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Night Shifts

by Todd Ciolek, May 29th 2013

If you're anything like me, you enjoy reading about lesser-known games from Japan. Unfortunately, it's often hard to find good information about them in English, and I've spent many hours searching for obscure details. John Szczepaniak, an experienced contributor to Retro Gamer and several other magazines, hopes to change that.

Szczepaniak recently launched a Kickstarter for The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers, a book that he hopes to fill by interviewing as many game creators as he can. The money will fly him to Japan, hire him a good translator, and put him in touch with all sorts of people in Japan's game industry. He already contacted a bunch of interview subjects, including Westone co-founder Ryuichi Nishizawa, Strider director Koichi Yotsui, and Einhander designer Kenichi Iwao. This is precisely the sort of thing I like reading, and I hope that the book comes to fruition. At this writing it hasn't reached one-fifth of its 50,000-pound goal, but there's plenty of time.

Meanwhile, the Kickstarter for Time of Eve: The Movie's Blu-Ray release technically doesn't need our help. It already quadrupled its $18,000 target, and the movie's now getting an English dub. Yet I think Time of Eve deserves even more support, being one of the best anime productions to come along in recent years. It's always good to see something like that get rewarded.

NEWS

FINAL FANTASY TACTICS S ARRIVES, BENEFITS FROM LOWERED EXPECTATIONS
Let's face it: the best Final Fantasy Tactics is never coming back. The original game is now history, and so too is its panoply of cruel battles, murderous nobles, and eminent despair. Final Fantasy Tactics is now about bright, happy worlds full of moogles and viera and bangaa in cute costumes, and it's been like that since Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. So we shouldn't grumble too much when Square's latest venture is a social cell-phone game called Final Fantasy Tactics S.

Final Fantasy Tactics S lets players recruit a clan of warriors and face off against others online in nine-on-nine battles. Characters can assume up to 300 jobs, most of which are taken from Final Fantasy Tactics Advance and its sequel, Final Fantasy Tactics A2. Two new vocations appear in Tactics S, however: the Musician and the Air Samurai.

The battles are basic skirmishes where two clans line up and fight on fields similar to Ogre Battle encounters, but I could see the idea working in a casual-play capacity. Extra items and special characters can be purchased, though it appears Square isn't nickel-and-diming the whole thing as severely as they did All the Bravest. Perhaps we'll get to try it over here, as several of Square's other recent Mobage smartphone games were localized.

DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS GETS SPECIAL EDITION, CROWN GETS ARTBOOK
Are you looking forward to Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara next month? Well, you should. It's a remastered collection of CAPCOM's great four-player Dungeons & Dragons brawlers from the mid-1990s, and it'll cost about fifteen bucks!

Of course, that's the price for the digital versions on XBox Live, PLAYSTATION Network, and PC platforms. If you want a copy that you can stick on the shelf, you'll have to buy the Japanese PlayStation 3 disc release for around forty dollars. Or you can go whole-hog and grab the limited-edition import for around $120. The set includes a reprint of the original arcade game's guide, a similar reissue of a CAPCOM Secret File book, a two-disc soundtrack, two rubber coasters, a code for a PS3 background designed by the highly talented CAPCOM artist Bengus, and one of those clear folders that's too nice to actually use.

Meanwhile, Atlus offers a promotional artbook for Dragon's Crown, Vanillaware's upcoming multiplayer brawler. The game has a lot in common with CAPCOM's Dungeons & Dragons treatments, of course; Vanillaware founder George Kamitani worked on the first CAPCOM title, and Dragon's Crown has a similar assortment of fantasy archetypes bashing their way through an imperiled kingdom.

Reserving either the Vita or PlayStation 3 version of Dragon's Crown gets you a 64-page book full of the game's official art. Yes, that means illustrations of the Amazon and Sorceress characters that some people, myself included, consider distasteful. All the same, I'd like to see the book's bonus drawings from artists Kinu Nishimura, Akira Yasuda, and the above-mentioned Bengus. I do like those old CAPCOM artists.

