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Chant Rant

by Todd Ciolek, Aug 24th 2011

Last week saw what may be the most interesting release of this summer: the European version of Xenoblade Chronicles. It's a promising exploration-driven RPG from Monolith Soft, but that's not why this release stands out. No, it stands out because Nintendo won't publish the game in North America, despite fans petitioning them with letters and little plastic swords.

I don't have a copy yet, as I'm waiting to see if my favorite importer, NCSX, will carry it. The reviews so far have been shockingly positive. Many modern Japanese RPG get cautious praise, but Xenoblade's earned a few perfect scores, and even Edge rated it highly. And the North American fans who've imported the game are all rather brazen about running it on hacked Wiis or using other means that certainly wouldn't earn the Nintendo Seal of Quality.

So I'd like to see what Nintendo will do in response to all of this. Probably nothing, but there's always hope.

NEWS

GRASSHOPPER'S BLACK KNIGHT SWORD PITS EVIL AGAINST EVIL
Grasshopper Manufacture isn't slowing down. Their current round of games in development includes the indulgently cheeseball horror-action title Lollipop Chainsaw and the shooter Sine Mora. To these the developer adds Black Knight Sword, a side-scroller in the works at Grasshopper and the Hungarian outfit Digital Reality. It's the same partnership that resulted in Sine Mora, and Black Knight Sword has a similar 2-D look.

Not that Black Knight Sword is lazy in its appearance. The game actually imitates a puppet show, with cutout backgrounds and jointed characters resembling those old puppet/claymation specials that were supposedly for children even though they were creepy as hell. Black Knight Sword has that ground covered by reversing a fantasy cliché: the main character is a knight in skeletal dark armor, and he seeks to destroy an evil, white-clad princess instead of rescuing her. The game's due out next year on XBox Live Arcade and the PLAYSTATION Network.

NIGHTMARES A-RISIN' IN SEGA'S NEWEST KINECT GAME
Sega's Rise of Nightmares aims to fill a horror-game niche on the Kinect, where the most frightening things right now are all in Kinect Fun Labs. Rise of Nightmaresis far more direct, as it has players in the role of an American tourist trying to save his wife from a deranged scientist and, we presume, viewpoints that aren't Ameri-centric.

If the premise recalls Hostel or Saw, Rise of Nightmares ably evokes Silent Hill and House of the Dead in its first-person gameplay. Zombies of all stripes, including deranged chefs and nurses, swarm at the player, and the weapons available are of the down-and-dirty variety. Your arsenal includes hatchets, hedge shears, chainsaws, acid pumps, and the delightfully named meat mincer. Rise of Nightmares arrives next month.

IN BRIEF: WII REMODELED, VIRTUA FIGHTER RIDES AGAIN
As Nintendo's biggest console success since the early 1990s, the Wii has apparently earned the same honor given to the NES and Super NES: a remodeling. Nintendo announced a new version of the Wii for the European market. Bundled with Wii Party and Wii Sports, the revamped Wii looks similar to the original, but it's no longer compatible with GameCube games and controllers. This new Wii arrives in Europe this October, but Nintendo reportedly has no plans to bring it to America.

Sega's Virtua Fighter series was never half as successful in North America as it was in Japan, a fact lamented by the franchise's fans. Sega's giving the world another chance by bringing Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown to the PLAYSTATION Network and XBox Live Arcade. The latest update for Virtual Fighter 5, Final Showdown offers new walled-in levels, along with new moves to make use of them. It also features every character from 2008's Virtual Fighter 5 R revamp, including pale pretty-boy Jean Kujo. Final Showdown's due out in North America and Europe next summer.

REVIEW: CHANTELISE

Developer: EasyGameStation
Publisher: Carpe Fulgur
Platform: PC (Steam)
Players: 1
MSRP: $9.99

Hundreds of games filter out from Japan's independent developers each year, and most of them slide right through the industry's digestive system. EasyGameStation's Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale stuck around, perhaps because it had much more to offer than the usual dating sim or 2-D shooter banking on anime heroines. Recettear was an inventive hybrid of dungeon-plodding RPG and item shop simulation, and first-time localizing company Carpe Fulgur brought out an English version last year to cult success. They've returned with Chantelise: A Tale of Two Sisters, an earlier effort by the same team. It's not quite as innovative, but it's just as appealing in some ways.

