The X Button
God Bothering

by Todd Ciolek, Dec 11th 2013

Last week I was a bit envious of our European cousins for getting a nice Bravely Default collector's edition, complete with a figure, months before North America even sees the game. Then photos of that figure leaked online.

My envy remains for those who can play Square Enix's cute 3DS RPG without importing, but I think Bravely Default fans will do just fine without this simulacrum of Agnes Oblige. It happens sometimes with toys packed in with collectors' sets.

Special-edition figures might not look so bad if they're repackaged trinkets. For example, the Milla Maxwell figure included with this year's Tales of Xillia box set was originally made for prize machines, so it had to show enough quality to coax claw-manipulating punters out of their money. I also expect that NIS America's eighty-dollar limited edition of The Witch and the Hundred Knight will include a decent figure along with its art book, two-CD soundtrack, and fancy little box. The toy is a Nendoroid rendition of main character Metallia, and Nendoroid has a sturdy reputation.

It's not the same when companies make a statuette specifically for some collector's bundle that most buyers won't appraise before they buy it. That's when you might get things like MOK-KOS, which lurked in a Xenosaga Episode II special edition mercifully exclusive to Japan.

And what happens when the truth is out? Will fans really haul these box sets back to their local retailers and demand a refund? All I know is that if I opened up a $130 bundle to see that particular version of Agnes, I'd immediately consider the ways I might rid myself of it.

I wouldn't return MOK-KOS, though. It might curse me.

NEWS

BRAVELY SECOND TRADEMARKED, HINTED AT, THEN FINALLY ANNOUNCED
In Bravely Default news that has nothing to do with malformed toys, Square Enix at last uncovered the sequel. Bravely Second slunk around in trademark fillings for a while, but last week brought the first details about the 3DS RPG.

Like the original Bravely Default, Second's storyline seems an old-fashioned Final Fantasy in everything but name. The moon even figures prominently into the tale: a demon king arrives in the world of Luxendarc, and help comes from Magnolia Arch, a winking, adventuresome (and casually murderous) hunter of lunar origin. Square Enix promises new areas to explore and a larger game all around, and those of you who own the European release of Bravely Default can see a preview of Second after the credits.

Yet Bravely Second emerges amid unfortunate news: Akihiko Yoshida left Square Enix. Yoshida wasn't just the character designer for the Bravely series; he did the same for Final Fantasy Tactics, Final Fantasy XII, Vagrant Story, and various other games, often collaborating with director Yasumi Matsuno. His career stretches back to the original Ogre Battle and Tactics Ogre, and he also refashioned the characters for the PSP version of Tactics Ogre. Of course, Yoshida still can collaborate with Square Enix, and his message of resignation even notes that he'll stick with Bravely Default “as long as I am needed.” Perhaps this'll even let Yoshida work on outside projects…such as Matsuno's Unsung Story.

SKULLGIRLS MIGHT BE GOING AWAY, THEN COMING BACK
What controversies do we find in the game industry this week? Try this: Konami reportedly asked the PLAYSTATION Network and XBox Live to remove Skullgirls, that crisply animated 2-D fighter from Lab Zero Games. It comes after Lab Zero and publisher Autumn Games announced an end to their business arrangement with Konami, and Konami apparently isn't giving the game a break as it moves over to Autumn's aegis. Unless Konami reconsiders, the game leaves the PSN on December 17 and XBox Live on December 31. Skullgirls owners can still play the game offline, but online matches may be impaired.

Yet it doesn't seem that Skullgirls will go missing for long. Lab Zero and Autumn are at work on a new build of the fighter for both the PSN and Live, and with any luck it won't be hard for people to update if they've already purchased Skullgirls. Moreover, this doesn't affect the Japanese PSN release or the very nice Steam version of Skullgirls. So I wouldn't rush to XBox Live in a Skullgirls-driven panic.

ATTACK ON TITAN, SPACE DANDY GET GAMES
Attack on Titan arrived on the 3DS last week, and it's pretty much what fans expected. An action game from Spike Chunsoft, it follows protagonists Eren, Mikasa, and Armin through future-medieval mankind's war against horrific shambling humanoids who look like they crawled off an old Bavarian woodcut. Two downloadable storylines will be available as well. One features Levi, and the other features Attack on Titan's only most likable character, Sasha.

True to Sasha's occasional role as gluttonous comedy relief, her chapter is a shade more humorous than the unrelentingly desperate circumstances of other Attack on Titan characters. It's still shot through with savage battles against naked, human-devouring titans, but Sasha can unlock a knife and fork for weapons. Yet it's a bit of a disappointment compared to the more creative routes Spike Chunsoft might've taken. I would've preferred a Pac-Man clone with a little Sasha sprite eating her way through a maze of potato dots and big-eyed titans.

