The X Button
Anthology Apology

by Todd Ciolek, May 30th 2012

This year marks the 25th anniversary of Street Fighter. The celebration didn't have a smooth start, as 2012 began with the rushed, nickel-and-diming release of Street Fighter X Tekken. Capcom clearly hopes to make up for that with the overstuffed offering of a $150 Street Fighter Anniversary Collector's Set.

It's a rather extensive package, and the price isn't so surprising after a look at the contents. A tastefully decorated box holds 15 discs, two of which are Street Fighter X Tekken and Super Street Fighter IV Arcade Edition, plus download codes for Super Street fighter II Turbo HD Remix and Street Fighter III: Third Strike Online Edition. The other discs contain a Blu-Ray Street Fighter documentary, the anime films made for Street Fighter IV and Super Street Fighter IV, the whole of that laughable Street Fighter cartoon series, Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie, and 11 volumes of Street Fighter soundtracks. Also within are a replica of Ryu's belt, a light-up Ryu statue, and a book of Street Fighter fan art. It'll be out on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 this September.

Of course, this elaborate spread raises the same problem as all lavish re-issues: if you're a big enough fan to buy it, you're probably a big enough fan to already own a good chunk of it. While I don't have a Ryu statue or any Street Fighter soundtracks, I do own a few of the games included. And while the Street Fighter cartoon and the animated movie (which now seems out of print) are entertaining in completely different ways, one can find cheaper methods of acquiring them.

It would be impressive if Capcom released a collection of every last Street Fighter game, but that would involve a lot more work than commissioning a Ryu statue. That said, $150 isn't such a bad price for the geek who actually wants most of this stuff. And if you're that crazy about Street Fighter, I might have a Blanka watch from 1994 to sell you. It's not guaranteed to work.

NEWS

ZONE OF THE ENDERS RETURNS WITH NEW GAME, STRANGE MODELS Zone of the Enders never quite lived up to Konami's plans for it. Conceived as multimedia space opera in a Gundam vein, the Zone of the Enders franchise grew to include a brief, slightly impressive PlayStation 2 game, a short anime prologue, a longer anime TV series, a Game Boy Advance strategy-RPG, and a PS2 sequel that's considered the high point of the whole enterprise. Then it all stopped. Hideo Kojima and the rest of his team mentioned the series here and there, but it was clearly a lower-tier project while Kojima's studio busied themselves with Metal Gear Solid titles. Nine years after the last Zone of the Enders game, Kojima's confirmed that another title is in development.

This new Enders project is in so early a state that it has no screenshots or official title. Instead, Konami showed off some concept art and models of the game's mecha (which looks like it stumbled out of plans for a Dark Crystal sequel). They look almost too detailed to translate into a game, but Kojima mentioned that this Enders follow-up uses the new Fox Engine. As with previous Enders titles, Kojima's just a producer on the game. Much of the development will be overseen by producer Ryosuke Toriyama, though the game's actual director wasn't announced at the time.

If this latest Zone of the Enders seems too far off, fans will at least have Zone of the Enders HD Collection in their hands by this fall. It puts a high-definition cast on the two Zone of the Enders games from the PS2 (ignoring the GBA one) and adds a Sunrise-made animated opening. The HD Collection also features better audio compression, but it's not yet clear if Konami will re-dub the games. Considering that some fans actually like the inane banter of Zone of the Enders 2nd Runner, better voice acting might not be worth the trouble.

NEW CASTLEVANIA IS A NEW LORDS OF SHADOW GAME Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is no longer just a single game that re-imagined the franchise. It's now a sub-series of its own. Mercury Steam, the developer of Lords of Shadow, is now at work on a new 3DS installment with the tripartite title of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate.

Early reports about the game set its story 25 years after the events of Lords of Shadow. With the return of Dracula, vampire hunter Trevor Belmont sets out to put things right, and his descendant Simon does the same at a later point in the storyline. Of course, these versions of Trevor and Simon are newly devised for the Lords of Shadow universe, so they won't necessarily act (or look) the same as their mainline Castlevania selves. Simon wields a familiar Castlevania whip and summons creatures to his side, while Trevor uses various magic spells and a "combat cross" similar to the one in Lords of Shadow. The gameplay looks to be in a 2-D style with 3-D graphics, and the characters will reportedly be able to communicate across different time periods.

YAKUZA 5 EXPLORES CITIES, POP IDOL DREAMS
Sega's Yakuza series was ambitious from the start. It follows the gold-hearted thug Kazuma Kiryu through a criminal underworld, including not only his melodramatic story but also his visits to convenience stores, his romances with club hostesses, and his day-to-day diversions. Yakuza 5 gives Kiryu and the rest of the game's cast even more space than before. The PlayStation 3 title explores seedy districts in Tokyo, Osaka, Sapporo, Fukuoka, and Nagoya. It even delves into the most frightening realm of modern Japan: the pop-star industry.

