The X Button
Gazing Fire

by Todd Ciolek, Jan 30th 2013

Last week, I opened this column with discussion of Pandora's Tower, and this week I'm going to play the maverick and discuss Pandora's Tower some more. Officially speaking, XSEED hasn't confirmed too much beyond a “Spring 2013” release date, which means that the late-March promises of GameStop and Amazon could slip a little. The company's Twitter feed also suggests that the game won't get a special edition like the one released in Europe.

But just what did Europe get? Let's take a look.

Nintendo of Europe's limited-edition Pandora's Tower includes the standard retail game, a steelbook case, an artbook, and a sturdy box to hold it all. It also has a second set of instructions to accommodate multiple languages, but I didn't bother putting that in the photo.

The steelbook case is a standard model, bearing the nicest art of the three covers. You're supposed to take the game out of its regular case and put it in here, but I actually find steelbook spindles to be a hassle when it comes to extracting discs. So the whole thing's mostly for decoration.

Then we have the artbook. It's a slim, hardbound thing with illustrations of the main characters and various monsters. The game's bosses all get profiles, though there are no accompanying write-ups about Aeron, Elena, or the ominous peddler Mavda (or her hideously cursed husband). It's a nice extra, but not particularly interesting.

And that's it. Curiously, there's no soundtrack CD, even though that's the most common type of promotional trinket for this sort of game. It's not a bad package deal for Pandora's Tower, but I don't think we're missing out on too much. A special edition would likely swell the price by at least ten bucks, and it's best that XSEED brings out Pandora's Tower at the more convenient price of $39.99, particularly since they're not expecting another The Last Story in sales.

And look at it this way: the North American version won't have Europe's gaudy ratings stickers.

NEWS

MONOLITH SOFT RETURNS WITH SOME GAME THAT STARTS WITH X
Nintendo's recent Wii U Direct brought several announcements: Yarn Yoshi, an HD version of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, and another look at The Wonderful 101. But the show-stealer came at the very end, in a trailer for Monolith Soft's new RPG. Currently dubbed “X,” the game looks an awful lot like Monolith's well-received Xenoblade Chronicles crossed with a bit of Monster Hunter. Characters race through broad landscapes and hack away at giant enemies while suspicious chat-room dialogue unfurls to the side. Then a guy jumps into a robot and takes off.

And that's when everything gets a little more interesting. Xenoblade was great fun, but it lacked the giant-robot gameplay of director Tetsuya Takahashi's past projects, Xenosaga and Xenogears. This new X game clearly has huge mecha that can fly through the air, combat equally enormous creatures, and transform into futuristic all-terrain cars. It's just icing that the game's characters are designed by Kunihiko Tanaka (who did the same for Xenogears and the first third of Xenosaga) and the soundtrack comes courtesy of up-and-comer Hiroyuki Sawano. X has no release date or firm title, but it's already my most-wanted thing on the Wii U.

Another highlight was Shin Megami Tensei X Fire Emblem, which would be a lot more intriguing if the announcement hadn't been just a title and some character art. Yet the potential already has fans speculating about just how Atlus' demonic RPG franchise will get along with Nintendo's strategic medieval-fantasy series. We know it's an RPG, we know it's co-developed by the two companies, and we know it's for the Wii U. I find it telling that we didn't see any characters from Persona games in the introductory clip, which probably means Fire Emblem's only crossing over with the central Shin Megami Tensei titles and not their spin-offs. So there'll be no Teddie and Labrys taking on Marth and Lyn.

NI NO KUNI WIZARD EDITION COMES UP SHORT, CONTROVERSY ENSUES
On the subject of special editions, a number of people were looking forward to the box set for Ni no Kuni, the cuddly little RPG collaboration between Level-5 and Studio Ghibli. In North America, the Wizard's Edition of the game was sold through Namco's online store, so many fans placed orders there. And many didn't get anything. Namco Bandai and distributor Digital River didn't keep proper track of how many Wizard's Editions were in stock or limit the number that a single buyer could get. So orders were canceled, fans were upset, and copies of the Wizard's Edition, originally priced around $100, are currently pulling in over $300 on eBay.