The two sisters of Chantelise's subtitle are a human and a fairy, though the duo operates on a different dynamic than Recettear's teacher-and-student. Ignoring advice from her now-absent mother, the headstrong Chante ventures out in the woods one inauspicious night, and a witch transforms her into a fairy. She and her younger, less rash sister Elise set out to find the witch again and get back Chante's human form. The still-human Elise gets the tougher end of the bargain as she hacks through monsters and explores dungeons, with the seemingly invincible Chante providing magical spells and threatening to kick people in the shins.

Chante and Elise's trek is arranged as a 3-D action game, though the characters are flat sprites animated from various angles. With her fairy-fied sister hovering over her shoulder, Elise jumps, sidesteps, and slashes through monsters, picking up the items and coinage left behind. It's a fairly typical setup for an action-RPG, though the dungeon design carries it in a few interesting directions. Other ideas lurk in the game's lone village, where a macho priest trades hints for the player's hit points.

Most inventive is the game's magic system. Chante can only cast spells if she has gemstones, so Elise must pluck them off the ground when they burst out of enemies. Each gem launches a different attack, and using two of the same color at once creates more interesting effects. It gives battle a certain rhythm, as Elise scours for gems and puts them in the right order for Chante's most useful spells.

Even with the look of a more open action game, Chantelise has the spirit of a dungeon-crawler. The stages are challenging, and there's only one hub village to serve as a staging ground. In fact, Chantelise ignores some traditional rules. You see, Elise doesn't gain levels and experience the usual way. She's only able to raise her attack and defense ratings by buying new armor, weapons, and energy drinks. This makes her forays into dungeons a bit more risky, as there's no level-up to save you in the middle of a monster-filled labyrinth.

Indeed, Chantelise forgives and punishes in strange ways. A game-over screen doesn't really hurt you that much: your stats remain intact, and any dungeon levels you've unlocked will stay unlocked. Yet there aren't any healing items for Elise to carry early on, and the walnut bread slices and chicken legs she finds in the dungeons are immediately consumed. It leaves her quite vulnerable in the game's initial stages, and it's not amended until Chante gets healing abilities.

Tough as it can be, there's fun game inChantelise. The level progression's compelling despite the early setbacks, and the variety of magic spells makes up for Elise's repetitive, easy attacks. The game's viewpoint is less well-behaved. Without an analog stick, you're forced to use controller buttons to move the camera, and it's annoyingly slow when there are threats all about. It helps that the game's reasonably long, and crazed completists can hunt for a secret treasure in every sub-stage of Chantelise.

Chantelise suffers a bit in comparison to Recettear. For one thing, it lacks Recettear's item-shop side, and a reliance on dungeon-stomping alone leaves Chantelise the less intriguing of the two games. Also absent is a large lineup of playable characters, and restricting the story to Chante, Elise, and a few supporters takes a noticeable toll on an already standard plot. Fortunately, Chante props up most of it with her bratty, forceful ways, while Elise struggles to grow a personality. The game's also technically solid in its appearance, and the soundtrack's only annoying for those players who linger in one area too long. Carpe Fulgur's translation is just as sharp and amusing as it was in Recettear, even if there aren't quite as many opportunities for them to cut loose. As in Recettear, Chantelise is rendered with art that's squarely in the hyper-cute modern anime camp, though it never goes anywhere creepy.

Chantelise may disappoint those who've already been through Recettear, and it's a bit too hard in its early stages. Yet it's an impressive little game in its own right, with enough complex diversions to sate any dungeon-hack fan. And when all's tallied up, it's hard to dismiss a game so earnest and likable.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

ELEVATOR ACTION DELUXE
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform: PLAYSTATION Network/XBox Live Arcade
Players: 1-4
MSRP: $9.99

Of all the old Taito arcade games to revive, Elevator Action ranks well below such company classics as Bubble Bobble and Bust-A-Move. Yet some remember the original arcade game from the '80s, and a devoted bunch know of the rather impressive 1994 sequel, Elevator Action Returns. And for those two camps, there's Elevator Action Deluxe. The game sticks to a simple look, resembling the old arcade game rendered with 3-D design and Zuntata music, but it also imitates the gameplay in its large buildings. Players still control a secret agent descending through a skyscraper, and rival operatives still lurk on every floor, where they duck into and pop out of doors. Players now have more weapons, though, as machine guns and laser beams join the arsenal, and ropes now offer alternatives to the elevators. The multiplayer options include a race to reach a room holding coveted documents, plus a traditional deathmatch mode.

It all of this sounds too complex, the original Elevator Action is also included with Deluxe. Sadly, the enjoyable Elevator Action Returns is not. Perhaps Deluxe will pay tribute to its cornball, shakily translated style by including a playable character named “Jad The Taff” and walls spray-painted with “CRUSH THE OLD ORDER.”


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