOUNCED, BUT NOT FOR REAL
Is this really art from Sakura Wars VI? Has the franchise, once a titan of Japan's game industry, returned with a high-profile installment for the Wii? And if it's really set in Berlin, will the alternate world of Sakura Wars ignore Germany's rise to fascism in the 1930s just as it ignored Japan's?

Not to dash the hopes of Sakura Wars fans, but all signs point to this being fake, with clues in the mediocre art, the photograph background, and…uh, the fact that the ad was found on a website that supposedly described it as a mock-up. Sakura Wars creator Hiroi Ohji is working on a new project, though, so there may be good news to come. And if this turns out to be real after all, I'll just pretend I believed in it from the start.

IMPORT ROUNDUP: AUGUST

ANOTHER CENTURY'S EPISODE R
Developer: From Software
Publisher: Bandai
Platform: PlayStation 3
Players: 1

Think of Another Century's Episode as a Super Robot Wars series that actually gets out of the house and exercises. The two franchises have the same ideas: take a bunch of familiar mecha from popular anime series and throw them all into one huge battle. Super Robot Wars games are mostly strategy-RPGs, though, while Another Century's Episode games are action-shooters sent on another planet, not unlike Armored Core titles with more mobility and ridiculous, true-to-the-cartoon special attacks. Another Century's Episode R is the first of the series on the PlayStation 3 and the first to throw in rail-shooter stages amid the boss battles and larger-scale fights. The lineup of robots includes all of the big-name Gundams plus a bunch of new additions: Full Metal Panic!, Super Dimension Century Orguss, Macross Zero, Macross Frontier, Aquarion (did anyone actually watch that?), Code Geass, and the Gundam family's Crossbone and SEED Destiny. Especially interesting are appearances by the Cybuster and two other mecha from Super Robot Wars: Original Generation as well as the Nineball Seraph from Armored Core. The latter inclusion makes perfect sense, since From Software developed both this and the Armored Core titles. Buy it and maybe they'll include Baxinger in the sequel!
Import Barrier: Not hard to grasp in gameplay terms. The story is all in Japanese, but it's just an excuse for Gundam and Code Geass pilots to yell at each other.
Chances of a Domestic Release: A big pile of licensing costs will keep that from ever happening.

IDOL JANSHI SUCHIE PAI IV
Developer: Jaleco/Cyber Front
Publisher: Cyber Front
Platform: PSP
Players: 1

Suchie-Pai has the dubious honor of being one of the longest-lived and most prominent lines of strip mahjong video games. It might not be whole-grain porn, but the point of the Suchie-Pai titles is to defeat various women at the classic tile game and see your former opponents in various states of undress. As with all Suchie-Pai titles, the fourth main installment's women are drawn by Gunsmith Cats creator Kenichi Sonoda, who's apparently working hard to keep up with the modern era of dewy-eyed anime girls. For the PSP port of Suchie-Pai IV, he's provided a lineup of maid-café waitresses, along with a rabbit and a spherical demon for sidekicks. He didn't make many changes to series icon Suchie-Pai, though, as she's still a redhead cyber-fairy who pops up to help the player win mahjong matches and exploit women. Suchie-Pai was one of Jaleco's most popular series in Japan, so it's still going strong even when Jaleco itself is barely still alive. Buy it and maybe they'll make another Astyanax game!
Import Barrier: Knowledge of mahjong is needed. Knowledge of Japanese dating sims is really not.
Chances of a Domestic Release: None to speak of. You'll have to make do with Hirameki International's old release of the awful Suchie-Pai anime.

SUPER DIMENSIONAL GAME NEPTUNE
Developer: Idea Factory/Compile Heart
Publisher: Sega/Nippon Ichi/Compile Heart/Gust
Platform: PlayStation 3
Players: 1

I really think Idea Factory is wasting a lot of Super Dimensional Game Neptune's concept. It's set in a strange fantasy world ruled by four deities, each representing one of the current game consoles, and other denizens of the realm are based on game companies. It sounds like the stage for amusing parodies of this often ridiculous game industry, and perhaps there's some sharp humor in a storyline where the villains symbolize game pirates. The thing is that just about every character is a cutesy “moe" anime girl: three of the leads are the Wii, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360, while the fourth is Neptune, apparently the avatar of Sega's failed hybrid 32X/Genesis system. It's not even the style of the characters that's the problem; it's the fact that they look mostly the same, robbing the game of, say, a Square Enix character who can only speak in Final Fantasy terms, a zombie NES, or a rabid jungle cat that represents the Atari Jaguar. That aside, it's an intriguing RPG in the vein of Trinity Universe, with battle combos and the chance to modify the game's console/characters. It's still a B-list RPG with character cutouts babbling in place of actual cutscenes, but there's voice acting aplenty. And besides, it's not every RPG that has the Xbox 360 dicing up mecha-demons. Buy it and maybe they'll make a less off-putting RPG about the PC Engine and the Pico!
Import Barrier: Game-industry jokes are perhaps the point of the game, and English-only players stand to miss a lot of them.
Chances of a Domestic Release: Quite good. NIS America all but confirmed it in a recent interview.

