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Trials of the Soul

by Todd Ciolek, Nov 27th 2013

I'm sure many of us are looking forward to Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII, whether to mock it or to see if Square can fish a good finale out of the Final Fantasy XIII morass. You may remember that some people complained about the sexy win pose Lightning assumes while wearing her sorceress outfit. Earlier this month, producer Yoshinori Kitase revealed that said victory pose was “revised,” presumably into something more consistent with Lightning's character.

The sorceress costume remains alongside the many other outfits available in Lightning Returns. There's a red gown, suitable for proms and debutante balls. There's a rabbit-eared getup in the style of Final Fantasy XII's Viera. There's thief garb just like Locke's in Final Fantasy VI. There's an outfit for every traditional Final Fantasy job, including red mages, black mages, and dragoons. And there's a moogle suit. Yes, a suit made of moogles.

Clearly this is a victory. For what, I don't know.

NEWS

PERSONA PROFUSION POSSIBLY PROBLEMATIC
Everyone had an idea of what the new Persona game might be. Atlus set up a teaser site vague enough that the announcement could've been a Persona 4 sequel, a new look at the mysterious Persona 5, or, as I suspected, a Persona pachislot game. I can't remember anyone suggesting that the news would be three separate Persona games, but…well, here we are.

The biggest surprise of the crop is Persona 4: Dancing All Night, a rhythm game in which the cast gyrates to remixes of the Persona 4 soundtrack and, we assume, other songs. It's the work of Dingo, developer of the Hatsune Miku: Project Diva series, and early previews have a hilarious announcer praising the characters' moves. The game promises dancing with Persona 4's main lineup, though most of the attention right now is on Rise (possibly to make up for sidelining her in Persona 4 Arena) and her rival Kanami, who debuts as a playable character here. Dancing All Night arrives on the Vita this fall in Japan, and if Hatsune Miku games can come out in North America, I'm sure this can, too.

Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth is a bit more predictable. It's a dungeon hack just like the RPG portions of Persona 3 and 4, and it's on the 3DS, where dungeon hacks seem to go more often than not. It takes place in the monster-overrun halls of Yasogami High School, and both Persona 3 and Persona 4 characters arrive to investigate. Everyone's shrunk down to a cuter size, and the battles mix the cast into five-character parties. The entire playable rosters of Persona 3 and Persona 4 are on hand with two original characters, and even Marie from Persona 4 Golden shows up. Wait, Marie is in this but not Labrys from Persona 4 Arena? Screw that.

Persona Q's director is Daisuke Kanada, who most recently helmed Etrian Odyssey IV. This alone suggests a good dungeon-crawler, and Persona Q also offers differing storylines and character interaction depending on which cast the player chooses. Atlus hasn't said what effect, if any, the game has on Persona's ongoing storyline, but these spin-offs rarely matter in the long run. More on that later.

Atlus also announced plans for the home version of Persona 4 Arena: The Ultimate Suplex Hold, which arrives on the PlayStation 3 next year. However, the most anticipated news of the whole day was Persona 5, which is still a shadowy and noncommittal thing. It's due out on the PlayStation 3 in Japan in “winter 2014,” and the director is Persona 3 and 4's Katsura Hashino. The trailer reveals little beyond chairs, chains, and a tagline about emancipation. Yet Dengeki PlayStation offered further tidbits: those are classroom seats in the trailer, and the game's set at a high school amid a theme of staking out freedom. That's bad news for anyone hoping for a Persona 5 taking place in the world of adults, as Catherine did, but it's good for anyone clamoring for the slightest scrap of information on the next Persona.

But will that next Persona have the same impact? There's a point where a video game series becomes a franchise, where the ports and spin-offs and quasi-sequels grow so thick that the next major game isn't all that major. I don't doubt that Persona Q will be a good dungeon hack or that Dancing All Night won't have its charms, but Persona now encroaches on Final Fantasy territory, where the whole of it is too broad for a new game to matter as much as its carefully meted-out predecessors did—especially when it's still in high school.

DECEPTION IV: BLOOD TIES UPHOLDS TRADITIONS, CAKES, PUMPKINS
It was always a bit strange that Tecmo's Deception never riled the self-appointed moralists of the media. They pilloried Grand Theft Auto and Mass Effect, but Deception, a game about colluding with the devil and plotting Rube Goldberg murders, dodged controversy just by not being too popular. Some Deception titles, the third one especially, mollified the recurring premise with sympathetic heroines. The Vita's Deception IV: Blood Ties apparently has no mind for that. Its heroine, Regrina, is the avatar of the devil, and she spends the game arranging deadly traps without much compunction.

Deception IV isn't entirely straight-faced about this, of course. Regrina has a virtual closet of spike traps, iron maidens, springpads, gatling spears, electric orbs, and giant, pocket-dimensional trains. But she can employ banana peels, birthday cakes, or pumpkins just as easily if she needs to confuse an opponent.

