The X Button
Missing Links

by Todd Ciolek, Jul 4th 2012

The past few weeks didn't bring that many big news stories. We're in the doldrums between E3 and Comic Con, so there's not much for companies to announce. If this leaves you bored, you can try digging through The Arcade Flyer Archive. Already known to many, it's a collection of well-preserved materials selling everything from a 1980 Lupin III title to the unreleased Sunsoft game Lionex. Many of these flyers are aimed at arcade operators, so you'll see plenty of excited lines about upgrade kits and vendors. You'll also see some truly rare artwork, like this take on the second Darkstalkers game, Night Warriors.

Night Warriors was always a strange case in American arcades. The original Darkstalkers was common enough, but this sequel struggled to get past the location-test phase over here. Maybe that flyer's to blame.

NEWS

PROJECT X ZONE HAS RELEASE DATE, APPARENTLY FINAL ROSTER
It's high time we checked in on Project X Zone, Namco Bandai's big crossover of characters from Sega, CAPCOM, and, of course, the Namco and Bandai stables. The game is poised for an October 11 release on the 3DS, and first-run copies include a soundtrack and a big book of character profiles. That all applies only in Japan, though. There's no word of the game making it to North America. Just thought we'd get that out of the way.

For those willing to brave the import wilderness and go beyond the 3DS unit's regional lockout, Project X Zone is a well-stocked buffet of characters from popular and slightly less-known franchises. CAPCOM contributes Chris and Jill from Resident Evil; Demitri, Morrigan, and Hsien-Ko from Darkstalkers; Frank West from Dead Rising; X and Zero from Megaman X; Dante from Devil May Cry; Ken, Ryu, and Chun-Li from Street Fighter; Arthur from Ghosts 'n Goblins; and Devilotte de Deathsatan IX from Cyberbots. Sega offers Ulala from Space Channel 5; Ogami, Sakura, Gemini, and Erica from Sakura Wars; Kurt, Imuka, and Riela from Valkyria Chronicles 3; Bruno (aka lawsuit-skirting Bruce Willis) from Dynamite Cop; Toma and Cyrile from Shining Force EXA; Pai and Akira from Virtua Fighter; Leanne and Zephyr from Resonance of Fate; and, surprisingly, Rikya from Zombie Revenge. The Namco/Bandai side has Kite and Black Rose from .hack; KOS-MOS and T-elos from Xenosaga; Yuri, Flynn, and Estelle from Tales of Vesperia; Xiaoyu and Jin from Tekken; Sanger from Super Robot Taisen; Soma and Alisa from Gods Eater Burst; Valkyrie from The Legend of Valkyrie; and Haken and Kaguya from Super Robot Taisen OG Saga Endless Frontier.

A game like this also requires some original characters, and that's where ninja Kogoro Tenzai and fiery sharpshooter Mii Kouryuji fit in. Mind you, all of the above are just the main party members in Project X Zone. The enemies and supporting cameos reportedly push the cast past 200 recognizable characters.

Project X Zone's very much a follow-up to the 2005 crossover strategy-RPG Namco X CAPCOM. Both games are the work of Monolith Soft (developer of Xenosaga, Xenoblade, and some RPGs that don't start with X), and both frame their corporate lineups in strategy-RPGs that give way to side-view battles. Controlled by various button combinations, characters pelt foes with their trademark attacks, knocking them high into the air and setting up combos with other characters' trademark attacks. It's all test of how fiercely players can string together moves, and the game allows up to five characters to join together in combat. If you want Megaman X, KOS-MOS, Frank West, Ulala, and an anime facsimile of Die Hard's John McClane to combine forces, Project X Zone is the only legally endorsed place to see it.

NEW, LARGER NINTENDO 3DS HAS NEW, SECOND ANALOG PAD THAT COSTS EXTRA
By now, you've heard that Nintendo has a new version of the 3DS on the way, that it's called the 3DS XL, and that it has a top screen 4.88 inches wide and a bottom one 4.18 inches wide. But that's not important. What's important is that Nintendo didn't put a second analog nub on it. Instead, you'll just have to buy a Circle Pad Pro made for the 3DS XL. You know, just like you would for the regular 3DS.

This vindicates many of the people who picked up the first model of the 3DS. They had to endure other geeks crowing about “waiting for the redesign” of Nintendo's new handheld, a redesign that would surely include a second analog pad. Well, the redesign is here, and it doesn't. Of course, the 3DS XL is still larger. And it'll run $200 when it arrives here on August 19.

IN BRIEF: ATELIER AYESHA GETTING PRO-TRANSLATED, VALKYRIA CHRONICLES 3 GETTING FAN-TRANSLATED
Nippon Ichi Software America has a fairly good relationship with the Atelier series, so a lot of fans assumed that NISA would localize the new Atelier Ayesha at some point. They were indeed correct, but the game won't arrive any time soon. At the company's Anime Expo panel, producer Jack Niida stated that it'll be a few months before NISA shares more information about the North American version of Ayesha. The same goes for Disgaea 5, which hasn't been detailed in any notable way.

