The X Button Shown Up
by Todd Ciolek,
It was always a bit strange to think of Hiroshi Yamauchi as the man who made Nintendo a success. For a company that sold itself with the cute, innocuous heroes of Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda, President Yamauchi and his borderline ruthless acumen were reminders that Nintendo wasn't built solely by game creators like Shigeru Miyamoto and Gunpei Yokoi. The efficient Nintendo machine was the work of Yamauchi, who passed away at the age of 85 last week.
Yamauchi's story is fascinating, and I urge anyone interested to grab a copy of David Sheff's Game Over, which now seems to be shooting up in price at Amazon. It covers Nintendo's journey from playing-card company to toymaker to video-game monolith, and it details Yamauchi's rise to power, starting with him forcing his own cousin out of the company. He was president of a game-industry giant, but he didn't play games (the above image is the only one I've seen of him holding a controller; it may be Photoshopped). He owned the Seattle Mariners, but he didn't care about baseball. He was perhaps a moody tyrant and a bit of a jerk, but he was a businessman before all else, even when he was blowing up at Coleco executives or deriding Square and Enix's RPGs as “boring.” Of course, he only said that well after Square and Enix had taken their RPG franchises to the rival PlayStation.
Nintendo will be remembered for its games and the people who designed them. Yet it was Yamauchi who cleared the way for all of that, Yamauchi who established the company as a profitable empire and revived the stagnant game-console market of the mid-1980s. He wasn't the reason we grew up loving Nintendo games, but he was the reason we ever played them in the first place.
NEWS SPECIAL: THE X BUTTON'S TOKYO GAME SHOW AWARDS
BEST OVERALL THING: GRAVITY RUSH 2 TEASER
This year's Tokyo Game Show was a bit like Christmas morning. Specifically, it was a Christmas morning where there's only one present that matters and you tear through all the others like the spoiled little shit you never thought you'd become. You rapidly thank Namco Bandai for the nice One Piece dancing game, and you hold still and smile for a few seconds so mom can take a picture of the Bravely Default sweater that Aunt Square sent you, but there's just one thing you really want to unwrap. What I wanted most was a sequel to Gravity Rush, and I didn't have to dig to find it.
The trailer is short and vague, but I do believe it promises another Gravity Rush. We see heroine Kat once against bending a vital law of nature as she soars and skips across the convoluted cityscape of Hekseville. She looks much the same as she did the first Gravity Rush, but her hands are glowing, presumably to reflect some new ability. There's not much else to go on beyond some shots of new floating lands and illustrations showing Kat and her nemesis Raven. There isn't even an official title for it, and the trailer doesn't mention a system…but we all assume it's for the Vita. It'd just be mean for Sony to put it anywhere else.
SECOND BEST OVERALL THING: UNSUNG STORY
Yasumi Matsuno's been away far too long. Sure, he oversaw Square's remake of his own Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together, and last year he made Crimson Shroud for Level-5's little game-developer jam session. But those are small comfort to the people who remember and revere Matsuno for Vagrant Story, Final Fantasy Tactics, Final Fantasy XII, and the never-to-be-finished Ogre Battle series. Well, Matsuno and hobby-game publisher Playdek have two new games of broad ambition, and both are called Unsung Story. One is a digital card battle co-created by board-game designer Christophe Boelinger. It's due out new year.
The other game is subtitled Unsung Story: Tale of the Guardians, and it's as Matsuno as Matsuno can be. It's a strategy title set in a land called Rasfalia, where nine different nations clash over matters of faith and politics. Matsuno compared the stage to the Balkan pennisula's fractured political history, and he mentioned the story will focus as much on the low-level foot soldiers as it does the grander royalty. That's pretty much what Matsuno did with Tactics Ogre and Final Fantasy Tactics, but Unsung Story allows a looser plot guided by the player, who can control any of the nine countries of Rasfalia. It sounds a little bit Dragon Force and Romance of the Three Kingdoms, mixed with that fascinating Matsuno brand of savagery and plotting. Unsung Story: Tale of the Guardians doesn't have a release date, but it already seems to be the long-awaited Matsuno comeback.
