The X Button
The Role Ahead

by Todd Ciolek, Dec 12th 2012

Far too many magazines are abruptly shuttered and never get a proper farewell. Nintendo Power is not one of those magazines. The staff had months to prepare for their final run, and it's a good sendoff. The cover's even a nice throwback to the very first issue.

Within are recollections from readers and editors alike, a history of the magazine, the admission that the Virtual Boy and Power Glove weren't all that great, and a list of the 285 best games across all Nintendo systems (this being the 285th issue). The whole thing closes with a comic about Nester, the smart-aleck kid who served as the magazine's original mascot. Of course, Nester is now an adult with a kid of his own, and they bid farewell to Nintendo Power and the roomful of memories it created.

I share a lot of those memories. Nintendo Power was the first magazine to which I ever subscribed, and I remember my mother teaching me how to write a check as I filled out the form. That was the first lesson Nintendo Power taught me. My introductory issue was the September/October 1990 one with Maniac Mansion on the cover.

With it came the second lesson: don't take your Nintendo Powers to school or else they'll get passed around the classrooms, read to tatters, and then confiscated by the teacher.

Other little lessons followed, all portioned out in Nintendo Power. I learned about everything from the level-select in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game, the twists of Final Fantasy II's storyline, and the hidden passages in Super Metroid. I also learned to share a strange and heartening materialist camaraderie with all of the other Nintendo-playing kids of my era. Through the invariably positive letters and the in-depth coverage of games, I found an escapism I could trust. And that's an irreplaceable treasure when you're wandering the minefield of adolescence.

Most readers of Nintendo Power drifted away as they got older. Some, myself included, let their subscriptions expire during the Nintendo 64 era. Others departed when Pokémon came to dominate the company's marketing. Many just left when the magazine's kid-friendly, Nintendo-only focus didn't suit them anymore. A few sneeringly abandoned Nintendo Power after figuring out it was a glorified marketing catalog for a titan of the game industry. That never bothered me. I knew what the magazine was, and I accepted it. Nintendo Power's extensive screenshots and solid presentation told me plenty about a game. Sometimes I didn't need reviews to know what I wanted. That even held true toward the end. Future Publishing ran the magazine since 2007, and it was frequently quite enjoyable. Shame it was ignored by many former readers.

Perhaps those were the two greatest lessons of Nintendo Power: many of the things you like as a kid are consumer propaganda, and that's not necessarily bad. Nintendo Power was an important step for several generations raised in a world where video games have always existed, and it was as a capable a guide as they could ask for. Other publications had sharper opinions and more mature tones, but no game magazine enthralled readers like Nintendo Power at its height.

And there's one more lesson in its final pages: you can look back on the Nintendo-branded joys of childhood, but don't forget what's really important.

NEWS

CAPCOM ADOPTS FAN-MADE STREET FIGHTER X MEGA MAN JUST TIME FOR A BIRTHDAY
It's hard to complain about Street Fighter X Megaman. We could point out that it technically isn't a CAPCOM game. It's a fan-made game that the company picked up. We could also point out that it's a noble but obvious effort by CAPCOM's Megaman fans to salute the character's 25th anniversary with something more respectful than Megaman Xover. But we'd be ungrateful, especially when Street Fighter X Megaman is coming our way as a free download on December 17.

Street Fighter X Megaman is the PC-game creation of tournament player Seow “Sonic” Zong Hui, and he made some eclectic decisions. The game sets up eight Street Fighter characters as robot masters in Megaman stages littered with themed mecha enemies. The bosses include Ryu, Chun-Li, Blanka, and Dhalsim, plus the less obvious choices of Rose, Rolento, Urien, and Crimson Viper. Each defeated boss gives Megaman a new weapon, often with secondary abilities—for example, Chun-Li's lightning-leg attack lets Megaman drift through the air. Sadly, there's no sign of Hakan, whose defeat might give Megaman some bizarre oil-based power. Perhaps CAPCOM didn't want to confuse him with the original Oil Man.

The game will be up on the Capcom Unity site next Monday, marking the official birthday of Megaman. And it'll be the best Megaman game we'll see this year.

THE INEVITABLE ONE PIECE PIRATE WARRIORS 2 APPEARS
One Piece: Pirate Warriors did rather well for Namco Bandai. Of course, it's no shock that a fusion of one of Japan's most popular manga series and one of its most popular game franchises moved over a million copies. One Piece: Pirate Warriors 2 is now in the works for the PlayStation 3 and Vita, presumably under the eye of Dynasty Warriors developer Omega Force.

