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by Todd Ciolek, Oct 24th 2012

Welcome to another week of news, interviews, and excuses for me to talk about the upcoming Darkstalkers: Resurrection. Yes, I am very excited to have the series back, even if it's just a repacking of two older titles. It's also led me to realize that I'll be all right if this is the only new Darkstalkers we get.

Most of my favorite series went out on high notes. Panzer Dragoon had four excellent games (plus a crappy Game Gear spin-off), and they form a satisfying little tale. The three Valkyrie Profile titles are fascinatingly unique, and they don't leave that many loose ends. Now, I'm interested in the upcoming Panzer-ish Crimson Dragon, and I'd squeak like a guinea pig if Square Enix announced Valkyrie Profile 3: Hrist tomorrow. Yet I'm also content with the series as they are.

Darkstalkers lies in the same camp. I hope that Yoshinori Ono finally gets to make Darkstalkers IV, but it's enough for me if I can just enjoy Night Warriors and Darkstalkers 3 over XBox Live and the PLAYSTATION Network. The same goes for Guilty Gear. While I have no objection to Arc System Works attempting Guilty Gear 3 (even after what happened with Guilty Gear 2), I'm just glad that the best Guilty Gear is coming to Live this week and the PSN next week.

How about you all? Are you happy with your favorite series? Are you fine with Shigesato Itoi never crafting another Earthbound game? Do you want Metroid to quit while it's behind? Can you leave Lunar, Strider, Contra, Valis, and Tengai Makyo as they stand?

NEWS

NIS ANNOUNCES NEW DISGAEA GAME, DELAYS NEW DISGAEA-ESQUE GAME
Nippon Ichi Software revealed The God and Fate Paradox for the PlayStation 3 this summer, whereupon comparisons to the Disgaea series arose. The strategy-RPG is the work of the Disgaea team, and it also happens to set its tale in the realms above. It profiles a high-schooler named Renya as he's somehow drafted to serve as a god, changing mortal fates for the better and fending off the legions of hell. He's aided by a detachment of angels, most of whom are young women in frilly, maid-like dresses.

The God and Fate Paradox heads into dungeon-hack territory with its randomly arranged stages, which reset the player's stats to level one upon leaving. They also get a little creative in their layouts, such as a large cube that characters explore on all sides. As in Nippon Ichi's Z.H.P., Renya can equip various costumes for corresponding combat abilities, and the Disgaea methods of tossing and exploding other party members are still in effect.

No Nippon Ichi Software release is complete without crossovers, though The God and Fate Paradox has only one so far: Asagi, the fame-seeking woman who's become an intrusive guest in other NIS titles. The rest of the cast appears new. Renya's primary angel-maid partner is the healer Leliel, but he has a host of other servants (including an apparent angel-butler named Lekiel). The game's not yet on track for a North American release, possibly because it's still early. A recent delay put its Japanese release in January.

Nippon Ichi clearly has no intention of setting Disgaea aside, as their latest project was revealed to be Disgaea Dimension 2. While three sequels have followed the original Disagea, all of them were tangentially related successors with mostly new casts of characters. The grumpy, pint-sized Netherworld ruler Laharl, his disloyal underling Etna, and angel-turned-demon Flonne all popped up in other games, but never in their own sequel.

Disgaea Dimension 2 directly follows the first game, returning to the 2003 strategy-RPG's storyline. Laharl, Etna, and Flonne come back with larger sprites, and the same goes for their summonable party members, from samurai to mages to demon-penguin Prinnies. It's out for the Japanese PlayStation 3 in March, and a North American release is very, very likely.

XSEED SNAGS CORPSE PARTY: BOOK OF SHADOWS
The gruesome murders of Corpse Party apparently did well for XSEED Games, which released the PSP version of the horror-adventure game here last year. XSEED recently announced that their localization of the follow-up, Corpse Party: Book of Shadows, will hit the PSP as a downloadable release this winter.

This isn't the actual Corpse Party 2, mind you; that'd be a new game called Dead Patient, which hits PCs in Japan later this year. Book of Shadows is something of an epilogue to the original Corpse Party. Some of its eight chapters follow characters after their nightmarish ordeal, while others retell the first game's story from new (and often doomed) perspectives. Book of Shadows also drops the overhead, RPG-like look of the original, taking on a first-person viewpoint that's more conducive to actual horror. As for the XSEED version of the original game, it's now ten bucks on the PLAYSTATION Network. The price shoots back up on November 6.