THING THAT MOST PEOPLE TALKED ABOUT: DEEP DOWN
Capcom's annoyingly lowercased deep down showed up here and there before the Tokyo Game Show. It looked very much the part of a Dark Souls clone for the PlayStation 4, though it confused a few people by billing itself as a memory-reading RPG. With the show, however, a more complete portrait emerged. Technically, deep down begins in the New York of 2094, but the characters, part of a secret organization called the Ravens, use some revolutionary technology to travel across time and space and…well, explore dungeons and gather the memories of those who lived and usually died there.
Aside from similar concepts, the latest deep down trailer evokes Dark Souls a bit: the faceless knight protagonist, the vicious monsters, the voice-overs drifting from casual remarks into desperation. But there are signs of Dragon's Dogma and Monster Hunter in the multiplayer battles against dragons and other large beasties. It's also a free-to-play game, though the nickel-and-diming details of that remain under wraps.
MOST SURPRISING REVIVAL: TECMO'S DECEPTION IV: BLOOD TIES
Tecmo's Deception series was a delightfully nasty piece of work. The original game cast players as a prince who made a pact with the devil and devised a castle full of traps to murder intruders, and the theme continued in only slightly more cheerful circumstances with the later Deception games. Yet the series hasn't been seen since Trapt on the PlayStation 2.
Most at the Tokyo Game Show weren't expecting Tecmo Koei to roll out Deception IV: Blood Ties. It's apparently a reimagining of the original Deception, and it's technically the fifth game in the series. I suppose that comes from Trapt not actually having “Deception” in its title.
BLEAKEST TRAILER: DRAKENGARD 3
No one ever said Drakengard 3 would be happy. Director Yoko Taro's past games are either downright ugly like the original Drakengard or tragic like the under-appreciated Nier. Drakengard 3 (which is what we'll call Drag-On Dragoon 3 until someone tells us to stop) seems to be both things in its tale of goddess-heroine Zero deciding to kill her various sisters in order to save the world. A trailer released at the Tokyo Game Show depicts all of them overcoming their differences and taking tea together.
No, sorry. The trailer shows Zero's hopeless and bloody confrontations with her sisters and their male attendants, the latter of whom are recruited as Zero's sidekicks/lovers. Some of the numbered goddesses' fates are left more ambiguous than others, and it's not clear just how Zero's going to deal with One, the most respected of the deities. If nothing else, the game looks much sharper than it did during its first round of screenshots, and Keiichi Okabe's music is just as striking as it was in Nier. Will Drakengard 3 be genuinely interesting and fun to play, or will it be only shock value and sororicide? And will it actually come to North America? One thing's clear: it'll be depressing.
MOST BLATANT IGNORING OF THE 3DS: FINAL FANTASY IV: THE AFTER YEARS
A 3-D version of Final Fantasy IV: The After Years is perfectly understandable. The original Final Fantasy IV received a decent 3-D remake on the DS, with the original Super NES game reimagined through polygons, voice acting, and some nasty spikes in difficulty. So it follows that Square commissioned a similar version of The After Years, a sequel that previously appeared on cell phones, WiiWare, and the PSP. But it's not on the 3DS.
On one hand, it's strange to see this 3-D version of The After Years apparently skip the 3DS. The game is headed to Android and iOS devices, bypassing Nintendo's handheld entirely. On the other hand, it's easy to understand from a financial vantage; iPads and Androids are more popular, and Square always has the chance to port the game to the 3DS with a few marginal upgrades after they've sold the iOS and Android versions of The After Years chapter by chapter. I'm sure they're thinking about it right now.
MOST SURPRISING LOCALIZATION NEWS: JOJO'S BIZARRE ADVENTURE AND ONE PIECE
We've all heard the reasons why Jojo's Bizarre Adventure: All Star Battle might not come to North America. Hirohiko Araki's manga isn't as popular here as, say, Naruto or Dragon Ball, and the series is full of characters and spirit-like Stand sidekicks named after Vanilla Ice, Devo, and other musical acts who just might send off some politely worded cease-and-desists.