As one can tell from these screenshots, Deception IV also upholds the series staple of revealingly clad heroines, and Regrina isn't the only one in the game. She's joined by three demonic guides, all of whom despise mortals as much as she does. Kaelia is businesslike about all of the carnage, but her fellow demons aren't; sadistic Verza finds delight in Regrina's many murders, and impish Lilia views everything as a childlike prank. It all seems disturbing on several fronts, but the odds are good that no mainstream condemnation will dog Deception IV when Tecmo KOEI releases it next year.

DOWNLOAD REVIEWS: NOVEMBER

THE MYSTERIOUS CITIES OF GOLD: SECRET PATHS
Developer: Neko Entertainment
Publisher: Neko Entertainment
Platform: Wii U, PC (Steam)
MSRP: $14.99

American children were lucky to see The Mysterious Cities of Gold in the 1980s. In a decade where most kid-oriented cartoons were driven by toy lines and noxious patronizing, The Mysterious Cities of Gold had a compelling sense of exploration, danger, and that ancient-technology angle that seems so plausible when you're seven years old. It's no accident that the show stayed with many of its young viewers, or that producer Jean Chalopin revived it for a sequel series just this year, with a point-and-click adventure game to match it.

The Mysterious Cities of Gold: Secret Paths adopts the same storyline as the new cartoon, finding the trio of Esteban, Zia, Tao, and their adult allies flying across the ocean to China. Searching for another of the titular mysterious cities supposedly awaits, the three children find their way through various stages of puzzles—and fairly simple ones, at that. Seemingly structured for younger players, Secret Paths trades heavily in floor panels, stealth gameplay, and hunts for suitable keys. At least it grants the playable characters unique abilities: Tao translates stone tablets, Esteban activates solar glyphs, and Zia…well, she fits through small openings in walls or fences.

Secret Paths also assumes the player's familiarity with and fondness for The Mysterious Cities of Gold. The storyline draws from the ongoing cartoon in abbreviated form, with rushed clips scarcely establishing the overarching point of the series. The game is further tied to the show in a rather needless fashion: certain chapters aren't available until a particular episode's air date. It all makes Secret Paths an attraction for young fans, and young fans alone.

PHOENIX WRIGHT: THE TURNABOUT RECLAIMED
Developer: CAPCOM
Publisher: CAPCOM
Platform: Nintendo 3DS (eShop)
MSRP: $5.99

The Turnabout Reclaimed serves two purposes within the story of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies. Firstly, it shows Phoenix Wright in his first big case after he reclaims his law practice, finding his feet again as a put-upon defender of justice. Secondly, it makes fans pay an extra six dollars to see Wright and his fellow misfit lawyers defend a killer whale on murder charges. As they should.

It's not just the falsely accused cetacean, a friendly orca named Orla, who makes The Turnabout Reclaimed worth that seemingly exorbitant price. In their attempts to prove the whale innocent, Wright and sidekick Athena Cykes explore a pirate-themed aquarium and meet the expected cast of oddballs: a snobbish muckraker with a hidden side, a rapping fish-feeder, a whale-tender who can't avoid horrible marine-life puns, and a standoffish penguin. It all meshes perfectly with the Phoenix Wright brand of comedy, complete with musical numbers and few misfired jokes. It might be a little too cute if you've looked into the practices of real-world aquatic parks (or seen the documentary Blackfish), but within Phoenix Wright's sphere of legal nonsense, it works just fine. In fact, it might be the best case in Dual Destinies.

But what about the fact that it's DLC? It's entirely possible that CAPCOM held this case aside as a bonus, knowing that while Phoenix Wright fans might go without cases involving pro wrestlers and high-school murders, they'd never turn down the chance to defend a whale in court. Oh well. Everyone's a sucker now and then.

SOUL CALIBUR II HD
Developer: Namco
Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
Platform: Xbox 360/PlayStation 3
MSRP: $19.99

Producer Masaaki Hoshino describes Soul Calibur II as a “personal favorite,” and I'm inclined to share that view. From a nostalgic perspective, it was the first Soul-series game with an unavoidable reach; unlike the original Soul Blade or Soul Calibur, Soul Calibur II appeared on all three systems, all but ensuring its appearance in any living room with a current console circa 2004.

More importantly, there's something about Soul Calibur II that just feels right in comparison to what came before and after it. It sharpened up everything good about the first two games: the adventurous appeal, the age-of-exploration atmosphere, the character variety, and even the goofy, over-dramatic narration. And it didn't take anything too far. Soul Calibur III and IV felt like expansions of the same ideas driving Soul Calibur II, but they had too much of the wrongs things. The atmosphere went from attractive to garishly overdone, the guest characters went from stylistically plausible to gimmicky Star Wars cameos, and warriors like Taki and Ivy went from moderately ridiculous physiques and costumes to a point miles beyond self-parody.

