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The Flat Game Society

by Todd Ciolek, Jan 19th 2011

I recently learned something amazing: Disney made a movie based on the Guilty Gear games. No, really. I'm not kidding.

Even though the title of the movie was changed from Guilty Gear to Tangled, everything lines up. That blonde woman with the long, prehensile hair can only be Millia Rage, who shaped her tresses into various weapons throughout the Guilty Gear fighting games.

I assume this is Sol Badguy. Or perhaps Anji Mito. Yes, I know that this movie's characters don't give off the heavy-metal anime vibe that made Guilty Gear such a delight, but you have to expect some changes when video games go Hollywood.

I don't remember a horse in the Guilty Gear games. Maybe it's supposed to be that dog spirit Zappa summons. Oh well. I'm just glad that someone's pushing Guilty Gear now that Arc System Works has largely abandoned it to make BlazBlue.

And the movie's playing in theaters right now! Funny how Guilty Gear isn't mentioned on the poster or in the ads or in any reviews I can find for the movie—some culturally ignorant critics even seem to think it's based on the legend of Rapunzel. Anyway, I'll see Guilty Gear: The Movie (a.k.a. Tangled) as soon as possible and be back with a review next week.

NEWS

FINAL FANTASY XIII-2 ANNOUNCED, LIGHTNING FORGETS PANTS
Oh, Square Enix. How predictable you're getting. You made Final Fantasy X-2, and you're already making two (or is it just one?) side-games for the Final Fantasy XIII multiverse, so of course you'd make Final Fantasy XIII-2.

The trailer reveals very little: it's set (shockingly!) after the events of Final Fantasy XIII, it has Lightning wearing feathery Soul Calibur armor with suspicious openings, and it introduces a new character as a rival for our heroine. It's also coming to the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 before the end of the year in Japan, with North America and Europe getting it by spring 2012.

Final Fantasy XIII director Motomu Toriyama is in charge of the sequel, and he hasn't revealed too much about the story aside from it involving Lightning's rival. But just who is that rival? I know this awful joke is made every time a Final Fantasy rolls around, but I can't tell if it's a man or a woman. The trailer seems to depict Lightning crossing swords with a guy, but the figure in the game's logo looks like a woman.

While I think it's unfair that Final Fantasy XII never got a full-blown sequel (that puffball Revenant Wings and Grin's canceled Project Fortress aside), there's a lot about Final Fantasy XIII that could be improved. I have a few suggestions: don't stick us with two-character parties for hours on end, don't make us run through dull corridors instead of open areas, and don't give Lightning some dipshit love interest just because cliché demands it. She was a refreshingly independent, if initially stiff, heroine in Final Fantasy XIII, and I hope this sequel won't dismantle the things I actually liked about the original game.

FINAL FANTASY XIII AGITO RUNS SCREAMING FROM PARENT GAME
Speaking of Final Fantasy XIII spin-offs, there are changes afoot for Final Fantasy XIII Agito. Square Enix trademarked Final Fantasy Type-O a short while ago, and that's the new name for Agito. It's arriving on the PSP this summer.

The game still seems very much like a Final Fantasy, with a visual style that's almost closer to an industrialized Final Fantasy XII than the glittery futurism of Final Fantasy XIII. The battles look damn impressive for a small-screen RPG, and there's a multiplayer angle for those who want it. The storyline still follows students at a magical academy caught in a war against an invading nation, but Square's expanding the cast and the sturm-und-drang cutscenes. The game now has 30 voiced parts and fills two UMD discs. And that apparently won't be the end of this Final Fantasy sub-series; Square Enix also trademarked Types 1 through 3.

GODS EATER BURST COMING TO THE U.S.
It's a good time to like CAPCOM's Monster Hunter, because just about every publisher's making some imitation of it. Namco Bandai, for example, has the action-RPG showcase of God Eater. And D3 has it as well, as they're bringing the latest part of the series here as Gods Eater Burst for the PSP.

As with Monster Hunter, Gods Eater Burst is all about those brave, foolhardy men and women who set out to fight towering monsters, called “Aragami” in this game. Gods Eater Burst has all of the avatar-generating options you'd expect to find in a Monster Hunter, but Namco Bandai and developer Shift's creation goes further in the story department, with a single-player mode that features distinct characters. Of course, it doesn't detract from the multiplayer features, since four-member parties can gang up on creatures. There's also greater emphasis on firearms and explosives, which really makes a lot of sense when you're taking on targets like this Vajra thing.

