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Show of Farce

by Todd Ciolek, Sep 22nd 2010

This year's Tokyo Game Show inspired an interesting reaction from Capcom producer Keiji Inafune, who basically called the Japanese game industry a moribund factory for lousy, unappealing crap. He certainly has a point: Japan led much of the games market in the 1990s, but the nation's publishers failed to take advantage of popular trends in the West (first-person shooters, hyper-macho action games) and they're now lagging behind the creations of North American and European developers.

Then again, this Tokyo Game Show seemed a lot busier than recent ones. Read on to see why.

NEWS SPECIAL: THE TOKYO GAME SHOW

DEVIL MAY CRY REBOOTED, GOTHED UP
Game franchises are generally relaunched after years of absences or mediocrity, not when they're fairly popular Capcom series with distinctively designed characters. That's Devil May Cry, and even though it's under ten years old, Capcom decided to reimagine the whole thing a while ago. And they went to Ninja Theory, developer of the early PlayStation 3 showcase Heavenly Sword.

The result: Devil May Cry's awkward goth phase in high school. The trailer introduces a younger, brattier version of Dante, who smokes and guns down demon-puppets and isn't gonna sell out to The Man. At least the video shows the same destructive edge as previous Devil May Cry titles, as gloomy, smoking Dante chucks around enemies and background objects alike. Despite the game's “reimagining” angle, this young Dante apparently grows up to be the same white-haired hero that fans recognize, so Capcom hasn't abandoned that brand of Devil May Cry.

If asked to name a Capcom franchise in need of rebooting, I'd say “Strider” over and over until whoever asked the question walked away in boredom and disgust. But Capcom has spoken, and Devil May Cry is getting the makeover.

Capcom also showed off a brief trailer for Asura's Wrath, a good ol' down-home bloodfest featuring figures from various Eastern religions. If Capcom wasn't trying to make Japanese God of War with this, they've still succeeded by accident. There's no release date yet, as the game just started its development cycle.

NINJA GAIDEN III EXISTS
In one of the vaguer announcements at the Tokyo Game Show, Tecmo revealed that Ninja Gaiden III is very early in development. Fresh from making the better parts of Metroid: Other M (the gameplay), Team Ninja is working on a third modern Ninja Gaiden. If the original Ninja Gaiden trilogy is any indication, this new Ninja Gaiden III will have a bland storyline set in between its two predecessors, and the North American version will be ridiculously hard.

TRON BONNE, X-23 APPEAR IN MVC3
Capcom only succeeded halfway in teasing the latest round of Marvel vs. Capcom 3 characters. The two new additions were depicted in silhouette alongside other characters, and everyone instantly knew one of them for Tron Bonne, devious mecha-pirate girl from the Mega Man Legends series. She appears in the same green mecha she piloted in the Marvel vs. Capcom 2, and her retinue of Servbots joins her in battle.

Identifying the other shadowy figure was more of a challenge. Some pegged it as Ms. Marvel, some figured it for Rogue from the X-Men, and others picked She-Hulk, even though that'd be redundant with the male Hulk already in the game.

Well, they were right about the redundancy. The newest female character on the Marvel side is X-23, described by many as a marketable young-girl version of Wolverine. A recent creation in Marvel Comics, she looks rather sedate next to the costumed lineup.

Capcom didn't bother teasing two other additions: Spider-Man and Resident Evil's recurring villain, Albert Wesker. Spider-Man was guaranteed a spot, but Wesker seems an interesting choice in light of Marvel vs. Capcom 3 already picking up Chris Redfield from the series. Then again, Wesker's abilities are almost superhero-grade when compared to the more mundane powers of Resident Evil heroes.

VALKYRIA CHRONICLES 3 SNEAKS OUT EARLY
Another showpiece for the “poorly protected secret” department, Valkyria Chronicles 3: The Unrecorded Chronicles was actually leaked by Sega's schedule for the Tokyo Game Show. No matter, because Sega had the game playable on the show floor. Just like Valkyria Chronicles 2, it's on the PSP, and it's set in the same theater of war in This Is Europe But It Isn't. Characters from previous Valkyria games will make cameos, but this third installment will have new leads. They're introduced in the trailer, which is almost entirely animated cutscenes.

