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Ultracity 2020

by Todd Ciolek, Dec 7th 2011

In last month's ANNCast, I recommended that RPG fans import Xenoblade Chronicles from Europe, or something to that effect. I sure hope no one listened to me.

That's because Nintendo of America kicked off December with news that Xenoblade's coming here. In April, everyone can walk into a GameStop (or go to Nintendo's website) and buy the game, all without ordering the PAL release or modding their Wii.

This comes after Nintendo's American branch spent months unmoved by Operation Rainfall, a relatively well-organized fan group that sought to swamp Nintendo with letters and trinkets asking for Xenoblade, The Last Story, and Pandora's Tower all to be released in North America. I sorta doubt that the whole of Nintendo's inner circle was instantly brought to tears and compliance by fans' e-mails, and I suspect that it was a combination of the game's sales in Europe and some cost/benefit measures that tipped the scales. But I'm sure Operation Rainfall helped an awful lot by keeping the games in the public eye, so congratulations are due to its organizers. They're the pride of every kid who sent off letters begging for translated versions of Japanese RPGs back in the day. And as a kid who played more RPGs than he should have, I sent a lot of those letters.

There's still a lingering problem, of course. Nintendo of America's silence prompted a bunch of fans to buy the European edition of Xenoblade Chronicles, and the U.S. version looks to be the same thing; the first trailer has the British voice acting and all. Are those fans going to buy a game twice? And if they don't, will Xenoblade Chronicles tank so badly that Nintendo of America will forget about ever releasing anything more obscure than Kirby: Mass Attack? And what about Fatal Frame 4? Do they really want Calling to be the best horror game on the Wii?

Anyway, I plan to pick up Xenoblade Chronicles again. I learned a long time ago that importing is a gamble. It carries the chance that the game you buy will come to your country at some point in the future. By grabbing it early, you might get a rare collectible like Radiant Silvergun, or you might end up with something made obsolete when the U.S. version is right there at the corner GameStop. Them's the breaks.

And when you see that game you imported sitting at GameStop like any other release, you may as well buy it. There's no better way of convincing American companies to release more games like it—thus saving you the trouble of importing stuff in the future. So it's a good idea in the long, vague run.

NEWS

FINAL FANTASY TYPE-0 IS KINDA SORTA MAYBE ALMOST COMING TO THE U.S.
Xenoblade Chronicles isn't the only Japanese RPG to spend the past months in a curious release-date limbo. Square Enix was awfully quiet about an American version of Final Fantasy Type-0, which hit the PSP in Japan this past October. Most Final Fantasy games are a lock for international markets, but the PSP's decline and the demands of Type-0 (it comes on two UMDs) apparently had Square Enix reconsidering.

Well, news of Type-0's English release squeaked out in the game's recently published Ultimania guide, wherein an interview mentions that Square is working on an English version of the game. On the one hand, that interview was likely conducted a while ago, so it's possible that Square's since abandoned plans to translate the game. Ultimania guides are Square products, however, so this news is technically official, no matter how vague it may be. There still remains the question of just how the game might come Westward. Will it be a UMD release, or will Square just throw it onto the PLAYSTATION Network?

SQUARE ALSO HAS EMPEROR SAGA AND GALAXY DUNGEON, AND YOU CAN'T PLAY THEM JUST YET
If Final Fantasy Type-0 is coming here, other Square Enix RPGs might not. This includes Emperors SaGa and Galaxy Dungeon, two newly announced titles for the Gree social games service.

As the capitalization implies, Emperors SaGa signals the return of the SaGa series, an experimental line of RPGs that started back with a Game Boy title (known here as Final Fantasy Legend). The series was recently spurred on by DS remakes of SaGa 2 and 3, but Emperors SaGa is an all-new offering. Its focus differs from the quests of previous games, however. In this latest SaGa, players create a ruler (who can be a man or woman, judging by the artwork up there) and oversee a kingdom. Presumably they can annex and conquer neighboring lands, because that's what an empire is all about. No screens of the game were show, but at least it has art by Tomomi Kobayashi, who's drawn something for just about every SaGa game.

If the art in Emperors Saga recalls RPGs of the 1990s, Galaxy Dungeon is modern through and through. It's an RPG starring a quintet of young heroines, all decked out in bright hair colors and futuristic armor. The game's first-person battles are fought with cards depicting the characters, and the early screens show dungeons laid out like board games.

Emperors Saga arrives next summer, and Galaxy Dungeon hits in May. Both games are part of Gree's new social-game platform, which will also include Taito's card-game Period Zero and Gree's own RPG Cerberus Crusade. It's all planned only for Japan, but Gree's service is compatible with iOS and Droid systems.