Some disgruntled fans allege conspiracy, pointing out that an eBay seller named PlayCanada landed over 200 copies of the Wizard's Edition and also credited Namco Bandai for helping in the deal. In a press release, Namco Bandai denied any collusion and maintained that “a glitch” in the ordering process caused the shortages. To make amends, the company now offers a hardbound Ni no Kuni strategy guide and a $20 Club Namco voucher to all those who missed out. I suspect that those buyers would rather have Wizard's Editions than coupons and strategy guides, but this appears to be the best Namco can do.

And for heaven's sake, don't go paying $300 for a Wizard's Edition on eBay. A stuffed Drippy toy just isn't worth it.

IMPORT ROUNDUP: JANUARY

DEMON GAZE
Developer: Experience Incorporated
Publisher: Kadokawa Games
Platform: PlayStation Vita

Demon Gaze presents a rare sort of genre mixing. It's a dungeon-crawling RPG for much of the time, but it's also a barfly simulator...in a manner of speaking. It follows a young amnesiac named Oz, who starts the game bedraggled and destitute. He's taken in by a pink-haired innkeeper named Fran, who puts him up at her Dragon Princess Inn so long as he pays off his tab. This leads Oz to a life of dungeon exploration, as he gathers a party at the inn and ventures into the local ruins. Fortunately, Oz has a glowing blue eye that allows him to detect the half-mechanical demons that infest the darker corners of his world, and he can even recruit these creatures once they're defeated. In between these forays, Oz makes friends at the inn and pays his debt to Fran, who apparently gets much friendlier with him once he proves himself a good credit risk. Oh, and this is all taking place millennia after the events of developer Experience Incorporated's Students of the Round RPG, which I can't imagine mattering to many occidental players.

Compared to the inhospitable dungeon-diving of Etrian Odyssey or Unchained Blades, Demon Gaze takes things easy. A backtracking feature lets players automatically return to any area they've already seen, and a “Gazer Memo” allows for hints and maps to be shared with other players online. Battles play out with menu-driven commands, and any demon tagalongs can enhance their attacks by breaking into a rampage that may hurt the player as well as the enemy. Oz's more reliable party members can be chosen from five different races and seven classes, and all of the game's female characters wear the sensible and dignified outfits typically favored by fantasy-RPG women. Demon Gaze evidently hopes to attract those dungeon-hack fans who think Etrian Odyssey isn't ribald enough.

Import Barrier: It's an RPG, so you're taking a risk if you're not up on your Japanese. There's no region lock-out, though.

Chances of a Domestic Release: Not all that bad, considering Etrian Odyssey's cult following and the lack of Vita releases on these shores.

DIGIMON ADVENTURE
Developer: Prope
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Platform: Sony PSP

Digimon really wasn't gone for long. After 2008's Digimon World Championship, Bandai took a break from the franchise destined to forever live in Pokémon's shadow, but they soon returned with Digimon Story: Lost Evolution in 2010, Super Xros Wars in 2011, and tri-Crescendo's Digimon World Re: Digitize in 2012. The only real change was in the audience; not one of the above games was translated for the West. This month's Digimon Adventure is notable on two counts. One, it's made by Prope, the studio founded by Sonic co-creator Yuji Naka (who seems to have gotten over Kadokawa sitting on his Rodea the Sky Soldier). Two, it recreates the original Digimon anime series. Yes, the one that was dubbed and served up to Pokémon-hungry children back in 1999. The one that provoked countless playground arguments about which monster-raising media empire was superior, and woe to the child who brought up Monster Rancher.