IN BRIEF: 7TH DRAGON RETURNS, MORE MECHA CROSS OVER, DARKSTALKERS GETS A RELEASE DATE
Sega's 7th Dragon series has yet to make it overseas, but there's hope as long as new games pop up. And another one is on its way, judging by a logo and trademarks filed in Japan for 7th Dragon 2020 3rd Encount. It's presumably a sequel to the futuristic 7th Dragon 2020, which brought dungeon hackery to a Tokyo overrun by mutant flowers. At this writing, that's all we know about the Encount.

Super Robot Wars remains the game industry's most popular spot for anime-mecha crossovers, but there's always some new joint opening up. Artdink, experienced in making Gundam and Macross fare, announced a new action title called Battle Robot Soul. Slated for the PSP next year, it'll feature machines from Star Driver, Code Geass, Lagrange, Zegapain, Fafner in the Azure, Eureka Seven, Heroman, and Macross F. Sounds like a mostly modern selection, but maybe they'll sneak in Dai Apollon.

I'm not going to mention Darkstalkers: Resurrection every week, but I actually have some news about it. The Japanese version of the two-game collection will hit Japan on February 7, which strongly suggests that it'll arrive in North America and Europe at the same time. It'll also cost more in Japan: 2,990 yen ($37.50) compared to the $14.99 it'll run on the PLAYSTATION Network and XBox Live over here.

SCREENSHOT OF THE WEEK: ZONE OF THE ENDERS HD COLLECTION
I know this isn't a screenshot. It's just a photo. Yet it's tied to Zone of the Enders HD Collection, shipping to stores this week. In Japan, Konami will promote the game with this giant Jehuty bust, which will gaze from the top of Akihabara's Shimura Musen building next week.

And then what will happen to it? I've always wondered what becomes of ridiculously oversized promotional fixtures like this. I imagine they're auctioned off or disassembled, since it's unlikely than some employee could slip the giant Jehuty torso into a car trunk and take it home. Perhaps Konami will just put it in storage, waiting for the upcoming Zone of the Enders 3 or the 2021 release of Zone of the Enders 3-D Collection.

INTERVIEW: CYBERCONNECT2'S HIROSHI MATSUYAMA

Hiroshi Matsuyama goes far beyond the call of typical game promotions. Though he's the president of the development house CyberConnect2 and an architect of the successful .hack franchise, he doesn't stop with designing games, managing projects, and giving interviews. He frequently dresses up as Naruto to push the developer's Ultimate Ninja fighting games, while their new JoJo's Bizarre Adventure fighter prompted a similar costume.

CyberConnect2 isn't limited to major franchises, either. In between Naruro brawlers and .hack titles, they've crafted cult favorites like Silent Bomber, Tail Concerto, and Solatorobo. With Naruto Shippūden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 coming to the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 next May, Matsuyama was on hand during the New York Comic Con to answer a few questions about CyberConnect2's many undertakings.

How do you decide what characters to include in a Naruto fighter? Do you look to fan requests?

Hiroshi Matsuyama: We typically decide based on who has a lot of scenes in the original series, a lot of the spotlight and depth. It's also the studio's judgment, plus some fan requests.

What do you think is the biggest breakthrough for Ultimate Ninja Storm 3?

I believe the best aspect is the improved battle system, because it's changed so much. Unfortunately, we can't talk about the details yet. But it is something that fans will be able to easily pick up and enjoy.

Many of your Naruto fighters have come to North America. What feedback do you get from fighting-game fans over here?

On our official website, there's a corner for fans to give their feedback. The Storm series has over 30,000 comments, and about 60 percent of that comes from North America. So we do look into American fan feedback. Japanese fans don't really write their opinions on our forums as much. If there are 20,000 American posts, there are about 150 Japanese feedback posts.

How are the two types of fan different?

American fans often want to see more playable characters. There are often requests for very, very minor characters that only maniac fans would know about. In Japan, the fan feedback is more about how we should be more careful with the major characters. They're very particular about how those characters are shown in the game.

The Naruto manga and anime involve all sorts of elaborate attacks. Which one was the hardest to put in the game?

It differs with each title, but one that stands out is Itachi's Tsukuyomi, or any other hallucinatory jutsu. Those attacks work by making the opponent hallucinate certain scenes, and that requires the development team to recreate those scenes and then return to the main game.

Do you have a favorite among the new characters you're introducing in Ultimate Ninja Storm 3?

Of the characters announced, I like Mifune the most [makes a sword-drawing motion] because he's a samurai. We put a lot of effort into making his samurai motions very authentic.

