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Pac Mentality

by Todd Ciolek, Oct 16th 2013

Last month had two Kickstarter projects expertly served up for fans of classic side-scrollers. A new Shantae game emerged, and Mighty No. 9 became the heir apparent to Mega Man's legacy, potential legalities be damned. This month has something for the classic RPG crowd, and it's called Cosmic Star Heroine.

Cosmic Star Heroine is the work of Zeboyd Games, most recently known for the third and fourth Penny Arcade: We Thought This a Clever Subtitle of Darkness titles. Before that, Zeboyd created Breath of Death VII and Cthulhu Saves the World, both RPGs that evoked late 8-bit and early 16-bit standards of the genre. Cosmic Star Heroine does the same for the dying days of the Super NES era. It's the sort of thing we'd gaze over longingly in the pages of GameFan or Electronic Gaming Monthly, tormented by the sight of yet another Japanese RPG we'd never get on our shores.

But we'll get Cosmic Star Heroine now that the Kickstarter's met its goal, and that's a very good thing. It recalls older games from Phantasy Star to Shadowrun in its setup, tracking intergalactic agent Alyssa L'Salle as she's cut loose by her employers. Battles unfold on the map with a Chrono Trigger dynamism that, to hear the developers talk, isn't bogged down by randomly dispensed grinding—a part of old RPGs that no one misses. Cosmic Star Heroine clearly knows just what to take from the classics.

NEWS

NYU MEDIA SETS UP SHOOTERS, FIGHTERS, AND GOOFY ROBOTS FOR THE WINTER
It's true that many intriguing games still sit untranslated in Japan, but this is not a week to gripe too loud about that. Nyu Media, localizers of Cherry Tree High Comedy Club and other titles from smaller Japanese developers, announced three new releases, one Steam reissue, and one successfully enhanced fighter.

Yatagarasu: Attack on Cataclysm jumped into the public light earlier this year with an Indiegogo campaign. It raised more than enough to add three characters, GGPO online play, and other refinements to the original, launched for Japanese PCs in 2011. Yatagarasu is due out early in 2014, while Croixleur, a speedy action game released by Nyu earlier this year, will debut on Steam shortly.

The rest of Nyu's winter lineup hails from Astro Port, developers of the previously localized shooter Satazius. Gigantic Army is a side-scrolling mecha action in the vein of Cybernator, Target Earth, and Metal Warriors. True to that heritage, it features a stout little mecha with seven different weapons, shields, and air-dashing boosters.

Armed Seven also stars a mecha in side-scrolling circumstances, but it's more a free-floating shooter in the vein of Hyper Duel or Android Assault. A dozen weapons are available, and the game's five stages nail everything from night-sky raids to orbital shootouts.

Supercharged Robot Vulkaiser is Astro Port's tribute to the big, loud, bright-colored robot shows spawned in the 1970s. It's a horizontal shooter where the pilots of Vulkaiser combine their skills for various power-ups, taking on everything from classic tokusatsu-esque monsters to angry purple Pac-Man creatures.

DRAKENGARD 3 ANNOUNCED FOR NORTH AMERICA, TITLE IS NOW CORRECT
We knew it would work. When Square Enix first announced Drag-on Dragoon 3 in Japan last March, everyone called it Drakengard 3, following the North American nomenclature for the Drag-On series. Square Enix went for months without saying whether the game would see a Western release, but we kept referring to it as Drakengard 3. Now Square Enix has announced North American and European releases for the game, and we can take comfort in the knowledge that we were right all along.

Then again, perhaps we should've called it Drakengard Zero, since a) it serves as a prequel to the generally unpleasant Drakengard 1 and 2, and b) it features a heroine named Zero. But no matter. Drakengard 3 follows the thrust of its predecessors, mixing dragon-flying combat with on-foot battles against throngs of soldiers. This third outing integrates the two even closer, as Zero's childish-voiced dragon Mikhail delivers ground-based attacks in addition to just belching forth fireballs from the air. Drakengard 3 also revives the concept of weapon backstories, a feature that was cut from the tangentially related Nier. Zero can switch armaments mid-battle, and each new weapon has an ugly little tale behind it.

