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Stratus Symbol

by Todd Ciolek, Nov 2nd 2011

I was actually worried about Platinum Games, the developer founded by Hideki Kamiya, Atsushi Inaba, Shinji Mikami, and other staff from CAPCOM's unfairly shuttered studio Clover. Platinum's made some pretty good games with Bayonetta and Vanquish, but they're putting out original titles in an industry that values franchises and licenses. So I would often see Platinum's name and wonder if they might go the way of Game Republic, Cavia, and, apparently, Ninja Studio. But Platinum is still around, and they're doing well enough to hire new people and put up recruitment ads in the form of comics.

Platinum's website has a new manga called Blazing Intern. It follows a freshly hired team member named Gaim Shirogane as he learns that Platinum is a totally cool company where people blast holes in walls and Bayonetta is totally a real person. And if that doesn't get anyone working for Platinum, maybe the Japanese game industry truly is doomed.

NEWS

FRONTIER GATE, BEYOND THE LABYRINTH ARE RPGS, YESSIR
It's high time we checked in on Konami and tri-Ace's two upcoming portable RPGs, Frontier Gate for the PSP and Beyond the Labyrinth for the 3DS, now that they have release dates. Frontier Gate's out in December, with Labyrinth following in January.

While it's technically a dungeon RPG, Beyond the Labyrinth has a lot in common with Ico, in which the player led a mysterious girl out of a hazardous and bleak tower. Labyrinth reverses the roles somewhat, and its bluish-haired heroine is actually a guide for the player. She also helps solve puzzles throughout the titular maze, and though she's apparently unarmed, she may well play a part in the game's battle system—which tri-Ace hasn't said much about. Most of the screens emphasize exploration, including the use of the 3DS's Augmented Reality cards. But the game is directed by Valkyrie Profile 2's Takayuki Suguro, and that man can make one hell of an RPG battle system. It's also scored by Motoi Sakuraba, who's had something to do with the music in many a tri-Ace game.

If Beyond the Labyrinth is based on Ico, tri-Ace's Frontier Gate is the developer's stab at the Monster Hunter franchise. Set on an uncharted continent called Frontier, the game follows a player-created hero and a lineup of 15 adventuring companions. Unlike the real-time slaughters of Monster Hunter, the battles of Frontier Gate are driven by menus. It sounds a lot like every other game trying to drag Monster Hunter players away from their PSPs, but hey, Frontier Gate is the only challenger with echoes of Suikoden. Some of the staff members in this collaboration of Konami and tri-Ace worked on the Suikoden series, and buying the Frontier Gate soundtrack lets players unlock the costume of the original Suikoden's hero. Other extras include Suikoden items, a sword based on the Vic Viper from Gradius, and, unsurprisingly, the same outfit worn by the heroine of Beyond the Labyrinth.

NINTENDO POSTS LOSSES, WILL PROBABLY BE OK
Nintendo rarely hurts in its finances. Even when the Virtual Boy was flopping and the Nintendo 64 was trailing the PlayStation, the company behind them still made money. That's why it was a bit of a surprise when Nintendo announced that it expects to post a loss for the first time in the thirty years that the company's publicly tracked profits. And that loss is significant: 20 billion yen, or $260 million for the fiscal year that ends this coming March.

Nintendo had two excuses on hand. Current exchange rates favor the yen over the dollar, which damages Nintendo's international maneuvers. Nintendo also reported that sales of the 3DS were slower than expected, without any major titles to move systems along. Still, this is hardly cause for panic among 3DS owners or diehard Nintendo loyalists. Many companies aren't doing well right now, and there's time for 3DS sales to pick up this holiday season. Maybe the Kid Icarus contingent will come through for the system.

IN BRIEF: DARKSTALKERS ON PSN, AKAI KATANA SHIN IN EUROPE, TAITO CHARACTERS IN ELEVATOR ACTION
CAPCOM's Darkstalkers series now lies neglected, but the games are still great 2-D fighters full of impressively animated monsters. The PlayStation version might be the last Darkstalkers game I'd recommend—it's outpaced by its sequels, and this particular port has weird slowdown—but that's what CAPCOM plans to release on the PLAYSTATION Network, according to the ESRB. This'll be the North American version, so it lacks the Japanese release's exclusive opening and the franchise's quickly forgotten theme song, Trouble Man.

Rising Star Games previously got the attention of shooter fans by grabbing the Xbox 360 version of Cave's Dodonpachi Resurrection and prepping it for region-free European release this November. Now they've nabbed Akai Katana Shin, one of Cave's rarer attempts at a side-scrolling shooter, for the Xbox 360. No word yet of whether if it'll be region-free or not.

Elevator Action Deluxe came to the PlayStation 3 a few months back, and Taito is stoking its nostalgia again by adding some new characters: Reika Kirishima from Time Gal, Sayo from Kiki KaiKai (the inspiration for Pocky and Rocky), and Vaus, the paddle-like spaceship from Arkanoid. Time Gal's a particularly good addition, and, in my opinion, an underappreciated pioneer among game heroines. Sayo is up right now, Time Gal follows later in November, an original Elevator Action sprite hero in December, and Vaus in January.

