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Blade Meridian

by Todd Ciolek, Aug 31st 2011

I'm starting to think that Guardian Heroes was once rude to a gypsy and cursed to never get proper marketing. Just look at the remastered Guardian Heroes for XBox Live. It showed up at Sega's own private arcade during Comic-Con, but little was seen of the game after that. This week, news emerged that it was coming out today, but that news was swiftly retracted. Now no one seems to know when it's arriving.

The original Sega Saturn version of Guardian Heroes had its own problems, as Sega slipped it out in 1996 without any real promotion. In fact, this was the only print ad that featured the game.

Yes, Guardian Heroes is covering up a naked woman's breast in Sega's ill-conceived “Nothing Else Matters” ad for the Saturn library. It's a lot like Sony's equally awkward PlayStation pre-launch campaign from 1995, when the company positioned Sofia, the Russian dominatrix from Tōshinden, as a mascot who inspired naughty dreams and told readers to “bark like a dog.” Women, men, and even one-celled organisms were insulted, and Sony quickly scuttled the whole Sofia angle. A year later, Sega tried nearly the same thing by putting screenshots over an illustration of a nude woman. Being a Sega fan during the Saturn days was a lot like watching one of those YouTube videos where a skateboarder smacks his face across a dumpster in slow-motion.

So Guardian Heroes is apparently on its own, whether it's ignored entirely or used as a censor bar. That's not so bad. After all, the original game gradually evolved into a cult classic thanks to its unique gameplay and insane multiplayer rumbles. I hope this new version will do the same, whenever it comes out.

NEWS

BLACK ROCK SHOOTER HEADS TO AMERICA AFTER ALL
Not so long ago, I opined that Black Rock Shooter: The Game wouldn't come to America due to the American PSP market wandering off into the woods and never being seen again. Well, I was wrong. NIS America, sticking to a publishing agreement made with developer imageepoch, plans to bring Black Rock Shooter: The Game to North America and Europe.

Spawned by a single illustration and an appearance in a music video, the eponymous Black Rock Shooter is a scantily dressed gunslinger and the current darling of Japan's otaku. She's inspired a manga line and anime series, but the game spins its own story, one of a bleak future where aliens have rendered most of the human race extinct. Black Rock herself isn't part of that race, as she's a battle android. This makes it all the easier for her to wield enormous weapons in the game's half-shooter/half-RPG battles and tear around in a motorcycle for more frantic interludes.

NIS America hasn't divulged just how they'll release Black Rock Shooter: The Game. Perhaps they'll play to the fans and give it the same deluxe packaging it had in Japan, complete with a White Rock Shooter figure and soundtrack. Or maybe they'll just release it as a downloadable title, which seems to be the safest route for a PSP game in today's market.

SEGA'S RHYTHM PHANTOM THIEF PUTS DANCING IN EVERYTHING
Rhythm Phantom Thief R: The Inheritance of Napoleon looks very much in line with the same quaint atmosphere that informs both Level-5's Professor Layton and Konami's Doctor Lautrec games. Currently in the works at Sega, Rhythm Phantom Thief follows a boy named Raphael moonlighting as Phantom Thief R in a quest to find his famous deadbeat dad. Not devoted to the profitable side of kleptomania, Raphael usually gives back the jewelry he steals, and his current mark is a bracelet at the Louvre.

But Raphael doesn't pull off his heists by fighting RPG battles or solving logic puzzles. He does it by dancing. Sometimes he's forced to imitate other dancers on the floor, while other challenges play out like rhythmic run-and-jump games. At any rate, it'll be interesting to see just how Rhythm Phantom Thief R's plot twists require its hero to dance constantly. The game arrives in Japan this winter, with European and American arrivals next year.

PERSONA 4 JUMPS TO VITA, FIGHTING GAMES
A portable version of Atlus' dark social-sim RPG Persona 4 was never in doubt. Persona, Persona 3, and half of Persona 2 were all ported to the PSP, and now the fourth proper game in the series is headed to the PlayStation Vita. Dubbed Persona 4: The Golden, it'll feature about 50 percent more voice work, a different animated intro, some new events in the storyline, and at least one new character: a stylishly attired girl named Marie. Players will also use the Vita's online mode to contact other players for help when they're stuck in particularly tough dungeons. Atlus promises to announce other new features before the game's arrival in spring of next year.