GALGUN MANAGES MAKESHIFT MEGA MAN FOR MEDDLING MOMS
I thought I would never write about Gal*Gun again. It's a crude take on a novel idea, a light-gun shooter where players fend off lovestruck schoolgirls instead of zombies or terrorists. It also employed all of the tentacles, humiliation, and shrieking one associates with today's otaku-courting anime, so I washed my hands of the game after mentioning the Xbox 360 port earlier this year. But now Gal*Gun's on the PlayStation 3, and aside from a few basic enhancements (Move support, a lack of region locks, and no censorship) it has a new “mama kita” mode. “Mama kita” refers to innocuous screens that players can switch to at the press of a button, hiding whatever they were playing. That way, their parents don't walk in and find them pelting flighty cartoon girls with pheromone bullets.

And Gal*Gun's new parent-placating screen looks at lot like a Megaman title—no accident, as Gal*Gun developer Inti Creates also made Megaman 9, Megaman 10, and the Zero spin-offs. Sadly, this doesn't appear to be a full game. It's merely a cover for Gal*Gun's antics. Why is this important? With CAPCOM canceling two Megaman games and not putting him in Marvel vs. CAPCOM 3, this is probably the closest we've come to a new Megaman title all year. And now I have to move on to something else before I get depressed.

IMPORT ROUNDUP: NOVEMBER

7TH DRAGON 2020
Developer: Sega
Publisher: Sega
Platform: Sony PSP
Players: 1

Some may judge 7th Dragon 2020 by its cover and the impractically dressed schoolgirl posing on it, but that mistake won't be made by anyone played the first 7th Dragon. It was a dungeon hack that demanded careful plotting and tenacious exploration much more than leering, and it was made by Rieko “Phoenix Rie” Kodama, who's had her hands on the RPG mold since the original Phantasy Star. This sequel to the 7th Dragon travels from medieval-fantasy realms to the city of Tokyo in 2020, when we all thought we'd enjoy implanted cell phones and robot baseball. But this future is a dark one. A plague of alien flowers has enveloped the city, and with them comes an army of dragons.

Defeating this menace falls to a band of adventurers, all named and guided by the player. The characters are still anime munchkins that resemble 3-D version of the original 7th Dragon's cast, but they're now equipped as futuristic archetypes (and get considerably more risqué artwork). Instead of wizards and archers, the player's party is filled by tricksters, psychics, destroyers, samurai, and hackers. The last of these is particularly interesting, as hackers can whip out Sega Saturn controllers and use debug menus to turn battles in their allies' favor. Granted, most of these abilities aren't terribly different in effect from the standard RPG attacks and stat boosts, but the 7th Dragon 2020 packs a lot into its presentation. It also packs in Hatsume Miku, the artificial pop diva who's seems to be everywhere nowadays. Sega has to make the most of any mascot it can find.

Import Barrier: Considerable, what with the menus and text and Miku songs all being in Japanese. At least there's nothing stopping you from playing an imported PSP game on a U.S. system.

Chances of a Domestic Release: Not good as far as the PSP version goes. Sega turned down a U.S. version of Valkyria Chronicles 3, after all, and that had more name recognition.

MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM EXTREME VS.
Developer: Namco Bandai
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Platform: PlayStation 3
Players: 1-4

It's perhaps hard to muster enthusiasm for yet another Gundam fighter. Even fans of the undying anime and model-kit franchise have surely played through dozens of them. And one can't say that Mobile Suit Gundam Extreme Vs. is really all that different, at least not in concept. No, it's the execution that makes Extreme Vs. notable. For one thing, it's an arena fighter and a sequel to the Gundam vs. Gundam games, and that gives it a lot to build on. The game drops two pairs of mechs into an extensive battleground from the Gundam franchise, and the matches play out with all of the overkill and tight controls to fill a Virtual On title. The Gundam mechs can pull off boosted dashes, charged shots, and create extensive combos with the Extreme Action feature. The game also balances itself by having each robot team share a 6000-point life meter. The mecha vary from 1000 to 3000 points each, and higher ones are normally more damaging. However, lower-point robots can respawn more often during battle, which gives them a certain advantage. And in those two-on-two battles, it helps when partners pick the right mecha.

Of course, some fans consider Gundam games only as good as their rosters, and Extreme Vs. covers a lot of territory. The game includes sixty mobile suits from the original 1979 series to the currently running Gundam Unicorn, with just about everything in between represented. Yes, the largely ignored Gundam X, the manga-only Crossbone Gundam, and the genuinely good Gundam 0080 all contributed. It's a shame that most of the actual robots are the signature Gundams and their rival machines, leaving out more inventive designs such as Gundam Rose and Mermaid Gundam. The home version of Extreme Vs. also adds four extra suits as DLC: Gundam Seed's Freedom Gundam, Zeta Gundam's The O, Gundam 00's Arche Gundam, and V Gundam's Gottlaran. There's a mission mode for unlocking other suits, but this is still a fighting game, and the best parts come from four-player online matches.

