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A Grand Jest

by Todd Ciolek, Mar 26th 2014

It's time for the winning entries in that PSP sleeper-hit contest I ran two weeks ago! I think I received more write-ups for this one than any prior competition, and it made me wish that I had more prizes to give away.

Our grand-prize winner is Jonathan Louie, who praised the chest-checking action of Trails in the Sky. It's quite possibly the chest-checkingest game since Link's Awakening!

Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky is my favorite underappreciated PSP game. Why? The perks that no other RPG would dare touch. One such perk: The chests. I meant treasure chests. Thanks to a certain localization translator, demeaning phrases that shatter the fifth-wall pop up on the screen every time you talk to an empty chest. Combined with unique character interactions that don't feel hollow and a battle system that lets you cut in front of an enemy boss's turn, T.I.T.S is one of those RPGs that could've been awesome if it wasn't released when the PSP was dying.

Our first runner-up is Superdude1999. I think his entry inadvertently describes someone's secret sex fantasy, but I'd rather not know for certain.

So why is Jeanne d'Arc one of the most underrated games of all time? Well, it's about a historical figure who people may be aware of, but don't have much knowledge of outside of Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. Need more reasons? How about the fact that there's a bipedal dog in this game with abs that would shame Hugh Jackman, who also talks like Scooby Doo? HOW MANY GAMES LET YOU PLAY AS SCOOBY DOO BASHING ENGLISHMEN IN THE HEAD WITH A GIANT AXE!? I rest my case.

The other runner-up spot went to Kelly. Kelly is not afraid of Ridge Racer, and Ridge Racer is not afraid of Kelly.

Futzing about with rubber bands can be fun, but one slip up can result in grossly disproportionate un-fun. A tiny mistake shouldn't wield that much power. Ridge Racer does not agree. It also doesn't care how ruthlessly perfect you've been driving for the last two-and-nine-tenths laps, because once you screw up, “Gettin' the band back together” mode kicks in and you've suddenly lost. In short: ****! YOU! But I love it so. Why? Because the perfect lap IS attainable and racing it is so damn satisfying. What's the game gonna do then? Shoot your eye out?

Those are the winners, but I'm going to run each and every entry I received, and possibly help drive up the aftermarket prices on some PSP games in the process. Scour eBay while there's still time, kids!

NEWS

OUT RUN GOES 3-D, AGAIN
How many of you grabbed Sega and M2's 3D Space Harrier? It's a really nice 3DS version of a Sega arcade staple, and it has some of the most impressive 3D integration on Nintendo's handheld. It apparently did well enough that Sega's trying the same thing with another arcade wonder of the late 1980s: Out Run, that tenacious driving game all about Ferraris, beachfront speedways, and inevitable wipeouts.

You've seen Out Run before, of course. Maybe it was in an actual arcade back in 1986. Maybe it was in Shenmue II's arcade simulacrum. Maybe you just saw it in the background of the illustrious UK Resistance. Maybe it was on the Sega Master System, where the game appeared as Out Run 3D and used the console's special 3-D goggles. You'll need no glasses for Out Run on the 3DS, but you may need a 3DS that can download Japan-region titles. At this writing, the game is scheduled only for that market.

YOU CAN HELP MAKE CLASS OF HEROES 2G A PLAYSTATION 3 RARITY
CLASS of Heroes 2 is of the more obscure PSP games out there. Anyone can nab the game from the PLAYSTATION Network, but Gaijinworks and Monkey Paw Games slipped out the UMD version last year to people who helped fund its release. It very well could be a rare title once PSP nostalgia takes off a decade from now—a fact I didn't consider when I gave it away in a contest this week. Now you can be part of another future collectible by telling Gaijinworks that you want a physical edition of CLASS of Heroes 2G for the PlayStation 3.

Gaijinworks will release the dungeon-crawler on the PLAYSTATION Network no matter what, but their website now includes a sign-up section for those who'd buy a disc edition of CLASS of Heroes 2G with a reversible cover, a color manual, and a “serial numbered hologram.” They need 7000 buyers to make it worthwhile, so here's your chance to stake out a copy or two. Then put them in a drawer, wait 25 years, and see if they rake in the kind of money that Stadium Events brings on eBay.