Less expected was the news of a Persona 4 fighting game. Persona 4: Ultimate in Mayonaka Arena is in development at Arc System Works, the makers of the Guilty Gear and BlazBlue games, and their crazy-detailed anime stylings are a good match for Persona's world of inquisitive students and their grotesque summoned creatures. Set a few months after the events of Persona 4, this new fighter focused on a tournament hosted by otherworldly mascot Teddie, and he isn't inviting only characters from his own game. Early previews of the game show Yosuke, Chie, and the Persona 4 protagonist alongside Aigis from Persona 3, so the door's open for characters from other parts of the Shin Megami Tensei franchise. At the very least, it should have a playable version of Atlus mascot Jack Frost.

Atlus aims to get Persona 4: Ultimate in Mayonaka into Japanese arcades early next year, with Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 ports arriving in Japan that summer.

IN BRIEF: RADIANT SILVERGUN DATED, DODONPACHI IN EUROPE, DEADLY PREMONITION MULLED OVER
The XBox Live version of Guardian Heroes is still without a solid release date, but the console's version of Radiant Silvergun isn't far away. Radiant arrives on XBox Live in Japan this September 14, complete with an HD look and a bonus mode that mimics Treasure's Ikaruga. The North American and European launches shouldn't be far behind.

Europe's also getting its own version of Dodonpachi Resurrection for the Xbox 360 in the fall, and it's not limited to that continent's shooter fans. Rising Star's release of the Cave shooter will be region-free, and the game's Black Label and Dondonpachi Resurrection 1.51. will be available as paid downloads.

Deadly Premonition was last year's most unexpected cult breakout: a survival-horror game with charmingly weird touches and Twin Peaks imitations. In a recent interview, Deadly Premonition director Hidetaka “Swery” Suehiro mentioned that he's interested in making another game, be it a sequel or prequel.

IMPORT ROUNDUP: AUGUST

ALL KAMEN RIDER: RIDER GENERATION
Developer: Bandai
Publisher: Bandai
Platform: Nintendo DS
Players: 1

Be polite and don't laugh at Kamen Rider. He may be a bug-faced superhero who battles rubbery monsters in low-budget live-action television, but that bug-faced superhero has entertained Japanese children and tokusatsu fans off and on for forty years. Not that this is the work of a lone Kamen Rider. Ever since Shotaro Ishinomori dreamed up the first Kamen Rider series in 1971, new shows have emerged with new takes on the characters—though nearly all of them preserve the grasshopper-like eyes. In fact, All Kamen Rider: Rider Generation has 30 playable versions of assorted Kamen Riders, from the original to the strangely adorable Kamen Rider Stronger (he's smiling). Of course, some were left out: the recent Kamen Rider G is nowhere to be seen. If you grew up on Saban's Americanized Masked Rider, however, you might recognize the game's Kamen Rider BLACK RX.

Familiar characters are the whole point of Rider Generation, as it's otherwise a typical side-scrolling brawler. Three-Rider teams roam through stages of dimwit enemies, hacking away at them in normal circumstances and pulling out elaborate and faithful special attacks. It's a bit like Super Robot Wars for the Kamen Rider set, and as such it runs the risk of boring anyone who's not already enamored.

Import Barrier: The gameplay's pretty easy to figure out, and the DS itself is region free.

Coming Here: Never. Even Kamen Rider: Dragon Knight has sputtered out in America.

GROWLANSER IV: OVER RELOADED
Developer: Atlus/CareerSoft
Publisher: Atlus
Platform: Sony PSP
Players: 1

Growlanser is older than it looks. While the series technically began in 1999, it was sired by Langrisser, a strategy-RPG franchise that stretches back to 1990. The two are further unified by the artwork of Satoshi Urushihara, who's drawn shiny-haired heroes and bosomous heroines for both series over the past two decades. Growlanser's had better luck in coming to North America, though: Working Designs bundled the second and third games together, and Atlus released the fifth. This leaves the fourth game as the odd one out, the Final Fantasy V of the whole line. Coincidentally, it's also the Growlanser that was just touched up for the PSP.