D3 promises a “spring 2011” launch for Gods Eater Burst. Even if it doesn't shake Monster Hunter from its pedestal, I'm amused at the slight adjustment in title. God Eater is far too contentious, suggesting to the easily riled religious American that this game's all about slaying some Judeo-Christian deity in a real or theological sense. Gods Eater, on the other hand, implies that purely mythic beings from an ancient pantheon are being devoured, thus allaying any parental fears about violent atheist video games. Smart move, D3.

MARVEL VS. CAPCOM 3 ANNOUNCES YET MORE CHARACTERS
It's time yet again to pretend we're all surprised by the latest characters announced for Marvel vs. CAPCOM 3, even though we already saw a leaked roster for the game. And even though Akuma was a pretty obvious addition, being a staple of CAPCOM's Street Fighter series.

So Akuma has his typical moves: an aerial fireball, an electrified hurricane kick, and his Raging Demon move. The last of these is also known as “that one thing where you hit the buttons and tap forward really fast and then he goes across the screen and kills you instantly” when described by your excitable friend from middle school.

Marvel's Taskmaster is a somewhat obscure choice—I actually had to look up his backstory—but he makes perfect sense for a fighting game. A fairly down-to-earth supervillain, the ghoulishly clad Taskmaster imitates the moves of other characters, which, of course, spares CAPCOM from having to program unique ones.

We already know that the game's final boss is Galactus and that the last two playable characters will be Darkstalkers' Hsien-Ko and X-Men's Sentinel, but it'll be interesting to see just how the game pulls them off. Hsien-Ko's not seen nearly as often as Darkstalkers mainstays Morrigan and Felicia, and Sentinel was a top choice for serious Marvel vs. CAPCOM 2 players.

GAME JUNK CORNER: TACTICS OGRE AND DRAGON QUEST VI
The Dragon Quest series appears to be in Nintendo's hands in North America: they published the ninth installment on the DS last year, and they're publishing the DS remake of the sixth Dragon Quest next month. And they've hit on a pre-order bonus for all Dragon Quest fans: a stuffed slime.

It's not a particularly large slime, but it's still a free plush effigy of the Dragon Quest franchise's most popular character. So don't complain.

Meanwhile, the PSP remake of Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together is shipping in a special edition, complete with an art book, soundtrack CD, and an oversized box to hold it all.

Like it? Well, you can get it just as long as you a) live in Europe or b) import one from Europe. In North America, all you can get is a set of Tactics Ogre-themed tarot cards for reserving the game.

OPINION: THE SECOND DIMENSION

If you'll excuse me for a moment, I'm going to be a bitter old man. That's because I have a soft spot for the traditional two-dimensional looks of video games made with sprites and pixels and animation, just like most games were made twenty years ago. And it's an art form that I expect to see less and less in the next generation of game systems.

This happened before, of course. When the Nintendo 64 and the original PlayStation arrived in the mid-1990s, they brought a new affection for 3-D games. Companies favored polygons and three-dimensional movement, and the press lauded these developments as the path of the future, disparaging any traditionally 2-D games. Some young nerds, the author included, defended the nature of two-dimensional games, from hand-drawn fighters to the platformer Skullmonkeys, but there was no denying that the times, they were a-changin'. At least our chosen games aged well: early 3-D titles like Tōshinden and Tomb Raider are hideous now, while games like Darkstalkers 3 and Cyberbots (below) still look good. So nyeaaaah.

Fortunately, there was a haven for 2-D games: the handheld. Most gaames on consoles and the PC chose 3-D graphics and never looked back, but portable game systems couldn't really afford that extravagance. The Game Boy Advance ushered in a relative renaissance of 2-D games with its 2001 debut: it picked up where the Super NES left off, and it offered traditional games across its library. And a lot of that carried over to the Nintendo DS. Despite having decent 3-D capabilities, it still features all sorts of two-dimensional games made the way our hand-drawn patron deity intended.

Yet the DS is now retiring to make way for the Nintendo 3DS, which offers 3-D games in the more direct sense: they're autostereoscopic projections, projecting a 3-D illusion from the system itself. And let's face it: the flat drawings of a 2-D game aren't what everyone wants to see in 3-D. A few hand-drawn titles are slated for the 3DS, including a version of the vivid BlazBlue: Continuum Shift, but I can't help but think that we're witnessing the beginning of the end for large amounts of 2-D games.