MERCENARY KINGS OUT NOW ON STEAM, LATER ON PS4
There was a time when SNK's Metal Slug series had followers: Alien Hominid, Dolphin Blue, Demon Front, Commando: Steel Disaster, and so on. That time is long past, but I'd say that Mercenary Kings remembers the heyday of Metal Slug…and just about every other violent side-scroller in history. It's a cartoonish, carnage-filled shooter from the developers of the Scott Pilgrim vs. The World brawler, and that includes the talented sprite animator Paul Robertson.

An early edition of Mercenary Kings made its way to Steam last year, and you'll find the full version there right now. It's headed to the PlayStation 4 next week, and everyone's speculating that it'll be free to PlayStation Plus members come April. I haven't played it yet, but at the very least I think it'll be better than Commando: Steel Disaster. Just a hunch.

THE FOOLS' ERRANDS

The game industry doesn't have many wide-ranging traditions, but April Fools' Day is one them. It's a time when just about every news site and game company puts out a gag press release or announces a game that doesn't exist. Sometimes it's obvious, and sometimes it's alarmingly plausible until you remember what day it is and what everyone does.

Some people hate this, claiming that it's stupid and tiresome and that video games are dumb enough already. These people should find a new hobby, because they're clearly not enjoying this one. Others rue the first of April simply because they find most, if not all, of the jokes obvious and unfunny. These people have something of a point, as a lot of websites trot out news on par with “Garfield Guest Stars in the new Sonic the Hedgehog Game.” Yet I like the occasion for the opportunity it presents. I like how it gives designers and newsfolk the chance to parody themselves. And I like how a lot of the openly ridiculous games are all too similar to real ones. And with April Fools' arriving next week, I'd like to look at why it's important to video games.

Game historians, should they exist, will tell you that April Fools' and phony games were first linked in the pages of Electronic Gaming Monthly. The assorted secrets of the Nintendo era somehow made every playground rumor halfway plausible; if you could skip levels in Super Mario Bros., why couldn't you fly a spaceship in Metroid? So a lot of kids believed it when the April 1991 issue of EGM presented a code for putting Castlevania's Simon Belmont in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade. The taxing combination of controller commands and system resets frustrated many readers, though others likely noticed that the code was credited to one “A.P. Rilphuuls.”

Yet EGM's greatest prank came the following year, in the thick of the Street Fighter II furor. That April, EGM ran an elaborate strategy that allegedly led players to fight Sheng Long, the master of Ken and Ryu, instead of Street Fighter II's final boss, M. Bison. Despite the attached name of "W.A. Stokins of Fuldigan, HA" and the feature running directly above a call for readers to spot the issue's April Fools' joke, the Sheng Long fakery spread through arcades, to foreign magazines, and even to CAPCOM's American branch. There was no such character in the game—the name itself stems from one of Ryu's mistranslated win quotes—but that didn't stop players from believing what they wanted to hear. And it didn't keep CAPCOM from borrowing a few of EGM's phony details. Subsequent Street Fighter games gave Ken a flame-fisted uppercut much like Sheng Long's, and there was more to come…

Electronic Gaming Monthly continued the tradition halfheartedly for a few years, even claiming that random typos were April Fools' jokes. In 1997, however, the magazine returned to the well. Street Fighter III was on the horizon, and EGM ran an article about Sheng Long appearing in the game. It's an exceptional piece of flim-flam for the day: the screenshots are fairly convincing, and the character art is rather close to Street Fighter III's official illustrations of other characters. The real joke arose years later, when Street Fighter IV added Ken and Ryu's master to the selectable lineup, albeit under his canonical name of Gouken.

EGM would keep up its April Fools' pranks in the years to come, offering news about a limited Sega Neptune release, a nude code for Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball, and a Kingdom Hearts game that included Nintendo. Other magazines joined in: GamePro ran “LamePro” supplements starting in the mid-1990s, and PlayStation Magazine rolled out a preview for Valkyrie Wilde, a Tomb Raider clone starring a mostly naked heroine. Yet the rise of the Internet made for plenty competitionon April Fools' Day, as lies spread much easier and to much more amusing effect online.

