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Fortune Retold

by Todd Ciolek, Feb 8th 2012

You'll see plenty of talk about upcoming Resident Evil games these days, but there's also news of a forgotten piece of the series. In 1999, Capcom commissioned a Game Boy Color port of Resident Evil. This wasn't the largely hated Resident Evil Gaiden, mind you. It was the original Resident Evil, with Chris and Jill and a mansion full of zombies all refashioned for Nintendo's new color handheld. The port was canceled, but it wasn't lost. A mostly finished version made its way to collectors, and fans recently raised $2000 to convince those collectors to release the game.

And how is it? Well, it's a surprisingly accurate version of Resident Evil, with the scenery, dialogue, and points of view faithful to the PlayStation game. Of course, it's a Game Boy Color title, so everything's made of pixels and looks quite primitive. It moves quite slow as well, and the game even uses the clumsy tank-like control scheme of the PlayStation version. But now that it's available online for all to play, perhaps we can turn our attention and money to more interesting games that never saw release. For example, there's Resident Evil 1.5, a scrapped early attempt at Resident Evil 2 with different layouts, enemies, and a heroine named Elza Walker. There's also the most frantically sought-after unreleased title: Yeah Yeah Beebiss I.

NEWS

GOOD PEOPLE ARE PROMISED DEATH IN CHUNSOFT'S NEW ADVENTURE GAME
Chunsoft's Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors drew fans in several ways: it was a compelling little adventure game that forced a pack of apparent strangers to survive a deadly maze of traps on an ocean liner, and it didn't hurt that the entire cast was drawn by the talented Kinu Nishimura. Now Chunsoft and Nishimura head to the 3DS and PS Vita with a follow-up and the much weirder title of Extreme Escape Adventure: Good People Die.

The premise is similar to Nine Hours: ill-mannered college student Sigma spins off the road one night and awakens instead an elevator next to a white-haired woman named Phi. The two of them soon meet seven other people stuck in a maze of steel passageways and booby-trapped rooms. Their fellow captives include a mischievous fellow in a top hat, a 10-year-old boy, an unsociable old man, a young doctor, a man in a robotic suit, a vengeful woman in Egyptian jewelry, and Yoko from Gurren Lagann a red-haired girl. Some of them will look pretty familiar to anyone who played Nine Hours, and the same goes for the game's antagonist, Zero the Third. Except this time, he's represented, Saw-style, as a cute little rabbit puppet.

Extreme Escape Adventure's twisted setup gives each character a bracelet that displays points. Get nine points, and the wearer is free. Drop to zero, and the wearer is dead. Participants take on challenges in pairs, and each participant starts out by secretly setting his or her bangle to either “betray” or “cooperate.” If both of them pick cooperate, they get two points apiece. If both betray, no points go to either. If they pick different options, the betrayer gets three points and the betrayed loses two. This strange test of personal trust also figures into exploring, as there are certain color-coded doors that can only be opened by a certain combination of bangles. And that's all on top of the individual puzzles and traps set by the adorable rabbit puppet. Sorry, but I can't hate that thing.

A demo of Extreme Escape Adventure and a 12-minute anime promo from Gonzo are available right now in Japan, where the full game arrives next week. Will it come to North America? Nine Hours was successful enough to get a reprint, but there's no news of its sequel beyond Aksys Games being “interested.” Better than nothing.

CONCEPTION IS AN RPG, A DATING SIM, AND MAYBE A CAUTIONARY TALE
Like Extreme Escape Adventure: Good People Die, Spike's Conception: Please Have My Child offers another bizarre title that's somehow true to the game's premise. This PSP combination of RPG and dating simulator hurls an average high-schooler named Itsuki and his best friend to a distant planet, where Itsuki's given the task of conceiving children with twelve different women. There's a catch, of course. Instead of having kids the old-fashioned way, our hero sires offspring via a machine that fuses his spiritual energy with that of a chosen woman, resulting in a “star child.” All of a sudden, the baby-making gameplay from Record of Agarest War seems perfectly normal.

And why are these children needed? Well, they quickly grow up into little warriors, mages, and archers to be used in the game's dungeon-exploring segments. Itsuki surrounds himself with his munchkin-like spawn during battle, thus marking himself as both a terrible father and a resourceful tactician. The children's stats improve as Itsuki forges new emotional bonds with their spiritual “mothers,” so the game's evenly divided between hacking through dungeons and building relationships with a Zodiac-themed harem. Filling both routine and potentially unnerving stereotypes, Conception's female cast varies from a light-headed nun to a pair of goth-fashion twins. And yes, they're all conveniently human.

