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Good Comebacks

by Todd Ciolek, Sep 29th 2010

Ah, Mister Capcom. Once again, you're announcing two games the day after this column goes up. But this time, sir, the advantage is mine. Why, you ask? Because I'm not waiting for you. I'm going to call it now: one of those games will be Mega Man Legends 3. You see, Keiji Inafune mentioned during an interview at Comic-Con that people ask for a new Legends a lot. At a panel later that same day, he mentioned that another Mega Man game was coming and that it was something fans frequently request. Coincidence? Very possible, but I'm not sitting back and watching this time.

And the second game announced tomorrow? It'll be Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers 3. Just watch.

NEWS

KONAMI'S NEVERDEAD HAS ZOMBIES, STARS ONE
If you happened upon a test play of Neverdead for the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3, you'd see things done far too many times already. You'd see an unremarkably dressed man dual-wielding pistols as he skulks through fire-ravaged city streets, with demons and other nasties harrying him every step of the way.

Konami's angle is that this action hero is, in fact, dead. Not dead in the stone-faced Chakan-the-Forever-Man way, but dead in the cartoonish manner where his hacked-off head asks those nearby if they've seen his right arm, and you, the player, are commanded to chuckle at this. Fortunately, this idea extends into the actual gameplay, to the point where our wisecracking corpse of a hero has to reassemble his body parts in order to avoid dying for good, presumably by the enemies throwing his head in a river or something.

Neverdead brings together some Konami designers, including Metal Gear Ac!d's Shinta Nojiri, and the British developer Rebellion. Many remember Rebellion for making Alien vs. Predator, one of the few notable Atari Jaguar releases. They've created other games, but not much in the way of original titles. Neverdead is a departure for them and for Konami, which has made only minor concessions to the zombie wave so far.

DISSIDIA 012 ADDS NEW OUTFITS, SO DOES NEW PARASITE EVE
Some people at Square Enix must be fond of Lightning, or perhaps they just feel bad about saddling her with annoying party members and awful story pacing in Final Fantasy XIII. She's appearing in the new Dissidia 012, which everyone is now calling Dissida duodecim: Final Fantasy, and she's also in The 3rd Birthday, which everyone should be calling Parasite Eve 3.

Technically, it's not really Lightning in The 3rd Birthday. It's just a Lightning outfit that heroine Aya Brea can wear while she shoots down horrifically mutated creatures, drives tanks, and possesses the bodies of nearby humans. The costume does change Aya's voice to Lightning's, though, and it's only the first of several getups that transform Aya into other Square Enix characters. Perhaps a set of Judge Drace armor is too much to ask, but we'll see just what other bonuses can be found when The 3rd Birthday arrives late this year. Square Enix also revealed that Aya's sister Eve is in the game, and that's not terribly surprising.

As for Dissidia 012, the second Final Fantasy fighter on the PSP, the only confirmed additions are Lightning, Final Fantasy VII's Tifa Lockhart, and Final Fantasy IV's Kain Highwind. Lightning gets an Aya costume as a downloadable extra, and it seems that the rest of the cast will have similar sartorial changes. Kain, for example, changes to an alternate suit of armor; in addition to moping around as the dragoon he was in Final Fantasy IV, he switches to the Holy Dragoon seen in Final Fantasy IV: The After Years. A trailer also shows him demonstrating the game's new sidekick feature, in which sub-characters can jump into battle to assist the player's chosen fighter.

Dissidia 012 director Mitsunori Takahashi also clarified his selection methods for the game, which he wants to feature well-liked characters who have distinct combat techniques. This would go against the rumor that Final Fantasy XII's Vaan will be in the game, as he was roundly (and perhaps unfairly) derided, while his methods of attack were up to the player to decide. At any rate, I just hope there's someone repping Final Fantasy XII's good guys when Dissidia 012 arrives next year.

IREM STILL ALIVE, DISASTER REPORT 4 STILL NOT COMING HERE
You know what game company I like? Irem. Sure, they don't know what to do with their classic shooter series R-Type, and they'll never make another awesome, gravity-controlling shooter like Metal Storm, but they've survived Japan's increasingly beleaguered game industry without giving in to meretricious otaku pandering. And they do great April Fool's jokes, even going so far as to introduce their own game console.

One of Irem's few currently active series is Disaster Report, in which players control decidedly normal men and women facing horrific natural calamities and the social collapse that follows. The latest is the PlayStation 3's Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories, in which players guide a customized, fresh-faced hero or heroine whose first shot at a post-college job is undone when the entire city is ravaged by an earthquake. Players meet numerous survivors to rescue as they dodge falling buildings and find a way out of the wrecked metropolis. It's an intriguingly down-to-earth idea, and Irem hasn't yet spoiled it by throwing in widespread zombie outbreaks or alien invasions.