The nation of Gallia is once again the stage, and, like Belgium, it's blown to hell by two larger warring nations. Players are in control of Gallian unit 422, dubbed “the Nameless” due to its habit of assigning numbers to its Dirty Dozen-ish recruits. Of course, the characters have names: Number 7 is Kurt Irving, a once-promising officer driven to the Nameless ranks by disgrace. Number 13 is Riella Marcellis (left). A Valkyria descendent, she's one of those soldiers with survivor's guilt due to everyone else in her former platoon dying. Number 01 is Imuka (right), a silent, vengeful refugee from a Gallian village destroyed by the Valkyria. They sound a bit darker than other Valkyria lineups, but I have no doubt that the game will use them to deliver ham-fisted moralizing about how war and racism and picking your nose are all bad things.

Gameplay preserves the same mixture as previous Valkyrias: broad tactical moves result in directly controlled, up-close fighting. Valkyria Chronicles 3 is no longer mission-based as the second game was, and the different types of unit will apparently be streamlined for more efficient use in battle. There's also a Super Mode for each of the two heroines; unsurprisingly, Riella's turns on her Valkyria switch for powerful new attacks. Producer Shinji Motoyama also dropped one other strange detail: there's no online play. Apparently, this new Valkyria Chronicles will emphasize its story. Uh-oh.

Some may be disappointed that Valkyria Chronicles hasn't returned to the PlayStation 3 homeland of the original game, but The Unrecorded Chronicles sounds like a promising expansion, particularly if it can improve on the tiresome storytelling of the first two games. It'll be out in Japan this January.

TEKKEN TAG 2 GETS A SEQUEL
Some may wonder why Namco's making a second Tekken Tag Tournament, as there's already a tag-based fighter in development with Tekken X Street Fighter, and the Tag series hasn't been seen since the PlayStation 2's launch. But Tag has a devoted following among those who play fighting games seriously and go to tournaments full of the unshowered.

The trailer doesn't reveal any new characters: Jin Kazama, Asuka Kazama, Kazuya Mishima, Heihachi Mishima, and Leo show up, and there are brief scenes of tag-team fighting. Oh, and Lili and Asuka yell at each other toward the end, because they're the Tekken equivalent of Street Fighter's Sakura and Karin. Much of the excitement about the game has to do with Tekken 6's floor-bouncing moves working inside the tag-team system, and the chance that long-absent characters will show up in Tag Tournament 2. I'd laugh at the idea of someone begging for Kunimitsu and Roger's return in a Tekken game, but then I did the same thing for Rolento and Yang in the next Street Fighter update.

KINECT SURPRISES WITH PROJECT DRACO, STEEL BATTALION, SUDA 51
The world's gone on far too long without another Panzer Dragoon game, and series creator Yukio Futasugi knows it. Why else would he make a game called Project Drago for Microsoft's motion-control Kinect device? The new game's all about riding dragons, and this piece of promotional art should make it clear just how much Project Drago shares with the Panzer series.

Good. Now we can move on to bothering Futasugi about another Phantom Dust.

The Kinect also sees the return of Steel Battalion, the Xbox game best known for its elaborate, realistic mecha-pilot controller and the $200 price tag it carried. Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor won't need such a costly peripheral (except for the $150 Kinect), and it takes an interesting look at the year 2082. There are no advanced computers, so warfare plays out with the gritty struggle of World War II…with giant combat mecha, of course.

Lastly, the Kinect roped in Goichi “Suda 51” Suda, the director of such oddities as Killer 7 and No More Heroes. He and the rest of Grasshopper Manufacture are at work on “Codename D,” an XBox Live title in which players must survive the slings and arrows and evil tiger-headed clowns of an amusement park gone awry. Suda promises that players' Kinect-sensitive motions will control unconventional weapons instead of guns and swords.

THE LAST GUARDIAN IS TOO FAR AWAY
Fumito Ueda's The Last Guardian still looks amazing, which makes it all the most disheartening to learn that the game's not coming out until the holiday season of 2011. We'll have to wait until then to write dense, impassioned praise of the game's story of a boy and his giant pet griffin-beast.

The new trailer looks impressive, with the sort of understated movement and deliberately spare environments that made Ueda's Ico and Shadow of the Colossus so impressive. Speaking of those, the PlayStation 3 collection of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus is also out next year, with optimized versions of both games and support for 3-D viewing. It'll feature the European version of Ico, which had an alternate ending and optional subtitles for the game's made-up speech. There's no word on what other extras are in store, though I hope Sony will include looks at the original versions of Ico (which started as a PSone game) and Shadow (which had multiplayer battles). Blu-Ray remasterings need plenty of trivial bonuses.

A LOT IS RIDING ON DISGAEA 4
Disgaea 4 is a rather grim entry for the series, and not just because it's yet another tales of cartoonish demons and constant cynicism. It's also Nippon Ichi Software's frantic attempt at staying afloat. The company admitted that, after a lousy fiscal year, it really needs to turn things around with Disgaea 4.

