Anime Programming in the US
Making a Living in Manga in Japan with Felipe Smith
Lost in Translation
It's hard to gauge Operation Rainfall's success. The fan-run campaign certainly helped push for Nintendo of America to release Xenoblade Chronicles and hand off The Last Story to XSEED Games, but we'll probably never know whether those petitions and letters really tipped any scales inside Nintendo. Still, it was a success on two fronts, and now Operation Rainfall sets sights on the third game they wanted to see on these shores: Pandora's Tower.
Operation Rainfall plans to pitch the game directly to six publishers that all handle Japanese titles off the beaten path. The group called for donations to fund this effort, and they met their goal. Fans can still contribute, and they'll get something for their trouble: five bucks earns a few wallpapers, and ten gets you a paperboard box (above) to hold all three games. Assuming there's no copyright violations involved, it's not a bad offer, though I hope the final box dials down the “Rainfall Collection” element. It's nice that a fan-run campaign paid off, but I'm reminded of a line heard about 20,000 times during Xenoblade Chronicles: let's not lose our heads.
NINTENDO INTRODUCES NEW MARIO GAME, OLD KIRBY GAMES
The most recent Nintendo Direct showing delivered several new announcements, and the most intriguing one concerned another Mario game with a deceptively bland name: New Super Mario Bros. 2 for the 3DS. It's a sequel to the DS-based New Super Mario Bros., which didn't have a particularly exciting name in the first place. But once we're past that title, there's at least one good thing about this new Mario. It brings back the raccoon tail from Super Mario Bros. 3.
New Super Mario Bros. 2 also brings back the P-meter and flying mechanics as well, as shown in the handful of screenshots Nintendo released. It's all due out in Japan and the U.S. this August, but Nintendo's stingy with details aside from a broad statement about the game's appeal to all breeds of player. At the least, we can hope New Super Mario Bros. 2 takes less after its direct predecessor and more after New Super Mario Bros. Wii and the recent Super Mario 3-D Land. Well, and Super Mario Bros. 3, but that almost goes without saying in these cases.
Less notable revelations from Nintendo Direct include a fall release date for Japan's 3DS version of Animal Crossing, plus a 3DS firmware upgrade that should be available right about now. Nintendo also plans on a Wii compilation of Kirby games to celebrate the ravenous pink puffball's twentieth anniversary, though they didn't specify the titles included. I doubt they'll throw in the unreleased Nintendo 64 version of Kirby's Air Ride.
GUILD01 GETS BONUS DEMO, BIZARRE COVER
Nintendo also showed off new footage of one of the most intriguing 3DS projects: the four-game compilation of Level-5's Guild01. The trailer didn't unveil any real surprises about the four titles: Liberation Girl is a 3-D mecha shooter from Goichi “Suda51” Suda (No More Heroes, Killer7), Air Porter is a luggage-handling simulator from Yoot Saito (Seaman), Weapon Rental Shop de Omasse is a RPG shop-running game by comedian Yoshiyuki Hirai, and Crimson Shroud is a take on tabletop RPGs visually reminiscent of creator Yasumi Matsuno's Vagrant Story. Seriously, it's a video-game tabletop RPG where the characters literally look and move like miniature figures. But it's also Matsuno-made, and that's important.
The big news about Guild01 is the game's bonus demo of Level-5's science-fiction adventure game Time Travelers. It's set in Tokyo of 2031, nearly two decades after a mysterious event called the Lost Hole demolished much of the city. Since then, Tokyo's been rebuilt around a space elevator, but even that's driven by strange forces—not to speculate, but we do think time travel might be involved. The tale's told through four characters: detective Soma Kamiya, TV reporter Hina Fushimi, high-schooler Yuri Fukase, and a college dropout who dons a superhero outfit and styles himself Ressenti-Man (which instantly makes him the best character in the game). Time Travelers switches between all four perspectives, and the player's choices alter the story in ways broad and subtle.
Adventure games like this are often made with static character portraits and miles of text, but Time Travelers has a sharp 3-D engine to aid its storytelling. It also has a script by author Jirō Ishii, whose visual novel 428 is highly regarded by genre fans. The game's coming to the Vita and PSP as well, but it's the 3DS version that gets the first demo when Guild01 arrives on May 31. A North American release for either game seems unlikely, but Level-5 often has an eye on overseas markets.
If it does come to the West, Guild01 will probably get some new box art. The Japanese cover, seen above, is a little…abstract.
CLASS OF HEROES GOES FULL RPG WITH CHRONO ACADEMY
Some RPG fans are surely distressed at Class of Heroes: Chrono Academy for momentarily tricking them into thinking that a Chrono Trigger sequel was in the works. But let's put all of that behind us. Chrono Academy is actually something new for the Class of Heroes series, which has previously been a pack of Wizardry-inspired dungeon crawls. With Chrono Academy, the franchise explores more traditional Japanese RPGs; open fields, babbling villagers, and a branching plotline about time travel. A popular theme, that.