In fact, the only thing really holding back previous Disaster Reports was a case of low production values. The controls could get touchy, the characters often looked primitive, and the localizations showed little effort (especially when the third game, released here as Raw Danger, inadvertently made its cast more hideous and blond). The fourth Disaster Report is noticeably more professional in appearance, and it uses the PlayStation Move as well as 3-D displays. Irem hasn't announced a North American version, and anyone who buys the import this winter should look for the Japanese title, Zetta Zetsumei Toshi 4.

In other Irem news, R-Type Tactics II: Operation Bitter Chocolate was approved for a domestic PSP release back in May, and yet no U.S. company's come forward to claim it. The second R-Type game to replace shooting with hexagon-based strategy (but no actual chocolate), Tactics II came out in Japan last year. Time's a-wastin'.

As for Irem's other major project, Steambot Chronicles 2 is still in development. Announced in 2006, it's creeping up on Final Fantasy XII for the record of Japan's longest in-the-works game. Of course, that record may well be shattered by Duke Nukem Forever .

IMPORT ROUNDUP: SEPTEMBER

YAKUZA NEW CHAPTER: BLACK PANTHER
Developer: From Software
Publisher: Bandai
Platform: Sony PSP
Players: 1

Picking fights is a key part of the Yakuza games, though it's usually mixed with underworld drama, visits to hostess clubs, and saving orphanages from mean municipal developers. Yet Black Panther tips things heavily toward gangster-run fighting circles. Its alleged hero, unruly youngster Tatsuya Ukyo, is spurred toward a life in the ring by a street fight, and he soon develops a combat style, a following, and associations with the unsavory types who run underground martial-arts circuits. He's still a Yakuza lead, though, and so he finds time for roaming downtown streets and dating club girls who totally aren't just after his money. As a PSP title, Black Panther pulls off a convincing version of a crime-run Japanese city, though most of the story scenes are conveyed through cheaper manga-like illustrations. And the Japanese title of this one is Kurohyou Ryu ga Gotoku Shinshou, but calling it Yakuza New Chapter makes one more hopeful for a U.S. release.
Import Barrier: Fighting is straightforward. Working through conversations with Tatsuya's dates isn't.
Chances of a Domestic Release: Not too bad, assuming that you all bought Yakuza 3.

LAST WINDOW: THE SECRET OF CAPE WEST
Developer: Cing
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Nintendo DS
Players: 1

Nintendo of America is baffling at times. I could understand if the company only localized popular and profitable games for North America, but Nintendo takes strange chances and leaves better games by the wayside. For example, Nintendo brought America a Glory of Heracles RPG that no one really wanted, but they won't release Another Code: R or a slightly censored version of Mother 3. Last Window is another piece of that mystery. It's a sequel to Hotel Dusk, a moody detective tale that Nintendo translated for the DS years ago, and yet it's not coming here yet. It's just out in Japan and Europe, so that means there's an English version of everything. A year after the 1979 case of Hotel Dusk, Kyle Hyde is no longer a cop. He's an unemployed sad-sack investigating his father's long-unsolved murder and its connection to a doomed apartment building. Last Window: The Secret of Cape West approaches its noir-styled story much like the first game: the DS is held like a book, the stylus controls Hyde's investigations, and the game burns through its plot one chapter at a time. Games driven largely by story are rarer than they should be, and perhaps that's why Nintendo hasn't greenlit this one in the U.S.
Import Barrier: The European version (pictured above) is fully translated, which would make it pretty easy for Nintendo to release a North American one.
Chances of a Domestic Release: Still viable, even if Nintendo of America hasn't said anything.

ONE PIECE GIGANT BATTLE
Developer: Bandai
Publisher: Bandai
Platform: Nintendo DS
Players: 1-4

Poor One Piece, victim of this cruel anime recession. Sure, FUNimation's still releasing the anime series and VIZ is hurling out the manga, but One Piece is no longer big enough to drag its video games to these shores—or to get new games made just for America, which was the case with One Piece: Grand Adventure. Staking out the familiar territory of a multi-level fighting game, Gigant Battle features large, side-scrolling stages that present all sorts of opportunities to deploy attacks right from the pages of Eiichiro Oda's manga. Twenty characters are directly playable, and over 50 can be called on for supportive strikes in the heat of battle (Oda himself and his childhood creation Pandaman are apparently among these sidekicks). The game's versus modes invite four-player matches over WiFi, and Gigant Battle even connects with the ongoing line of One Piece card games in Japan.
Import Barrier: If you follow One Piece, you'll understand most of this. If you don't follow One Piece, you won't even want this.
Chances of a Domestic Release: Dim, but the DS market may yet have room for it over here.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

CASTLEVANIA: LORDS OF SHADOW
Developer: Konami/MercurySteam
Publisher: Konami
Platform: PlayStation 3/Xbox 360
Players: 1
MSRP: $59.99