The roster expands as well. Haruka Sawamura, a girl who's spent previous Yakuza games under Kazuma's care, now joins the cast as a playable character alongside the all-new Tatsuo Shinada. Naturally, both of them need Kazuma's help: Tatsuo's a has-been baseball player in trouble over gambling debts, and the teenaged Haruka's dreams of pop stardom lead her to a corrupt idol-maker agency. Shun Akiyama and Taiga Saejima return from previous Yakuza games, and Kazuma's now working as a taxi driver.

In fact, Sega promises that Yakuza 5 will have twice the story of its predecessor, Yakuza 4 (yes, the zombie outbreak of Yakuza: Of the End didn't count). The game's set to arrive in Japan this December, and Sega's said nothing about bringing it to North America.

IN BRIEF: CRIMSON DRAGON DATED, HARVEST MOON SLATED, UNCHAINED BLADES INNERVATED
Crimson Dragon, the upcoming Kinect shooter and heir presumptive of the Panzer Dragoon legacy, at last has a release date in Japan. It's scheduled to launch on XBox Live this June 13, though there's no U.S. release date available. Or is there? Many download-only Live games hit all regions at once, and Microsoft's Crimson Dragon demos have English text. Perhaps they're hoping to surprise us come June 13—and then depress the Panzer Dragoon fans who don't own a Kinect.

It's not particularly big news when Natsume announces another Harvest Moon for North America. Natsume handles all things Harvest Moon on these shores, you know. But the latest game unveiled, Harvest Moon: New Beginning, is at least another enjoyable piece of the series, and it adds extensive customization to the typical pursuits of starting a farm, finding a life partner, and raising a family. Natsume will reveal more details at E3—including, we assume, what sort of stuffed animal will be available with preorders.

The dungeon-crawler Unchained Blades hasn't yet debuted in North America, but it's already getting a sequel in Japan. The original's biggest selling point came from getting a wide array of anime, game, and manga artists to design different characters, and the sequel brings in another round. The artists on deck this time are Yusuke Kozaki (No More Heroes), Suzuhito Yasuda (Devil Survivor, Yozakura Quartet), Eiji Kaneda (Aquarion), Haruyuki Morisawa (Lagrange), Senmu (Kämpfer), Kumiko Suekane (Blood+ Adagio), Kaito Shibano (the Luminous Arc series), Katsumi Enami (Ys Seven, Baccano!), Shin Nagasawa (Final Fantasy IX), Kia Asamiya (Silent Möbius and a bunch of other stuff people have forgotten about), and Kunihiko Tanaka (Ruin Explorers, Xenogears, Sands of Destruction).

IMPORT ROUNDUP: MAY

CIEL NO SURGE
Developer: Gust
Publisher: Gust/ Tecmo KOEI
Platform: PS Vita
Players: 1

What sort of game is Ciel no Surge? Gust designates it as a “communication” title, but feel free to label it a girlfriend simulator. The girl in question is I.O.N, a shy young thing in the grip of an unfortunate case of amnesia. In order to restore her memory, the player talks with her and shows her around a vaguely futuristic city, while events unfold in time with the Vita's internal clock. When such mild therapy falls short, the player can use computer terminals to dive into I.O.N's psyche, revealing an eerily ruined world and a number of secrets. If it's perhaps inappropriate for players to be I.O.N's lover as well as her therapist, Ciel no Surge doesn't care. Whether on dates or memory-recovery expeditions, I.O.N blushingly flirts with the player, apparently forging a relationship that could affect the entire planet. And players aren't alone in these sessions. Three neighborhood kids help I.O.N adjust, and fairies called Char can be created by scanning barcodes with the Vita's camera. The conveniently girlish Char then enter I.O.N's mind to solder her nerve connections back together.

Ciel no Surge is the work of the minds responsible for the Ar Tonelico series, which doused RPGs in sugary-cute anime characters and psychological exploration. But there's no RPG to be found in Ciel no Surge, as much of the game plays out in conversations. It's not an entirely solo experience, though; players can combine Char-related points to unlock new costumes and hairstyles for the confused heroine. Clearly aware of Ciel no Surge's audience, Gust put most of their work into I.O.N's appearance and personality. Will she stand out from the numerous other girls in Japan's unavoidable crop of “communication” games? She already has, in a way: Ciel no Surge Volume 2 is coming out in June.

Import Barrier: There's a lot of talking, and it's all in Japanese. If that's not a problem, the Vita has no regional lock-out to further dissuade you.

Chances of a Domestic Release: Relatively low. The Ar Tonelico series made it over here, but those were RPGs at the very least. Dialogue-driven games like Ciel no Surge are a harder sell.

GUILD01
Developer: Level-5
Publisher: Level-5
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Players: 1

Anthology games are quite rare. So rare, in fact, that I'm not sure if the industry's ever before attempted something like Guild01, a collection of four smaller-scale games by different directors. In theory, it frees them from the constraints of big-budget planning, and the results mix established genres with stranger pursuits. The most marketable of the four is easily Goichi “Suda51” Suda's Liberation Girl, a 3-D shooter that pits a future Japan's teenage girl president against an invading force. Naturally, there's a giant robot for her to pilot and a bevy of anime cutscenes to convey her chief executive struggle.

