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Massive Attack

by Todd Ciolek, Jul 31st 2013

What are people talking about in the game industry this week? Aside from the Phil Fish thing, that is.

The answer: they're talking about Lightning's chest. But it isn't a pack of obsessive fans debating the measurements of Final Fantasy XIII's heroine. It's the game's developers. In an E3 interview last month, director Motomu Toriyama and producer Yoshinori Kitase mentioned that the protagonist was bumped up one cup size for Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII. In a more recent Q&A session, Toriyama mentioned that Lightning's breasts will jiggle. And then Square Enix released some new shots of Lightning's catgirl outfit, inspired by Final Fantasy XIV .

It's all evidence of just how terribly desperate Lightning Returns looks. Sure, every Final Fantasy plays to fan predilections, and it's not out of the ordinary for the latest game to supply all sorts of costumes to coincide with Lightning's changes in attacks. Final Fantasy X-2 did much the same thing, and it was largely harmless (perhaps because battle bikinis are more plausible in tropical settings). It's considerably more unpleasant when Lightning is made to bounce around and bend over in cat ears and magical swimsuits.

Why? Because it's at odds with the Lightning we saw in Final Fantasy XIII. As I've said before, I thought of Lightning as an interesting character in an uninteresting story, and this new update of Final Fantasy XIII is Square's last chance to properly establish her. In Final Fantasy XIII, Lightning came across as a hardened, take-no-crap soldier with noble aims and callous methods. She cared little for recruiting friends or showing charisma, and she definitely wasn't the sort of person who'd bother stuffing her bra or striking sexy post-battle poses.

This makes Square's latest indulgence more distressing than, say, the exaggerated women of Dragon's Crown. Like the rest of that game's character classes, the Sorceress and Amazon are archetypes, decorative avatars free of personalities and motivations. No matter how ridiculous they look, there's no character to betray. Lightning, however, is a character. Perhaps not the most beloved character in Final Fantasy's catalog, but she deserves better.

NEWS

RODEA RETURNS, MINUS THE WII VERSION
Yuji Naka's Rodea the Sky Solider seemed destined for the same wasteland roamed by Megaman Legends 3, Aquario of the Clockwork, and other canceled games. Kadokawa Games backed Naka's creation throughout its development, but a finished Wii version of the game reportedly sat idle in the company's depths. That Wii incarnation is most likely never coming out, but Naka's studio Prope is about 70 percent through a 3DS version. So says Kadokawa Games President Yoshimi Yasuda.

During an interview with 4Gamer, Yasuda explained that Rodea was originally made as a Wii title, and that the planned 3DS port suffered from awkward controls. This led Prope and Naka to revamp the game specifically for Nintendo's handheld. While the controls may have changed, Rodea is apparently still about a mercenary hero who navigates the skies by zipping from one predetermined point to another. It's perhaps the closest Naka's gotten to making a Sonic-style game since he departed Sega, and that alone may be a good sign for Rodea's chances in the market.

ACE ATTORNEY DLC DRAGS A WHALE INTO THE COURTROOM
I had many questions for the director and producer of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Dual Destinies when I interviewed them, but one thing I rather foolishly didn't ask was “Will the game have a court case where you defend a killer whale on a murder charge?” Fortunately, CAPCOM answered that anyway. The game's bonus downloadable chapter stretches back to Phoenix Wright being reinstated as a lawyer, and his first client upon returning is an orca accused of murdering someone. The victim probably wasn't penguin or a seal or a dolphin, though. Orcas kill those all the time.

The downloadable extras for Dual Destinies include new costumes for Phoenix, Athena, and Apollo Justice, though the North American version won't have the extra quizzes available in Japan. There's also no word on the price. Now, I may be spoiled, but I think it'd be kind of nice for CAPCOM to offer some of this content as a day-one incentive, especially since the game's coming out only as a downloadable release. But that probably won't happen.

GUILTY GEAR XRD SIGN SETS A DEBUT DATE…FOR ARCADES, ANYWAY
There is much speculation about where the next Guilty Gear will land, as Arc System Works is considering the game for the PlayStation 4, the Xbox One, and maybe even the Wii U. For now, all we know is that Guilty Gear Xrd Sign is definitely an arcade game, or at least it will be when the first location test takes place on August 9.

Of course, you'll have to be on the fourth floor of Sega Akihabara 1 in Tokyo to play the game, and it's likely to get crowded. You could wait until later, as the game won't depart until August 12, or else you can be content with speculation, shaky footage, and the latest screenshots. Said screens are the first signs of the game's various meters, though the Burst and Tension gauges could well be placeholders. Yes, this is that speculation mentioned above.