In fact, Space Dandy went for that classic approach. Shinichiro Watanabe's latest series has people talking all over, well before it premiers on Cartoon Network, and so there's already Space Dandy game in the works. Well, it's actually Galaga refashioned into Space Galaga, but that's good enough. It fits beautifully with the classic space-pulp atmosphere that Space Dandy previews evoke, though one wonders how that mildly distressing State of Liberty ship might work into the storyline. Space Galaga is headed to iOS and Android platforms next year, and I hope it'll be as readily available in North America as the anime series will.

IMPORT ROUNDUP: NOVEMBER

GOD EATER 2
Developer: Namco Bandai
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Platform: PlayStation Vita/Sony PSP

Tradition mandates than anyone mentioning God Eater must make plain that it's a rip-off of Monster Hunter. Fair enough. The original God Eater, which many of us knew here as Gods Eater Burst, has the same idea as CAPCOM's favored series: pitting teams of warriors against massive beasts as players join in at home, at work, or during the daily commute. Yet something enjoyable and unique emerged from God Eater's half-demolished cities, stereotyped anime-hero hunters, and transforming weapons. In fact, I'd call it better than Monster Hunter. And perhaps the same goes for the sequel.

God Eater 2 plants down three years after the events of the first game. You're still a customized hero or heroine working with the Fenrir organization to exterminate creatures called Aragami, and you'll see a bunch of familiar characters from the first game; most prominently the laid-back Kota, the pessimistic Soma, and the cautious Alisa, who still can't seem to get that shirt buttoned. They're all transferred to the Blood branch of Fenrir, and there they meet the mysterious Julius, his antisocial bodyguard Ciel, and a new assortment of hunters, some of whom apparently find Alisa's combat wardrobe too conservative. There's an ongoing tale at the center of God Eater 2, but it's once again explored through shorter, punchier missions undertaken with four-character parties. And all of them still wield God Arcs, which change from blades to firearms to giant enemy-devouring demon jaws.

A few new classes lie in God Eater 2's arsenal, where shotguns, oversized war hammers, and Charge Spears outfit a character's God Arc. The bullet-mixing of the first game now lets players customize even the ricochet angles of their shots, and characters can learn some two hundred Blood Arts to use in battle. The game's missions haven't changed too much in their focus on killing Aragami large and small, but they're now more efficient in pacing and a little tighter in design.

That's pretty much true across the board for God Eater 2. it's not a dramatic change from the first game so much as it's a refinement of something that already worked well.

Import Barrier: The Vita and PSP aren't bogged down by region locks, and a number of English-speaking God Eater fans already imported the game. Customizing equipment requires some language skills, though.

Chances of a Domestic Release: No word yet. God Eater 2 seems a good addition to the Vita's still-sparse catalog, but neither Namco Bandai nor D3, the original's U.S. publisher, have said anything. Perhaps the original God Eater didn't fare too well over here.

Bonus Outfits: God Eater 2's extras feature two different types of Christmas costume: one traditional, the other too risqué for the God Eater Holiday Special on CBS. Other extras include costumes from Gintama and The IDOLM@STER, and the character-creating system can fashion all sorts of anime lookalikes.

METAL MAX 4: MOONLIGHT DIVA
Developer: Cattle Call/24Frame
Publisher: Kadokawa Shoten/Enterbrain
Platform: Nintendo 3DS

Many once-healthy RPG series lie in neglect. Lunar? Sidelined. Lufia? Moldering in a Square Enix stockroom. Breath of Fire? Confined to smartphone duty. Tengai Makyo? Cosmic Fantasy? Cyber Knight? Don't even ask. Yet Metal Max lives on through Kadokawa. Perhaps it's the publisher's judicious choice of the handheld format that keeps the series profitable. Perhaps it's the post-apocalyptic stage of Metal Max that keeps it appealing. Perhaps it's just that cover, which invites you to a world where a woman can turn into a combat motorcycle and neither she nor her rider finds it odd.

The woman is Sasha, friend of Metal Max 4's protagonist Hinata. The two of them live on an island community that's struggling to rebuild some scrap of civilization in the wake of a worldwide calamity. When a warlord named Gomodo invades the isle, Sasha reveals herself to be an android, transforms into a bike, and lets Hinata ride her to safety in as dignified a manner as one can when using a robot woman as a motorcycle seat.