IMPORT ROUNDUP: OCTOBER

FINAL FANTASY TYPE-0
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform: Sony PSP/PSN
Players: 1-multiplayer

Well, this is new for the Final Fantasy series. That's not sarcasm, really. There's something uncommon about Final Fantasy Type-0 well beyond it being a rare two-UMD game on the PSP (or the fact that a chocobo straight-up mauls someone in the intro). Type-0 marks the first time in this modern era that Square Enix has trotted out a big, well-budgeted Final Fantasy without explicitly planning to bring it to the West. And Type-0 indeed resembles a major Final Fantasy: its world is a mishmash of nineteenth-century society and considerably advanced technology, and it has the usual complement of magically empowered teenagers. While there's some grim quality to the game's introduction, the main characters are the fourteen young members of an academy's Class Zero. Each of them packs a specialized weapon and most of them bear a name from a playing card. Together with their instructors, they're at the heart of a rebellion against a warmonger named Cid and his plan to seize other nation's crystals. OK, so that's not new for Final Fantasy.

In fact, that's not the only way Type-0 swipes from older Final Fantasies. Unlike the glorified straight line of Final Fantasy XIII, Type-0 has a world map to explore and the convenient shortcut of an airship, just like those Final Fantasies of the 1990s. Its battle system isn't thrown back quite so far, as it features three-character parties engaging enemies in real-time with combat maneuvers mapped to the PSP's face buttons, and the same goes for spells, summoned monsters, and combo attacks. Perhaps owing to its portable nature, the game generally unfolds through missions rather than the more satisfying path of lengthy dungeons and story scenes. Despite the modern coating, much of Type-0 feels like a push toward what fans liked about (slightly) older games. And if they hate it, there's sure to be another Final Fantasy in a few months' time.

Import Barrier: Lots of dialogue and tutorials cry out for Japanese knowledge, but the game's still region-free.

Chances of a Domestic Release: Square Enix and the game's director are reportedly “looking into it,” with both PLAYSTATION Network and physical media considered, but no concrete announcements have emerged.

MACROSS: LAST FRONTIER
Developer: Artdink
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Platform: PlayStation 3
Players: 1

Macross: Last Frontier saves devoted anime nerds some time by jumping in with the movie that inspired it. Both Last Frontier and the new (and apparently final) Macross Frontier film are included in the Macross Frontier: The Wings of Goodbye Hybrid Pack for the PlayStation. So after watching the film finally resolve the Macross Frontier love triangle, fans can pop in Last Frontier for what is perhaps the anime's bigger draw: lots of space dogfights with transforming jets and, of course, the swarm of exhaust-spewing missiles that we call the “Itano Circus” in honor of the director of Angel Cop. Last Frontier has plenty of that.

Bandai pulled a similar movie with the first Macross Frontier film, but the packed-in game was merely a demo called Macross Trial Frontier. Last Frontier is a full game and very similar to Artdink's Macross shooters on the PSP: players can fly around freely if they like, but it's easy to lock onto enemies and strafe them, all while changing from jets to robots to bipedal Gerwalk jets. There's a good lineup of mode-shifting Valkyrie mecha (call them “Veritechs” to instantly rile Macross fans), and Last Frontier offers space and terrestrial missions, plus the save function that was absent in Trial Frontier.

Import Barrier: Blu-Rays and Japanese PlayStation 3 games run fine on American systems.

Chances of a Domestic Release: Various companies are still feuding over the rights to sell Macross in the West—and demanding a lot of money for the franchise. That'll keep Frontier from coming out here, and the same goes for any games based on it.

GOLDEN FANTASIA X
Developer: 07th Expansion
Publisher: Alchemist
Platform: Xbox 360
Players: 1-2

Golden Fantasia X has a halfway creative angle for a fighting game: instead of some tournament full of vaguely connected characters, this one's all about a big, murderous family reunion where spoiled kids, angry distant relatives, and even the maids and butlers are all squabbling over an old man's money and secrets. It's based on the latest adventure game in the When They Cry series, so the rich patriarch of the family dabbled in black magic, and all of his bickering descendants have supernatural powers. It's still a modern fighter, of course, and the mixture of bickering bluebloods and anime influences creates a game where a witch in a full formal gown summons an army of butlers in goat masks to trample her bunny-girl opponent.

Despite its roots in graphic-adventure games, Golden Fantasia X (also known as Ougun Musou Kyoku X) shows a good deal of thought in its character variety. The combatants can fight in tag teams, sharing one life bar and switching out using the “touch” gauge at the proper moment, which can be during an attack, a damaging blow, or even when a character's standing still. On top of that, every character has some game-affecting ability beyond the usual special moves, whether it's summoning an ally into battle or dealing more damage with counters. And for those who already bought the Comiket-released earlier versions of Golden Fantasia, the Xbox 360 port has three new characters.