Square Enix didn't seem all that shy about Drakengard 3's more graphic tones at the New York Comic Con. The game was curtained off from the rest of the press lounge, but one could easily see a banner of Zero in all her blood-soaked, scantily dressed abandon. The in-battle dialogue between the hedonistic heroine and her accompanying apostle Dito didn't dodge crudity, either. Still, Drakengard 3 looks to hold back little as Zero tracks down and tries to kill her five predictably named goddess sisters, and producer Takamasa Shiba mentioned that Square Enix isn't above censoring some dialogue if the need arises. Maybe Square will rework the whole thing into a tie-in for How to Train Your Dragon or Game of Thrones, thus revoking our triumph in calling it Drakengard 3.

INTERVIEW: PAC-MAN'S KONITO KOMORI

Pac-Man did quite a lot for video games back in 1980. He established the maze-game genre. He gave arcades a bona-fide hit that eclipsed many blockbuster films in pure profit. Most of all, Pac-Man showed the world that games weren't just blipping, booping shooters and lab-rat reflex tests. Pac-Man was more than a fun little diversion—he was a media superstar, complete with a cartoon and loads of merchandise.

Namco hasn't forgotten this, and Pac-Man recently emerged on two fronts. First up is PAC-MAN and the Ghostly Adventures, a cartoon repackaging of the hungry yellow hero and his familiar specter antagonists. Currently airing on Disney XD, the series will see an action-game spin-off later this month. For the crowd who actually remembers Pac-Man in the 1980s, there's Pac-Man Championship Edition DX+, an upgrade of the acclaimed Pac-Man Champion Edition DX, which refits the classic Pac-Man maze approach with multiplayer modes and impressive speed. For an idea of just what drives Pac-Man, we went to developer Konito Komori, who's worked on both games as well as the arcade spectacle of Pac-Man Battle Royale.

How did you come to work for Namco?

Komori: When I entered Namco, it was as an electrical engineer in 1995. But Namco is a game company, so I decided to go into game design. I like engineering, but I also love video games. Not just for the consoles, but for the arcades as well. So I felt that I needed to join together what I loved.

The first game I worked on was for the arcade side. It was Armadillo Racing. But my first Pac-Man game was Battle Royale, a multiplayer arcade game aimed at Western countries.

How did you first encounter Pac-Man?

Well, I was born in 1970 and Pac-Man was born in 1980. When I was ten, it was amazing. Before Pac-Man, we just had shooting games and that sort of thing. So this was the first time I saw a game with a character and casual appeal. I was shocked, and so I got involved with games.

Why do you think Pac-Man has stayed so popular over the years?

Well, this is just my personal opinion. People love eating. Actually, I ate a lot of pizza and steaks and gained twenty pounds, so I need to work out and run a lot. So Pac-Man's always eating…ghosts and food and that sort of thing. Eating is a pretty strong activity. And he's also a colorful character.

I also think that it's not just male players who like Pac-Man. It's also female players. So there are a lot of fans who've been supporting Pac-Man for over thirty years.

How did the idea for PAC-MAN and the Ghostly Adventures come about?

Three years ago, we had the 30th anniversary of Pac-Man. At that time, we had the idea of making a new TV series with producer Avid Arad, who's pretty famous for Amazing Spider-Man and other Marvel things. Because Pac-Man is over thirty years old, he's well-known to people in their twenties, thirties…maybe even their fifties. But kids may not know what Pac-Man is. So we thought we needed to do something for the new generation.

So the TV animation launched back in June, and it's a top-rated show among the kids. Based on that, we've taken the same world and created an interactive one in the game. That way the kids can see what it's all about.

So how is this new 3-D Pac-Man game different? He seems more like a teenager.

Classic Pac-Man is very simple: he's always eating the ghosts. So we expand on that worldview to make the animation. So we added new characters like Cylindria and Spiral, and a bad guy named Betrayus. There's a world called Pac-World, and a villain who wants to conquer it. It's a simple enough story.

Pac-Man's always eating as usual, but he has new abilities. He's Fire Pac, Ice Pac, Metal Pac, and he has other new abilities. Because it's for the new generation of kids, we don't want to make it complicated or mature. So he uses those special abilities to make the levels easier to clear. But sometimes there are ghosts, like the fire ones that Pac-Man needs a special power to defeat.

And what was the inspiration for the Pac-Man Championship Edition family of games?

It takes the well-known chase-and-eat idea of Pac-Man and update if for current games. One of the big updates for DX is to let the player lure tons of ghosts into following Pac-Man and then have the excitement of eating the ghosts in rapid succession. Based on that we added new maps, new skins, and the ability to compare scores with friends for DX+. It's also the first time the DX games are available on Steam.

Do you think you'll make another upgrade?

