The X Button
A Dance With Dogma

by Todd Ciolek, Aug 10th 2011

Let's talk a little about Final Fantasy Type-0. It's fighting an uphill battle in two ways. It's on the PSP, which is rapidly fading in the North American and European markets. It's also the next big Final Fantasy after the catastrophe of Final Fantasy XIV and the contentious Final Fantasy XIII, so it's playing to a largely dissatisfied crowd. In fact, poor Type-0 was originally called Final Fantasy XIII Agito before Square decided to pull it out from Final Fantasy XIII's shadow.

Type-0's getting a chance to prove itself this week, when a demo arrives for Japanese players—and anyone else who can grab it from the PLAYSTATION Network or the game's official site. The demo offers four different missions and, with them, an appeal to series fans.

But what's the appeal of Final Fantasy Type-0 anyway? Well, it returns to the better points of previous Final Fantasies: namely, the fast-paced combat of Final Fantasy X-2 and Crisis Core, with the leader-based mechanics and summon spells of Final Fantasy XII. Characters' battle actions are tied to button presses, both in terms of magic spells and weapons that range from shotguns to broadswords. For better or worse, the game even revives a world map and random encounters, two things that Final Fantasy hasn't had in a long time.

The storyline also courts older games. Set it in a world that's practically a magically active 19th century, Type-0 finds four nations squabbling over the crystals each country holds. When Cid Aulstyne, the tyrannical ruler of one nation, starts conquering the others, a small cadre of students at the Rubrum Magical Academy make a rebellious pact with the crystals. This “Class Zero” includes at least thirteen playable characters, most of them with card-based names like “Queen” and “Nine.” Two other characters, Machina and Rem, also join the main set at some point. That's an awful lot of major characters for a series that usually sticks to six or seven of them.

Type-0 will not be the Final Fantasy to win over those who've never liked the series—the above screenshot of Deuce playing a flute mid-battle all but guarantees that. Yet it could easily win back a few fans who've grown tired of the series in recent years.

NEWS

GRASSHOPPER HAS BLOODY LOLLIPOP CHAINSAW AND VAGUE SINE MORA
Grasshopper Manufacture doesn't shy away from rampant violence and cinematic excess: not in No More Heroes, not in Shadows of the Damned, and certainly not in their latest, Lollipop Chainsaw. A blood-drenched action game slated for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, it features one Juliet Sterling. She's San Romero High School cheerleader and the descendent of once-great zombie hunters, so it falls to her to take up a chainsaw when her school is attacked by evil trees. No wait. It's attacked by zombies. Zombies.

Lollipop Chainsaw is clearly aimed at cosmopolitan audiences. Warner Bros. already has the game up for North American release, and the storyline and characters were co-created by Slither writer-director James Gunn. It's pretty much Buffy the Zombie Slayer doused in gore, but Grasshopper isn't a developer to write off. It's out next year, and interested souls can follow the game's website and Gunn's blog.

Fewer details are available about Grasshopper's other project, Sine Mora. It's a shooter with a strange time-travel mechanic, and the trailer plays that idea for all of the pomp it's worth. The game's a co-production by Grasshopper and the Hungarian studio Digital Reality, and it's out on XBox Live and PLAYSTATION Network later this year.

HEROES FANTASIA COMBINES ANIME SERIES, NOT NECESSARILY ONES YOU REMEMBER
Namco Bandai's Heroes Fantasia is an interesting bit of retrogression. In age where Japanese games hope to land cameos by modern otaku attractants like Haruhi Suzumiuya and Miku Hatsune, Heroes Fantasia stretches back over an entire two decades of anime, making some strange selections along the way. True, a lot of the characters in this RPG come from popular sources: Sgt. Frog, Read or Die, Slayers Revolution, and the recent Blood+ and Darker than Black. Others are less prominent: Sorcerous Stabber Orphen, Rune Soldier Louie, My-HiME, and s-CRY-ed, Yes, I'm sure that there's a s-CRY-ed fan who sends Adult Swim constant entreaties to re-run the show, but it's long since fallen from the anime industry spotlight.

No matter. Heroes Fantasia gathers characters from these disparate series on the world of Adoras, where they do battle in four-member parties. Each on-screen warrior is controlled by a different face button (similar to Valkyrie Profile's setup), and reserve characters can be brought into combat for combos and such. The game arrives on the PSP later this year, and it's unlikely to come here. As if the flagging PSP market wasn't enough, the licensing rights for Heroes Fantasia would keep it in Japan.

IN BRIEF: SUIKODEN TEAM NO MORE, ESPGALUDA II HD AHEAD, SOLATOROBO HAS MUSIC
This is old news, but it's old news that still stings: in a recent interview with 4gamer, Konami producer Shingo Mukaitoge mentioned that the team behind the Suikoden games broke up years ago. Anyone watching the Suikoden series could've inferred this, as Suikoden's last major game saw release in 2006, and the DS-based Suikoden Tierkreis was a dubious, alternate-world attempt at remaking the franchise. Mukaitoge and Tierkreis producer Osamu Komuta were optimistic about Suikoden and Konami's upcoming new RPG Frontier Gate (developed by tri-Ace), but the underlying message is clear: Suikoden's probably not coming back.