Growlanser IV still looks the part of an anime-styled, modestly budgeted PlayStation 2 game, with sprite characters, open-field battles, and plenty of voice acting to go with large Urushihara illustrations. It's also a concoction of many RPG standards: youthful heroes, a war between humans and cruel angels, and…well, everything from alternative realities to ancient races to cat-women. This is by no means a lazy port, though, as Atlus doubled the voice acting, introduced a round of new playable characters, and added a bunch of original scenarios and endings to go along with them. Over Reloaded even lets players prevent a certain shocking character death that couldn't be avoided in the original game.

Import Barrier: Nothing stops you from playing Growlanser IV: Over Reloaded, in the sense that you can pull it out of the case and run it on your PSP without impediment. But there's an awful lot of Japanese text to parse if you want to play it properly.

Coming Here: Probably not. Atlus might've bit if Over Reloaded had emerged two years ago, but the PSP market died too quickly in North America. Growlanser's likely to stay a half-unreleased series on these shores, as fans'll miss the first, fourth, and sixth titles.

XENOBLADE CHRONICLES
Developer: Monolith Soft
Publisher: Nintendo of Europe
Platform: Nintendo Wii
Players: 1

Let's say there was a Japanese RPG that impressed people, a Japanese RPG that broke many of the genre's frequent limitations. Now let's say that Japanese RPG was Xenoblade Chronicles, and that Nintendo refused to release it in North America. Sounds silly, doesn't it? Well, that's precisely what happened, and it's caused a bit of a fuss among deprived Wii owners. This isn't a problem for Nintendo of Europe, which is releasing not only Xenoblade Chronicles but also The Last Story and Pandora's Tower, two other promising, slightly left-of-mainstream Wii titles. Is Xenoblade Chronicles really worth all of this commotion?

It might just be. For one thing, Xenoblade's a great antidote to anyone soured by Final Fantasy XIII's confined hallways and limited range. The world of Xenoblade, formed by the standing corpses of two giant creatures, is a vast one, and players get free reign to explore it, roaming and jumping (yes, jumping) through wide fields, spacious mountains, and elaborate cities. The battle system resembles the uninterrupted flow of Final Fantasy XII, with three-character parties of customizable characters. The storyline, meanwhile, doesn't get in the way. While it's initially a tale of a young hero Taking Up His Destiny in the form of a magical sword, the game throws at least one unexpected curve ball several hours in. It's all the direct opposite of director Tetsuya Takahashi and Monolith Soft's Xenosaga series, which was heavy on plot and increasingly light on gameplay. The change is welcome.

Import Barrier: Nintendo of Europe's localization is decent, with British accents all around. The only challenge lies in modding your Wii to run a European game, but that's not particularly difficult.

Coming Here: Fan pleas for a North American version of Xenoblade met with polite but firm dismissal from Nintendo of America, and I wouldn't count on any late-stage turnarounds. However, there's one more thing you can do to get Xenoblade Chronicles released here: buy the import. See, Nintendo of America clearly hates you if you want Xenoblade Chronicles, and if you pay upwards of $65 for the European release, Nintendo might bring out an American one just to spite you.

THIS WEEK'S RELEASES

CLADUN X2
Developer: NIS
Publisher: NIS America
Platform: PLAYSTATION Network (PSP)
Players: 1-2
MSRP: 19.99

The original ClaDun looks like a crude and simple 8-Bit NES game—and that's how it was supposed to be. Classic Dungeon, as it's fully called, is a deliberately primitive tribute to those equally primitive action-RPGs of the 1980s, at least as far as appearances go. In gameplay, however, ClaDun has plenty of things its source material rarely did: lots of partners, elaborate traps, time-based scoring, self-referencing comedy, and the option to make your own dungeons. The same goes for its sequel, and X2 also tells of a pocket dimension called Arcanus Cella and the player's attempts to make the most of its elaborate dungeons.