IMPORT ROUNDUP: MAY

DODONPACHI SAIDAIOUJOU
Developer: Cave
Publisher: Cave
Platform: Xbox 360

The original DonPachi was a fairly standard Raiden-style shooter. There were no cutesy anime girls around to pilot the game's three playable ships and sweep the battlefield with laser weapons seemingly borrowed from Grind Stormer. But that was 1995. Over the years, DonPachi morphed into DoDonPachi and its numerous sequels, and along the way Cave realized that there was money to be made in mixing their shooters with large-eyed heroines aimed at today's devoted anime fandom. The fusion continues right up to the latest in the series, DoDonPachi Saidaioujou.

In the gameplay department, there's a fast-paced vertical shooter with all of the DoDonPachi hallmarks. While dodging ferocious flurries of bullets, a player's chosen fighter can spew wide-angle shots or use a more focused and powerful laser to wipe out enemies. Blasting foes, particularly the large ones, helps build up a hyper-mode gauge that, once activated, boosts your attack power and score while briefly canceling out oncoming bullets). The three selectable ships are coded into red, blue, and green varieties (a tradition hearkening back to the original DonPachi), and each has its own nuanced methods of firing.

And what of the anime factor? Well, each ship in DoDonPachi Saidaioujou has a corresponding Element Doll: maidlike Maria is attached to the blue fighter, somewhat gothic Shuri gets the red fighter, and kimono-wearing Hikari has the green fighter. They're the focus on the game's “dress system,” however, so their outfits change to reflect the difficulty level, switching to school uniforms and swimwear at the more challenging settings.

Yes, Cave is once again unashamed in playing to modern anime proclivities, and DoDonPachi Saidaioujou even adds a fourth Element Doll for its Xbox 360 trip. The game's Arrange Mode features a pink-haired girl named Saya, who spends a lot of time chattering with the Elemental Dolls' operator Suzaku. Also new to the console-only mode is Saya's friend Hina, who becomes one of the bosses. Judging by the game's cover, things do not end well.

Import Barrier: The game's region-free, and the shooting's as approachable as it ever was in a Cave creation.

Chances of a Domestic Release: Minimal, as Rising Star Games and other publishers seem reluctant to back Cave shooters nowadays. That may explain why it's region free.

Lasers: DoDonPachi continues to have some of the most satisfying lasers in the whole of shooting games. They're huge beams that burst forth and undulate with destructive energy, perfect for the player in search of a quick and obvious power fantasy.

KAMEN RIDER BATTRIDE WAR
Developer: Eighting
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Platform: PlayStation 3

Kamen Rider rarely takes actual anime form, but let's look at the facts: the live-action series was created by manga author Shotaro Ishinomori, and in both influence and staff, there's a lot of overlap between the near-constant stream of Kamen Rider shows and the anime industry. For example, the recent Kamen Rider Fourze features scripts by Gurren Lagann's Kazuki Nakashima, shows off monsters designed by Kia Asamiya, and is pretty great in general. Fourze is one of many Kamen Rider series represented in Battride War, which gives the franchise the same Dynasty Warriors treatment granted to Gundam, Fist of the North Star, and One Piece. Various Kamen Rider heroes assemble on battlefields to face down hordes upon hordes of dronelike foes who just sort of mill around, offering only the periodic token attacks until the player sweeps them aside with some spectacular maneuver. Oh well, Kamen Rider was always about fighting giant rubbery tokusatsu beasts more than it was about slicing through an army of lesser flunkies.

Yes, Battride War is all about showing off. The various Kamen Rider incarnations all get their signature attacks, their theme music, and, most importantly, their motorcycles. When not engaging in hand-to-hand or sword-to-sword brawls, the Riders can leap onto bikes and tear around the battlefield. Granted, this may not be the ideal game for the long-term Kamen Rider fans, as the character selection is limited to the modern era. In addition to Fourze, the game features Kamen Rider Wizard, Kamen Rider OOO, Kamen Rider Double, Kamen Rider Decade, Kamen Rider Kiva, Kamen Rider Den-O, Kamen Rider Kabuto, Kamen Rider Hibiki, Kamen Rider Blade, Kamen Rider Faiz, Kamen Rider Ryuki, Kamen Rider Agito, Kamen Rider Kuuga, and a dash of supporting characters. And that should be enough Kamen Rider for most of us.