The HD version of Soul Calibur II sharpens up the game across the board, though I noticed a strange shimmering effect on some characters' faces. And while it preserves the original game and two of the guest fighters (Spawn and Tekken's Heihachi), it doesn't add much beyond a no-nonsense online mode. In fact, it preserves the old Soul Calibur II a bit too closely, in that half the roster must be unlocked. Namco, the game's ten years old. You can let us play Seong Mi-Na and Lizardman from the start.

THIS WEEK'S RELEASES

SAINT SEIYA: BRAVE SOLDIERS
Developer: Dimps
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Platform: PlayStation 3 (PSN only)
Release Date: November 26
I Ran: I Ran So Far Away
MSRP: $59.99

Was Saint Seiya a huge hit waiting to happen in the U.S and possibly Canada back in the 1980s? After all, the series was a success throughout the rest of the Western Hemisphere, not to mention a number of European countries. Might Saint Seiya have become to Reagan-era kids what Dragon Ball Z became to Clinton-era kids? Might impressionable American youths have started playground arguments over who got to be Phoenix Ikki or whether or not Andromeda Shun was a girl? Was it too little, too late when the show came here in the 2000s with a dreadful A Flock of Seagulls cover for an opening song?

I think it was. I think that's why the first Saint Seiya game released in North America is only a PLAYSTATION Network download, while off in France or Spain you can get a special edition of Saint Seiya: Brave Soldiers with an exclusive Pegasus Seiya figure.

Brave Soldiers is a fighting game, naturally enough, though it gives the characters arenas in which to race around and demonstrate all of their anime-derived attacks. The armored combatants all chain together moves for rudimentary combos, and everything grows larger and flashier with their Big Bang Attacks and Light Speed maneuvers. The battles also bring out a favorite feature of mine: desperation moves available only when a character's on the ropes. OK, so they're called Seventh Sense attacks here, but I always think of them as desperation moves thanks to The King of Fighters and Art of Fighting. Gotta respect the originals.

For the anime-based fighting games, few things are as important as an extensive lineup of characters, so Brave Warriors has about fifty warriors from Saint Seiya canon. Granted, some of them are alternatively armored versions of the five main Bronze Saints, and most of them are male (even the ones named after Scylla and the Sirens). The game's faithful Chronicle Mode arranges all of them in the Sanctuary, Poseidon, and Hades arcs, while the Galaxian Wars Mode is dedicated to quick-and-dirty fights. And no, it does not involve the old arcade game Galaxian.

Also Available:
Square Enix's Final Fantasy IV: The After Years is now out for iOS and Android devices. This is the fourth release for the sequel to Final Fantasy IV, but it's the first time the game's appeared in the 3-D style of Final Fantasy IV's DS remake. It's sixteen bucks, though, and for just three dollars more you can get the Complete Collection for your PSP, with both Final Fantasy IV and the sequel. But not everyone has a PSP.

Sega's 3-D Space Harrier, out this Thursday, makes a scary amount of sense. Most classic reissues for the 3DS don't do much with the system's 3-D capabilities, but Space Harrier's pixel-based illusion of 3-D made it a real sight in arcades of the 1980s. It's a natural for the 3DS, and Sega producer Yosuke Okunari even proclaimed this “the definitive version.”

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

GRAN TURISMO 6
Developer: Polyphony Digital
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Platform: PlayStation 3
Release Date: December 6
Rainbow Road: No
MSRP: $59.99

I learned the hard way that Gran Turismo's devotion to realistic racing was not for me. Forty bucks in hand, I set out to buy a new PlayStation game to see me through a summer. I had some reliably long RPG in mind, but at the store I saw Gran Turismo, the new PlayStation game that everyone was talking about. I'd never been a huge racing-game fan, but I liked Ridge Racer and figured that I would enjoy something praised all around as the pinnacle of the genre. A few frustrated evenings later, I had learned that a game could be exceptionally well-made, technically amazing, and still not for me.

Of course, are plenty of people who love what the Gran Turismo series does, judging by the scores of games sold, the real-world trophies, the Spike TV series, and the live-action movie currently in development. And what does the series do? It captures hundreds of vehicles in stunning authentic detail and then sets them loose on equally convincing courses. Gran Turismo 6 shows considerable volume here, offering some 1200 cars on over seventy different course designs. Players are free to make their own tracks as well, and the online modes allow everything from simple races to long-time rallies with their own qualifying rounds. It also looks rather impressive and likely to inspire passersby to confuse it with a real race. Of course, that's what a few people did with the original Gran Turismo, provided they were squinting or drunk.


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


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