Sasha is by no means the only strange sight in Metal Max 4's vehicular combat. While the game's a menu-driven RPG in gameplay, many of the sights are uncommon hybrids: T-Rexes crossbred with tanks, dogs toting laser guns, serpentine construction cranes, mechanized gorillas, APCs with tomato cannons, Pandas dressed like Fist of the North Star thugs, and whatever else lurks in a world where some disaster swept away not only civilization, but logic as well.

Aside from the crazed animal-vehicle chimeras, Metal Max 4 allows human characters into battle through various divisions: martial artists and wrestlers fight bare-handed, hunters drive vehicles, mechanics repair those vehicles, nurses heal the fleshy fighters, soldiers use handheld weapons, and artists boosts stats whenever they can. The battles favor a 3-D look along the lines of Square's DS remakes of Final Fantasy III and IV, and if the graphics aren't very impressive, the underlying nuttery certainly is.

Import Barrier: It's an RPG through and through, so there's plenty to read. And there's that ol' region-lock on the 3DS.

Chances of a Domestic Release: Less than they should be. North America hasn't seen a game from this series since Metal Saga on the PlayStation 2 (and Europe never got any), but Metal Max 4 seems like the sort of strange import that Aksys, Atlus, and XSEED sometimes risk.

Bonus Outfits: Metal Max 4's wardrobe homages its own history instead of Hatsune Miku. Hinata can dress up as the main character from Metal Max 1 and 2, while other characters get over a dozen costumes from Metal Max 3.

SUPER ROBOT TAISEN OG INFINITE BATTLE
Developer: B.B. Studios/BEC
Publisher: Banpresto
Platform: PlayStation 3

The Super Robot Taisen series excels at two things: stirring together robots and pilots from all manner of unrelated anime series, and making English-speaking fans jealous of it. The games rarely appear in North America (and never with their familiar characters), so the connoisseur of cartoon mecha must either import or stew in envy. The majority of Super Robot Taisen games can seem daunting to overseas buyers. They're strategy-RPGs that are more about soaking up anime references than quick reflexes. Infinite Battle, however, is an action game, one where players take down multiple targets during missions, upgrade their mechs in between, and pull off fancy maneuvers whenever possible.

However, Infinite Battle is also part of the Original Generation sub-series, so it doesn't have any robots from licensed shows; y'know, like Gundam or Macross or Gunbuster or Dai-Apolon. This doesn't make it completely unfamiliar ground in the North American market, though. You'll recognize some of the cast if you encountered the two strategy-RPGs that Atlus released on the Game Boy Advance, the Super Robot Wars Original Generation series that Bandai Visual USA brought here, or even the Cybuster anime that Geneon sent to its ignoble death. The Cybuster is on hand among staples of Super Robots Wars like The Alteisen, the Gespenst, the humanoid Valsione, and the G Compatible Kaiser (not to be confused with the G. Kaiser from Tech Romancer). The lineup reaches almost thirty playable robots, and the game's versus mode expands to three-on-three fights. However, it doesn't have much of a story…and I don't see the old Weisritter, either. That was my favorite of the Original Generation bunch. Yes, the original white-and-blue model that looks like a robot-sniper cockatoo.

For those who miss the strategy element, the special edition of Infinite Battle includes a download code for Super Robot Taisen OG Dark Prison. It's a tactical RPG starring Shu Shirakawa, one of Infinite's antagonists, and it'll cost 3000 yen as a standalone title this spring.

Import Barrier: Once you figure out the menus, Infinite Battle's not that tough to play. There's still plenty of dialogue, however.

Chances of a Domestic Release: Minimal. Infinite Battle may have no licensed robots to legally wrangle, but it doesn't have much cache among general RPG or action-game fans over here.

Bonus Outfits: Technically none, but when you think about it, the entire Super Robot Taisen Original Generation series is one big extra.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

Well, there's nothing much headed our way next week. Publishers blew their holiday wad, and now it's time for most of us to look back for any games we missed.

But what's this? Granblue Fantasy, a smartphone RPG from a staff that includes both Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu and Final Fantasy art director Hideo Minaba? That's worth mentioning, even if it's only out in Japan.

Granblue Fantasy is intriguing, particularly when compared to other smartphone RPGs. A typical fantasy plot and cast seem a touch more alive with the game's animated scenes and some rich spritework that recalls Minaba's duties on Final Fantasy VI. It arrives next week for Japanese Android and iOS devices, so playing it in the West might require some trickery. But that's better than a blank release schedule, I think.


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


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