Import Barrier: The game is region free, and it's not terribly hard to understand the game's missions if you've been through Dynasty Warriors before.

Chances of a Domestic Release: None too good. We haven't seen a new Kamen Rider on U.S. shores for a few years.

Lasers: Lasers appear occasionally in battle, though they are not as much a staple of Kamen Rider as the esteemed motorcycle.

SUMMON NIGHT 5
Developer: Felistella
Publisher: Banpresto
Platform: Sony PSP

Summon Night is largely unknown in North America, where we saw little beyond two of the spin-off Swordcraft Story titles on the Game Boy Advance. In fact, Summon Night didn't have the best luck in Japan, either; the series spanned over ten games, but developer Flight-Plan still closed down in 2010. Yet Felistella rapidly emerged from Flight-Plan's ashes, and they now continue the franchise with Summon Night 5. Unlike the action-RPG tone of Swordcraft Story, this new Summon Night returns to the strategic focus of its properly numbered forbears. It's also set several hundred years after the third game, and the story unfolds in a nexus of four different dimensions. Thus the whole world is a weird pile-up of angels, demons, suit-wearing lizards, primitive robots, and various other oddities.

In this milieu the player assumes the role of either a hero named Folth or a heroine named Arca, both of whom are red-haired ciphers differentiated mostly by their weapons: Arca gets a polearm, while Folth lugs around a cannon that fires a fist-shaped bolt of energy. Their allies include the demon Kagerou, the angel Spinel, the penguin-like beast-girl Pariet, and the towering robot Dyth. They're all humanoid for purposes of the story (and some of them are designed to unsavory effect), but the four of them flit around in cuter form when used in battle. The same goes for the rest of the player's arsenal of creatures, which can be summoned during the game's grid-based battles. Summon Night 5 also leaves behind earlier games' 2-D battle sprites in favor of 3-D characters during combat, though conversation scenes show them as “live 2-D” portraits. Those conversations play into the game's character skills and endings, as the game branches to reflect the camaraderie among the player's party. For a diversion of less vital impact, there's a fishing mini-game.

Import Barrier: Considerable, as there's a lot of dialogue to endure. But hey, PSP games are region-free.

Chances of a Domestic Release: None too good, but it's hard to gauge just how North American companies feel about Summon Night today. They didn't care back in 2010, but perhaps this rebirth will get someone's attention in the West.

Lasers: Several weapons create laser-like attacks, but they are not a focal point of the gameplay.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

THE TALE OF ALLTYNEX
Developer: Siter Skain
Publisher: Nyu Media
Platform: PC
Release date: June 6
MSRP: $19.99

The Tale of ALLTYNEX is a little hard to follow in terms of storyline. The first game, plot-wise, is ALLTYNEX Second, which was released in 2010. It finds humanity decimated by a berserk supercomputer, with a lone ship going up against the A.I.'s forces. This is followed by RefleX, which actually came out in 2008 and yet opens long after the first game's storyline. It has humankind warring with the Raiwat, a vindictive alien race. Then it's on to the third game in the series, a 1999 release called Kamui. Set centuries after RefleX, Kamui sees human civilization once again threatened, and its one hope is a fighter that holds the transplanted brain of a young girl. One assumes all of this makes sense in the games.

That aside, all of the ALLTYNEX games are shooters, and they're straightforward in gameplay. Kamui has an old-fashioned, 2-D sprite look, and it gives the player a lock-on lightning attack. RefleX is a bit fancier in appearances, a bit longer in play time, and a bit deeper in its weapons, which include a bullet-reflecting shield. ALLTYNEX Second isn't quite as long, but it adopts that “2.5D” presentation that combines two-dimensional gameplay and three-dimensional graphics, and its ship has melee attacks, homing lasers, and a piercing lance projectile. The games recall Taito's old Layer Section/RayStorm/RayForce/Galactic Attack series with their lock-on laser attacks, and they frequently dive into full-bore bullet hell, blanketing the screen with glowing shots that you'll have to dodge or bounce back. And that's the way a lot of shooter fans like it.