That's why NIS is putting a little more work than usual into Disgaea 4. Gone are the stiff, small character sprites that clung to the series up through Disgaea 3. The game still uses big-headed characters, but they're given more detail and animation, and the same goes for the character portraits that blab out the storyline. That storyline finds a girl named Fuuka condemned to hell, where she should rightly become a demonic Prinny penguin. Yet the budget constraints of the netherworld slap a Prinny hat (available in the long line of NIS merchandise) onto her and call it a day.

The gameplay enhances Disgaea staples, especially when it comes to stacking characters. A tower of samurai, catgirls, Prinnies, and whatever else joins up can traverse a battlefield, grab items, spin around on overhead wires for special attacks, and unleash nasty combo strikes. Disgaea 4 is out in February for Japan, and North American fans will get their chance to support NIS by the summer.

YAKUZA BECOMES GANGSTER-RUN HOST CLUB OF THE DEAD
If the zombie craze has burned out, please don't tell the makers of Sega's Yakuza games. You'll just break their hearts, now that the new Yakuza is all about an undead uprising in a crime-plagued Japanese city.

Yakuza: Of the End finds the alleys and convenience stores of Kamurocho swarming with zombies, and Yakuza series protagonist Kazuma Kiryu must fend them off with the help of other regulars. Of the End has the look of a ridiculous spin-off, right down to the transforming mechanical gun-arm given to recurring Yakuza character Ryushi Gouda. If there's a Yakuza game after this, expect Of the End to be explained away by Kiryu waking up and gasping about how it was all a dream. Nightmare or not, the zombie-packed Yakuza is out early next year.

GALGUN SHOOTS GIRLS, IDOLM@STER ADDS BOYS
Alchemist's Gal Gun has quite the novel idea for an on-rails shooter: instead of mowing down zombies or terrorists, you're firing pheromone bullets of pure love at schoolgirls left and right. Unfortunately, this is That Kind of Game, so all of the player's carefully placed shots just make the girls squeal and coo and faint and gasp and expose their underwear. It was on display at the Tokyo Game Show, and it'll be on XBox Live Arcade in Japan before long.

This is apparently what developer Inti Creates does when Capcom isn't letting them make Mega Man games. Don't look for it in North America.

Meanwhile, Idolm@ster 2 surprised some of its largely male fan base by introducing a three-member boys' band at its Tokyo Game Show presentation. The trio is known as Jupiter and, just as with franchise's line of young-girl pop stars, it's up to the player to shepherd these kids into a world of stardom and crowds of shrieking girls.

Some see this as Idolm@ster's move toward the ever-growing lineup of female game-players. Then again, the DS version of Idolm@ster had a boy pretending to be a girl, and audiences didn't seem to mind that much.

RADIANT SILVERGUN ON XBOX LIVE
Radiant Silvergun is far more contentious of a game than it should be. At heart, it's an exceptionally well-designed shooter with creative bosses, lots of instantly usable weapons, and a ridiculous but intense storyline. Yet there are problems: some hardcore shooter fans dislike it for not playing by the genre's normal rules (which, I'd argue, is part of what makes the game great), and others point out that, good or not, the game can't possibly be worth the $150 it routinely clears at auction sites.

Well, we can start all of those arguments again next year, when Radiant Silvergun comes to XBox Live. As with Ikaruga, this Radiant port will be handled by the original developers at Treasure. There's word that it'll include a new mode that mimics Ikaruga's black-and-white bullet gameplay, plus online cooperative play. Will it also translate the game's story mode, added for the Sega Saturn version? If not, there's always the fandub. I don't recommend watching it at work. For several reasons.

PHANTASY STAR GETS COLONEL SANDERS
And now for my favorite news of this Tokyo Game Show: Colonel Sanders is a playable character in Phantasy Star Portable 2 Infinity.

Japan's fondness for Colonel Sanders and KFC is well-documented and perhaps a tad cliché now, but I still like the idea of an RPG party recruiting a fast-food icon and, presumably, outfitting him with plasma rifles and laser swords. The game's out in the winter for Japan, and I suspect the promotion won't survive to see the North American version. Sega took Pepsiman out of the domestic Fighting Vipers, after all.