Import Barrier: Nothing that an online fan-written guide won't fix. The PlayStation 3 is also region-free.

Chances of a Domestic Release: Not all that poor. Three Dynasty Warriors Gundam games already made their way here, and Extreme Vs. is similar enough in style.

SAINT SEIYA: SANCTUARY BATTLE
Developer: Dimps Corporation
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Platform: PlayStation 3
Players: 1-multiplayer

Animator Shingo Araki passed away last week, not so long after Namco Bandai brought out another testament to his work on Saint Seiya. That testament is Saint Seiya: Sanctuary Battle, and it strives to capture the sharp-edged dynamism that Araki brought to the series. Would Saint Seiya have been quite as popular in Japan (and just about everywhere but the U.S.) without Araki and Michi Himeno designing the anime? Well, go ask this guy if you want to know. This column's about games.

Baldly inspired by KOEI's Dynasty Warriors, Saint Seiya: Sanctuary Battle has spacious battlegrounds full of dense enemy flocks, and they're easily bashed about by a wide assortment of heroes. Pegasus Seiya, Dragon Shiryu, Andromeda Shun, Phoenix Ikki, and Cygnus Hyoga are the headliners, but they're just the start of the game's playable cast. Upon defeat, the Bronze Saints, Silver Saints, and Gold Saints can be controlled in battle, with everyone from Eagle Marin (one of the few fighting women from the series) to a guy named Cancer Deathmask. That sounds slightly less silly when you remember that many of characters are named after constellations—this was renamed Knights of the Zodiac for North America, after all. It's a game for fans first and foremost, as the combat runs through the typical paces of a brawler. The characters also don't look nearly as complex as competing games in the genre, but that's likely part of the whole Araki imitation.

Import Barrier: Nothing too challenging, and we'll remind you once again that Japanese PS3 games run fine on American systems.

Chances of a Domestic Release: Slim. It'll show up in Europe next year (hence the Saint Seiya Sanctuary Battle title), but the anime was far more popular over there. Still, a Fist of the the North Star brawler made it to America last year, so a Saint Seiya game isn't shut out entirely.

ALSO AVAILABLE
Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan gets a PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 fighter courtesy of Arc System Works, makers of such fine anime brawls as BlazBlue and Guilty Gear. The game's levels are multi-tiered arenas, and everything's done up in spectacular animation and color; think Smash Bros. with the look of Vanillaware's Muramasa: The Demon Blade. That aside, it's a typical outing for fans of the anime and manga, and an online mode lets you collect and steal other players' yokai sidekicks.

If nothing else, Level-5's Ni no Kuni games will go down in history for getting the often standoffish Studio Ghibli involved with video games. The first Ni no Kuni arrived on the DS in Japan last year, and it told of a young boy's journey through a fantasy realm of Ghibli creatures. The PlayStation 3 version, released in November, goes by Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch and offers a new version of the same story, and its Ghibli-styled graphics are much more vivid on the PlayStation 3. It's not going to stay in Japan, either, as it'll be out in the U.S. next year.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASE

DOCTOR LAUTREC AND THE FORGOTTEN KNIGHTS
Developer: Konami/Winky Soft
Publisher: Konami
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Players: 1
MSRP: $29.99

It's no great revelation to say that Doctor Lautrec and the Forgotten Knights rips off Nintendo's Professor Layton. Lautrec creator Noriaki Okamura admits the connection up front, after all. So perhaps it's better to see Lautrec as another game in the puzzle-adventure genre that Layton's reinvigorated; we'll get through this much quicker and without offending anyone too much. Anyway, Lautrec shares Layton's affinity for quaint 19th-century European atmosphere, as it joins the snooty Lautrec (he disdains novels!) and his student sidekick Sophie (she likes novels!) in a search for Louis XIV's treasure in the depths of Paris. They contend with a secret society called the Knights of the Iron Mask and two white-suited thugs who apparently stepped out of Nadia - The Secret of Blue Water…or whatever earlier series Nadia swiped from.

Much of this adventure is interrupted by puzzles that feature all sorts of block arranging, color matching, and general challenges in logic. They're all in the way of the Doctor, Sophie, and a monkey as they tread through the catacombs below Paris and cross paths with various spectral foes, who are all dealt with in lightweight RPG battles. Not that this is any more violent than a Miyazaki film (or a Layton game)—the gun that Lautrec assembles in this scene is actually a projector. Lautrec also has Layton's decent production values, with animated story scenes and decent voice acting for the major characters. And let's face it: in the game industry, no one cares if you're a rip-off as long as you're a good one.


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