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Art Crisis

by Todd Ciolek, Apr 3rd 2013

Some stuffy types dislike the fake video-game news that pops up each April 1st, but I think it's a fine tradition in concept. Granted, a lot of the pranks are dopey self-mockery, like CAPCOM's Super Duper Street Fighter IV or Bungie's excised “Tiger Man” character.

Other companies proved more memorable. Wayforward, makers of Shantae and other genre-hybrid throwbacks, showed the first and only screenshot from Cat Girl Without Salad. It mixes a dozen genres into one, and I would buy the resulting game on sight if it actually existed. Other notable pranks: Journey Rocket Death Match, Football Manager 1888, and a tribute to the Creepy Watson video from the original game's developer. And then we have Nippon Ichi's Makai Wars OOOO, which might not be yet another joke about Asagi's perpetual supporting-role status. We'll find out if it's real by the end of this week.

Of course, there's one April Fools' gag that had me for just a moment, perhaps because I wanted to believe in The Last Story II. Considering the artwork and story synopsis, I was relieved when my meager critical thinking abilities kicked in.

NEWS

SHIN MEGAMI TENSEI IV COMING HERE THIS SUMMER, DISCO HAIR AND ALL
Let's begin with a short history lesson: Final Fantasy VII came to North America six months after its Japanese launch. Phantasy Star IV took about fourteen months to make the trip. And the first Dragon Quest, loosed on Japan in 1986, didn't see an American release until three years later. So I think we've progressed in the current era, when it's not too surprising to hear that Atlus will release Shin Megami Tensei IV for the 3DS this summer, putting it three months after its May debut in Japan. At the most.

The announcement also nails down details about Shin Megami Tensei IV's general progression. It puts the player in command of neophyte Samurai, elite guards in the Eastern Kingdom of Mikado, and they're quickly warped into a dimension-breaching battle against demons. This being Shin Megami Tensei, those demons aren't all bad, and the player can capture, coerce, and manipulate 400 different netherworldly species.

One thing jumps out from the Atlus press release: Shin Megami Tensei IV will run $49.99, a good ten dollars more than the usual 3DS game (which in turn is ten bucks more than the usual DS game). That hints at some sort of special-edition package for the game, but Atlus hasn't confirmed anything yet. So I'll put the question to you: what sort of bonus goody would justify the extra tenner?

ATELIER SERIES INTRODUCES ESCHA AND LOGY
Gust's Atelier franchise normally sticks to a single heroine for each game: Atelier Marie, Atelier Totori, Atelier Valerie Solanas, and so forth. The latest in the series ventures into rarely explored Atelier territory, as it introduces two protagonists: Escha Malier is the heir to a long line of experienced alchemists, while college drop-out Logix "Logy" Fiscario uses swordplay to compensate for his lesser alchemic prowess. The player can choose either character as the lead, changing some scenes and optional endings in the overall storyline.

Atelier Escha & Logy: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky promises the return of a few characters from previous games, and it adopts the same mix of item-crafting and RPG combat. Party members are once again able to defend and support each other in battle, and the game has the detailed character models typical of other Atelier games on the PlayStation 3. That's where Escha & Logy is headed on June 27 in Japan, and it may well land here courtesy of Tecmo KOEI.

CAPCOM LINES UP MEGA MAN'S SEMI-REPLACEMENT, GAIST CRUSHER
It's hard to look at CAPCOM's new kid-friendly franchise Gaist Crusher without detecting trace amounts of Megaman. You'll also see plenty of Yu-Gi-Oh! and a bit of Saint Seiya, but I suspect that this multimedia venture resulted from CAPCOM wanting something like the Megaman Battle Network line of games, anime, and merchandise. CAPCOM even mentions their experience with Megaman in the press materials for Gaist Crusher.

Gaist Crusher and its lineup of armored superheroes and monsters will get their chance at the market with two different manga series, an anime from Studio Pierrot, and, of course, a 3DS game. It's a brawler heavy on the stylized superhero combat, with the towering creatures bringing to mind some younger-skewing version of Monster Hunter. It's not clear if CAPCOM will bother releasing any of this over here. As with Level-5's Inazuma Eleven, the marketing push for Gaist Crusher seems concentrated on the youth of Japan.