In the realm of RPGs that weren't officially localized, we find Sega's Valkyria Chronicles 3. The two previous games were released here, but the sagging PSP market (and possibly the second game's cutesy tones) hurt the third game's chances. No matter, because a cadre of fans stepped in and started translating the game. They're making good progress, even if this whole operation is legally questionable and even more brazen than the Mother 3 translation (which at least waited a few years). Perhaps Sega will be too busy closing European branches to notice.

FEATURE: MISSING IN ACTION

Most games are developed, announced, hyped, and released for critical evisceration in a timely manner. Every so often, however, a title hits a snag in its production or publication, and that's where the fun starts. A game can be delayed for simple development issues, or it can be part of some web of corporate idiosyncrasies and bizarre turns of marketing. Three relatively big titles are currently in that gray area of delayed releases, and it's not entirely clear what happened to two of them.

ANARCHY REIGNS
Platform: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Release Date: Quarter 1 of 2013

Anarchy Reigns is the essence of Platinum Games: savage, spacious, and fully embracing violent trends from both Japanese and Western games. The developer, formed by ex-CAPCOM staffers, made a name with Bayonetta, Vanquish, and, to a lesser degree, MadWorld. Oddly, Anarchy Reigns is closer to MadWorld than its more popular cousins. It's staged in a lawless, rotting city where spies, assassins, and bounty hunters clash during the hunt for a power-mad mercenary. The lineup includes a catlike cyborg with a revolver in his leg, an ice-powered superheroine, an obese were-lizard, an electric thug seemingly named after Nikolai Tesla, and another cyborg, this one with telescoping pistons in his arms. A number of characters from MadWorld also appear: Baron, Mathilda, Big Bull, Rinrin (who brings her two sisters along), and scruffy, murderous hero Jack Cayman. Bayonetta's in there as well, for those of you who keep demanding a sequel to her first game.

The central mode of Anarchy Reigns follows Jack and newcomer Leo as they roam the city, but Platinum focuses more on the game's extensive multiplayer space. It's here that the game's entire cast of monstrous killers can destroy each other with all the trashy excess one normally finds in superhero comics that try too hard. But that sort of thing is strangely more palatable in video games, particularly when a game like Anarchy Reigns pitches it with large battle arenas that support up to eight players in fluid combat. And fluid combat is Platinum's specialty, after all.

The Delay:
Shortly before the summer launch of Anarchy Reigns, Sega announced that the game's North American and European releases were pushed back until next year. In a statement to the website Polygon, Sega remarked that the game was “re-evaluated” due to an “on-going restructure” in Sega's overseas branches. This didn't affect Japan, where Anarchy Reigns shipped last month under the title Max Anarchy.

To what might this “restructure” refer? Stripped of business jargon, it means that Sega's going through some rough shit. Last week, the company announced that Sega's offices in Germany, Spain, France, and Benelux would be closed, reflecting a new focus on digital content and a distribution deal with Koch Media. And this comes not long after Sega announced a plan to push mostly proven franchises like Sonic and Total War. So Sega has problems. And with Anarchy Reigns on hold, those problems are now Platinum's.

RODEA THE SKY SOLDIER
Platform: Nintendo Wii, Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: Who knows?

Yuki Naka stayed busy after leaving Sega and forming his own studio, Prope, back in 2006. The developer crafted two of the better Wii party games, Let's Tap and Let's Catch, and then put together the underrated action-puzzle game Ivy the Kiwi?, question mark and all. Yet Naka is best known for energetic, cartoony action titles like NiGHTS, Burning Rangers, and, of course, that whole Sonic the Hedgehog thing. And Rodea the Sky Soldier fits right into that category. It follows a white-haired hero of vaguely Sonic-like bearing as he leaps around a world of floating islands, not unlike those of Solatorobo or Skies of Arcadia. Rodea and his begoggled sidekick Ion face fleets of airships, robots, and similar mechanized foes, plus an ancient colossi or two. Floating continents always have a few of those on hand.

Rodea flies through all of these things in a unique fashion. Dots are found all over the place, and Rodea zips from one point to another with a flick of the Wii remote or DS stylus. When not roaming the air, he shoots down enemies and barrels into them like Sonic. In fact, what we've seen of Rodea the Sky Soldier suggests a 3-D Sonic game done properly, with a well-behaved camera and coherent level structure. It also shows plenty of melodramatic touches, but better to have those in a sweeping steam-powered sky world than a blue hedgehog's fantasyland.