Recently Bandai put out Hybrid Packs for series like Macross and .hack, containing both a movie and a game. Would you want to do something like that for Naruto?

Nothing's planned, and it doesn't seem likely due to licensing issues.

CyberConnect2 recently made .hack//Versus. How would you compare making that to making a Naruto fighter?

The creation of .hack//Versus was very enjoyable, but both the audience and gameplay of Naruto and .hack are very different. So they're comparable in some sense, but they're different in other ways. The battle systems and visuals are different, and the similarities are just that they're fighting games.

How about the JoJo's Bizarre Adventure fighter that CyberConnect2 is making? Is that using a graphics engine similar to Ultimate Ninja Storm 3?

Jojo's is using a completely different engine, one made completely just for the Jojo's game. Because Jojo's is such a long-lasting franchise, there's a large expectation to make the game well, so there's a lot of pressure. But it's a different kind of pressure than Naruto.

CyberConnect2 has its own animation studio, which did .hack//The Movie, right? What difficulties did you encounter?

The animation we create isn't as separate as you might think, but we put a lot of effort in making the animation each year. If there's another chance to use animation to the extent that we used in .hack, we'd be glad to use it.

Are there any particular movies or directors that inspired you in making the film?

There's no work in particular that comes to mind, but I'm a big fan of movies, and I watch them to see what's good and what's bad. The general observations I've made have helped.

For CyberConnect's Little Tail Bronx series, you originally made Tail Concerto on the PlayStation in 1998 and then made Solatorobo very recently. Solatorobo feels a bit like two games in one, since there's another story after the first one ends. Was it originally planned as two games?

Solatorobo was made in two parts, which is probably why you felt it was two games in one. This was largely influenced by that fact that the animation was done in two parts and then implemented in one tiny DS game.

CyberConnect2 wanted to make Solatorobo for over a decade, right? How did your ideas for the game change over that time period?

While we were making the game, we carefully went over all of the ideas we had for Solatorobo over the years. So we believe that every lingering desire about the game was put into the final project.

Strelka Stories was announced a while ago, and fans are still wondering if it's a game or a movie. Any news about that?

Unfortunately, all you can see of it now is on the website. Nothing is revealed, and we can't say if it's a game or an anime. But the time will come when that's announced, so stay tuned!

But it's in the Little Tail Bronx series, right?

Yes, it's part of that.

CyberConnect2's Silent Bomber is considered a cult classic now, and many people wonder if there will ever be a sequel or a port for a modern system. Would you want to bring it back?

We come up with new titles every year, but I'm not sure if we'll have that.

You've dressed up as Naruto several times. Did you dress as a character from JoJo's Bizarre Adventure for the new game?

Yes. I dressed up as Rohan Kishibe at the Tokyo Game Show this year.

What about dressing up as a character from Little Tail Bronx?

[Laughs] If we make a new game in that series, then yes, I will!

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

OKAMI HD
Developer: Clover/CAPCOM
Publisher: CAPCOM
Platform: PLAYSTATION Network
MSRP: TBA

CAPCOM didn't really know what they had with Okami. The original PlayStation 2 game was critically lauded upon its 2006 debut, but it didn't quite sell enough copies for CAPCOM's higher-ups. Okami did well enough, but its failure to be an obvious blockbuster exacerbated tensions between CAPCOM and the game's developers at Clover Studio, which later shut down (and effectively reformed as Platinum Games). Okami persevered, however, and CAPCOM eventually realized that it was something special. A Wii port and the DS sequel Okamiden arrived in the years after Clover's demise, and CAPCOM's seen fit to revive it once again with a hi-def makeover on the PLAYSTATION Network.

This is especially appropriate for Okami, a game defined largely by its looks. It follows the wolf goddess Amaterasu through a gorgeous watercolor vision of ancient Japan. Part ukiyo-e painting and part cel-shaded cartoon, the world around Amaterasu comes to life through her Celestial Brush, which can paint attacks, repair items, or create solutions to puzzles. There's a well-grounded action game in the combat, of course, but the game relies most on Amaterasu's ongoing quest to revive the land around her, plus the many allies she meets along the way. Aside from the implicit sharpening of the graphics, the HD version adds support for the PlayStation Move motion-controller. And that's also appropriate for a game that's ultimately about painting.