Impressive in its dedication to a 15-year-old cartoon, Digimon Adventure covers every episode of the original TV series, plus the Digimon: Our War Game movie (which Mamoru Hosoda directed). Each episode plays out like an RPG mini-quest, as players pick their three-character (and three-monster) parties and venture out. When not exploring, players customize their creatures and chat with other characters, guiding the overall storyline in some small respect. The game also features several new side-quests that branch off the original episodes. And for the truly nostalgic, the first-run copies of Digimon Adventure include a downloadable black-and-white Digivice simulator, similar to the little Tamagotchi-styled things that let kids raise and battle Digimon.

Import Barrier: The RPG element of Digimon isn't all that complex, but there's still a bit of text to decipher. At least there's no regional lock.

Chances of a Domestic Release: Namco Bandai remains silent on whether or not Digimon Adventure will make it to North America, but one suspects they'd have announced something by now. The PSP may be the problem. Most of the system's recent domestic games are download-only, but a digital release might elude a good chunk of Digimon's young audience.

THE GOD AND FATE REVOLUTION PARADOX
Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Publisher: Nippon Ichi Software
Platform: PlayStation 3

Let's see. A strategy RPG with angels, demons, and a style that both embraces and mocks the habits of its genre? Yes, this is the work of the people behind the Disgaea series, but The God and Fate Revolution Paradox stands on its own, at least in technical terms. It stars one Renya Kagurazaka, a teenager who inadvertently wins a contest to become an actual god. This drafts him into a war between heaven and hell. On his side is a lineup of angels dressed like maids, who wield miniguns and axes and ninja-like abilities in battle. Renya's often tasked with improving the lives of various mortals, including the fairy-tale Cinderella, and all of these missions involve strategic battles against various monsters.

It's in these battles that The God and Fate Revolution Paradox sets itself apart from the antics of Disgaea. Renya and his allies still pick up enemies and each other, and they still manipulate the playfield in curious ways, but dungeons themselves reflect Nippon Ichi's own Z.H.P. They're randomly arranged conglomerations of rooms, and characters are reduced to level one upon setting foot in a new dungeon. Those rooms also contain some novel ideas: power-up fruit can rot once it's knocked off a tree, shopkeepers can be robbed, and Renya can switch on an enemy-obliterating “God Mode” once he's gathered enough energy in combat. The graphics also reflect the larger sprites of Disgaea 4, and the game's cubic playfields are impressive. For the inevitable crossover, The God and Fate Revolution Paradox borrows Disgaea 4's Valvatorez, Disgaea 3's Raspberyl, and recurring stardom-seeker Asagi. Just give that poor woman her own game already, Nippon Ichi.

Import Barrier: Between the storyline and the battle mechanics, it's all too much to parse without knowing the language.

Chances of a Domestic Release: Quite good. NIS America hasn't announced anything yet, but they'll likely say something once Atelier Ayesha and Neptunia Victory are off their plate.

ALSO AVAILABLE
Compile Heart's Monster Monpiece may be the most talked-about import this month, though that isn't really a compliment. The Vita game is a standard card-battle RPG with a host of wide-eyed anime heroines, many of whom are based on mythological creatures. What got all the attention? Well, the regular gameplay occasionally stops so the player can use the Vita screen to rub a static image of some monster-woman, who then remarks most passionately on the situation at hand. Did Monster Monpiece do well? Yes. In fact, it sold out at many retailers. Will it ever come here? Probably not.

Last of all, I must mention the PSP game Pachi-Para Slot + Pachi-Slot Daiku no Gen-San: Ikuze! Hondo no Gen-Matsuri Hen, as it figures into my ongoing fascination with the downfall of Irem. The company gave up on interesting games a while ago, and they're now making dull-but-profitable pachi-slot titles. This particular collection interests me just because it's about Gen-San, or Hammerin' Harry as many knew him in North America.