Less readily commercial is Aero Porter, a baggage-handling simulator by Seaman creator Yoot Saito. It begins with a single luggage conveyor, but players can expand their enterprise to an entire airport. A similar entrepreneurial spirit drives Weapon Rental Shop de Omasse, the work of comedian Yoshiyuki Hirai. The game views an RPG quest through the eyes of a blacksmith's apprentice who forges and sells weapons to various adventurers.

Crimson Shroud is by far the most interesting game in the set, as it marks the return of Yasumi Matsuno. Though he's responsible for RPG standard-setters like Tactics Ogre and Final Fantasy Tactics, Matsuno hasn't directed a game since 2006's Final Fantasy XII (which he left mid-development). Crimson Shroud is vintage Matsuno: down-to-earth medieval settings, ornate costumes, and names like “Gianique.” However, it's all used to simulate a tabletop RPG session. Players roll dice, characters look like miniature figures, and players can choose diverging paths in the story. It all seems quite different from the typical RPG, but Matsuno's previous works always had some complex stats fueling their gameplay. Perhaps Crimson Shroud is the game he always wanted to make.

Import Barrier: Liberation Girl is an approachable shooter, but the other three games all involve copious text. Oh, and 3DS games are region-locked.

Chances of a Domestic Release: Despite some interest from Level-5, it's unlikely that any Western publisher would take on all four of the games. Perhaps someone will work out a deal for Liberation Girl and Crimson Shroud.

MUSHIHIMESAMA HD
Developer: Cave
Publisher: Cave
Platform: Xbox 360
Players: 1-2

Back in 2004, Cave reached a turning point with Mushihimesama and the bug-befriending schoolgirl princess Reco. Earlier Cave shooters often used anime-ish heroines, but Mushihimesama was the first of the developer's games that really emphasized its main character, to the point of inspiring Reco statues and other merchandise. It all worked to profitable effect, and to this day Cave's shooters usually have marketable, big-eyed female characters to appeal to some sector of the modern anime community. Mushihimesama remains Cave's biggest property in that regard, since it inspired a sequel, an iPhone action game, and, most recently, this HD remastering. The new package here includes the original and arranged versions of the game, a downloadable "1.5" version, and a beginner course for those of us who are intimidated by the massive swarms of bullets in Cave shooters.

As for the game itself, Mushihimesama is fairly straightforward among Cave shooters. Reco and her beetle-like steed have three types of shot as well as pawn ships that can follow her in several ways. It lacks the shields and bullet-slowing mechanics of Cave's ESP series, and there's nothing like Progear no Arashi's impenetrable dating-sim undercurrent. This leaves players to focus all of their attention on scoring points and dodging enemy fire. And since this is one of those “bullet curtain” shooters that Cave so loves, there's a lot of enemy fire. For the money, however, the overall package seems a bit spare; it's nicer than the Mushihimesama port that hit the Playstation 2, but you'd think Cave could bundle together the sequel, Mushihimesama Futari, and possibly even the iOS game, Bug Panic. Yet shooters fans will likely find endless challenges in this upscaled version of an influential shooter. Casual players will note that they can get Mushihimesama on their iPhones (as “Bug Princess”) for about five bucks.

Import Barrier: Some of Cave's Xbox 360 shooters are region-free. This is not one of them. At least it's easy to understand once you get past that roadblock.

Chances of a Domestic Release: Fairly low, but Rising Star Games may go for it. It's also possible that Cave will work out a downloadable release on XBox Live, as they did with Deathsmiles II.

NEXT THIS WEEK'S RELEASE

YS ORIGIN
Developer: Falcom
Publisher: XSEED Games
Platform: Steam
Players: 1
MSRP: $19.99

By now fans have accepted that the long-running Ys action-RPG series won't be as popular in North America as it is in Japan, where it's helped Falcom turn a profit each quarter. Yet it's never been easier to find Ys games in English: XSeed released Ys Seven and Ys: The Oath in Felghana on the PSP, and they've only gotten more direct in delivery methods. Felghana arrived on Steam earlier this year, and now the PC-based games service has the first official English version of Ys Origin.

Granted, the game's an oddity in the series. It doesn't star recurring hero Adol Christin, and it actually stretches back centuries in the franchise's timeline. The tale concerns goddesses Feena and Reah, whose absence sends a bunch of adventurers from the floating kingdom of Ys to the inhospitable lands below. The three playable heroes are axe-hefting knight trainee Yunica Tovah, sorcerer Hugo Fact (there's a hint, Ys fans), and a certain antagonist who's only available once the game's finished.

Ys Origin almost seems a dungeon hack in disguise. All of its gameplay transpires within the ominously named Devil's Tower, seen in at least two previous Ys games (and also known as Darm Tower). If that sounds restrictive, the tower nonetheless houses a full complement of action-RPG stages: lava stages, icy stages, desert stages, and even a little tower set off by itself. Yes, the game's level design goes for clichés whenever it can, and it's hard to find Ys fans who consider Origin the best of the series. It's hardly terrible, though, and anyone who follows the Ys mythos will find a prequel story that's a little darker than the franchise's norm. And for those who must have Adol in their Ys games, he pops up in a bonus mode.


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