Chrono Academy also has central characters instead of player-created ones, and the three mainstays are Moria, Kyubit, and a Celestian named Rosche. Other characters can be recruited, of course, and the game still has the job classes and customization from prior Class of Heroes titles. However, developer Acquire ditched the battle menus full of character portraits, opting instead to show more of the combat field.
Class of Heroes: Chrono Academy also sticks with the PSP, and it'll arrive there in Japan this July. No North American release is in sight, but Gaijinworks and MonkeyPaw's Kickstarter for a deluxe Class of Heroes 2 has a few more days to go.
IN BRIEF: DRAGON'S CROWN SWITCHES TEAMS, AGAREST 2 BLOWS UP, MADOKA MAGICA HITS ANDROID, SOUL HACKERS HITS 3DS
Vanillaware's gorgeous fantasy brawler Dragon's Crown was suspiciously quiet for the past few months, and some were worried when Amazon canceled pre-orders for the game. The reason soon became apparent: the game was delayed to 2013, and Atlus took over publishing duties from Ignition. This seems odd, as Ignition was deeply involved with the game's announcement at last year's E3. Still, it wouldn't be the first time a property jumped from Ignition to Atlus—The King of Fighters did that last year. Dragon's Crown is still slated for the Playstation 3 and Vita, though it'll apparently cost more than Amazon's initial listing price of thirty bucks.
The original Record of Agarest War set the bar high (or low) for odd pack-ins, as Aksys Games bundled it with a body-pillow cover and squishy-boobed mousepad featuring the game's leading women. Aksys apparently has similar plans for Record of Agarest War 2, due out this summer. Like the original game, it's a strategy-RPG where the player's character can romance a variety of heroines, and Amazon's listing for the game mentions an art book, a heart-shaped towel, and a blow-up doll of a character. We doubt that character is male.
Madoka Magica may dissect the entire idea of magical-girl anime, but it's still conventionally popular enough to get some video games. The dungeon-hack Puella Magi Madoka Magica Portable hit the Japanese PSP last month, and now there's a third-person shooter for Android smartphones. The game lets the distant Akemi Homura fire all sorts of sorcerous projectiles as she explores environments true to the anime's feverish color palette. Puella Magi Madoka Magica TPS Featuring Homura Akemi is available right now, but it probably won't run on North American devices.
Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers is yet another piece of the Shin Megami Tensei franchise that eluded North America back in the day. It came out on the PlayStation and Sega Saturn over in Japan, but no amount of fan petitioning could get it to these shores. Now there's a second chance with the upcoming 3DS port of the game. Atlus plans to add more voice acting and faster load times to the 3DS version of Soul Hackers, in which players explore a virtual demon-haunted world in the company of several investigators (one of whom is periodically possessed). It's due out in Japan this August, and a U.S. release seems a lot more likely this time around.
CODE OF PRINCESS|
Developer: Agatsuma Entertainment
Publisher: Agatsuma Entertainment
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Many wrote off Code of Princess when it was first announced. Its graphics were muddy, its developer was unproven, and its entire reason for existing seemed to be a Kinu Nishimura illustration of a warrior woman clad only in a few coin-sized pieces of armor. Well, things changed. Subsequent previews looked better, the development staff sported former Treasure employees, and the princess of the title…well, she still looks completely ridiculous. But Princess Solange is joined by a bunch of other playable characters, including a spindly thief, a zombie sorceress, an imposingly armored nun, a belted-up martial artist, a cat dressed in Egyptian regalia, and a pint-sized witch accompanied by a huge skeletal snake monster. And they're all in a belt-scrolling brawler.
Perhaps the biggest attention-grabber is the resemblance between Code of Princess and Treasure's classic Guardian Heroes. Staffers Masaki Ukyo and Tetsuhiko “Han” Kikuchi worked on Guardian Heroes and other Treasure projects, and Code of Princess has similar features: combo-friendly moves, a guard button, dashing, and stages where characters jump between planes, lending the combat a tighter feel similar to a fighting game. It also emulates the impressive multiplayer moves of Guardian Heroes, culminating in a four-player battle royale that offers control of any character from the game's story mode, right down to the humble villagers. It all moves a little slower than Guardian Heroes, but it's hard to be too picky. There's a lack of decent old-fashioned brawlers on the market, and Code of Princess turned out better than anyone expected at a glance.
Import Barrier: Aside from that pesky regional lockout on Japanese 3DS games, Code of Princess is quite playable.
Chances of a Domestic Release: Not so bad. Agatsuma is definitely interested, and at least one gaming site hinted at an U.S. version before the news was suspiciously retracted.
FIRE EMBLEM: AWAKENING |
Developer: Intelligent Systems
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Fire Emblem: Awakening is a shade disappointing now that we know its background. See, Nintendo and Intelligent Systems originally threw around ideas about setting the game in the modern world or on the planet Mars. And while those are brilliantly insane concepts, they probably wouldn't be the same Fire Emblem that fans have known since the days of the Famicom. So Awakening is still a strategy-RPG set in the same sort of fantasy realm shared by past Fire Emblems. It follows two denizens of the Iris Kingdom: one's a lordly swordsman named Crom, and the other is a character of the player's creation—male or female, big or small, flattering or not. Such customized heroes are nothing new to the series (the first Fire Emblem game to make it here positioned the player as an in-game tactician), but Awakening takes the series to new places. As in past Fire Emblems, supporting characters can start relationships, and this new installment lets the player's avatar marry any compatriots of the opposite sex.