OTHER NEWS

BLADE KITTEN COMES STRAIGHT OUTTA 2003
Launching this week on the PLAYSTATION Network is the action-platformer Blade Kitten, which looks like it came from that delightful age when American comics and games were ripping off the most generic parts of anime: catgirls, pink hair, steampunk, giant robot-monsters, and so on. The sword-wielding catgirl of the title is Kit Ballard, a bounty hunter on the world of Hollow Wish, and she's faced with a bomb-wielding thief and revelations that'll shake the foundations of her planet and so forth. Did I mention that it's based on a webcomic?

On the other hand, Blade Kitten seems fairly sharp for a downloadable game, and it promises frantic, semi-side-scrolling action as well as open fields where Kit can ride a mock Chocobo. The gameplay side of it might well be entertaining, even if its heroine looks like she was drawn by sentient search-engine results for the word “anime.”

GAIA SEED, CHOANIKI JOIN PSN IMPORTS
Perhaps the best thing about Nintendo's Virtual Console and Sony's PSOne Classics service is the chance to see Japanese imports finally showing up in North America. While the Virtual Console has everything from Castlevania: Rondo of Blood to Sin and Punishment, Sony's North American network doesn't deliver many of the obscure titles on its Japanese counterpart. Some players just gave in and downloaded games from Japan's side, but at least one company is bringing PSone classics over from Japan.

Thanks to MonkeyPaw Games, Gaia Seed and ChoAniki should be out on the PLAYSTATION Network right about now. Gaia Seed is a moderately interesting 2-D shooter with an Einhander-ish soundtrack and some of the most awkward English dialogue ever. ChoAniki: Kyukyoku Muteki Ginga Saikyo Otoko (“The Galaxy's Ultimate Strongest Man”) is part of the parody shooter series oft-mocked for featuring super-muscular men who wear speedos and fire lasers from their heads. The PlayStation version is even odder, as it uses a mixture of digitized man-flesh and CG to achieve its grotesque style.

Yes, a lot of us would've preferred Rakugaki Showtime or Harmful Park, but MonkeyPaw is promising even more imports on the PLAYSTATION Network. And that's good reason to support GaiaSeed and ChoAniki, if only for their comedy value.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

ATELIER RORONA: THE ALCHEMIST OF ARLAND
Developer: Gust
Publisher: NIS America
Platform: PlayStation 3
Players: 1
MSRP: $59.99

So how is Atelier Rorona different from all of the other Atelier games in which a pretty young woman earnestly masters the item-crafting depths of alchemy? Well, it's in 3-D, whereas most of the earlier Atelier games were 2-D concoctions. Anyway, Rorona follows the well-meaning Rorolina Frixell, whose former boss left her with a struggling alchemy store and a lingering sense of self-doubt. When she's not crafting potions and potentially world-ending tinctures in her laboratory, Rorolina bustles around a fantasy-themed 18th-century city and picks up party members for trips through dungeons. The game looks fairly decent for a Gust title, though the game's by no means of the same budget as anything from Square and/or Enix. Then again, a lot of Atelier fans will be more interested in the storyline and the supporting cast, including Rorolina's nagging rich-girl friend, an androgynous lab assistant, a womanizing bard, and some unpleasant local leaders who aren't really on Rorolina's side. I'd hope that the whole thing leads to alchemy-aided municipal sabotage on our heroine's part, but she doesn't seem the type.

DEAD RISING 2
Developer: Blue Castle Castle
Publisher: Capcom
Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Players: 1-4 (online)
MSRP: $59.99

Dead Rising 2 isn't just a romp through a zombie-populated mockery of Las Vegas; it's a look at just what the game's Japanese producers think of American culture, to a point. Set a good five years after the original Dead Rising, the sequel finds the country almost accustomed to zombies, with anti-zombie vaccines and zombie-themed game shows springing up. One of those shows is where everyman Chuck Greene takes on all sorts of bizarre challenges in an attempt to keep his infected daughter from going all undead. Of course, that's only the start of things. The game-show zombies soon break free and wreak havoc all over Fortune City, and Chuck's in the thick of it. His experience is a mixture of free-running destruction and more coherent missions, and his playground is much larger than the original Dead Rising's shopping mall. Capcom's shilling the variety of weapons; some conventional, some consisting of moose heads. Online play includes two-player cooperation as well as the usual multiplayer free-for-alls during the game show. And for those who grumble about the lack of Dead Rising's Frank West, Capcom announced last week that he'll be back in a downloadable sequel called Case West.