The Delay:
Little was heard of Rodea after it was announced for the Wii and 3DS, and some people presumed it was just in low-profile development. Last September, Naka revealed that the game was complete and awaiting approval at its publisher, Kadokawa Games. An e-mail to Kadokawa's offices brought back a simple reply: “Kadokawa Games will publish this title in Japan. We have nothing to announce at this time, so please stay tuned for more information.”

DRAGON'S CROWN
Platform: PlayStation 3, PS Vita
Release Date: 2013

Vanillaware likes two things most of all: gorgeous 2-D artwork and old-fashioned, side-scrolling gameplay. Combinations of these drove Odin Sphere and Muramasa: The Demon Blade, and the same watercolor-like graphics were used in Grim Grimoire and the developer's most recent game, Grand Knights History. Dragon's Crown is another throwback to a classic genre, and it's heavily inspired by the Dungeons & Dragons brawlers that Vanillaware founder George Kamitani helped make while at CAPCOM. As in many games termed “beat-'em-ups” or “belt scrollers,” Dragon's Crown has several different characters treading through stages and pummeling humdrum enemies and the occasional boss. This time, however, the stages are breathtaking fantasy spectacles and the enemies are detailed creatures of myth. The playable warriors are similarly well-illustrated, though two of them are opportunities for Kamitani to let his id roam unencumbered. Alongside the fighter, mage, dwarf, and elf archer, you'll see a ridiculously buxom sorceress and muscular amazon seemingly engineered for the sake of naughty fan art.

Dragon's Crown looks beyond arcade mechanics, however, as it's built to be an online action-RPG of sorts. Four players can join the story mode at a time, and the characters all have specific abilities, including the dwarf's habit of tossing foes around the scenery. Players who perish in online play will linger as skeletons, and their remains can be revived to serve as lackeys for other players. Like Castle Crashers and the recent Guardian Heroes touch-up, it's a promising update of an undervalued genre. And it's an impressive sight beyond the fairy lagoon backdrops and towering dragons.

The Delay:
First announced at E3 2011, Dragon's Crown looked to be an early standout on the Vita. But time went by, the Vita launched, and Dragon's Crown still sat there with a nebulous release date from North American publisher Ignition. This past April, Atlus picked up the rights to the game and gave it more practical release date of “2013.” The game's still in development, and its price will reportedly be a little higher than the $29.99 sticker Ignition originally gave it. But it's coming.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

DUNGEON FIGHTER LIVE: FALL OF HENDON MYRE
Developer: Neople/Softmax/Nexon
Publisher: Microsoft
Platform: XBox Live Arcade
Players: 1-4
MSRP: 800 MS Points ($10)

The original Dungeon Fighter Online is a crafty fusion of two worlds. From the late '80s arcade scene, it takes the side-scrolling mechanics of Golden Axe and Final Fight. From the modern era, it takes the massive community of multiplayer online RPGs. The result is a novel, free-to-play creation that unfold much like CAPCOM's old Dungeons & Dragons brawlers. Players pick specific classes of character, fight through stages littered with traps and dumb enemies, and then upgrade their characters with new items and weapons. And because this is an online game, they do it all in the company of other players, who can quest together, pound each other, or have those confusing interactions online games so often afford. And it's all glossed up in the anime portraits and effects you'd find in a high-end arcade attraction twenty years ago.

As the subtitle suggests, Dungeon Fighter Live: Fall of Hendon Myre isn't a straight transplant of the PC-based original. It's an adaptation with a high-definition overhaul and a more focused storyline, plus the option of trading items with Xbox 360 players instead of the PC community. Oddly enough, the Live version of the game has only the gunner, slayer, and fighter classes, even though it supports four players at a time. The basic game isn't free on Live, either, but anyone curious about this new revamp can try the PC game first.

RHYTHM THIEF & THE EMPEROR'S TREASURE
Developer: Sega/Xeen
Publisher: Sega
Platform: Nintendo at 3DS
Players: 1-2
MSRP: $39.99

Rhythm Thief & The Emperor's Treasure may be driven by music, but that's only half of what Sega's after here. Everything about the game's storyline and artwork puts it in the same camp as Level-5's Professor Layton: the European backdrops, the cartoonish characters, and the mystery at the center of everything. But if Konami can reach for Layton's plate twice (first with Zack & Ombra and again with Doctor Lautrec), Sega's surely allowed to do it once. Besides, their new hero is less a Layton clone than a Lupin-esque gentleman scoundrel. Most people know him as Raphael, but he's also R, a notorious burglar who swipes treasures from Paris art galleries and returns them not long afterward. Soon Raphael and his dog Fondue (har!) cross paths with a violin prodigy named Maria and some goon who claims he's Napoleon. Yes, the actual Napoleon. We told you it was Lupin-esque.