There was a small panic a while back about Cave, maker of many respected arcade shooters, giving up on coin-op and making mostly cell phone games. It turned out to be nothing, but Cave's still devoted to iPhone and iPad titles. Their latest undertaking is an HD version of Espgaluda II, perhaps their best shooter of the last few years, for the iPad. That's nice, but I'm still waiting for Cave to remember ESP ra.de., the 1998 ancestor of the galuda games.

Lastly, there's some good news for anyone who plans to buy XSeed's release of Solatorobo next month. Their first run of CyberConnect2's upbeat action-RPG will come with a 24-track CD of the game's music.

INTERVIEW: DRAGON'S DOGMA

Dragon's Dogma is an unexpected game from a company best known for the cartoon theatrics of Street Fighter and the cinematic hokum of Resident Evil. CAPCOM aimed to do something different with Dragon's Dogma, a party-based action game set in a deliberately down-to-earth fantasy realm.

The player's customized main character has a central quest: a massive red dragon ripped out your heart, inexplicably left you alive, and now goads you as you hunt him down. Yet there are many distractions along the way. Players can pick from armored fighters, multi-talented mages, or the swift, underarmored striders, mixing them to create six other classes. There's also a party of “pawn” characters to assist the player, with one primary sidekick and two less involved allies. CAPCOM's also made much of the player's ability to grab hold of enemies, whether it's climbing across a laser-spewing golem or catching a griffon in mid-flight.

Some details about Dragon's Dogma remain under wraps. CAPCOM hasn't clarified the game's multiplayer angle just yet. Fortunately, producer Hiroyuki Kobayashi shared some other details about the game, its inspiration, and whether or not it'll have a cameo by a more familiar Strider…

How did the idea for Dragon's Dogma come about?

Hiroyuki Kobayashi: The idea came from the director, Mr. Itsuno. When he was in junior high, he discovered fantasy as a genre: books, movies, what have you. He was interested in trying to make a game that could put you in a fantasy world where you could go on all these adventures and quests, but he never felt that the technology was there to make game that could be all that realistic. But now, given the capabilities of the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3, he felt that the time was right.

Was it influenced by tabletop RPGs or game RPGs?

I think the influence was more from tabletop RPGs. And of course books like The Lord of the Rings, and the game books we had where you have to turn the page to go on to the next quest. Even I enjoyed those.

How did you devise the grab mechanic in Dragon's Dogma? Was it influenced by Devil May Cry boss battles where you can jump on a monster to attack it? Was Shadow of the Colossus an influence?

Other games will always be an influence, but the true inspiration came from Itsuno wanting to create a realistic fantasy world. The grab mechanic was born from that idea. If you're fighting these creatures, you should be able to grab onto them and fight them as you want to fight them. Or you can work in tandem with other people in your party and fight them together. He felt that a lot of games don't give you the freedom to do that.

In a lot of games, you have a big monster and you can only attack the foot of that monster. Or if you use magic, you reach a certain number and press a button. He wanted to make it more realistic.

Is Dragon's Dogma more influenced by Western fantasy than the typical Japanese fantasy anime or RPG?

For us, the inspiration comes more from The Lord of the Rings, even the movies. What we're doing is more akin to that than what we've seen in games. So it's closer to a movie-and-book style of fantasy. In order to make this game, we've assembled a large library of books to get the look of it right. The designers gathered all of these art books—mainly Western fantasy.

Where did you get the idea for combining job classes?

We wanted many different classes, but of course you can't make unlimited classes. You have the fighter, strider, and mage classes, and we thought that you should combine them in different ways for different effects. We also thought that your class should evolve into something different. So we added six additional classes. And because each class has their own abilities, we wanted to make sure that you're not locked down into any one path. Depending on the class you choose, it'll affect the way you play the game, so I hope players try out all of the classes.

You previously worked on the Sengoku Basara series, which has both male and female fans. Are you shooting for a similar mix with Dragon's Dogma? Are you aiming more for the Devil May Cry player, or for people who like Dragon Age and Final Fantasy?

This game will tend to skew more to a male audience, but I also think it can be enjoyable for anyone who likes games and enjoys playing games. Because I worked on Devil May Cry, Dragon's Dogma has action elements, so if you liked Devil May Cry you'll want to check it out. But there are people who find action games too technical and difficult, and this game won't be so heavily focused. Because you have a party, you can formulate strategies. It's more of a thinking action game.

Most of your previous games are cinematic action-oriented and survival horror. How did you find it different making a fantasy-themed game with RPG elements?