Among the most convincing pranks of early online April Fooling was The Gaming Intelligence Agency's Final Fantasy Gaiden. Not to be confused with The 4 Heroes of Light or the original subtitle for Seiken Densetsu on the Game Boy, this Gaiden was a PlayStation sequel to Final Fantasy VIII, focusing on the antagonistic Seifer Almasy and his sidekicks. Such a thing was shocking in 1999, and The GIA even offered screenshots and a video crafted by Nick “Rox” Des Barres, all of which led to many readers overlooking the April 1st date on the news story. Even though The GIA quickly came clean and “canceled” the game, Final Fantasy Gaiden was an enduring success in duping fans. As recently as 2006, people looked for details on this “unreleased” Final Fantasy.

More websites joined the tradition. Some simply planted joke stories among real ones, while others, The GIA chief among them, blanketed their front pages in fake news. The grand rush of each April meant that the gags weren't as special, but they also became a lot less malicious. It was no longer about tricking some poor kid into wasting the better part of an afternoon over abstruse cheat codes or inhuman feats. In the game industry, April Fools' was now about telling a joke and perhaps mocking yourself.

In this new era of April Foolery, Irem stands out. The once-proud arcade developer gathered only a cult following in the past decade with Disaster Report and Steambot Chronicles, but April Fools' Day was Irem's chance to shine. Starting in 2000, Irem's website launched new absurdities each April: R-Type candy, a bizarre Irem-themed zoo, and a high-school dating simulator based on the same legend that inspired Konami's Suikoden series. Their highest achievement was the Exidna, a fake game console with stunning specs, a jagged controller, and a rich lineup of software. Irem even devised various special pads for the game, including an anime-girl pillow controller and a pixelled-out time machine controller. Publisher Working Designs even played along, signing up as the official North American distributor for this exciting new console. The Exidna never came to be, but another Irem gag did: Dokidoki Suikoden, the fictional dating sim, became an actual PSP game.

It's easy to get a bit cynical about April Fools' Day when it comes to video games—and it's also easy to get a bit nostalgic about a time when a magazine could put one over on us for an entire month. Yet it's also fun to watch companies poke fun at themselves, be it rocket-propelled grenades in thatgamecompany's wondrously restrained Journey or the debut of Football Manager 1888. In fact, it's a good time to come up with your own fake games! Have fun with it!

Not that I'd ever make up a game. This is a serious column.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

RAGNAROK ODYSSEY ACE
Developer: Game Arts
Publisher: XSEED Games
Platform: PlayStation 3/ PS Vita
Release Date: April 1
Odyssey: Not Oddysee
MSRP: $39.99/$34.99 (digital edition)

The original Ragnarök Odyssey was a blessing for the Vita during its first year. While CAPCOM's Monster Hunter made the PSP a success in Japan, the Vita went without any new Monster Hunter titles—and thus without any reason for multiplayer action-RPG fans to pick up the system and play it on their subway and train rides. Yet there was Ragnarök Odyssey, spawn of the Monster Hunter craze. It had online modes for four-players, plenty of weapons and character classes, and giant creatures just ripe for teams of bored commuters to slaughter.

Ragnarök Odyssey Ace is an expansion pack, yes, but it's once again a fortunate find for Monster Hunter enthusiasts. The original game is still here, complete with all of its downloadable extras, and it's polished up a bit for its Ace incarnation. Players still design their characters, stake out a base, and roam around in a slow-building quest, but things promise to go smoother with more character-customizing options, a larger variety of control layouts, and several features that make it easier to buy items and turn looted goods into new equipment. All of the character classes get new in-battle abilities called Ace Skills (that's branding, folks!), and a dozen or so AI-directed mercenaries can join players who come up short on actual companions.

The real point of Ace lies after the main Ragnarök Odyssey quest ends. That's when the game reveals a 400-story tower to explore, essentially a sequel in itself. The layout of the place changes each time you enter, and there's a new story arc to go along with that. In keeping with the game's use of Norse myths in its bright-colored fantasy, the tower is named Yggdrasil. That's not quite as bold as the sandship in Xenogears or the grotesque mutant plant in Strider, but it makes a certain kind of sense.

