The X Button
To the Earth

by Todd Ciolek, Jun 29th 2011

You may have noticed a consistent complaint emerging from this column in the weeks after E3. Said complaint posits that Nintendo of America often ignores top-caliber Japanese Wii games, even when their European branch welcomes those same games with open arms and a path of palm fronds. Foremost among these neglected games are Xenoblade Chronicles, The Last Story, and Pandora's Tower: Until I Return to Your Side. They're all intriguing: Xenoblade for its world of giant alien corpses, The Last Story for its complex battle system, and Pandora's Tower for its mixture of grappling-chain combat and monster-eating. And all of them deserve North American releases.

I'm not the only person with this opinion. In fact, so many Wii owners share this sentiment that they've banded together to start Operation Rainfall. It involves pestering Nintendo of America about these games whenever and wherever possible: by posting on the company's Facebook page, by e-mailing them, and even by sending letters with little plastic swords (for Xenoblade) or beef jerky (for Pandora's Tower). Yes, someone suggests that. Perhaps the most serious step taken is on Amazon, where fans decided to get behind Xenoblade by pre-ordering a seemingly inert listing under its former English title, Monado: The Beginning of the World. And it briefly put the game at the top of Amazon's best-seller list.

Perhaps it's a doomed cause, but I'm glad to see fans trying to convince Nintendo of these games' merits. I remember all too well the dark times of the 1990s, when countless promising games stayed in Japan. There was no rampant Internet access through which a campaign like Operation Rainfall could be formed—there were only primitive online petitions where half of the names were “MrTatemyballs.” I don't want to return to the trends of that age and see every decent Wii import from Disaster: Day of Crisis to Earth Seeker (more on this later) skip these shores.

So I recommend that anyone interested in these three games take part in this Operation Rainfall thing, no matter how silly it seems or how much you may disdain the message boards that spawned it. It might actually change something, and it's already made Nintendo issue a small placating statement about “more updates to come soon.” That's a better result than all of those online petitions ever got.

NEWS

SOLATOROBO COMING FROM XSEED, SURPRISE SURPRISE
Last week, speculation ran rampant that Xseed would publish Solatorobo: Red the Hunter in North America, and I went along with it. Fortunately, XSEED Games officially confirmed it with a press release and an Amazon listing, so that gives me another opportunity to mention the game.

That's actually a placeholder cover, but I already like it better than the Japanese box art or the stiff European one. It nicely captures the game's mixture of robotic adventuring and anime-animal people, and it hints at the somber tone lying beneath Solatorobo's bright, happy world of floating islands and French-isms. XSEED plans to release the game this fall with the Japanese version's semi-French voice snippets intact, and a special edition isn't ruled out just yet. While XSEED has no Solatorobo site just yet, Nintendo of Europe has a site with art galleries and many details about the game.

NISA-IMAGEEPOCH DEAL CAN'T HELP THE PSP HERE
Imageepoch and NIS America struck a publishing deal late last year, presumably clearing the way for Imageepoch's PSP games to arrive in North America. Many months later, support for the system has withered in the U.S., and there's no sign of Imageepoch's PSP titles here. Siliconera went to the president of NISA to ask about this, and the news isn't good.

Well, it's more accurate to say that the news is vague with downcast implications. NISA President Haru Akenga apparently wants to localize Imageepoch's Black Rock Shooter game and other PSP titles, but he's also aware that the system is a parched and barren market in North America right now. This explains the absence of announcements about Black Rock Shooter or the recent RPG Tale of the Last Promise, two PSP titles that Imageepoch's promoted heavily in Japan.

However, Black Rock Shooter's plans for a Japanese launch continue undisturbed. An action-RPG set in a post-apocalyptic future, Black Rock Shooter is the latest piece of a toy/anime/music-video franchise centered on its eponymous heroine, who started off in a simple illustration by artist huke. For those cynical about Black Rock Shooter's chances in North America, the Japanese version arrives on August 25, and there's also a special edition with an art book, a soundtrack, and a Figma figure of White Rock Shooter. Yes, White Rock Shooter.

NIS America's honest assessment of the PSP market makes one wonder just what they'll do with the recently announced PSP version of Makai Kingdom, which hit the PlayStation 2 in 2005. The PSP port arrives in Japan this September.