Of course, Arcanus Cella is the hub town that every dungeon-hack needs, and it has its own stores, magic providers, and assorted misfit residents. They shepherd the player-created main character through the game's extensive customization, which doesn't end with the hero/heroine/object's appearance. The original game's system of magic circles allows players to explore all sorts of techniques in building levels with allies and items, and the sequel only broadens it. The job classes are expanded to ten, and the dungeons (or Neo-geons and Tri-geons) offer more surprises in their randomly generated levels. Most of those surprises will get you killed in short order, but this is a classic dungeon, and classic dungeons are ugly places.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

DISGAEA 4: A PROMISE UNFORGOTTEN
Developer: NIS
Publisher: NIS America
Platform: PlayStation 3
Players: 1
MSRP: $59.99

Disgaea's in a fight to stay relevant. The original game brought cynical humor and endearingly breakable mechanics to strategy-RPGs, but that was 2003. The years and numerous Disgaea sequels and ports have eroded that particular edge, and now Disgaea 4 shows up on the PlayStation 3 with a lot of what's come before in the series. At least the cynicism is intact: the main characters are the bitterly honest prison-instructor vampire Valvatorez, his scheming werewolf underling Fenrich, and a newly deceased girl named Fuka. By the laws of the netherworld, Fuka should be turned into a penguin-demon Prinny, but budget cutbacks and an excess of damned souls leave her with just a Prinny hat—on sale at your friendly NIS America store.

Disgaea 4 doesn't look all that different from its forebears, although the character sprites are larger, and the cutouts are animated during dialogue. The gameplay brings back Disgaea staples such as the character-stacking team strike and the environment-changing georama effects. Also returning is Disgaea 3's method for turning monsters into weapons, and Disgaea 4 takes that further by allowing two creatures to combine and form a new monstrosity. It also introduces a new defensive maneuver that absorbs incoming special attacks. There's a more political tone to the underworld this time around, plus an accompanying method for beating capture enemies until they're allies. I'm sure that, like most things in Disgaea, it's much cuter than the concept suggests.

RISE OF NIGHTMARES
Developer: Sega
Publisher: Sega
Platform: Xbox 360 (Kinect)
Players: 1
MSRP: $49.99

Rise of Nightmares may not admit it up front, but it has a lot in common with Sega's House of the Dead. They share a fondness for rampant gore, zombie infestations, and the cornier side of cinema, though Rise of Nightmares isn't yet an Uwe Boll film. The idea behind it comes straight from modern torture flicks (and the old-school brawler Splatterhouse). After a train trip through Eastern Europe is viciously derailed, average-guy Josh finds himself in the undead playground of a mad scientist, with countless zombies standing between our hero and his abducted wife.

Rise of Nightmares makes ample and violent use of the Kinect, tracking Josh's actions alongside the player's movement. This is most clearly used in the game's gruesome first-person combat, which progresses from punching and kicking to a selection of blunt weapons, spears, chainsaws, ice axes, and other nasty implements found in a fortress where guns apparently aren't too common. While the dozen or so weapons are useful, the game plays it realistic by having them break if they're bashed against a nurse zombie's skull one time too many.

STARFOX 64 3D
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Players: 1-4
MSRP: $39.99

Many 3DS owners are doubtless in search of an inventive new game that'll show off the system. Well, CAPCOM canceled Mega Man Legends 3, so those 3DS owners are screwed for the time being. The best they can do at present is to try older games repackaged for Nintendo's handheld—games like Starfox 64. It was a decent rail shooter back in 1997, and Nintendo's overhauled it for the dual-screened system. The top viewpoint is now concerned with the gameplay, while the bottom screen shows conversations that spawned obnoxious online memes. Aside from the 3-D look, this Starfox 64 revamp also uses the system's gyroscopic sensor for controlling the aerial combat.

And Starfox 64's aerial combat holds up. The animal-people characters and cornball storyline are the stuff of old Bucky O'Hare cartoons, but the 3-D shooting's built with challenging stage layouts and some interesting boss designs. The multiplayer mode was also remodeled to allow four-ship dogfights with each player using the 3DS camera to communicate. Please do not dress up as Starfox characters when you do this.


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