IMPORT ROUNDUP: MARCH

FATE/EXTRA CCC
Developer: Imageepoch/Type-Moon
Publisher: Imageepoch
Platform: Sony PSP

The Fate/Etc. universe grows more complicated with each retelling and off-shoot, but the Fate/Extra sub-series is relatively easy to comprehend. Released on the PSP back in 2011, the RPG is set in a virtual-reality simulator that uses a high-school setting to carry out the Holy Grail War, a deadly tournament with a wish of immeasurable power as the prize. All of the participants use Servants, human warriors who fall into one RPG-ish class or another: Lancer, Caster, Saber, and so on. As with other pieces of the franchise, Fate/Extra often bases its Servants on real historical figures, so you'll see a blonde Saber swordswoman who's really the Roman emperor Nero, or a Berserker housing the soul of Chinese general Lu Bu. There's also a Lancer based on Vlad the Impaler, and he's partnered with a cannibal who dresses like a freakish Ronald McDonald. See, it's perfectly normal stuff.

Fate/Extra CCC returns to this stage with a slightly different route. The original game found the player's avatar, male or female, choosing between alliances with recurring lead Rin Tohsaka (in alternate-reality form, of course) and a woman named Rani VIII, while CCC focuses on another heroine. It finds the first game's virtual world in disarray; with the breakdown of its all-guiding computer system, the Holy Grail War is a free-for-all. At the core of the conflict is a girl named Sakura Matou, who was a mere supporting character in Fate/Extra. This time around, she's the player's main ally and the source of suspiciously similar-looking characters running around the virtual high school. They're all part of the game's bizarre exploration of feminine sexuality and, we presume, fan titillation.

Fate/Extra CCC sticks to its predecessor's paper-rock-scissors system for attacks and guarding maneuvers, adding an auto-battle feature and helpful reminders of the storyline directives. While some of the characters are familiar, many of their roles are redefined this time around; there's a new Gilgamesh Servant among the player's optional companions, and good ol' Rin Tohsaka seems a bit more antagonistic this time. Don't worry if that bothers you. There's a bunch of other Fate/Thing retellings to choose from.

Import Barrier: It's a RPG based partly on a visual novel…so yeah, there's a lot of text. But the PSP remains region-free should you take the plunge.

Chances of a Domestic Release: Slim but worth mentioning. Aksys Games released Fate/Extra over here, but they've said nothing about bringing out the sequel.

SUPER ROBOT WARS UX
Developer: Banpresto
Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
Platform: Nintendo 3DS

Super Robot Wars UX doesn't stake out much new ground, apart from being the first game in Banpresto's multi-anime mecha-combat orgy to hit the 3DS. Once again there's a plotline that brings a variety of familiar robots into some unfortunate shared dimension, and it's that robot lineup that the fans really want. The selection's a bit paltry this time around, drawing from the Macross Frontier movies, Aura Battle Dunbine, Jūsō Kikō Dancouga Nova, Mobile Suit Gundam Seed Destiny, Ninja Senshi Tobikage, Fafner in the Azure, and Linebarrels of Iron. Perhaps Banpresto's counting on fans to grab it for the mecha that are new to the series, namely the major robots from Heroman, Demonbane, Mazinkaiser SKL, SD Gundam Sangokuden Brave Battle Warriors, The Wings of Rean, the Fafner: Heaven and Earth movie, and that Gundam 00 film that upset everyone by bringing aliens into the mix. And then there's the inevitable Super Robot Wars debut of Hatsune Miku; or rather, Virtual On's Fei-Yen made up to look like the green-haired virtual idol. We may as well accept Miku in all our games right now, while there's still time.

Of course, Super Robot Wars UX remains a strategy-RPG with a good supply of grid-driven battles. It also borrows a few features from earlier games, including a dual-attacking Partner System and an upgradeable skill tree, and it supplies some new characters and mecha. Our hero this time around is Earth Federation officer Agnes “Arnie” Berge, who pilots a Riot-B mecha. In the more ambiguous Unknown Strikers group, we find mercenary heroine Saya Kruger and her Lyrath jet fighter, while her merc-leading father controls an ominous machine called Orpheus. Oh, and there's one more way that Super Robot Wars UX breaks tradition: it's the first of its franchise to feature downloadable maps and other extras for a small fee. We probably should accept that in all our games, too.