Awakening casts the typical Fire Emblem aesthetics in slightly darker tone. From the opening animation to the look of the characters, it's all a tad more subdued and realistic. The underlying mechanics don't change that much, though. The players commands a wide range of followers on the battlefield, and each of the 40 different varieties of warrior has unique strengths and weaknesses. A wide-ranging world map and specialized skills return from past Fire Emblems, and Awakening also lets characters team up when they attack in battle. The Fire Emblem brand of permanent death is also back, and every man and woman who falls in battle is gone for good…in the game's harder mode, that is. There's an easier setting where characters can be magically revived upon dying. You know, just like real life.
Import Barrier: Most of the game's going to be lost on players who can't parse Japanese. Then there's that regional lock.
Chances of a Domestic Release: Pretty good. Nintendo of America already registered a website for the game, so it probably won't end up like…
Publisher: Nintendo of Europe
Platform: Nintendo Wii (PAL)
It now seems a touch odd that Pandora's Tower fell under the same banner as the much-demanded RPGs Xenoblade Chronicles and The Last Story. Pandora's Tower is an action game instead of an RPG, and it's by a largely unknown developer of anime-based fighters. But it had timing. It arrived just when Xenoblade and The Last Story were taunting English-speaking Wii owners with ambitious RPGs they might never get to play, and Pandora's Tower looked like another promising import ignored by Nintendo's American branch. Fortunately, it was embraced by Nintendo's European branch.
It also helps that Pandora's Tower takes several cues from the perpetually prestigious Shadow of the Colossus in its tale of a warrior doing desperate things to save someone important. In Pandora's Tower, that warrior is a young soldier named Aeron, and he's trying to cure a cursed woman named Elena. The two of them are directed to a series of towers by a curious peddler who couldn't possibly have an ulterior motive in all of this. Aeron scales the towers and destroy their hideous denizens, all to bring back monster organs. Elena then devours these in a morose attempt to stave off the curse, which is slowly turning her into something horrific. Aeron also talks with Elena in between his tower forays, and the player directs their relationship to some extent. Perhaps it's a video-game allegory for the trauma and desperation of watching a loved one slowly die right in front of you. Or maybe it's just a love story!
Whatever turns the plot takes, Pandora's Tower styles itself as a medieval-fantasy action title. Aeron plays much like any other brawling game protagonist as he hacks at various creatures, but a turn of the Wii remote brings out his Oraclos Chain. A versatile weapon, the chain ensnares enemies, sets up combination attacks, and functions as a long-range grappling hook. While most of the monsters are easily dealt with, the game includes some creative fights with bosses, some of whom seem docile at first (that'd be another nod to Shadow of the Colossus). It may not do for action games what Xenoblade does for RPGs, but Pandora's Tower certainly deserves just as much of a chance on these shores.
Import Barrier: No worries. The European version is entirely in English. Strangely acted English at times, but English all the same. And it's not hard to get it running on a North American console.
Chances of a Domestic Release: Murky. Have Nintendo and other publishers already written off Pandora's Tower? Or are they waiting to see the sell-through numbers for Xenoblade Chronicles and The Last Story? And what of the rumor that GameStop mentioned Pandora's Tower in some internal documents?
MORTAL KOMBAT |
Developer: NetherRealm Studios
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive
Platform: PS Vita (prev. released on PS3, Xbox 360)
There's something sad about a Mortal Kombat game that puts all of its bonus characters on the cover. When I was a kid, Mortal Kombat's extra fighters were well-buried secrets, and we'd spend days trying to find Reptile or Jade or whatever hidden Kombatant existed only in the lies of some older arcade-goer. But we live in a different era now, and there's no point in hiding characters when you can sell them as downloadable extras or promote them as new content. The Vita version of last year's Mortal Kombat has everything in the complete—sorry, Komplete Edition of last year's fighting game, including the bonus roster of Skarlet, Kenshi, Rain, and Freddy Krueger. There's little that's new to the Vita version aside from a tower-ascending mode and a few costumes. Like the Vita editions of Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and BlazBlue, this is merely a portable version of a successful console fighting game.
And that's not necessarily bad. Last year's Mortal Kombat largely succeeded in evoking the same campy, solidly made gameplay of the franchise's highest points. In a testament to just how messy backstories had grown in previous games, the 2011 Mortal Kombat staged a time-travel plot and retold the events of the first three Mortal Kombat titles, conveniently bringing in every important character (plus the irredeemably lame Stryker and Nightwolf) in the process. It's still a 2-D fighter in gameplay, but there's a new combo system to go along with the familiar four attack buttons. Much of the game emphasizes graphic violence in new ways, such as x-ray scenes that show bones shattering inside opponents. Fatalities are also common and sure to upset parents, who will complain that the gory fighting games they played were much more tasteful. Ah, the circle of life.
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