The first screens of the game show a new playable character: Enel, the long-earlobed god who threatens an island during the One Piece manga and anime's Skypiea storyline. The new game covers that arc as well as the New World section of the overarching plot. One Piece: Pirate Warriors 2's initial shots also confirm that Monkey D. Luffy is in the game, but every One Piece fan knew that, didn't they?

SCREENSHOT OF THE WEEK: DARK SOULS II
I'm not surprised that Dark Souls II exists. It was guaranteed after the success of the original as well as Demon's Souls. I'm just surprised that it's called Dark Souls II and not, well, Dead Souls or Lost Souls or Dragon's Souls or something. Perhaps it follows Dark Souls more directly than that game did Demon's Souls. Whatever the cause, the first trailer for the game shows off a dragon, caves, poorly secured bridges, and other hazards. To the unfamiliar eye, it could be any medieval-fantasy RPG. But there's one shot that recalls Dark Souls more than anything.

And there it is. Dark Souls is all about dying unexpectedly. There's already talk that Dark Souls II will be a bit more approachable, though From Software director Tomohiro Shibuya still promises “challenging gameplay” and multiplayer games using the server system that Demon's Souls employed. It's due out for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC, but there's no release date yet. As for other RPG-affiliated games…

FEATURE: THE NEXT BIG RPGS

The coming year will bring the usual suspects in Japanese RPGs. We'll get Dragon Quest X for the Wii U and certainly something from the Final Fantasy camp, possibly even that Lightning Returns thing. But what else is there for this oft-criticized, oft-marginalized genre that nonetheless draws many players to its fold? Quite a bit, actually.

NI NO KUNI: WRATH OF THE WHITE WITCH
Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
Platform: PlayStation 3
Release Date: January 22

Many are quick to specify that Level-5's Ni No Kuni is a co-production with Studio Ghibli—but not Ghibli founders Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, mind you. Takahata's not involved, and I'm fairly certain that Miyazaki holds video games in the same contempt he reserves for smartphones, the Iraq War, and children who've never seen a fish butchered alive. Yet Ni No Kuni has the look of a Ghilbi production thanks to many of the studio's other artists and animators, plus a soundtrack by Ghibli collaborator Joe Hisaishi. It even has harsh tones in its tale of childhood ending. Not long after his mother dies, adolescent boy Oliver discovers a fantasy realm with the help of a sprite named Drippy. There he finds numerous parallels to the world he knows, including an imperiled woman who resembles his mother not a little. The game's battles are fought mostly through collectible creatures that their human masters toss forth and command, with the free-roaming fights resembling a cross between Tales RPGs and Pokémon.

Will Ni No Kuni catch hold? The Ghibli look and grieving-child allegory are certainly attractive, but they're not in line with the Final Fantasy aesthetic preferred by many fans of Japanese RPGs. And Ni No Kuni's even further from the likes of Mass Effect or Dragon Age. Yet perhaps Ni No Kuni will find an audience among younger players and folks who consider Ghibli films the only Japanese animation they'll watch. Ni No Kuni also has a Dragon Quest aesthetic about it, despite the diverging battle system, and that may help anyone left waiting too long for an English version of Dragon Quest X on the Wii U. Not to mention the contingent of anime fans who want to play a Ghibli game and maintain that Jade Cocoon and those old Nausicaä titles “don't count.”

FIRE EMBLEM: AWAKENING
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: February 4

Fire Emblem is one of Nintendo's more uncertain franchises when it comes to North America. It isn't cursed like the Earthbound/Mother series, but one can't be sure that a Fire Emblem game will make it to these shores. Even though Nintendo's gotten much better about translating the series, we nonetheless missed out on the DS-based Fire Emblem: Shin Monsho no Nazo. Perhaps that's because the series hasn't quite come into its own among the English-speaking crowd. Some fans ignore it because they don't associate Nintendo with unforgivingly tough strategy-RPGs. Others find Fire Emblem games an unsatisfying medium between two extremes: it's never as ridiculous and cartoonish as a Disgaea title, yet its storylines usually don't hit as hard as a Tactics Ogre or Final Fantasy Tactics.

Fire Emblem: Awakening covers all of the franchise's bases, preserving the overhead grids where characters position themselves. The game's required Young Nobleman Hero is Chrom, who's both a prince and a guard captain of the Holy Kingdom of Iris. He recruits an army of allies (including his own time-traveling daughter), and the game's cast of party members swells to considerable size. There's an equal number of classes, including new divisions like the Trickster, the Dark Pegasus Knight, and the Bride. That last one ties into a tradition that Awakening borrows from older Fire Emblems: numerous characters, Chrom included, can get married and spawn children over the course of the game, which of course results in more warriors to join the cause. The game's traditional mode kills off anyone who falls in battle, but there's also a “casual” setting for players who can't stand losing characters.

