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Chaos Theories

by Todd Ciolek, Oct 23rd 2013

I often start these columns by highlighting some controversy unfolding within the game industry. This time, however, I think I'll strike off on my own and try to create a controversy from scratch. Let's see if it takes.

Most of you know about the upcoming Tales of Symphonia Chronicles limited edition, and I mentioned it in my writeup of the Tales panel at the New York Comic Con. Namco's official literature describes everything the set contains; on top of the two Symphonia games all prettied up in HD, you'll get a durable artbox, a multi-disc soundtrack, a translated novel, and five figurines.

Well, that's what they say. Five figurines. But look at that figure of Tenebrae, the little black cat-beast. Not only is it small, it seems attached to the same base as the Marta figure. Can such a thing be categorized the same as the rest of the figurines? The cat is more of an accessory. A satellite toy. A subordinate demi-figure. This inaccuracy cannot stand.

Not that this obfuscation will affect the demand for Tales of Symphonia Chronicles. Only 15,000 copies of the special edition will be available, and its Amazon page already lists the set as unavailable. Perhaps it's the same ordering hiccup that afflicted the Tales of Xillia box set. Or perhaps fans just want those figurines no matter how many are included.

NEWS

ANOTHER HAKUOKI HEADS HERE, A DIFFERENT BAKUMATSU ROCKS OUT
Some Tales RPGs aren't released in North America. Dragon Quest, one of Japan's biggest game franchises, drags its feet on bringing its tenth proper installment to the States. Meanwhile, the Hakuoki series rolls onward with steady localizations from Aksys Games. Next in the pipeline is Hakuoki: Stories of the Shinsengumi, due out for the domestic Playstation 3 at some unspecified time next year.

Originally released in 2010, Stories of the Shinsengumi once again follows heroine Chizuru Yukimura as she goes through the turbulent Bakumatsu era surrounded by the members of the Shogun's secret police, all historically revised to be handsome, date-able anime heroes. The central plotline of the game leads to various side-stories about the characters, and one such tale even puts the cast in a modern high-school setting. This shouldn't be confused with Hakuoki: Sweet School Life, which turns the same idea into an entire game and comes out next year in Japan. And here later on, I'd bet.

For those of you who prefer your Bakumatsu-related sagas with rock stars and sinister mind-controlling music, there's Bakumatsu Rock for the PSP. The Shogun's forces are the dastardly oppressors this time around, keeping the populace sedate and compliant through music. It's up to several bold samurai, all dressed like today's gaudiest J-rock stars, to break the spell through rhythmic button-tapping challenges, not unlike Parappa the Rapper, Gitaroo Man, or the Hatsune Miku titles. Naturally, there's a storyline to go along with this, and it all suits the tone of an “otome” game littered with attractive men. Marvelous will release it next year in Japan.

NEW HARVEST MOON HAS PLAYERS SHARING PRODUCE, WHO KNOWS WHAT ELSE
Yes, it seems like we just got a new Harvest Moon this week, though that's technically Hometown Story. Same creator, same general idea, different title. Harvest Moon: Connect to a New Land is the next part of the official Harvest Moon line, and it's all about sharing your farm with others. This 3DS title uses Wi-Fi and Streetpass to link players, whether it's by swapping harvested crops or visiting each other's towns.

Connect to a New Land allows the usual Harvest Moon pursuits of farming and exploring, adding a private safari zone where players can raise animals beyond the usual livestock. Neighboring farmers also play a larger part than they did in prior games, though Marvelous hasn't shown just how it'll handle courtship and marriage this time around. What might happen if two players marry the same character and meet up over Streetpass? A crime of passion, no doubt. Bigamous or not, Connect to a New Land is out next February in Japan.

DOWNLOAD REVIEWS: OCTOBER

ARMED SEVEN
Developer: Astro Port
Publisher: Nyu Media
Platform: PC
MSRP: Varies

Meet the M-0X5. It's a reliable little battle-mecha just like games used to make: boxy, maneuverable, and heavily armed. It has a jetpack for propelling it through enemy fleets and ground forces, plus a small hitbox that lets it dodge the hundreds upon hundreds of bullets sent its way. What's more, the M-0X5 never pauses the proceedings so its pilot can lament the horrors of war or argue with masked enemy commanders. Armed Seven has no time for that.