There's less genre slavishness in Rhythm Thief's gameplay. Every major event of Raphael's little adventure is a musical mini-game, and it's not just limited to dancing. Players have to keep up a beat when leaping across rooftops, fighting off armored thugs, or hiding behind specifically posed statues in a museum. They're fairly simple mini-games, but at least there's a spread of Paris landmarks to take in and desecrate with pop-music tomfoolery. Sure, Doctor Lautrec and the Forgotten Knights was also set in Paris, but the good doctor never danced atop the Arc de Triomphe.

EXTRA LIVES: COWBOY BEBOP

April 4, 2003
Hey there! I'm here at my first anime convention! I didn't even know they had these things until last week, but my friends invited me to come along! Oh man, this is great! Just look at all of these people dressed up like anime characters! It's like Halloween but cooler!

I'm gonna check out the dealers' room. Now, I don't really know much about Gundam or InuYasha or that Magic User's Club thing that Dennis seems way too into, but you know what I really like? Cowboy Bebop. That's a great show. Maybe they have Cowboy Bebop stuff around here.

Cool! They have a bunch of Cowboy Bebop CDs and wallscrolls and even some little figures. I'm not sure about getting CDs. I like the music, but one time a friend of mine bought some anime soundtracks online and they turned out to be bootlegs. Still, this is a convention, so I'm sure everything is on the level.

Whoa, this table's full of video games! And they have a Cowboy Bebop game for the PlayStation! I didn't know they made a Bebop game! And it's…uh, it's seventy-five dollars. But hey, it comes from Japan, and they had to import it over here. Besides, maybe games are really expensive in Japan.

You know what? I'm going to get it. Sure, that'll leave me with ten dollars left in my budget for this trip, but how often do you see Japanese PlayStation games for sale? I'll just get a bunch of ramen cups and eat that all weekend. Or maybe I'll make a big sign that says WILL SING ANIME SONGS FOR FOOD. Maybe I'll ask people at the convention for money! Wouldn't that be hilarious? I bet no one's thought of that before!

April 7, 2003
OK, the trip's over and I'm really hungry, but I just gotta open my Cowboy Bebop game. It's in a plastic sleeve and not sealed like games usually are, but maybe that's how they package these in Japan. And there aren't any instructions, but maybe Japanese games don't come with instructions! Besides, this thing says “Bandai The Best” on the cover, so it's got to be good!

Time to pop this in my PlayStation and…wait…it's not reading the disc. Great, I bet my system's broken.

May 12, 2003
So it turns out that Japanese games don't run on American PlayStations! Why didn't anyone tell me that? Well, Vincent did, but I don't believe half of the things he says. Not since he told me Angel Cop was his favorite anime. Anyway, I had to get a mod chip put in my PlayStation. A guy two dorms over did it for me. He took almost a month and my PlayStation smells like bong water. And he charged me fifty bucks for it. So if you look at it, I'm paying well over a hundred bucks to play this Cowboy Bebop game. But it'll all be worth it! Inserting disc! Switching unit on!

Hmm. That's the ship from Cowboy Bebop, but who the hell is that guy? Since when was Chewbacca in Cowboy Bebop? I don't know, but all the dialogue's in Japanese, so I have no way of figuring it out. But at least Spike, Faye, Jet, and the others are all there, and they're landing on some planet.

It looks like this is a shooter where you fly around in the Swordfish II. You can fire a machine gun, missiles, or this laser thing that's pretty cool. Kinda hard to control it, though. But it's a lot like Star Fox or that Panzer Dragon thing, and those were good games.

Well, this is…pretty hard. You can steer the Swordfish, but the game is always jerking you around in one direction or another, and it's hard to aim right. Especially when it comes to the laser. You have to charge it up and fire it by pressing two buttons at once, and you just have to flail around and hope that you hit something. And the first boss is really hard, since you're always crashing into things.

I made it to the second stage, and it's…it's…Oh man, this game is a MESS. The controls are terrible and your ship never stays in the right place. In fact, I just keep crashing into things and the camera keeps screwing up and I don't even know what I'm supposed to…

Hey, don't get mad at ME, Jet! It's not my fault! It's the game!

And the worst part of all this? Even if this game worked right, it doesn't feel like Cowboy Bebop. The spaceship parts in the show were fun, but I really liked all the hand-to-hand fights and shootouts and, most of all, the characters. This game doesn't have much of that. The characters all pop up in little boxes, but it's not really the same. The music's not even all that good. Not jazzy enough.

August 20, 2003
Hmm. I'd better eBay a few things before school starts. First up, one copy of Cowboy Bebop for the Japanese PlayStation. Played only a few times. Average…er, near mint condition.

Yeah, that game was a waste. I guess they really couldn't do Cowboy Bebop justice on the PlayStation. But you know what? Maybe they'll make a Bebop game for the PlayStation 2! Now THAT would be awesome!


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