If you look back on Devil May Cry 4, we introduced an experience system where more abilities become available to you. We wanted to expand on that and make it more robust in Dragon's Dogma. Of course, our main focus has always been the action, but you'll find some RPG elements here. It's hard to classify games nowadays, and I don't like to say that this game is one specific genre.

How difficult was it to integrate an entire party of customizable allies?

If you look at Devil May Cry and Resident Evil, they have very strong character designs. With this game, a lot of that is left to the player to decide. In that sense, it's a little easier to establish. But then there's the class system, which brings out the type of gameplay. With the party system we have in this game, they're well matched to the gameplay.

How would you compare Dragon's Dogma to a multiplayer online fantasy game?

We're trying to take what's fun about those online games and bring it down to a single-player experience.

What sort of downloadable quests and other expansions will be available for Dragon's Dogma?

Unfortunately, I can't get into specifics, but we are looking at DLC for Dragon's Dogma.

Do you plan to put any references to any references to CAPCOM games in Dragon's Dogma, or is it too serious of a game for that? We won't see a strider that's like Strider Hiryu, will we?

I'll leave it to your imagination [laughs], but the staff were really focused on a realistic fantasy game. So I don't think they put many in-jokes in the game. But for the pawns in the game, you can change their looks however you like, and the staff have had fun creating certain characters.

Do you have a favorite monster in the game?

Tough question, but if I had to narrow it down to one, but I'd go with the red dragon. He's symbolic of the whole game. His grandeur, his size…he's a perfect fit for this whole world.

Was Resident Evil your first game at CAPCOM? Did you make games before that?

Yes, it was my first game…fifteen years ago! [laughs] In fact, CAPCOM was my first real job.

Many of the games you've worked on in the Devil May Cry and Resident Evil series seem to be aimed as much at American audiences as Japanese ones. What are some of the challenges in that, compared to just making a game for Japan?

For me, there's no great divide between Japan and the overseas market. At the core, people just want to play something that's fun. For example, when we made Resident Evil, we wanted to make a survival horror game that anyone can enjoy. When we made Devil May Cry, we wanted everyone to think that Dante's a cool character. We want to make something that's fun, and we hope that it's something the world itself will find enjoyable.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

EL SHADDAI: ASCENSION OF THE METATRON
Developer: Ignition
Publisher: Ignition
Platform: PlayStation 3/Xbox 360
Players: 1
MSRP: $59.99

Not since Bible Adventures for the NES has a game been as intently Old Testament as El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron. Well, it's based on apocryphal Book of Enoch, but it has a familiar cast: players control the holy warrior Enoch on an antediluvian quest for fallen angels, and he runs across Michael, Uriel, Gabriel, Raphael, and, of course, Lucifel. This is, however, an action game by a director who worked on CAPCOM's Devil May Cry, so the whole thing's done up in brightly hued style, with Enoch traipsing through psychedelic staircases and side-scrolling neon mountains. Meanwhile, Lucifiel shows off his cell phones, 20th-century fashions, and the voice of Jason Isaacs.

Enoch's arsenal consists of three main weapons: the bladed Arch, the shielding Veil, and the rapid-firing Gale. These are all snatched from enemies, and certain foes are weak against certain weapons. Rock-paper-scissors and all that. If his armaments are limited, Enoch's at least capable of a variety of attacks, and the control (in the demo, anyway), is spot-on. Biblical butchery or not, one thing's for sure: no game out there looks quite like El Shaddai.

NO MORE HEROES: HEROES' PARADISE
Developer: Grasshopper/Feelplus
Publisher: Konami
Platform: PlayStation 3
Players: 1
MSRP: $39.99

Three years later, and I'm still not sure if I like No More Heroes. On the one hand, it has a nice sense of style, some inventive boss battles, and the habit of mocking the video game subculture it represents. On the other hand, it has annoying mandatory mini-game jobs and repetitive fights against drone thugs. Heroes' Paradise is another chance to decide. This enhanced version of the original No More Heroes still finds nerd-chic anithero Travis Touchdown killing his way to the top of an assassins' league, but it's a bit more approachable. Those irksome side-jobs are a little more accessible, and Heroes' Paradise adds five more of them. More bloodspray-heavy missions are also available, along with boss battles with five characters from No More Heroes 2: Alice Twilight, Nathan Copeland, Skelter Helter, Matt Helms, and Kimmy Howell. This PlayStation 3 version of Heroes' Paradise also works with the PlayStation m.o.v.e, offering the same sort of motion control that the game in its original Wii form.

Of course, one's experience with No More Heroes: Heroes' Paradise still depends on how much you accept the game's overall snarky tone. It's a hyperviolent mockery of American culture and Japan-bred nerdery, a world where characters named “Letz Shake” and “Bad Girl” are both wallowing in video-game nonsense and making fun of it. If that sort of cleverness annoys you, No More Heroes isn't your thing. But Heroes' Paradise is well worth a revisit if you're enamored with the original—or just not sure about it.


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