FINAL FANTASY XIV
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform: PC
Players: 1-various (online, of course)
MSRP: $49.99 / $74.99 (Collector's Edition)

I still think Square made a mistake by making the first MMORPG Final Fantasy a conventionally numbered game. Final Fantasy XI could've just as easily been Final Fantasy Online, and then Final Fantasy XI would be Yasumi Matsuno's fascinating, part-finished beast of a game, and Final Fantasy XII would be the Skittles-hued letdown. But Square isn't having that, and so the next online-RPG in the series is really and truly Final Fantasy XIV. And it's not like it's Final Fantasy IX-2, either. The experience-points system of the previous online Final Fantasy is replaced by XIV's skill-building, which leans heavily on the player's choice of weapon. The typical medieval air of the games (and Japanese RPGs in general) is spiked with more technology, and the races are a mixture of humans, elves, and other familiar divisions given names like “Miqo'te.” The character classes see some interesting expansions, including trades like blacksmith joining the usual fighters and mages. It'll be interesting to see this go up against entrenched MMORPGs like World of Warcraft and…well, Final Fantasy XI, but Final Fantasy XIV is already doing well enough to upset players with its minor details.

FRONT MISSION EVOLVED
Developer: Double Helix Games
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC
Players: 1-4 (online)
MSRP: $59.99

Front Mission Evolved isn't the first time Square's battle-mech series has ventured into action games. That first time was 1996's Front Mission: Gun Hazard, which, like nearly all of Square's late-stage Super Famicom releases, never came to North America. But Front Mission Evolved is different. It was made by an American team and, dare I suggest it, aimed at the same segment of the American game public that enjoys Armored Core, Chromehounds, and perhaps even third-person action games. That's why Evolved gets two modes of play. A good share of the game is typical Front Mission: realistic, lumbering mechs, carrying everything from knuckle-bombs to missile launchers, tear through city streets and other environments. At certain points in the game, however, main character Dylan Ramsey leaves his cozy giant-robot cockpit and ventures around on-foot. While it doesn't have the free-roaming, mecha-hijacking chaos of similar games (like Metal Warriors), it's still more than the usual robot-combat game that forces you to live and die inside a steel soldier. I'll also give Square credit for making Evolved a real part of the franchise's ongoing story instead of a spin-off. Dylan's exposed to the politics and warfare of the USN and the OCU, and it's all set half a century after the fifth proper Front Mission.

QUANTUM THEORY
Developer: Tecmo
Publisher: Tecmo KOEI
Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Players: 1-4 (online)
MSRP: $59.99

There's one thing I like about Quantum Theory: it's a gory over-the-shoulder shooter set inside a giant living tower. One of several such structures destroying humanity, the tower is a mixture of ornate halls and grotesque, pulsating passageways where bone walls thrust out of the ground like molars. That's all because the tower doesn't much like SYD*, the game's quipping, hard-faced hero. Yet there are things less easy to like, such as the fact that Quantum Theory unthinkingly imitates the monstrous ghoul-soldiers and armored manly men set down by Gears or War and Warhammer 40,000. The only character not plucked from this well-mined vein is Filena, a silver-clad swordwoman who instead apparently emigrated from Final Fantasy. She's not directly controlled in the game's single-player mode, but SYD* can chivalrously pick her up and hurl her blade-baring form at enemies. Quantum Theory went down some strange development paths since it was first shown to the public, and a recent demo suggested little new to the genre, aside from the Filena-tossing. Then again, Tecmo's promising a robust multiplayer mode, one where Filena and other characters are playable.

SAMURAI WARRIORS 3
Developer: Omega Forcei
Publisher: Tecmo KOEI/Nintendo
Platform: Wii
Players: 1-4 (online)
MSRP: $49.99

I admit that I'm ignorant as to how the truly hardcore followers of Samurai Warriors and Dynasty Warriors go about buying their games. Do they trade in the old ones when the latest installments come out, like Madden fans? Or do they keep each and every iteration of the franchises, savoring the nuances that set Dynasty Warriors 3: Xtreme Legends apart from Dynasty Warriors 5? I suppose you could easily justify owning Samurai Warriors and Dynasty Warriors, as the former's about Japan's warring-states period and the latter is rooted in the Chinese novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms. And Samurai Warriors 3, the first game in the series to arrive on the Wii, does more than attempt to make amends for the poorly received Samurai Warriors: Katana. Seven new characters bring the roster up to 44 playable combatants, most of whom have individual story arcs. KOEI added a mode based on Nazo no Murasame Jo, a Zelda-like Famicom action game produced by Shigeru Miyamoto. There's also a theme song by Gackt, best known for his roles in Final Fantasy VII: Dirge of Cerberus and Bujingai: The Forsaken City. I'm sure he's done other things, but they probably didn't involve video games.


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