The RPG half of Conception appears to be a typical round of menu-driven battles and randomly generated architecture. It's the idea behind the game that makes it stand out, even if that same idea is guaranteed to drive away most North American publishers. Is it commentary on Japan's dwindling birth rate? Or some Eraserhead-like hallucination about the fears of parenthood? Perhaps players will argue for both when the game arrives in Japan this April.

THE LAST STORY HAS A DATE AND A BOX IN EUROPE
Nintendo of America still hasn't announced any plans to release The Last Story, the new Wii RPG from Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi. But Nintendo of Europe has the game scheduled for a release this February 24, and the special edition includes a seven-song soundtrack, an artbook, one of those stylin' Steelbook cases, and a box in which to put it all. It's also got that semi-classy British voice acting, just like Xenoblade Chronicles.

It's a nice package for European RPG fans, but will anyone here import it? A number of North American Wii owners bought European copies of Xenoblade Chronicles last year, when it appeared that Nintendo's American branch would leave them out in the cold. Now Xenoblade's headed here in April, and Nintendo's likely waiting to see just how well it does. If it's a hit, The Last Story could follow. So perhaps we're all best off just envying this nice European bundle.

REVIEW: FORTUNE SUMMONERS

Developer: Lizsoft
Publisher: Carpe Fulgur
Platform: PC (Steam)
Players: 1
MSRP: $19.99

There's something twisted about games that spread an aggressively cute veneer over brutal, uncompromising challenges. It's an art that stretches back to old arcade releases like Pengo and NES-era deceptions like Mr. Gimmick, and it endures in the modern game industry—including in its independent circles. Crafted by a small team, Fortune Summoners: Secret of the Elemental Stone is another case of adorable little characters having adorable little adventures that will aggravate and utterly destroy the unwary.

The leading adorable little character here is Arche Plumfield, a gung-ho swordfighter newly arrived with her parents in the small town of Tonkiness. Upon enrolling at the local sorcery school, she sets out to explore the surroundings with the help of her meek neighbor Sana Poanet and (after some violent misunderstandings) the snobbish oligarch-in-training Stella Mayberk. Though Arche first seeks a magic stone for her schoolwork, her journey grows beyond obnoxious classmates and a few hidden caves, as she and her friends swiftly uncover ancient legends, a trouble-making witch, and a wind elemental named Chiffon.

Fortune Summoners finds the three heroines marching around after each other, with the leader under the player's direct control. The other two follow computer-driven routines, and the player can swap between characters at any time. Arche's perhaps the best default vanguard, as she's a fighter with a variety of sword slashes and acrobatic moves. Stella and Sana are magicians, and they're better off keeping their distance while charging up various spells. Sana's water magic and Stella's fire attacks also help players explore, as Sana's the only one who can swim at any depth, and Stella's able to blaze through path-blocking thorns.

The difficulties of Fortune Summoners are apparent when Arche first ventures out to fight slimes and snakes in the countryside. The gameplay reveals itself to be just a little slower than your typical side-scroller. There's a slight delay before Arche strikes, and pulling off her special moves requires some planning and precision. Mashing the attack button will only make her a flailing and vulnerable target, and the enemies are surprisingly evasive. Sana and Stella don't have to be quite as exact in hurling their spells, but they're still at the mercy of tenacious foes, and it's a little too easy to take hits in close quarters.

Yet the harsh mechanics of Fortune Summoners bring a refreshing depth of challenge to the game. The dungeons are laid out with some creativity, but it's only when they're hard that they truly come alive. Not that the game leaves you defenseless. In addition to forgiving game-over options, players can arrange their party to pull off some fearsome combination attacks, and it's all quite satisfying when the three girls steamroll through a dungeon hallway. It just doesn't come all that often, since just about every room of a dungeon can be deadly if it's tackled in haste.

Fortune Summoners does a fair job of hiding its rather small production values. The characters sprites and scenery are all quite nice, though the enemy design swaps a lot of colors. The character portraits are also standard, and the same goes for most of the soundtrack. Yet it all plays as well as a professional creation, albeit with a deliberately delayed flow to the combat. It's almost closer to such brawler-ish games as Princess Crown than the likes of Popful Mail or Wonder Boy III, but it's all easy to enjoy once the proper flow takes hold.