Armed Seven isn't terribly long in its specs, with only five stages of average duration. Yet it shows off plenty of craft and variety within that little frame. The attacking armadas have scores of gunships, robots, and drones to throw at the player, and the boss encounters nail that all-important moment of panic when the screen's choked with bullets and then along comes another bullet, larger and nastier than the rest, and you barely manage to avoid it. There's also a helpful array of weapons to fill the mecha's three ports: lasers and machine guns go in the robot's hand, auto-firing grenades and miniguns mount on its shoulder, and a slowly charging attack could be a force beam, missiles, or a close-range pilebunker.

It's horribly tempting to recommend Armed Seven to fans of Konami's Super NES classic Cybernator and say no more. The heritage here is that of many mecha-driven battlegrounds from the Super NES, the Sega Genesis, and even the X68000 computer. Armed Seven's angled firing, stocky robots, and detailed, easily destroyed scenery summon up memories of G2, Aquales, and, of course, the Assault Suits series where Cybernator spawned. But Armed Seven goes beyond that. It's worth a look for just about anyone who values a good shooter.

CHAOS CODE
Developer: FK Digital
Publisher: Arc System Works
Platform: PlayStation 3 (PSN only)
MSRP: $11.99

Chaos Code has the makings of a first-rate fighting game. Developer FK Digital effectively borrows from all sorts of 2-D fighters, but never so obviously as to leave their creation a tired copy. It even shows in the character lineup. Chaos Code arranges a mass of anime stereotypes getting into punch-ups over some mysterious thing called, unsurprisingly, the Chaos Code, and it calls upon the usual rakish gunslinger, the gothic-lolita android maid, the buxom spellcaster, and the futuristic ninja whose mechanized outfit includes everything but a good, supportive bra. There are standouts, however: girls-manga artist Catherine morphs into different outfits with every attack, while twins Cait and Sith control as a single character. In fact, towering chef Bravo steals the show by summoning banquet tables, wielding enormous dumplings, and, for one of his super moves, angrily overturning a smorgasbord of fast food. The backgrounds also burst with amusing details: a kid talking to a dyspeptic man in a bear mascot costume, a Bob Ross impersonator, and what I'd swear is a Yaranaika reference. It's often a delight to take in, though neither the combatants nor the scenery can match The King of Fighters XIII or Skullgirls in appearance.

Chaos Code's characters, the generic and the amusing alike, are approachable in their fighting styles. Yes, even the robot maid and her evil sister. Special moves are plentiful and easy to perform, and FK Digital peppers them with just enough variation, letting players pick two out of four bonus moves each time they select a character. The cast also comes with two different methods of dashing across the screen: the short-range “step” variety and the seemingly more enjoyable “run” technique. The game's single-player mode takes a few pages out of SNK fighters, from the personalized pre-match banter to the moves available only when a character's clinging to a shred of health meter. It's a solid foundation, though it lags well behind Super Street Fighter IV or Guilty Gear XX Whatever in volume and complexity.

One more thing holds back Chaos Code, and it's not a minor annoyance like the awkward dialogue. No, it's the lack of any online play. FK Digital supposedly has GGPO support in the works, but the current edition of Chaos Code restricts itself to living-room play. Without that essential ingredient, Chaos Code seems destined to meet the same fate as Waku Waku 7, Asura Buster, Dragoon Might, and many other decent fighters that never quite hit the big-time.

THE STANLEY PARABLE
Developer: Galactic Cafe
Publisher: Iron Galaxy
Platform: PC (Steam)
MSRP: $14.99

Explaining a joke is a sure way to ruin it, which may be why a number of critics hesitate to describe The Stanley Parable in heavy detail. Yet I don't think The Stanley Parable is a joke. At the very least, it's not the sort of simple, punchline-tied gag that can be spoiled by elaboration. It introduces the player to Stanley, a silent and seemingly content button-pusher at an unnamed corporation. One day he finds his trivial workload vanished, his co-workers missing, and an omnipresent British voice now narrating his every move and thought.

The narrator first seems an avuncular version of Portal's GLaDOS, guiding Stanley's passage through a straightforward story—and then you realize you can go against the spoken plot, even through a choice as simple as the wrong door. Each decision has an amusing, metafictional affect on the narrator, ably voiced by Kevan Brighting, and it all rapidly swirls into a breakdown of games and their choices, of guided storytelling and the illusion of free will. It's heavy-handed at times, but the constant narrative tricks push it well past the chipping attacks games usually make on the fourth wall.