So where does that leave the animated figures and side-scrolling gameplay of the 2-D game? Well, on phones and game networks. XBox Live and the PLAYSTATION Network have plenty of 2-D games, from deliberately simple throwbacks like Protect Me Knight to the detail of Hard Corps: Uprising. And then we have cell-phone games, which attract more 2-D developers each year. Cave, arguably the biggest developer in Japan's arcade shooter scene, pays a lot of attention to the iPhone, even going so far as to make exclusive games for it.

So 2-D games will live on through the companies who want to make nostalgic cash-ins, through the indie developers that turn cult-favorite anime into fighting games, and the people who want quick iPhone cash-ins. But will something be lost? Will companies still make games like Ghost Trick (above), with its deliberately flat looks and excellent animation, if the iPhone's the only place to make them? SNK, once a bastion of 2-D games, fell flat on its face when it redid The King of Fighters for its twelfth installment, and The King of Fighters XIII now has an uncertain future.

In fact, it's hard to find purely traditional 2-D games outside of handhelds, as even glitzy examples like Arc System Works' Hard Corps: Uprising (above) and BlazBlue use 3-D backgrounds. Yet 3-D art still hasn't yet replaced the animation of a well-done 2-D title. Street Fighter IV and Marvel vs. CAPCOM 3 impressively reproduce many of the expressions and detail of their hand-drawn forbears, all using intricate 3-D characters. But they can't match it in every way. Once Street Fighter IV arrived, fans started asking for a Darkstalkers game along the same lines. Yet the whole nature of Darkstalkers involves exaggerated, squash-and-stretch characters who change forms with cartoonish flair. And that's still something that 2-D art does well.

So there's a reason to value 2-D games, especially if you're a fan of hand-rendered animation or its modern digital constructs. There should always be a place for 2-D art, even in a world where everyone races toward the latest in game realism. Because flatter sometimes just looks better.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

DEAD SPACE 2
Developer: Visceral Games
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platform: Xbox 360/PlayStation 3
Players: 1-8
MSRP:$59.99

Deep-space horror games have a long and checkered history, stretching back before the days of System Shock and Space Hulk. Some of them turned out awful like Overblood or just bizarre like Enemy Zero, but the original Dead Space is among the successes. It told an eerie, claustrophobic tale aboard a ship full of shambling corpses. It also sharpened the concept of dismembering enemies, turning it into a necessary gameplay art instead of a gruesome bonus. Dead Space 2 knows what it has to do: up the ante. Just as Resident Evil expanded in its sequel, the second Dead Space exposes a whole city, called the Sprawl, to a deadly alien menace. Protagonist Issac Clarke (“Arthur C. Asmiov” was apparently too obvious a name) is at the center of it, suffering from mental imbalances and wearing a sleeker space helmet. Dead Space 2 also adds a multiplayer mode, which thoughtfully gives players the chance to control either armed astronauts or doughty, zombie-like Necromorphs. If that sounds like it was swiped from Left 4 Dead, at least one can't accuse Dead Space of stealing bad ideas.

LORD OF ARCANA
Developer: Access Games
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform: Sony PSP
Players: 1-4
MSRP:$39.99

Like the above-featured Gods Eater Burst, Lord of Arcana is an undisguised grab for the same success CAPCOM's found with the Monster Hunter series, though Square Enix and Access Games try to give their creation a style of its own. And by “style,” I mean “all the pomp and gloom of a death-metal music video.” Lord of Arcana is quite the show-off as multiplayer action-RPGs go, with blood spatters and gaudy special attacks. Monsters can be summoned mid-battle, and enemies can be killed with special finishing strikes, and “cinematic scenes” invite players to tap the buttons displayed on-screen, just like they've done since God of War and Resident Evil 4. There are, of course, different weapons to wield and accessories to slap on your initially nameless characters. If that isn't particularly novel, it's impressive that the game handles all of this Final Fantasy-ish overkill with four players in a party, and each of them can pull off flashy, monster-flaying moves. As for the monsters themselves, they're both typical beasties and classic Square monsters, reimagined by artists from Yoshitaka Amano to Todd McFarlane.

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