CLASS OF HEROES 2
Developer: Acquire/Zerodiv
Publisher: Gaijinworks/Monkey Paw Games
Platform: PlayStation PSP (and Vita)
Release date: June 4
MSRP: $24.99

Class of Heroes 2 didn't walk an easy path. For starters, it had to wait a while in Japan. Acquire released the game there in 2009, but it wasn't until 2012 that Monkey Paw Games and Gaijinworks picked it up for localization. First, they tried a Kickstarter for a deluxe Class of Heroes 2 in the tradition of Working Designs, Gaijinworks founder Victor Ireland's old operation. The Kickstarter didn't succeed, and some people gloated rather nastily about that. Yet this was not the end of things. The two companies rallied with a more modest attempt at gauging RPG fan interest, and it turned out that the masses really did want a physical release for Class of Heroes 2. Those who bought it will get the packaged game later this summer, but they'll also receive a download code next week. The digital release is also right there for latecomers to buy on the PLAYSTATION Network, even if that's not as collectible.

The original Class of Heroes wasn't all that great as dungeon hacks go, and most people forgot about it after Atlus released it in 2009. The sequel has the same focus on exploring mazes, fighting monsters, and customizing an adventuring party, but there are many signs of improvement. The dungeon-hacking is streamlined with a central money pool for the party, the entrances to labyrinths are no longer randomized, and there's no appraisal system. Gaijinworks also promises less level-grinding, and that's always a plus for this sort of RPG.

Much in the Wizardry fashion, Class of Heroes 2 puts players in command of a six-character group, waging battles and navigating dungeons through a first-person viewpoint. The various races at adventurer college span the usual fantasy-lit divisions: humdrum humans, graceful elves, winged fairies, ghostly gnomes, curiously animal-like dwarves, equally animal-like Felpur, dragon-blooded Bahamun, angelic Celestian, gloomy Diablos, and hobbit-ish Khulaz. Their various classes include monks, sorcerers, archers, berserkers, gunners, samurai, sages, alchemists, geomancers, necromancers, fallen angels, pop idols, and puppeteers. No, that's not a nickname. They actually use hand puppets in battle.

REMEMBER ME
Developer: Dontnod
Publisher: CAPCOM
Platform: PlayStation 3/Xbox 360
Release date: June 4
MSRP: $59.99

Like Class of Heroes 2 up there, Remember Me went through some hard times. It began life as Adrift, a Sony-backed action game with a flooded-Earth setting, but developer Dontnod shifted to a more cyberpunk-styled title. Dontnod also shifted publishers; Sony canceled the game in 2011, and CAPCOM rescued it last year. Despite all of its travails, Remember Me stood by its inventive look at a future where memories themselves are encoded electronically and shared just like Instagrams. This suits protagonist Nilin just fine, as she's an adept memory hunter who specializes in manipulating people through their recollections. When her own memories are wiped, she sides with a rebel cadre and plots against one of those wicked, all-controlling corporations that cyberpunk stories always seem to have.

Nilin's journey takes on two forms. In one sense Remember Me is an action game, and the streets of Neo-Paris are full of skyscrapers to leap between and oppressive cyber-cops to take down. Combat's carried out through four different types of strike that the player can arrange into multi-hit combos, which can be anything from simple punch-kick mixes to attack strings that regenerate health or set up an enemy for a mind-overloading finisher. Nilin also sneaks through the Parisian streets of 2084 to hack into the memories of high-ranking politicians and other foes of the revolution. Once inside a target's memories, she'll remix events in the style of a point-and-click adventure game. It's a slightly unnerving concept (previews showed Nilin driving one man to suicide) and a novel one for a video game.

I admit that I really want to like Remember Me for its creativity as well as its willingness to use a main character who's not white or male. A shame that the early press isn't all that encouraging. Some impressions point to a sluggish pace, and even the game's recent trailers lack impact; a roundup of the mutant “leaper” enemies brings back memories of brawlers full of color-coded street punks. Perhaps Remember Me will pull through on the strength of its ideas. There's genuine promise there.


Todd Ciolek occasionally updates his website, and you can follow him on Twitter. For free!


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