It's fair to caution players that The Stanley Parable isn't terribly long, and the obstacles before Stanley are simple and his actions limited. It all started out as a mod for the Source engine, after all. But it goes places most games don't, and with a clear, memorable vision few of them even attempt.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

SONIC: LOST WORLD
Developer: Sega/Dimps
Publisher: Sega
Platform: Nintendo Wii U/Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: October 29
Iblis Trigger: Very Funny
MSRP: $49.99/$39.99

It's easy to become jaded with Sonic's low points: the mediocre spin-offs, the storylines about genies and princesses, and the lingering feeling that the blue hedgehog never will be as fun as he was back in 1992. Yet it's admirable that Sega keeps trying. No, Sega won't give up on Sonic. Sega won't cancel middling and impressive Sonic projects alike and ignore the character until one of Sonic's former caretakers rolls out a KickStarter for a suspiciously similar game called Pacey the Porcupine. Sega hasn't lost faith in their cherished platform-game hero like a certain other company has.

In fact, Sonic: Lost World shows a good deal of ambition in its designs, even if some of it seems pulled from last generation's Super Mario Galaxy. The various 3-D stages include pillar-shaped courses that rotate and tilt as Sonic races across them, while other levels are spheres and tunnels, all loaded with the usual complement of spring-launchers, spikes, rings, and enemies for Sonic to bounce into. Other stages recall the 2-D approach of classic Sonic games, though with their own twists in perspective. It all serves Sonic's fight against recurring villain Eggman and The Deadly Six, new hench-creatures who probably won't figure into the next batch of Sonic merchandise.

Lost World also brings back the Wisp powers from Sonic Colors, adding a flying ability, a blazing meteor-like attack, and a rhythmic homing strike. Many of these use the Wii U controller's touch-screen to creative effect, and the rhythmic weapon lets Sonic seek out beacons in a musical mini-game. Yet amid all of Sonic's new moves, there's one thing absent: collecting 100 rings doesn't get him an extra life (whatever would UK Resistance say?) as it did in past Sonic outings. Why? Perhaps Sega's trying to discourage material greed among children.

PAC-MAN AND THE GHOSTLY ADVENTURES
Developer: Namco Bandai
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Platform: Sony PlayStation 3/Xbox 360/Nintendo Wii U/Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: October 29
Best Ghost: Miru
MSRP: $39.99

In contrast to the vagaries of Sonic's career, Pac-Man earned a steady, comfortable living over the last 30-some years. He'd never recapture the glorious heights of '80s arcade culture (no game would, really), but he'd be there in the decades that followed, perpetually gobbling dots and dodging ghosts in the collective unconscious of modern culture. Namco adapted Pac-Man into new forms over the years, creating a humdrum puzzle game like Pac-Attack or the utterly charming Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures, but his roots were never abandoned. The latest incarnation is PAC-MAN and the Ghostly Adventures, a kid-oriented TV series that drops a younger Pac-Man into a futuristic Pac-World of focus-tested sidekicks and threatening specters. And what is a Pac-Man revival without a video game?

PAC-MAN and the Ghostly Adventures proceeds much as 3-D platforms have since the times of Super Mario 64. Pac-Man traverses the rooftops and buildings of his ghost-besieged Pac-City, gaining new powers that in turn reveal new areas. A fire-powered Pac-Man melts ice, an ice-powered Pac-Man takes down fiery ghosts, and a chameleon-suit Pac-Man grabs enemies and swings around like a Bionic Commando protagonist. Other power-ups let him run on walls, jet through the air, or bounce around like the spheroid he resembled back in 1980. It's all aimed at younger audiences, though longtime Pac-Man fans will recognize a multiplayer mode that drops four players into a maze. If they want the old, two-dimensional Pac-Man back, they can forego The Ghostly Adventures entirely and nab the recent Championship Edition DX+ instead.

Also Available:
Regular Show: Mordecai and Rigby in 8-Bit Land may seem another disposable 3DS take on a Cartoon Network series, but check the developer: it's WayForward, maker of Shantae, Mighty Switch Force, and a number of high-caliber cartoon adaptations. Their version of Regular Show is a side-scroller with plenty of invention, including stages that shift to overhead-view areas depending on where Mordecai and Rigby jump. It's still designed for children to easily grasp, but hey, isn't every decent cartoon side-scroller like that?

Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag appears on the major consoles, and with it comes a shift to the pirate-peopled locales of Havana, Kingston, and the Bahamas in the early 1700s. A portion of the game also takes place in modern times, as the Assassin's Creed games often do. This makes Black Flag both a sequel and a prequel to Assassin's Creed III, and that's a rare occurrence in any medium.


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


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