Yet these matters will not hamper Namco Bandai. All-Star Battle is headed here next year, and that's darned good news for any fan of the series. The fighting game is the work of CyberConnect 2, and the studio put even more care and detail into this PlayStation 3 fighter than they show their already impressive Naruto offerings. Namco Bandai hasn't yet detailed how the game will handle the various DLC characters or those legally irksome names (Capcom changed a few for the U.S. version of their Jojo's fighter), but at least they're willing to take a chance.
One Piece: Romance Dawn is slightly less of a surprise, seeing as how Namco Bandai regularly releases the One Piece: Pirate Warriors games over here. Yet Romance Dawn is an RPG that re-enacts hundreds of chapters of Eiichiro Oda's manga, so it's a much larger undertaking. Namco Bandai has it slated for a 3DS release next year. It might be a full retail release, but considering how the Pirate Warriors games were digital-only…
BIGGEST NEWS OUTSIDE THE ACTUAL SHOW: SEGA ACQUIRING ATLUS
Much of the news at the Tokyo Game Show came second to a revelation the day before: Sega Sammy purchased Index Corporation, the parent company of Atlus. Index filed for bankruptcy earlier this year, and now Sega Sammy will manage Atlus and all other Index holdings through a new company called Sega Dream.
This set some to panicking over the fate of Atlus USA. Sega cut back its operations in recent years, focusing on sure-bet franchises like Total War and Football Manager, and many fret that Sega Dream, having its own U.S. publishing branch, will shut down Atlus USA entirely. That doesn't seem all that likely.
It's alarmingly more plausible that Sega Dream will scale down Atlus USA's output to proven franchises, namely the Shin Megami Tensei series, its Persona spin-off, and perhaps Etrian Odyssey. This would mean fewer under-the-radar titles like Code of Princess, Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time, Gungnir, and maybe even the Atlus-developed Trauma Team. Atlus USA already reduced their lesser-known selections from the days of Eternal Poison and Deep Labyrinth, after all. They may take ever fewer risks on Sega's watch.
If you want to be optimistic, consider that Atlus USA might release more niche games now that they're closer to Sega. Perhaps we'll see a swift North American launch for Sega's new Dengeki Bunko Fighting Climax (above), a 2-D fighter in which Sega characters clash with the stars of Dengeki Bunko light novels. Perhaps they'll even throw some Atlus characters into the mix.
NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES
ETRIAN ODYSSEY UNTOLD: THE MILLENNIUM GIRL
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: October 1
Alternate Title: Millennium Maiden
The first four Etrian Odyssey titles did well enough without conspicuous storylines. They had premises, background details, conversations, and some late-stage dramatic revelations, but the games relied on the player to create characters and decide what, if any, personalities and backstories they might have. But along comes Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl, getting horrible, filthy plot all over the place.
Etrian Odyssey hasn't forgotten its roots, and you can thumb over to the “classic” mode and have yourself a regular ol' Etrian Odyssey adventure with your own customized party of characters. Yet the game's centerpiece is the story mode, and here's what you'll find there. A hero initially known as the Highlander (no relation) explores an ancient ruin and discovers an anime-RPG cliché: an amnesiac girl mysteriously connected to some deeper, darker secret. As the two of them try to unravel that secret, they're joined by headstrong alchemist Arthur Charles, placid medic Simon Yorke, and hard-partying knight Raquna Sheldon. Yes, it's pretty much the same cast you'd see in any given RPG, and the attached storyline retells the original game by sending the adventurers to investigate ominous events in the Yggdrasil Labyrinth.
Etrian Odyssey Untold softens itself for newcomers in its gameplay as well. An auto-mapping feature keeps track of dungeon layouts for those who don't like filling them in with the 3DS touchscreen, and the party can skip a dungeon level after they tread most of it, reducing the need for backtracking. Characters learn new skills with the use of Grimoire Stones, which grant abilities that they wouldn't learn otherwise. Naturally, the game still plays by the Etrian Odyssey rules of complex labyrinths and turn-based battles where the unwary can be wiped out in a single encounter. It's just a little simpler this time around.
THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: THE WIND WAKER HD
Platform: Nintendo Wii U
Release Date: October 4
Best Zelda: Still Link's Awakening
You can buy this sharpened-up version of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker right now. It was released as a download last week, and the latest Wii U bundle even includes the game. But if you want the special golden-label retail edition of the game, you'll have to wait until next week. And gold packaging is an important part of the Zelda franchise. The original The Legend of Zelda and its sequel quickly became known as “the gold cartridges” to the youngest members of the Nintendo generation, and I remember well the stories of angry Zelda fans throwing tantrums and attacking store displays when they had to settle for gray Ocarina of Time cartridges instead of the limited-edition gold ones.
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker drew a few complaints when it debuted on the GameCube back in 2003—not so much for the way it played, but for the way it looked. The game's cel-shaded graphics had a cuter, cartoon-like vibe next to the style of the Nintendo 64 Zelda outings, and some fans were incensed that Nintendo's beloved franchise wasn't mature enough. This was all rather absurd, and eventually most of those people came to embrace The Wind Waker as a capable installment of Zelda. Its version of recurring hero Link sets out to rescue his sister with the help of a pirate named Tetra. The two of them come across familiar Zelda gameplay and design motifs, and they navigate much of the world by sailing. This led to one of the other complaints about the game: navigating the seas took far too long. The last complaint involved Tingle, a mapmaker fixated on forest fairies. Tingle previously appeared in Majora's Mask and Oracle of Ages, but it wasn't until his Wind Waker spot that some fans, mostly those in the U.S., started to dislike him.
The Wind Waker HD fixes one of these complaints with an optional sail that ferries Link around much faster and doesn't need him to adjust for the wind's direction. The overall quest also cuts down on the number of Triforce shards that Link must find, and the green-clad hero even moves a little quicker. As a Wii U showpiece, the game also supports the system's touch-screen controller, both for inventory management and portable gameplay, and the original game's Tingle Tuner is replaced by a bottle that connects to Nintendo's Miiverse. Yes, Tingle's still in the game. As he should be.
RUNE FACTORY 4
Developer: Neverland Company
Publisher: XSEED Games
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: October 1
More Lufia Games: Don't Bet On It
The Rune Factory games are a bit more complex than the Harvest Moon series that spawned them, generally speaking. Harvest Moon is devoted to the demands of tending a farm and building a life, while Rune Factory adds on the fantasy trappings of Zelda-like combat. Yet there's one field in which Rune Factory is catching up only now: sexual equality. Rune Factory 4 is the first of the series where the player can choose a male or female protagonist at the start, without resorting to a mid-game time shift like in Rune Factory 2 or a weird body-sharing mechanic like in Rune Factory: Tides of Destiny.
Rune Factory 4 gives you the opening choice of Lest or Frey, though both the hero and heroine have the same origin story of falling from an airship, landing in a castle, and being recruited by royalty. This brings up the game's Prince/Princess System, in which the player oversees a small kingdom. There's a town to expand, a looming danger to combat, and, this being a Harvest Moon spin-off, a selection of crops to plant. When not organizing things, you're free to roam the countryside, explore dungeons, and slaughter creatures with your expanding arsenal of melee weapons and magic. It's both an action-RPG and a simplified Harvest Moon simulation, and that's made for an enjoyable combination in Rune Factories past. Besides, developer Neverland, makers of the Lufia series, remains underrated in today's market, and it's good to see them still in business.
There's one more important quest in Rune Factory: starting a family. As in Harvest Moon, players can romance and eventually marry someone, and Rune Factory 4 muddies those waters a little. Lest and Frey can pursue several relationships at the “lover” level before (and possibly during) marriage, but overdoing it will lead to all sorts of problems further down the line. Among the possible wives are an elf musician, a determined knight, a monstrous marionette-handler, a klutzy innkeeper, a narcoleptic butler, and a shy plant-girl. The prospective husbands include an outspoken castle steward, a brash beast-man, a sheltered bookworm, a visiting nobleman, a young dwarf shopkeep, and a goofball fox-man. Some of them actually start off as monsters and become dateable characters only when they're defeated, a concept I find both vaguely cute and vaguely disturbing.
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