Of course, Fortune Summoners is also cute as a newborn guinea pig. Arche's almost too damn cheerful at first, but it's balanced out when she's enthusiastically happy even in the face of flesh-eating monsters and murderous skeletons. Sana, Stella, and the rest of the cast go through the motions of well-entrenched archetypes, but there's appeal even in that. Still, Fortune Summoners doesn't have as much inventive humor as Carpe Fulgur's previous localization efforts, Recettear and Chantelise, and the English script works in doses of charm whenever it can.

Fortune Summoners is bound to take some by surprise with its colorful and upbeat looks, as it's anything but a pushover. This is altogether a good thing. Many games combine side-scrolling action with RPG elements, but most avoid a dungeon-hack mentality that really challenges. And that's why Fortune Summoners is a great investment for players who appreciate a harsh challenge in a sugar-sweet shell.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

BLAZBLUE CONTINUUM SHIFT EXTEND
Developer: Arc System Works
Publisher: Aksys Games
Platform: PlayStation 3 / Xbox 360
Players: 1-4
MSRP: $39.99 / $59.99 (limited edition)

BlazBlue tries its best to step out from Guilty Gear's shadow. For example, a new Guilty Gear expansion was released every two years or so up untl 2009, but BlazBlue's trying to break that record by bringing out updates every year. And that's why BlazBlue Continuum Shift Extend is here. It aims to be the complete package for BlazBlue players, as the story mode includes just about every plot arc from previous BlazBlue titles, plus Litchi and Kokone's little educational extras. Returning characters get additional scenes in their storylines, and more light is shed on newer characters like werewolf butler Valkenhayn, squirrel-tailed boxer Makoto, and the generally sinister (and now playable) Relius Clover. It builds on BlazBlue's already complicated world, a vague post-apocalyptic stage where hooded catgirls and superhero ninja do battle with amorphous blob-beasts and jerks with names like “Ragna the Bloodedge.”

The fighting mechanics of BlazBlue are every bit as complicated in their crazed mixture of explosive flashes and dizzying pace. And Extend just adds things here and there instead of overhauling anything. It includes the Abyss Mode, a marathon battle introduced by the PSP and 3DS versions of BlazBlue: Continuum Shift II. New to the series is a mode called Unlimited Wars, which pits the player again a stream of characters in their fearsome Unlmited incarnations. Online play, already fairly reliable in past versions, is now expanded with a number of multiplayer matches. It's not the BlazBlue 3 that's supposedly in the planning stages, but it might be the definitive dose of the series for…oh, a good eleven months.

HAKUOKI: DEMON OF THE FLEETING BLOSSOM
Developer: Idea Factory
Publisher: Aksys Games
Platform: Sony PSP
Players: 1
MSRP: $29.99 / $39.99 (limited edition)

Here's something you don't see every day: a visual novel and/or dating simulator aimed primarily at female players and translated into English for widespread release. Aksys isn't cutting corners by launching it only as a downloadable title, either. Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom is available in a regular retail version and a limited edition with an artbook and soundtrack. Originally released on the PlayStation 2 back in 2008, Hakuōki is set during the tumultuous times of 19th century Japan, when the nation's newly opened borders threw the government into chaos. Amid this upheaval, a young woman named Chizuru sets out in search of her father, but she soon falls in with the elite swordsmen of the shogunate's Shinsengumi. There are conspiracies aplenty for her to unravel, and since this isn't just a straightforward historical drama, the sinister plots involve revolutions as well demons both natural and artificial, with multiple endings ahead.

Being a visual novel, Hakuōki is driven by dialogue and description, and the player's interaction is largely restricted to the narrative choices Chizuru makes. Most of those choices will drive her further into the affections of the handsome male supporting cast, letting the player choose among the serious-minded vice commander Hijikata, the consumptive and flirty Okita, the silent and serious Saito, or one of the other characters based on a real-life member of the Shinsengumi. Call it a harem romance all you like, but it's also the sort of game rarely given attention in mainstream North American circles. Should it find footing, there's plenty of Hakuōki waiting. The game inspired two anime series and two manga series over in Japan, and no one's licensed them yet.