PROFESSOR LAYTON AND THE MIRACLE MASK
Developer: Level-5
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
MSRP: $39.99

A little background lesson might be in order for the latest Professor Layton game. While it's the fifth main Layton title to come along, it's actually the second (or maybe the third) in chronology. It follows Professor Layton and the Last Specter as well the Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva film, which were prequels set three years before the original Layton trilogy. Anyway, Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask enters even more convoluted territory, as it's a backstory in two ways. The main plotline finds Layton, his assistant Luke, and his other assistant Emmy heading to the town of Monte d'Or just as a masked man's parade float starts turning the citizens to stone. It all ties back to the secondary story of Layton's school days, told through copious flashbacks that reveal our hero's friendship with a local rich kid. Could this all be connected somehow to the perfidious petrification of the populace? Nah.

As usual, Layton's investigations are carried along by puzzles that include word problems, shape-arranging, item-stacking, and other things you'd find in an IQ test booklet. This being the first Layton game on the 3DS, several of these challenges use the system's 3-D feature, though not to the point where stereoscopic examination is essential. There's even a dungeon to be navigated later in the game, as Layton finds his way around some ancient ruins (he's an archeologist, after all). Level-5 also threw in a year's supply of extra puzzles to be downloaded. It's all a somewhat routine Layton package, lacking the London Life bonus RPG that came with last year's adventure. But I doubt the fans of the series care about such extras when Layton's history is on display.

THUNDERCATS
Developer: Aspect Digital Entertainment
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Platform: Nintendo DS
MSRP: $29.99

There are three reasons I'm spotlighting a game based on Thundercats. One, the 2011 cartoon wasn't bad at all. It had some neat Studio 4°C designs, and it deserved another season. Two, the Thundercats DS game is made by Aspect Digital Entertainment, makers of the Naruto Ninja Council series on the Game Boy Advance and even a bunch of Game Gear games like Ax Battler and Virtua Fighter Mini. Three, it's a game for the original Nintendo DS, and we aren't going to see too many of those in the future. This Thundercats outing sticks to the premise of the new cartoon, as it starts off with prince Lion-O fighting the reptilian army that attacks his homeland of Thundera. After fleeing, he gathers his allies Tygra, Cheetara, Panthro, WilyKat, and WilyKit. I'll thank you modern children not to laugh at those names. They come from a long-distant decade.

The DS adaptation of Thundercats holds to pretty basic rules, being a side-scroller where Lion-O jumps along and hacks through various monstrous foes. It's so basic, in fact, that you only play as Lion-O. The rest of the characters pop up when the player taps the lower screen and summons them: Tygra sweeps the area with his laser weapons, Cheetara does the same with her staff, and the Wily twins deliver a bunch of power-ups—which, true to brawler traditions, take the form of roast chickens. The touch screen also enables a powerful attack courtesy of the Sword of Omens. Yes, it's hardly a complex attraction, but fans of the Thundercats series might not see any other new material.

ZONE OF THE ENDERS HD COLLECTION
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Platform: Xbox 360/PlayStation 3
MSRP: $39.99/$59.99 (special edition)

Many will see history repeating itself with the Zone of the Enders HD Collection. Over eleven years ago, the original Zone of the Enders shipped with a demo of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, and a running joke arose that most of the people who bought it did so for the demo first and the game second. Now, Zone of the Enders HD Collection ships with a demo of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, tempting another round of mockery about a demo overshadowing its attendant game. Yet that doesn't really hold true. The best part of this HD Collection isn't a Revengeance test-drive. It's Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner.

The original Zone of the Enders is a short and shallow thing that disappointed many new PlayStation 2 owners back in 2001. It tells of a young space colonist named Leon Stenbuck piloting an experimental robot, and it's heavy on melodramatic cutscenes and light on interesting gameplay. The sequel, however, does all of the original's ideas justice, following miner Dingo Egret (yes, really) as he's roped into taking down the BAHRAM military from the inside. The 2nd Runner is larger, more varied, and more inclined to let players experiment with all of the weapons and combat techniques at their disposal. It's perhaps one of the best treatments of space-faring mecha combat in a 3-D game. The HD collection polishes up both titles for modern appearances while adding a new intro littered with the same anime clichés seen everywhere back in 2004 (right down to a shot of a character floating naked in space). On a curious note, it doesn't contain either the Zone of the Enders: Idolo prequel OVA or the Dolores, i TV series. I suppose they didn't fit.

Also Shipping:
Ragnarok Odyssey, which was covered here last week, arrives on the Vita. Assassin's Creed III also hits on two fronts: the Xbox 360/Playstation 3 game puts players in the thick of the Revolutionary War, and Assassin's Creed III: Liberation follows a different storyline in New Orleans starting at the end of the French and Indian War.


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