MIGHTY SWITCH FORCE IN THE WORKS FOR 3DS
The Nintendo 3DS eShop now has a number of games up for download, though I still think the best of them is Shantae: Risky's Revenge, which is technically a DSIware title. Fortunately, there's another eShop offering on the way from Shantae developer WayForward. Mighty Switch Force is technically part of the same series as the puzzler Mighty Flip Champs and the side-scroller Mighty Milky Way, but it apparently draws a lot from old-school action games like Contra and Metroid. There's also an air of Gunstar Super Heroes in its character design.

Mighty Switch Force finds a robot-cop named Patricia Wagon in pursuit of five criminals known as the Hooligan Sisters. In giving chase, Wagon uses a motion-tracking compass to locate perps and a Switch power to move objects in 3-D. And she also shoots a lot of things until they explode. Good for her. This isn't Wayforward's only eShop endeavor, as the company's also interested in bringing out a downloadable version of their original Shantae action-platformer. Published by CAPCOM on the Game Boy Color back in 2002, Shantae now commands some pretty high numbers on eBay.

AND NOW FOR SOME PLUGS
This month sees the return of Insert Credit, which many of you may remember as the source of fairly long articles that compared Metal Gear Solid 2 to Haruki Murakami novels. Aside from that New Games Journalism stuff, Insert Credit also ran many news stories that were off the beaten path, and the new incarnation of the site keeps up that tradition with a photo of Anthrax playing Ninja Gaiden II.

I should also mention another frequent destination of mine: Warning! A Huge Podcast. I usually have no patience for podcasts, but WAHP pushes all the right buttons for me. It finds former GameFan and Play editors Casey “Takuhi” Loe, Nick “Rox” Des Barres, and Eric “Shidoshi” Patterson going on and on about Japan's beleaguered game industry. They often bring up lesser-known games and interesting old tidbits that I've never heard before, and it's all right up this column's alley.

IMPORT ROUNDUP: JUNE

EARTH SEEKER
Developer: Craft & Meister
Publisher: Kadokawa Games/Enterbrain
Platform: Wii
Players: 1-2

It's difficult to pigeonhole Earth Seeker, at least as far as Japanese RPGs go. Its introduction shows a starship fleeing a doomed earth only to crash on an alien world. With nearly all of its passengers dead, the ship's computer tries to recreate human civilization on this strange new planet. Sadly, the alien environment and some rogue AI patterns generate all sorts of monsters. It's a premise reminiscent of Xenogears (and Vay, and a good portion of science fiction novels), but it's also territory seldom explored by RPGs. I'll give it that much.

Earth Seeker has three playable characters, all humanoid creations of the starship's computer, and they get help from the planet's original inhabitants, capering little creatures called Guardians. These imps assist in battle, and they're capable of dousing the enemy in giant fireballs if bribed with alcohol. They and their semi-human leaders find plenty of combat, traversing a world filled with grotesque beasts and familiar pieces of Earth art and architecture, all spawned by a misguided AI. Battles use real-time mechanics, but you're also able to pause everything for careful strategy, not unlike Wait Mode in Final Fantasy XII (which I'm going to assume everyone played). If the combat's not particularly novel, Earth Seeker's world-building still impresses, offering wide vistas and perplexing remnants of human culture. It's not every RPG that has you fighting a phallic, railgun-bodied bugbeast next to the Arc de Triomphe.

Import Barrier:
Plenty of text remains in Japanese, and Wii games have a pesky regional lockout to circumvent, after all.

Chances of a Domestic Release: Not quite as bad as they might seem. While Earth Seeker did poorly upon its Japanese release, it's possible that Kadokawa will shop the game to North American publishers, as they're apparently doing with Rodea the Sky Soldier. And since Earth Seeker wasn't a first-party Nintendo release, Nintendo's American branch likely won't hide it from other companies.

PHANTOM BREAKER
Developer: 5pb.
Publisher: 5pb.
Platform: Xbox 360
Players: 1-2

Phantom Breaker belongs to the recent cadre of 2-D fighters with strong anime roots: Sega and FK Digital's Chaos Code, 07th Expansion's Golden Fantasia X, and RCI's little-lauded Koihime Musō. How will Phantom Breaker set itself apart from all of those other fighters with mostly-female rosters? Well…it has two different types of attack. Before each match, players can choose from light or heavy types: a light version of a character will move fast, dodge attacks, and string lots of hits together. The heavy option makes a character move slower, block attacks, and pack more damage into individual blows. There's also a counterbalance system that lets you cancel an opponent's assault as long as your timing's good.