Every few years, Konami falls in with a dangerous crowd and decides to make a new 3-D Castlevania game. Sometimes the results aren't bad (Curse of Darkness) and sometimes they are (Judgment), but they never really capture the same aura as the two-dimensional Castlevania games. I don't think Lords of Shadow is even trying for that. It wants to be a new kind of Castlevania, an ambitious, bloody ride with Western appeal, Patrick Stewart's narration, and the bizarre touch of producer Hideo Kojima. Lords of Shadow also doesn't bother with previous Castlevania continuities. It relaunches the whole mythos with a new story bearing familiar names. The Belmont hero this time around is Gabriel, a warrior driven to seek a legendary mask to resurrect his lost-in-limbo wife. Beyond Stewart, the voice cast has Robert Carlyle, Jason Isaacs, and, unless the IMDB is lying to me, Sally Knyvette of Blake's 7 fame. The combat includes standard-sized Castlevania horrors like werewolves and slinky vampire women, but Lords of Shadow also throws in crazier stuff, including shambling horrors and a giant stone creature straight from Shadow of the Colossus. The game actually looks fairly impressive in a God of War way, so it's sure to inspire plenty of carping about how it's not really Castlevania. Maybe it'll be better.

ENSLAVED: ODYSSEY TO THE WEST
Developer: Ninja Theory
Publisher: Namco
Platform: PlayStation 3/Xbox 360
Players: 1
MSRP: $59.99

Enslaved is a curious little Frankenstein's creation. It's Ninja Theory's version of the Chinese classic Journey to the West, and that version is set in a half-destroyed world that's one part Fallout and two parts Final Fantasy XIII. And their version of Son Goku is a beefy, threatening hulk with a Dragon Ball Z hairstyle and a headdress that links him to a woman named Trip. The two of them journey across robot-strewn wastelands and the hi-tech ruins of cities, as Monkey (yes, that's his name) unleashes attacks with his fists and telescoping laser pole (yes, that's his weapon). The play mechanics resemble Heavenly Sword, Ninja Theory's last paean to Eastern myth: combat is hectic and flashy, and scenes of massive, awe-inspiring disaster are played out through the main character's easily directed leaps and grabs. It may end up as limited as Heavenly Sword, but Enslaved still has a cinematic punch from its opening scenes of Monkey escaping an armored plane that disintegrates around him. That probably wasn't anywhere in the original legend, but then, video games seldom stick to the books.

FINAL FANTASY: FOUR HEROES OF LIGHT
Developer: Matrix Software
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform: DS
Players: 1-4
MSRP: $34.99

Welcome to this year's old-school Final Fantasy update. Now, this isn't a remake of any specific Final Fantasy, but it's very much in the style of the first three Final Fantasy games, with their Famicom roots and simple combat and barren storylines. None of those overcomplicated storylines full of nonsense about Pulse l'Cie and forbidden Machina, no sir. There's just the tale of a boy who sets out to save a princess with the help of Mysterious Boy, Proper Girl, and Upbeat Girl. All right, their names are Brandt, Jusqua, Yunita, and Aire. But the important thing is that you can put them into dozens of different jobs, including scribes, dancers, monks, musicians, wayfarers, ninja, and party hosts. Four Heroes of Light looks at lot like Matrix's DS-based revamps of Final Fantasy III and IV, though with a slightly softer, cuter style about it. Oh, and the characters were designed by Final Fantasy XII's Akihiko Yoshida, who's probably seething at not being able to draw defined buttocks on all of the characters. That's his motif.

SHANTAE: RISKY'S REVENGE
Developer: WayForward Technologies
Publisher: WayForward Technologies
Platform: DSiware
Players: 1
MSRP: $12

The original Shantae was destined for a cult following: a late-release Game Boy Color action-platformer with non-linear design, various special powers, and an adorably animated half-genie heroine. Cult followings don't necessarily get games made, though, and so Shantae's sequel was in limbo for years, with failed attempts at bringing it to the Game Boy Advance, GameCube, DS, and Wii. Well, Shantae: Risky's Revenge finally found a home through DSIware, and it's out next week. A side-scroller at a glance, the game grants Shantae herself all sorts of abilities. She whips her hair and invokes magic spells! She explores multi-plane levels brimming with detail! She dances to transform into a monkey, an elephant, a mermaid, and Lord knows what else! Risky's Revenge looks on level with a particularly pretty Game Boy Advance title, and it brings back all of the original's characters, including the pirate queen Risky Boots (she of the subtitle) and zombie girl Rottytops. I've always wondered if that name is some filthy joke I'm just not getting. Originally planned as a three-part release, Risky's Revenge is instead available all in one lump. It's pricier than the usual DSIware offering, but I can't see anything else that justifies that price more than Shantae's return.


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