MORE PSP PICKS

I can't give prizes to everyone who took up my challenge to name a lesser-known PSP gem, but I certainly can run all of their entries. Here's the first half of praise for obscurities on Sony's little handheld machine.

If you've got half a minute, Jason Rivera has the game.

If you like simplified game mechanics with a quirky sense of humor then perhaps Half-Minute Hero is perfect for you. The game consists of several different game genres, each revolving around a plot element which takes 30 seconds to resolve, hence the thought-provoking title. Though all of the modes must be unlocked individually, together they make for a fun game that can be played in piecemeal. The graphics are reminiscent of 8-Bit, the story doesn't take itself seriously and it has a rockin' soundtrack. Do yourself a favor and give this game half a minute of your time.

Danwen Huang is right about Gurumin: it's a fun game in any language.

Featuring a ginger girl with a drill lance as protagonist (you just don't get protagonists like that these days) who has a mission to fight monsters or something. There was probably some kind of batty plot but I could only make a few words; at the time I only started to learn some Japanese.

My cousins and I passed the game around as we tried to translate and figure out the controls of this strange action-rpg game. When we discovered a new attack, giddiness ensued. The language barrier didn't stop us from playing which speak volumes of the game's charm.

Rryw speaks from experience. And about Knights in the Nightmare.

As someone who has played every RPG available in English on the PSP, one of the games that stood out the most was Sting Entertainment's Knights in the Nightmare. I could go on about the novelty of the battle system that melds turn-based RPG and bullet hell mechanics or the storyline that brings to mind another favorite of mine, Valkyrie Profile, or even the novelty of playing as the spirit of a middle-aged full-bearded king. But the one reason everyone should play this is for the true heroine, a beacon of soothing light in a generally dark story, Princess Yggdra!

Speaking of things Yggdra, here's Matthew Smith!

The game that finally sold me on the PSP was the port of Yggdra Union: We'll Never Fight Alone. Luscious graphics, great localization, and a rousing soundtrack are made even better on the PSP's widescreen. But even on it's own, Yggdra Union is an overlooked masterpiece. A typical RPG setup with an exiled princess leading a rebellion slowly but surely becomes a dark narrative on the morality and consequences of your pursuit of 'justice'. The characters are fleshed out and the numerous casualties are often gut-wrenching. Yggdra Union is an overlooked classic that belongs in any strategy nut's collection.

Leala Hampel likes Lunar. Lots of people do. Maybe a company should do something about that.

Despite the fact that it has been ‘redone’ as many times as Ash Ketchum has seen in Pokémon Leagues, Lunar Silver Harmony is a game that needs more light. Known originally as Lunar Silver Star, the series many incarnations has come with a number of name tack ons, but the solid and compelling storyline, amazing voice work, and interesting characters make this not only a great game, but one with replay value. So says the girl who despite not having a great video game completion rate, but has played and beat almost every version of the game.

Not even glitches kept Stewart Mogg from enjoying Tales of Eternia!

I think my personal favorite underappreciated psp game (that you didn't mention) is the EU only Tales of Eternia port. I found it to be a fairly fun (if a bit simplistic) distraction. I still remember the time I got stuck due to a UMD glitch (that I found out was only patched in newer releases of the game), and I had to resort to rather unsavory methods to get past it. Sure it was a port of a PS1 game that had bad voice acting and was slower than the console counterpart, but it was addictive and cheaper.

But why didn't Tales of Eternia come to the U.S.? Dessa Gepichu has a theory.

Tales of Eternia's PSP release in the US was blocked by, of all things, He-Man. Yes, He-Man. “Eternia” being copyrighted by Mattel and all. So what does Namco do? Release it in the UK. And since Sony is smarter than Nintendo, all the fans rejoiced. Well, except for that game-freezing glitch some copies have against this one (optional) boss. Well, “optional”, since who in their right mind WOULDN'T go get all the Craymels? I mean, really? When not getting the Craymels means you can't get all the spells? I, at least, hate useless party members, and there's two mages.

It doesn't matter if no one else remembers PoPoLoCrois, because Christian Schefer certainly does.