Naturally, 5pb. shan't rely on gameplay alone to sell Phantom Breaker. The characters are the work of popular dating simula—sorry, visual novel artist Hiro Suzuhira, and they manage to touch on every major stereotype demanded by today's bashful young anime fan. You'll find a sword-wielding gothic schoolgirl named Mikoto, a polearm-wielding priestess named Waka, a hammer-wielding maid named Itsuki, and a further complement of ninja, time-travelers, cosplayers, magical girls, and even a male character or two. Hedging its bet even further, 5pb. threw in two bonus characters from popular semicolon-intensive visual novels: Chaos;HEAd Noah's Rimi and Steins;Gate's Chris/Kurisu. Considering how popular Steins;Gate appears to be right now in Japan, Chris might be Phantom Breaker's biggest selling point. And that says plenty about the game right there.

Import Barrier:
Fighting games may be approachable for importers, but Phantom Breaker's still region-locked.

Chances of a Domestic Release: Very slight, though there's always the chance someone will grab the Japanese version as a download-only release.

YAKUZA OF THE END
Developer: Sega
Publisher: Sega
Platform: PlayStation 3
Players: 1-4

Sega's Yakuza series, known as Ryu Ga Gotoku in Japan, has a tempestuous relationship with realism. The games are a good deal more down-to-earth than other contemporary criminal-action games, but then Yakuza 2 was perfectly willing to throw in some fights with diaper-wearing, adult-baby thugs. A zombie outbreak is almost mild by comparison, and that's what happens in Yakuza Of the End.

With his neighborhood of Kamurocho overrun by undead, Yakuza series hero Kazuma Kiryu beats back the zombie menace with the help of fellow mobsters Goro Majima, Shun Akiyama, and Ryuji Godai. The quartet is first equipped with standard firearms, except for Ryuji, who gets a minigun to replace one hand. Their arsenal expands to rival that of Dead Rising, as Kazuma's crew can use everything from chainsaws to a squad of tanks, bulldozers, and Shenmue-grade forklifts. The zombies themselves range in size from street-crawlers to massive armored trolls and reptilian horrors. Unhindered by all of this, Kazuma and his cronies still find time for fishing, darts, ping pong, shooting galleries, local cuisine, and hostess clubs.

Import Barrier:
Zombie combat is easy to grasp without knowing Japanese. The finer points of Yakuzasocial interaction are not. But hey, PlayStation 3 games are region-free.

Chances of a Domestic Release: Fairly good, though Sega hasn't set a date.

Also Out This Month: Steins;Gate, the visual novel turned recent anime series, conquers another system with a PSP port. Gundam Memories: Memories of Battle for the PSP is another action-shooter in the Gundam Battle series, and it introduces swappable three-mecha teams to its combat. It won't come to North America. Atelier Meruru, on the other hand, probably will: it's a PlayStation 3 RPG with item-crafting and cute widdle heroines, so it would fit right into NIS America's catalog.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASE

EARTH DEFENSE FORCE: INSECT ARMAGEDDON
Developer: Vicious Cycle Software
Publisher: D3
Platform: PlayStation 3/Xbox 360
Players: 1-6
MSRP: $39.99

The Earth Defense Force series is proof that B-games can be much like B-movies: cheesy, clumsy, and immensely fun with the proper mindset. It all started as part of the Simple 2000 Series, a line of Japanese budget games that produced little else of value. But Earth Defense Force won a following with its brand of humble futuristic soldiers who dodge throngs of city-stomping aliens. It's reached the point of tackling specific themes of the monster-invasion motif, as we see in Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon.

D3 caused a minor stir by handing Insect Armageddon not to series developer Sandlot, but to North Carolina's Vicious Cycle Software. It's not yet decided if Vicious Cycle, best known for Matt Hazard and Dead Head Fred, has captured the finer points of Earth Defense Force's gameplay, but the scope of things is intact. Giant bugs, from conventional oversized wasps to Starship Troopers monstrosities, rampage through cities, and the player uses four different types of combat armor to resist this menace. There's a standard Trooper outfit from the last Earth Defense Force game, plus jetpack armor, high-impact armor, and a suit that can set remote drones and explosives. Also impressive is the game's array of 300 weapons, plus a multiplayer mode that supports up to six players. Perhaps Earth Defense Force hasn't yet escaped its B-game role, but I think we like it better that way, don't we?


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