Gen and his girlfriend Kanna last appeared in Hammerin' Hero for the PSP, a side-scroller that I sorta liked despite its sluggish play. With Irem out of the action-game business, Gen, Kanna, and their supporting cast all retired to the world of pachinko and slot machines, where many B-list game characters end up. Oh well. At least they're happy.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

FIRE EMBLEM: AWAKENING
Developer: Intelligent Systems
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release date: February 4
MSRP: $39.99

Nintendo and the Fire Emblem series weren't always on such good terms. The first Fire Emblem game hit Japan back in 1990, but it wasn't until 2003 that Nintendo translated any of the franchise for North America. At least Nintendo's been a proper supportive parent (company) since then, and we English-speakers have seen all but one of the Fire Emblem games released in the past ten years. In fact, Nintendo's backing Awakening like they've never backed a Fire Emblem before. For those whose system-buying scales are tipped by the game, there's a special-edition 3DS with a digital copy of Awakening inside it and an ornate swords-'n-dragons design upon it. Such regal design reflects the Fire Emblem tradition of sticking some noble-born kid with a host of problems. Our threatened royal this time around is Chrom, a Halidom prince whose homeland is under attack. Good thing he's joined by a diverse lineup of recruits, including one created by the player.

Fire Emblem: Awakening's medieval-fantasy power struggles are really just another game in themselves, of course. The player's free to manipulate characters in their relationships, forging both romantic and platonic bonds (and some that could be both) between party members. In fact, the player's own mystery-plagued avatar is fair game in this mess of love and war. Couples pair up and have kids, and those progeny take up arms to fight beside their parents. Awakening also expands on the usual Fire Emblem tactics, as it allows two characters to team up against an enemy, and the new classes include Tricksters, War Clerics, Dark Knights, Griffon Riders, Star Lords, and…uh, Brides (well, we can't have children born out of wedlock). In updating itself, Awakening> also exploits paid downloads, offering new maps, story chapters, and over a dozen guest characters from past Fire Emblems. Perhaps that explains Nintendo's support.

FIST OF THE NORTH STAR: KEN'S RAGE 2
Developer: Omega Force
Publisher: Tecmo KOEI
Platform: PlayStation 3 (download only)/Xbox 360/Wii U (download only)
Release date: February 5 (PS3, Xbox 360), February 7 (Wii U)
MSRP: $59.99

Has Fist of the North Star finally found success in North America through video games? All I know is that Ken's Rage 2 is arriving here about a week after it hits Japan, while no domestic anime companies will touch the most recent Fist of the North films and OVAs. Now, the second Ken's Rage isn't getting the same elaborate treatment that Tecmo KOEI showed the first. The PlayStation 3 and Wii U editions of Ken's Rage 2 are download-only, and there are no English voices in any edition. Not that this should matter; if you're interested in The Fist of the North Star's narrative, you're used to seeing it subtitled. And those faithful viewers will find that Ken's Rage 2 covers more of the original storyline, including the Celestial Emperor and Land of Shura arcs.

With additional storylines come additional and usually manful characters, so Ken's Rage 2 expands its playable cast with Juza, Shu, Fudo, Ryuga, Falco, Shachi, Hyo, Kaioh, grown-up versions of Bat and Rin, and the ostensibly all-American Ein. Granted, the central storylines still emphasize Ken and the other heavies of the Fist of the North Star universe, while the supporting characters get their moments in “Dream Mode” scenarios. And all of them can be played in online co-op or versus modes. In gameplay, Ken's Rage 2 still follows the Dynasty Warriors model of dropping the player into stage after stage of slow-witted and easily butchered goons (this is actually faithful to the tenets of Fist of the North Star thuggery), but the process is streamlined a bit. Characters can't jump freely anymore, but they run and dodge much quicker, and the levels are supposedly less repetitive. Me, I'm just disappointed that Rin uses a crossbow in battle. Back when I followed Fist of the North Star, I assumed she'd grow up to explode her enemies with some Scanners-like psychic power.


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