You mean we need to make DX Plus Plus? [laughs]

Well, with DX+ you're bringing in skins and scenery from Dig Dug and Rally-X. Are there any other games you might reference in future Pac-Man games?

At this moment, I can say that those two are the only ones we'll have.

Pac-Man's gone to different genres, like Pac-Attack and my personal old favorite, Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures. Are there any other genres you'd like to take Pac-Man?

Well, we put the priority on making it simple for the players. If you have it complicated, with multiple buttons and additions, players might be confused. Pac-Man needs to be a very simple game.

Of course, back in the '80s we had Pac-Land and Pac and Pal and even Baby Pac-Man, which is a pinball game and very tough to port to Pac-Man collections. We have a lot of these in Pac-Man Museum coming later this year.

How did you come up with Battle Royale?

When I visited the states, I saw that everyone knows Pac-Man, from taxi drivers to people you meet in restaurants. I thought we needed to use that existing knowledge of Pac-Man…the maze, the chase, the eating. I wondered what would happen if we put a multiplayer spin on it.

Do you think Pac-Man is more popular in the West or in Japan?

I can say that Western countries love Pac-Man more, but he's popular in Japan. I think American people love eating. [laughs]

How good were you at the original Pac-Man? Could you ever get it to the kill screen?

Ah, you mean the 256th screen. To be honest, no. But Billy Mitchell, the president of that hot sauce company…I met him once after that movie, King of Kong, came out.

DX+ doesn't have a kill screen, does it?

[Laughs] No, it's never-ending.

What do you think of the reception for DX+?

There are many types of Pac-fans. If they're young, they might be better off with the original, classic Pac-Man. But if they are current gamers, I think DX+ is best for them because it's high-speed and updated.

Do you have a favorite of the ghosts?

I like Pinky.

Outside of Pac-Man, would you want to revive other older Namco games? Like Dig Dug or anything like that?

Well, my production department is also in charge of the classic Namco games, so I would like to bring back some of them.

What's your favorite version of Pac-Man himself? The basic one where he's just a mouth, or the mascot one with arms and legs? Or the new one?

Well, I love this time of Pac-Man. [picks up Pac-Man figure and springs out tongue] But I also like the classic stuff, especially because I made Pac-Man Battle Royale. Sorry, I love both!

THIS WEEK'S RELEASES

VALHALLA KNIGHTS 3
Developer: K2 LLC
Publisher: XSEED Games
Platform: PlayStation Vita
Release Date: October 15
Controversial: Possibly
MSRP: $39.99

Valhalla Knights is a brave series in a way, soldiering through the mixed reviews and general apathy that dogged the original Valhalla Knights, Valhalla Knights 2, and the Wii's Valhalla Knights: Eldar Saga. With that indomitable mediocrity in its pasts, Valhalla Knights 3 aims to repair some reputations. It opts for an admittedly unique stage: a wartime prison that's become a city unto itself, complete with its own market, dungeons, persistent legends, and district of alluring shop stewards The last of these is important.

Despite the cloistered prison setting, Valhalla Knights 3 progresses much like other mission-driven RPGs. Dispatched as undercover agents to this den of criminals and corruption, player-created avatars roam around in parties of seven. When battles break out, players can switch direct control from one character to another, while the rest of the party runs around and does the best they can. Character customization involves different racial makeups with sexist modifiers and a "filth" option, though the more interesting species are hidden deeper in the game. More options arise in the twenty different classes, and characters can acquire skills from multiple vocations should they choose.

There's another side to Valhalla Knights 3, and it involves the above-mentioned array of shopkeepers. The merchants of this prison-city include plenty of women who the player can romance and recruit. Their relationships are built up through touch-screen mini-games that get downright filthy, as players fondle the women into compliant affection. It's made all the more disturbing by an apparent depiction of this as the prison's sex trade; players are paying these women for their time, and it's implied that some of them aren't there willingly. It all sounds far worse than anything Dragon's Crown or Grand Theft Auto V summoned, at the very least. Perhaps Valhalla Knights 3 will get noticed for the wrong reasons. Perhaps that's what the series wants after all.