Import Barrier: Unlike some other Xbox 360 games of niche interest, Golden Fantasia X is region-locked, designed only for Japanese consoles.

Chances of a Domestic Release: Very low, though I suppose we shouldn't rule out some download-only release on Live.

TERROR OF THE STRATUS
Developer:Nude Maker
Publisher: Konami
Platform: Sony PSP
Players: 1

When you stop giggling at Nude Maker's name, you have to admit that the developer's unorthodox. Under the guidance of director Hifumi Kono, they've made complicated standouts like the starfaring RPG Infinite Space and the mecha simulator Steel Battalion, which will probably never be topped when it comes to elaborate controllers. Their latest is Terror of the Stratus, and at first it looks like a highly typical anime-styled game, from the pop-backed intro to the storyline that pits humankind against an abstract foe called the Meme. These invading aliens exist primarily as information, though they're still capable of putting together physical creatures. To combat this, players control a white-haired swordsman named Seishiro and the robot-backed Imperial Task Force 6. Other members of this outfit include his childhood pal Takumi and his commanding officer Misogi, with whom Seishiro may soon violate the military's fraternization codes.

But there's more to Terror of the Stratus than marketable anime angles. It combines two different modes of gameplay. A "Defensive" mode finds Seishiro and his allies on foot in side-scrolling stages, where they take down enemies with combo attacks and…well, talk to people. Conversations serve a purpose, though, as they reveal the weaknesses of the Meme's city-demolishing monstrosities. With those weaknesses exposed, Seishiro pilots a mecha into an overhead 3-D “Extermination” battle with the giant Meme spawn. Assisting civilians also earns the player points for various weapon upgrades, and Nude Maker's thrown in a good variety of options.

Import Barrier: PSP games are region-free, though monolingual English-speakers will miss the more in-depth gameplay features and plot points—such as why Seishiro uses a sword to fight aliens.

Chances of a Domestic Release: None too good, as PSP support has dwindled greatly in recent years. Terror of the Stratus may only come to America if someone makes it into a terrible anime series for FUNimation to buy.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

CAVE STORY 3D
Developer: Studio Pixel/Nicalis
Publisher: NIS America
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Players: 1
MSRP: $39.99

Many of you have doubtless played Cave Story already. The original indie game's been free on PCs since 2004, and it was even translated from its original Japanese. And Cave Story, the work of one Daisuke “Pixel” Amaya, has stayed popular over the years. It deserves to: the game is substantially impressive well beyond outsider standards. It hearkens back to the mazelike arrangement of Metroid, though it's also a competent and amusing side-scroller, with creative, simple 2-D designs and novel weaponry. It also has an odd little story, made all the more charming by the simple character designs, that follows a memory-wiped hero who awakens within the depths of a floating island. He has a role to play in a war involving ancient powers, modern power-grabbers, and a race of secretly vicious rabbit-people.

Cave Story 3D refashions the basic graphics of the original game into polygonal three-dimensions, an admittedly strange decision for a game so dedicated to looking like some old NES or MSX adventure. But it's not without some other extras: an arranged soundtrack from The Binding of Isaac composer Danny Baranowsky, a few new items (including an NIS Prinny hat), and some new locations reportedly based on prototype levels from Pixel's early plans. And for those who want the original experience on the 3DS (as opposed to the cheaper ones on the Wii or DSiware), the classic Cave Story from 2004 is also part of the package.

METAL GEAR SOLID HD COLLECTION
Developer: Konami/BluePoint Games
Publisher: Konami
Platform: Xbox 360/PlayStation 3
Players: 1
MSRP: $49.99

For a while, Metal Gear creator Hideo Kojima would promise that each new Metal Gear was the last in the series, and this HD Collection is convenient proof that he lied. Several times. It compiles five different titles: Metal Gear Solid 2 and Metal Gear Solid 3 from the PS2, the PSP's Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, and the original MSX versions of Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2. Absent is the original Metal Gear Solid, but Japan got that (via a code) at the expense of the more recent Peace Walker. Also nowhere to be seen are the Metal Gear Ac!d games, Portable Ops, and the much-maligned NES non-sequel Snake's Revenge. And while the collection has the Substance version of Metal Gear Solid 2 and the Subsistence version of Metal Gear Solid 3, the latter's Boss Survival, Snake vs. Monkey, Secret Theatre, and Metal Gear Online modes are not included. So that'll break the hearts of anyone who still wants to run around Metal Gear's world as the women from Rumble Roses…in HD. Remember Rumble Roses? I doubt Konami does.

Anyway, Metal Gear Solid HD Collection is a high-def remastering of the three main games, much like what Bluepoint did for Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. The two Solid sequels and Rising all gain support for right-analog sticks, refined sound, overhauled menus, and, of course, trophies and achievements. They also allow the "transfarring" feature that lets players use a game across two different systems: the PS3 and Vita for the Solids, and the PS3 and PSP for Peace Walker. The two MSX Metal Gears stay just as they were, with old-fashioned 2-D graphics and characters unabashedly based on movie stars.


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