DOWNLOAD REVIEWS: JULY

ATTACK OF THE FRIDAY MONSTERS: A TOKYO TALE
Developer: Millennium Kitchen
Publisher: Level-5
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
MSRP: $7.99 (download)

Attack of the Friday Monsters tips its hand in a delightfully gentle fashion. A hazy procession of opening credits introduces young Sohta and the Tokyo ward where his parents just opened a dry-cleaning place. Then Souta's mother shoos him off on an errand, warning him about giant, rampaging Godzilla-like creatures as casually as she might tell him to take an umbrella.

It's the first of many subtleties in the game's mix of childhood joys and half-glimpsed adult problems. Writer-director Kaz Ayabe summons the same placid wonders he did in his import-only Boku no Natsuyasumi, and Sohta's exploration of his new neighborhood leads him to discover “episodes” at random. Each brings up a new subplot or mystery, whether it's a TV executive's struggles or the sight of large monster footprints in the middle of the road. The complexities of grown-up troubles sometimes escape young Sohta, but the player won't miss them.

This is the best side of Attack of the Friday Monsters: a slow, charming adventure game where Sohta discovers a 1970s Tokyo suburb in all its hidden turmoil and kaiju-fed magicalrealism. It's plagued only by another childhood distraction: the collectible card game. Sohta finds card components strewn all over the ground, and he duels his fellow students with humorous consequences. Yet the game makes this little diversion far too important to Sohta's tale, and collecting cards eventually just gets in the way. Still, that can't drag down Sohta's exploits. Attack of the Friday Monsters isn't a perfect rosy portrait of childhood, but that makes it all the more genuine.

BUGS VS TANKS
Developer: Comcept
Publisher: Level-5
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
MSRP: $7.99 (download)

Japan's game industry has a long history of dubiously appropriating Nazi imagery, and American localizers have a long history of covering it up, whether it's the poorly obscured Hitler clone in Bionic Commando or the script alterations in Ring of Red. However, Bugs vs. Tanks doesn't tone down its premise: you're controlling a detachment of German tanks during World War II. Shrunk down to insect size, the panzer division finds itself beset by ants, bees, and other now-threatening invertebrates. It's a bit like Starship Troopers in pitting cartoony fascists against giant bugs, suggesting that we root for nobody.

Bugs vs. Tanks is the creation of Keiji Inafune, who's dropped ideas all over the place since he left CAPCOM several years ago. Bugs vs. Tanks isn't one of the better ones. Oh, it makes good on the basic idea. Tanks putter through vaguely mazelike stages of grass and gravel, insects crawling and swooping in all the way. Players can also customize the tanks with paint jobs and new weapons. Yet that's really the limit of the game's appeal. The levels are uninventive in their layouts, while the controls are needlessly awkward; using the 3DS face buttons to rotate the turret is a strange idea, seemingly implemented just to go against sensible traditions. Nor is there much in the storyline. It's halfway amusing to see a stoic Wehrmacht brigade assume that they were shrunk by some Allied plot, but it doesn't change the fact that they're Nazis and, as such, not the heroes of any story. Despite the intriguing simplicity of its title promise, Bugs vs. Tanks loses out to a certain other tank shooter this month.

KOKUGA
Developer: G. Rev
Publisher: G. Rev
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
MSRP: $14.99 (download)

Kokuga doesn't look like much. It's all grids and neon and small gray machines, perhaps impressive only if you really liked the tank-driving scenes in the original Tron. But there's a good deal to the game. It puts players in control of a mobile, four-legged tank and sets them free in an assortment of stages where enemies fill the air with enough bullets to fight a glowing neon recreation of The Replacement Killers.

That accurately describes a good percentage of shooters, but Kokuga is among the smart ones. Instead of hurling projectiles in enormous patterns, enemies carefully target your little tank, and from the first level you're forced to weave between shots, scoot behind cover, and use nooks and obstacles to block off hostile fire. Thus Kokuga proves that it's the work of Hiroshi Uchi, the man responsible for the similarly intelligent challenges of Radiant Silvergun and Ikaruga. The game also adopts an atypical power-up system: a plentiful selection of cards grants new weapons and defenses, and the player can choose from four random ones at any moment.

The card-based powers invite some interesting approaches to the game's branching stages, though the concept also keeps the game from attaining the blissful, hyper-destructive shooter thrill that comes when your overpowered craft wrecks its way through pitiable opposition. Most of the special attacks don't last particularly long, and your basic tank is a weak, slow-firing thing forced to scuttle for crevices like a Tron-hued cockroach. Yet that's really Kokuga's angle: strategy amid chaos.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

DRAGON'S CROWN
Developer: Vanillaware
Publisher: Atlus
Platform: PlayStation 3/Vita
Release date: August 6
MSRP: $49.99

That's a nice cover, Dragon's Crown, but you're not fooling anyone. Every game nerd knows that you're the brawler with the sorceress who has ridiculous breasts, the amazon who has ridiculous thighs and buttocks, and the elf archer who…well, she's as normally proportioned as women get in George Kamitani's illustrations. That's why the box art puts her at the front.