My obscure gem was PoPoLoCrois. A nice RPG gem IMO. The story to the first game was good, in that you think your mother was dead only to find out she is in a coma. The second game (in the same package) was darker and had new party members. Two experiences, one disc.

On a side note, I was working at Gamestop (stop laughing) at the time and waiting for this game. Delay after delay, my co-workers made fun of me. Until the day it showed up, all two copies my store received. I bought one as did a customer, after that we never saw it again…sad but true.

Jordan Coleman doesn't need any official localization to enjoy his RPGs.

The Last Ranker, it's like a Lightning Returns without all the things that the girl at the checkout counter will look at you funny for. It really is this gem on the PSP that feels like a proto-LR. Sure you don't have skimpy outfits to change in much to the dismay of female fans (Zig is so cute desu), instead you change weapons on the fly all in order to best suit the properties of the enemy your facing, enemies even have a break gauge. Also like LR it has a semi real time system complete with the need to guard and combo attacks. It's a proto LR without all the baggage.

Cordelia wants you all to know about a lesser-known marvel with a name like a store.

In my opinion, one of the most underappreciated PSP games is Adventures to Go! It's an RPG/dungeon crawler and it's really addictive. You play as the protagonist Finn, who is almost like an 19th century Naruto. You go and kill monsters for money and make friends that can help you in battles. It's fun, the music is great and it's actually pretty funny. I wish more people knew about it.

Maria Cianflone likes The 3rd Birthday in all its twists and turns.

I have to say one of my favourite games on the PSP that's totally not all that appreciated is the third game in the Parasite Eve series, The 3rd birthday. As a huge fan of the whole series itself I have to say I loved it. The battle system involves Aya jumping into people's bodies and taking over them to fight, I thought that was pretty unique! And the ending had a pretty crazy twist that I honestly never saw coming!

This party sounds like fun, serafina0721! I'm sure it's a rollicking good time for all children!

Corpse Party is about a group of friends that have a party in a murderous elementary school that's filled with dead bodies. They play lots of party game favorites, like “tag” with a little blue ghost boy that kills them when he catches them, “hide and seek” as they search for each other through alternate dimensions, and a “treasure hunt” with body parts as prizes. One character even carries around a sledgehammer, because he's so excited to break open the head-shaped piñatas. Love even blossoms between a few characters, and it turns into a party they'll never forget.

Wait a sec. Peter Laliberte makes it sounds like a different sort of party.

SNES style graphics with characters and event CGs straight out of a visual novel? Should've been a charming little romp, but this elementary school is wrong! Walking around, exploring and solving puzzles, I should have been out quick, no problem… But… THAT GIRL IS MISSING HALF HER HEAD! Everything is black but THE HELL IS THAT NOISE?! NO, *EI*O WHY?! So many bad ends to suffer, the names of the dead everywhere I try to collect them all… BUT A ROCK IS BLOCKING THE LAST ONE! Must escape must escape must…

You can't escape. Welcome to the Corpse Party.

Cetais Pixeleuh was playing Dingle Rope-ah before all you Vita poseurs.

My favorite game on the PSP is Dangan Ronpa. Sometimes named "Dingle Rope-ah". I've only played the first, I'll wait for the release of the second on Vita to play it. The characters are all unique, memorable; something Final Fantasy, God of War aren't able to do for me, just to name a few. I can't name a single bad thing from this game, I love it so much.

If Jean Burtless likes wild-west games, I heartily recommend Konami's C.O.W.boys of Moo Mesa!

Of the few PSP games I've played, I'd have to say Wild Arms XF is my favorite. While Jeanne D'Arc & Trails in the Sky were beautiful & tons of fun neither was as teeth-gnashingly difficult as XF. Many people complained that it wasn't hard so much as it was trying to force you to use whatever new CLASS was now available in the area. To a point that's valid, but even once all classes are learned the battles get no easier. It really forced you to think & plan a number of steps ahead. Plus it's Wild Arms! I love the series (IV is my favorite - V is the only one I never finished because there's a vertical platform near the end that I couldn't catch & I tried for HOURS!) & wish it'd get spurred back into action!

And that's all for this week! The next column will have the rest of the entries, including paens to Patchwork Heroes, Unlosing Ranger, and at least one game I'd forgotten all about!


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

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