Also Available:
Nintendo's 2DS is out right now, possibly to the delight of those who never liked the 3-D gimmickry of the 3DS. Of course, the system still seems aimed primarily at young players and their parents, who'll prefer the hingeless design and simple layout of the new system. Oh, and the $129.99 price tag. That'll make a big difference come Christmas.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

HOMETOWN STORY
Developer: Toy Box Inc.
Publisher: Natsume
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: October 22
My Hometown: Don't Ask
MSRP: $39.99/$49.99

Harvest Moon fans face a hard decision this month as Rune Factory 4 and Hometown Story arrive on the 3DS. Both are treatments of the Harvest Moon ideal; Rune Factory wraps it in fantasy-RPG dressing, while Hometown Story centers on the travails of shopkeeping in a small village. What's more, both games invite players to live out abbreviated simulations of life by helping a town grow, befriending neighbors, and getting married. This will surely result in clashes between fans, who will pelt each other with promotional Harvest Moon stuffed animals until one adorable town-building game emerges in savage victory.

Originally known as Project Happiness, Hometown Story is the work of Harvest Moon creator Yoichi Wada, and it has much the same flow Instead of tending a farm, your male or female avatar returns to a childhood burg to run a store that belonged to his or her grandmother. As the store expands its stock and shelf space, the town around it grows—and so does the shopkeep's relationship with fellow villagers. Many of them become good friends, supplying fresh goods to fill the shelves, and a few of them are prospective spouses. A male protagonist can court the fiercely independent Anna, the responsible farmgirl Haruka, and animal lover Mika. A female lead can romance theological researcher Shinji, the mysterious and gruff Dexter, or transplanted city boy Steve. The storyline also branches through one intriguing moral decision: you have the ability to grant one of seven wishes. Six of them will make other characters happy, while the remaining one is strictly for yourself.

For those of you collecting the Harvest Moon array of pre-order plush toys, Hometown Story offers two different bonuses. Reserving the game at most retailers gets you a stuffed Ember, while Natsume's online store carries the collector's edition with the protagonist's sprite companion Pochica. That's bound to provoke a hard decision in itself.

PHOENIX WRIGHT: ACE ATTORNEY: DUAL DESTINIES
Developer: CAPCOM
Publisher: CAPCOM
Platform: Nintendo 3DS (eShop only)
Release Date: October 24
Where is Maya: We'll find out
MSRP: $29.99

Phoenix Wright was busy these past few years, appearing in Ultimate Marvel vs. CAPCOM 3, landing his own Takashi Miike Film, and crossing over with Professor Layton. He didn't do that much actual legal work in his own series, which gave itself to newcomer Apollo Justice and two spin-offs starring snobbish prosecutor Miles Edgeworth. Well, Dual Destinies is Phoenix's big return, complete with a new 3-D look, a new assistant, and a new way to ferret out criminals and drive them to comical nervous breakdowns in court.

The new assistant is Athena Cykes, an idealistic goofball young attorney who replaces Phoenix's longtime sidekick Maya Fey. In a questionable breach of privacy, Athena uses a device called the Mood Matrix to detect inconsistencies in courtroom testimonies. The player is presented with four different fields of emotion while a character speaks, and it's possible to figure out just when someone's lying or, at the very least, not telling the whole story. This comes in handy against Phoenix's new antagonist, Simon Blackquill, a prosecutor accompanied by a pet hawk and his own murder sentence. Dual Destinies isn't short on odd characters, ranging from newcomers like detective Bobby Fulbright to returning sidekick Apollo Justice. Remember him?

When not in the courtroom, Phoenix and his assistants investigate crime scenes and gather evidence in little tableaus that recall adventure games. It's very much in the trial-and-error fashion of prior Phoenix Wright titles, and it doesn't utilize the Mood Matrix. However, it does have the same sense of offbeat humor and surprising turns (one case involves Phoenix's strange disappearance). The release of Dual Destinies hit some snags; it's available only as an eShop download, and there's an irresistible bonus case that puts a killer whale on trial—and costs extra, of course. But it's Phoenix Wright's return to the law, and that makes it hard to complain.

Also Available:
Wii Party U packages 80 mini-games designed for the Wii U's touch-screen controller, and the attractions range from animal racing to tabletop soccer. The game also includes a spare Wii remote for those of us who don't have four or five still sitting around from the original Wii's lifespan.

The elaborately titled Naruto Shippūden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 Full Burst arrives on the PlayStation 2, Xbox 360, and even the PC's Steam service. It's an expanded, better-looking version of this past spring's already visually impressive Ultimate Ninja Storm 3, adding a new chapter, 38 extra costumes, and a new playable character with sage Kabuto.


Todd Ciolek occasionally updates his website, and you can follow him on Twitter if you want.


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