Of course, this is not the limit of Dragon's Crown. It's rooted in the side-scrolling brawlers of years past, most notably CAPCOM's Dungeons & Dragons arcade offerings, and yet it's a fully outfitted modern creation. Players can use one of six archetypes: in addition to the three mentioned above, there's a towering fighter, a sturdy dwarf, and a multi-purpose magician. Each has different strengths and attacks, so it's ideal for parties of four to venture forth and cooperate in smacking around lizard knights or giant spiders. The game supports this extensive multiplayer, while adding AI-controlled allies for those who prefer playing alone. Quests are dolled out from a centralized hub town, and the game's ongoing story supposedly takes a good 20 hours to resolve. This certainly isn't a brief-burning arcade title.

In fact, a lot of people are willing to forgive (or even laud) the garish distortions of Dragon's Crown simply because so much of the game is gorgeous. Kamitani's approach to hand-drawn art is like little else in video games, creating large, detailed characters and spectacular backdrops that recall Renaissance art as often as they do the Frazetta-Bell-Vallejo milieu of fantasy pulp. Like it or not, this is a game that'll be judged on looks.

PIKMIN 3
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Wii U
Release date: August 4
MSRP: $59.99

Just how important is Pikmin to the Wii U? Very important, I'd say. Aside from next month's The Wonderful 101, the Wii U doesn't have much for the remainder of the year, and the system could really use some strong releases right now (if only so game-industry dispensationalists will stop forecasting Nintendo's downfall). That's a big responsibility to lay on a game about tiny forest creatures.

Pikmin 3 finds three space travelers, none of whom is series hero Captain Olimar, stranded on a distant planet. Tasked with recovering their food supply, the trio recruits tiny Pikmin armies to help them. The primary-color Pikmin return with their varying powers of fire, electricity, and water, plus new flying Pikmin and throw-able rock Pikmin. As before, the player's astronaut avatar leads a gaggle of Pikmin around, ordering them in everything from ant-like construction projects to ferocious boss battles. The three explorers allow players to control three different squads of Pikmin at any time, and the little leaf-headed troopers now dodge and charge with greater precision.

Aside from the main leg of the quest and its timed mini-stages, Pikmin 3 has co-operative play as well as an enhanced Bingo Battle mode where players hunt down specific objects. Perhaps one of the nicer enhancements lies in the Wii U itself, as it's easier to direct Pikmin forces with the controller's embedded touch-screen. Will this move Wii U systems? Eh, probably not. But Pikmin's never really disappointed in its own small way.

TALES OF XILLIA
Developer: Namco Bandai
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Platform: PlayStation 3
Release date: August 6
MSRP: $59.99/$99.99 (special edition)

It's hard to say if Tales of Xillia will be among the best RPGs of the year, as there's plenty of competition already. Yet this much is certain: Tales of Xillia will have the best hair. Its heroine, Milla Maxwell, has a head full of what follicle experts refer to as bouncin' and behavin' hair, plus a glowing green forelock that sticks out like an anglerfish's bioluminescent lure. Beat that, Sacred 3.

Millla plays the part of the otherworldly intercessor in Xillia's grab-bag of familiar plots. As the representative of the world-dividing deity called Maxwell, she joins up with young medical student Jude, his friend Leia, the merc Alvin, a butler named Rowen, a meek girl named Elise, and Elise's magical puppet-thing, Teepo. There is indeed some grandiose saga about warring kingdoms and destructive spirits, but it's a long-standing irony that Tales games aren't all that adept at storytelling. They're more about the character interactions, whether they're carefully staged cutscenes or little skits about everyday life. And Xillia has plenty of that.

Tales games are also about oddly named combat, so Xillia offers the Dual Raid Linear Motion Battle System. It uses the traditional Tales approach of one player controlling a lead character while three others fight on their own, taking direct commands whenever the player chooses. The “Dual Raid” thing refers to the team-up attacks that various characters can pull off, and it's possible to string together physical attacks and special Artes in combos. Besides that, other local players can control the remaining party members. In some respects it's a typical Tales game, but it's also the prettiest one to date—and the first one to get a big special-edition rollout in North America. So there's more than a hairstyle behind Tales of Xillia.


Todd Ciolek occasionally updates his website, and you can follow him on Twitter for astute social commentary.


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