Import Barrier: The story is all in Japanese, but Super Robot Wars entries are pretty approachable in gameplay terms. Too bad the 3DS is region-locked.

Chances of a Domestic Release: No better than any other Super Robot Wars game, and that ain't good. But hey, maybe the series will pick up steam over here when Project X Zone arrives with Sanger from Super Robot Wars: Original Generations! Right? C'mon, let's be optimistic here.

SWORD ART ONLINE: INFINITY MOMENT
Developer: Banpresto
Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
Platform: Sony PSP

The first Sword Art Online game is called Infinity Moment, but a better title might be Sword Art Online: The Ouroboros License or Sword Art Online: The Game About the Anime About The Game. The light novels, manga, and anime that make up Sword Art Online all deal with a massive networked video game that abducts its players and threatens them with real-world death if they happen to lose. It's an idea similar to .hack, and so Infinity Moment proceeds along the same lines. Its vision of Sword Art Online is a 3-D action/RPG where players go through the routines of leveling up, learning new weapon skills, and fulfilling sidequests. Protagonist Kirito takes the lead in most battles, but he can recruit a computer-controlled partner who allows the player occasional input. These sidekicks can be further customized with defensive, offensive, or supportive options. And different outfits, of course.

Sword Art Online being what it is, most of Kirito's partners are women who like him in one way or another, and the player can initiate dates and casual conversations to ensure that everyone gets along in combat. Infinity Moment features Asuna, Lyfa, Yui, Klein, and other adventurers recognizable from the anime series, plus Sinon from the firearm-centric Gun Gale Online spin-off. Few anime-based games are complete without some all-new character, so Infinity Moment brings out Strare, an experienced swordswoman of no apparent guild affiliation. The storyline, overseen by original author Reki Kawahara, diverges from one climactic duel in the established Sword Art Online saga, branching off into a new tale about a floating tower overrun by a strange virus. As with actual online RPGs, half the appeal of Infinity Moment seems to be the social side—solitary as it ultimately is. There's no multiplayer mode, so all of the interaction's within the game's simulated world.

Import Barrier: Between chatting with party members and picking out skills, there's enough to trouble those who can't parse Japanese.

Chances of a Domestic Release: Very slight, and the odds probably won't improve much after the Sword Art Online anime is released in North America. If the latest .hack games can't make it here, the smart money says Sword Art Online's game won't.

ALSO AVAILABLE
Another fairly popular anime series gets its second game with Tiger & Bunny: Hero's Day for the PSP. Now, this is the sort of license that would lend itself to an intense brawler full of corporate-backed superheroes, and that's kinda what we got with last year's On Air Jack. In contrast, Hero's Day is a visual novel where even the combat scenes are driven by dialogue choices. It's more a series of character pieces than anything, and any interested fans will need either a command of Japanese or a fan translation.

The PSP also gets two rather intriguing visual novels full of historical revisionism. Idea Factory's Princess Arthur retells the familiar legend with a young woman named Alu in the kingly role, and it of course drops her in the middle of courtly intrigue with the varied handsome Knights of the Round Table. Meanwhile, Marvelous AQL's English Detective Mysteria pulls off a crossover of classic mystery fiction, putting the sons of Sherlock Holmes and Watson in a story with Miss Marple's niece and various other reference-heavy characters. The two titles are heavy on Japanese text, and neither was announced for a U.S. release. Idea Factory is experimenting with visual novels on these shores, though. Perhaps Princess Arthur isn't a lost cause.

NEXT WEEK'S DESPAIR-INDUCING VOID OF RELEASES

Nothing much except for the Vita and PlayStation 3's Guacamelee, a side-scrolling brawler with a really nice look and big stages to explore. I liked what I played of it at last year's Comic Con, so I'm glad it doesn't have to share next week with much else.


Todd Ciolek occasionally updates his website, and you can follow him on Twitter. He'd like that.


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