TWINKLE QUEEN
Developer: Milestone
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform: Wii
Players: 1-4

I miss the days when mediocre fighting games at least had fun titles like Variable Geo, Lightning Legend, or Asuka 120% Burning Fest Final. Twinkle Queen doesn't even have that. In fact, it's well beneath “mediocre.” Milestone, best known to the West as the developer of simple-looking shooters like Radigy, decided to slap together a fighting game featuring twelve characters from other companies' visual novels: Shin Koihime Musō, Shukufuku no Campanella, Tayutama, and the oddly titled G-Senjo no Maou: The Devil on G-String. Their results are what a charitable reviewer would call “mixed”: a tag-team fighter where plastic ice skaters, witches, and cat-eared priestesses flail stiffly at each other before depressingly empty backgrounds. There's a four-player mode to enhance it, and a story mode sure to be full of in-jokes. It all looks like an amateur-made fighter given away for free online, but this is indeed a commercial product for a limited audience: “adventure game” fans who want Mashiro Mito or Karin Soso in a fighter and don't care what kind of fighter it is. Buy it and…well, you'll make Milestone feel a little better about the game dropping in price days after it shipped.
Import Barrier: Fighting games, even lousy ones, need little knowledge of a foreign language to appreciate.
Chances of a Domestic Release: MangaGamer translated Shin Koihime Musō and FUNimation licensed Shukufuku no Campanella, but that won't get Twinkle Queen over here.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

KINGDOM HEARTS: BIRTH BY SLEEP
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform: PSP
Players: 1-6
MSRP: $39.99

No, this isn't Kingdom Hearts 3, but it may as well be Kingdom Hearts Zero. Birth by Sleep is a prequel set about a decade before the original Kingdom Hearts, and so it features three seemingly new main Keyblade-wielding characters: Terra, Aqua, and Ventus. Fans may recognize them from Kingdom Hearts II cameos, but Birth by Sleep is all theirs, as series hero Sora was barely out of diapers in this time frame. The three characters track a missing Keyblade master named Xehanort across various Disney-themed worlds, all the while running into shadowy creatures called Unversed. Their battles have the same action-RPG focus as previous Kingdom Hearts tiffs, but new features show themselves: a Focus meter replaces the magic-points gauge and emphasizes first-person spellcasting, the Command Board turns every completed world into a die-rolling board game, and there's a slew of multiplayer modes. Naturally, there's another round of Disney characters to meet up with, and Birth by Sleep features Lilo & Stitch alongside worlds based on older Disney films like Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty. I'm sure they'll get to Gargoyles and Goof Troop by Kingdom Hearts XVII. The word is that Birth By Sleep is light on appearances by new Square Enix characters, though, with only Final Fantasy VII's Zach Fair and some moogles popping up as fresh cameos. Perhaps Square Enix realized that a lot of Kingdom Hearts fans weren't buying the games in the hopes of seeing characters from Vagrant Story or Cyber Org.

RECETTEAR: AN ITEM SHOP'S TALE
Developer: EasyGameStation
Publisher: Carpe Fulgur
Platform: PC
Players: 1
MSRP: $19.99
Available On: Steam, Impulse, and Gamers Gate

Recettear takes on a rarely glamorized side of the typical RPG: the humble shopkeeper who keeps world-saving adventurers stocked with healing potions and weapons and seemingly useless knickknacks. This independently made RPG stars Recette, a young woman stuck running a store in a desperate attempt to escape her deadbeat father's bank debts. She's helped by a critical-minded fairy named Tear and an expanding lineup of heroes and heroines, but it all comes down to Recette setting up a clean, well-lit store full of in-demand merchandises. When Recette's not fretting over expenses and straightening her stock, the thief Charme and other RPG archetypes help her by raiding dungeons and uncovering new treasures. Recettear's graphically basic, but it looks no more primitive than the sprite-based PlayStation 2 RPGs of NIS or Idea Factory. It's also a gently intriguing and complex little RPG, and it makes a promising debut for first-time localization studio Carpe Fulgur.


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