RHYTHM HEAVEN FEVER
Developer: Nintendo SPD Group No. 1
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Nintendo Wii
Players: 1-4
MSRP: $29.99

Rhythm Heaven Fever already made a name for itself online, thanks to a mini-game where a wrestler poses for photographers and a chirpy reporter. You've probably seen it or one of its thousand mockeries already. Now you can own that piece of Internet meme, albeit with English voices that I find even more amusing. And hey, it's not the only mini-game in Rhythm Heaven Fever! The whole thing's full of charmingly odd musical challenges, highly reminiscent of Nintendo's Wario Ware delights (and, well, the DS and Game Boy Advance versions of Rhythm Heaven, but that goes without saying). There's a monkey-based golf drive, a seal-training session, a mid-air game of badminton, a see-saw duel accompanied by a soundtrack of grunts, a robot assembly line, and about 45 more tests. And some secret ones, too.

Of course, all of these mini-games are played with simple timing, matching the pulse of music to the Wii controller, but they're also put together with a charm that's hard to deny. Rhythm Heaven Fever is the sort of thing that's accessible to just about anyone. The cliche rings true: it's easy to grasp, and yet hypnotically fun when mastered. Xenoblade Chronicles, The Last Story, and Pandora's Tower may be at the top of every Nintendo fan's list of demanded games, but let's also be glad that Nintendo didn't leave Rhythm Heaven Fever in Japan.

TALES OF THE ABYSS 3-D
Developer: Namco Tales Studio
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Players: 1-2
MSRP: $39.99

Why port Tales of the Abyss to the 3DS? We could say that Namco can port any Tales game to anything and make money, but let's assume there's more to this. For one thing, Tales of the Abyss was a well-liked piece of the often homogenized Tales franchise, but it came to America around the same time as a Final Fantasy, a Valkyrie Profile, and the PlayStation 3 itself. So perhaps this is a second chance for Tales of the Abyss (or a third, after the anime series). It's set in a world where a mysterious natural particle allows humans to read the future, and there's an ongoing struggle to enforce an ancient mystic's specific prophecies about the world to come. At the center of all this is Luke fon Fabre, an arrogant royal brat who suffers from that all-too-common RPG curse of selective amnesia. Like other Tales games, the appeal comes not from the plot so much as the lineup of supporting characters, and Abyss has plenty of chances for Luke to bond with a party of typical Tales goofballs, including his own fiancée, his swordsman sidekick, a bratty young admirer, and a straight-laced intelligence officer.

The 3DS version of Tales of the Abyss isn't terribly different from its PlayStation 2 original, as the game retains its FR-LIMBS battle system. Oddly named even for a Tales title, the combat boils down to a melee where players pull off the usual RPG attacks as though they're playing an action game, and two players can cooperate during battles. There's also a lineup of mini-games, including a casino and a recreation of Namco's side-scrolling arcade game Dragon Buster. The 3DS enhancements don't go that far beyond the graphics and the touch-screen shortcuts, but it's a good addition to the system's RPG-deficient library.

TEKKEN 3-D PRIME EDITION
Developer: Namco
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Players: 1-2
MSRP: $39.99

There's no sign of Street Fighter X Tekken on the 3DS, but the two franchises are still competing there. While Street Fighter spent itself early with a marginally enhanced port of Super Street Fighter IV, Tekken plotted and planned a more substantial 3DS debut. Tekken 3-D Prime Edition is essentially the sixth Tekken game with a load of extras. The roster runs over 40 characters, including a younger version of series patriarch Heihachi Mishima, with a full head of hair and a new voice actor (which was necessitated anyway by the unfortunate death of Daisuke Gori last year). The game's also a little library of past Tekken cinematics: through Streetpass encounters and regular gameplay, players can get 700 cards featuring scenes from previous titles. There's a full version of Tekken: Blood Vengeance 3D included as well, and that's a generous extra regardless of what one thinks of the movie.

Tekken 3-D Prime Edition doesn't make any major alterations to the franchise's four-button attacks and combos systems. It just simplifies everything for the 3DS, as the system's touch screen enables shortcuts to special moves and even aerial combos. Namco's also proud of the fact that the whole game runs at a full 60 frames per second in 3-D, though I suspect that the system's stereoscopic effects don't add much to the mechanics of a fighting game. Regardless, Tekken 3-D Prime Edition is meatier than other fighters on the 3DS. And hey, I approve of anything that helps Yoshinori Ono and Katsuhiro Harada continue their comical feud.

Also Shipping: Mario and Sonic: London Olympic Games arrives on the 3DS. Plus a bunch of Vita games, even though the system itself doesn't arrive until February 22. We'll cover it all next week.


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