The tactical systems of Awakening also expand a little. Characters still pair off with enemies for battlefield duels, but two party members can now join up to strike. Awakening also sports a heavy dose of downloadable chapters with extra characters. It's hard to say how Nintendo will handle this in the U.S., since unfamiliar players won't recognize many of the faces beyond Marth, Roy, and maybe Lyndis. Once again, Fire Emblem might be denied its big breakthrough.

TALES OF XILLIA
Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
Platform: PlayStation 3
Release Date: Probably in the summer

Ah, history. Twenty years ago, Enix stopped releasing Dragon Quest games in the U.S. because it was far more profitable to set their programmers to work on all-new Dragon Quest games for the Japanese market. Last month in this column, Tales RPG producer Hideo Baba cited a similar reason for his own franchise's limited exposure on these shores. Tales games are much more popular in Japan, so the North American and Europe markets always come second. That will hold true in the future, of course, but Namco Bandai seems newly committed to releasing Tales titles over here, and there's clearly something at stake with Tales of Xillia.

All of the Tales franchise's common clichés are in full effect for Xillia. It's set in one of those RPG worlds where humans live amid magical phantasms and technology driven by a bunch of gobbledygook terminology. Players can control either of the two lead characters, though medical student Jude Mathis and spirit-world emissary Milla Maxwell are prominent no matter the focus. The battles feature an open, action-game interface where combo attacks are key, and two characters can team up, much like that Fire Emblem thing we just talked about. Aside from the co-operative moves and the slightly more realistic character proportions, Xillia sticks close to Tales traditions, which makes for an awful lot of anime clichés. So Xillia might not be a RPG for those who hate most anime-themed RPGs. Yet fans don't care so much about that. They mostly want Xillia to succeed just enough to get the series in North America's good graces, so Namco Bandai will bring over Tales titles like Square Enix does Final Fantasy games. And Xillia might be pretty enough and capable enough to accomplish that.

THE WITCH AND THE HUNDRED KNIGHTS
Publisher: Nippon Ichi Software
Platform: PlayStation 3
Release Date: Later in the year

NIS America has several RPGs arriving next year, including a Generation of Chaos title, Atelier Ayesha, and the latest in the Neptunia line of games about girls who are actually game systems. The most interesting of their 2013 lineup is a little further away, though. The Witch and the Hundred Knights has the same staff and much the same look of Nippon Ichi's other titles, since it features a lineup of cute and mischievous characters designed by Takehito Harada. The gameplay, however, follows an action-RPG as players control a single magical soldier called up by a witch who's trying to spread her swampy homeland across the globe. The soldier enjoys a fair degree of freedom, and the people of the surrounding villages will get hostile if a player terrorizes them too often.

The Witch and the Hundred Knights shows every sign of the part-cynical, part-pandering tone that defines most of Nippon Ichi's output, but the action-oriented approach suggests something new for the developer. It faces two major obstacles, though. For one thing, a lot of RPG fans summarily reject NIS titles as number-crunching stat counters peopled with saccharinely suggestive anime stereotypes. That, and most of the company's fans will be looking forward to Disgaea Dimension 2 more than anything next year. Still, there's good reason to hope that The Witch and The Hundred Knights will stand out somehow.

AND WHAT ELSE?
Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan doesn't have much to worry about when it arrives in late February, as it's already part of a cult-hit franchise among dungeon-hack fans. The first 3DS installment adds the defensive Fortress class, the healing Medic, and, of course, 3-D battles. The new Shin Megami Tensei IV may be the biggest Atlus title in 2013, but Etrian Odyssey's fans are hardly a minor crowd.

Other RPGs will slink around the download-only PSP circuit early next year. Natsume has the mecha-based strategy game Carnage Heart EXA, while Monkey Pay Games and Gaijinworks should have Class of Heroes II out further down the road. Imageepoch's Black Rock Shooter remains a wild card; it was announced for a U.S. release in 2011, but nothing's solidified. The same goes for the company's more recent PlayStation 3 RPG Toki to Towa.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

Aside from Street Fighter X Megaman, next week is a barren landscape. The Vita version of Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed ships, which should interest those ardent Sega fans who didn't nab it on the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, or Wii U. The Wii U's eShop also gets Toki Tori 2, sequel to the 2001 platformer about a largely defenseless yellow chick.


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