The X Button
Natural Resources

by Todd Ciolek, Apr 9th 2014

Another April Fool's Day came and went during my absence last week, and the prank selection wasn't so bad this year. Pokémon took over Google Maps! Blizzard made a Flappy Bird clone! Sony pitched a Rain sequel called Snow! Bandai Namco stuck Hello Kitty in Super Robot Wars! And someone put Nester in Super Smash Bros. for the Wii U!

The last of those stung just a bit. For one thing, Nester didn't look professional enough to convince anyone. And for another thing, it's a bit cruel to bring back Nester, who effectively retired with the demise of Nintendo Power, just for a prank.

Elsewhere, Wayforward continued their theme of self-parody from last year. Their Bloculus system, looking a bit like the Virtual Boy, purports to turn any fancy-pants modern game into a “retro” side-scroller. In Wayforward tradition, it also seems to add revealingly dressed anime women. That'd be the self-parody part.

NEWS

SUPER SMASH BROS. FOR REAL
So who was added to the new Super Smash Bros. in earnest? Well, the recent Nintendo Direct introduced Yoshi, Zero Suit Samus, Sheik, and the Pokémon Charizard and Greninja. Sheik and Zero Suit Samus were technically in the game already as regular-suit Samus and Princess Zelda, but their alternate incarnations function as entirely separate characters. Sheik looks largely as she did in previous games, Yoshi has evolved to walk erect, while Zero Suit Samus now has downright ridiculous jet-powered neon high heels. You can pretend that she and regular-suit Samus are fighting for the dignity of Metroid.

Nintendo also rounded out the Assist Trophy list, which features Midna and the Skull Kid from The Legend of Zelda; Dark Samus and Mother Brain from Metroid; Isabelle from Animal Crossing; Elec Man and Dr. Light from Mega Man; Knuckle Joe from Kirby; Lyn from Fire Emblem; Chain Chomp and Walugi from the Mario milieu; a Nintendog; Ashley from WarioWare; the Devil from Devil World; Samurai Goroh from F-Zero; Saki from Sin and Punishment; the Color TV Game 15 from Nintendo's history of Pong consoles; and Starfy, the hero of the assorted Starfy games. Starfy is underrated.

Of particular interest are the game's occasional level bosses, which become weapons for whichever player lands the finishing strike. Super Smash Bros. also has online play divided into a casual “For Fun” mode and a competitive “For Glory” mode (Guilty Gear fans will be disappointed at the lack of a “For Sin” or "For Dream" mode, I know), and it'll have a regular online match-up service with a method for rating other players. Nintendo also granted the game a release window in both forms: it'll hit the 3DS this summer and the Wii U in the winter. A strange move, considering which console needs more help at the moment.

RUMORS SURROUND A NEW WILD ARMS
One little tidbit from Famitsu sure sounds like an April gag, but it apparently isn't. After the Wild Arms series placed second in a poll of the readership's most-wanted sequels, Wild Arms scribe and designer Akifumi Kaneko put up a blog post about how he's working with several former collaborators, including Wild Arms producer Kentaro Motomura. Kaneko stops short of mentioning an actual new Wild Arms, however. Instead he gives the ol' please-continue-your-support line.

Still, it's enough to get fans talking. Would they want another traditional Western-themed RPG in the series, or would they prefer a strategy-RPG along the lines of Wild Arms XF (above). I'm not the right one to ask about this, particularly when it comes the older titles (enduring the original Wild Arms while waiting for Final Fantasy VII soured me of the series for a good while), but I do think there's a lot of potential in the mix of cowboys and future-fantasy RPG dressing.

IMPORT ROUNDUP: MARCH

J STARS VICTORY VS.
Developer: Spike Chunsoft
Publisher: Bandai NamcoGames
Platform: PlayStation 3/PS Vita

You might have noticed Jump Super Stars back in 2005. Perhaps you saw it feverishly discussed online as an unprecedented crossover fighting game. Perhaps you read similar statements in a magazine, since people still published those back in 2005. Perhaps you even glimpsed the game itself on the racks at Best Buy, which took advantage of the anime bubble and the region-free DS to import some titles from Japan. And there was reason for manga nerds to get excited: Jump Super Stars put together an eclectic roster of Shonen Jump characters, from Bleach and Naruto and One Piece to Rurouni Kenshin and Dragon Ball and Dr. Slump.

That was eight years ago, and the novelty has since degraded. It's not particularly astounding that J-Stars Victory Vs. mixes together all sorts of Shonen Jump series past and present—or that it does it all in four-player battles on the PlayStation 3 and PS Vita. There are storylines and cutscenes to thread all of the characters into fisticuffs, but it's all rather shallow. The same goes for the combat, which leans heavily on show-off combos and counter-attacks.

J-Stars Victory Vs. is once again for the Shonen Jump enthusiast, the one who'd like to see Kenshiro from Fist of the North Star battle the eponymous Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo, to make the teachers from Assassination Classroom and Hell Teacher Nube square off, to pit Pegasus Seiya from Saint Seiya against Arale from Dr. Slump. J-Stars Victory Vs. isn't short on familiar characters, as currently popular series like Toriko and Gintama appear alongside more enduring successes like JoJo's Bizarre Adventure and Kochikame. Still, most series only get one or two protagonists on the playable roster, while One Piece has four. Not that Shonen Jump would play favorites.

Import Barrier: Both versions are region-free, and both are easy to grasp when it comes to the play mechanics.

Chances of a Domestic Release: Close to zero, considering the licenses involved. But maybe some Best Buy shelves will stock it

Most-Needed Cameo: Considering Shonen Jump's 45th anniversary, plenty of series had to be left out. For example, there's no one from City Hunter, Bastard!!, or that epochal classic, Bomber Girl.

HAKUOUKI: SWEET SCHOOL LIFE
Developer: Otomate
Publisher: Idea Factory
Platform: PS Vita

Many sociologists theorize that high school is a microcosm of life, that all the rules and relationships and pettiness of one's teenage years reappear in milder, subtler form throughout adulthood. To quote XTC, you may leave school but it never leaves you. That may explain why an awful lot of stories fit into high-school settings with minimal meddling. Consider Hakuouki, originally a tale of the Shinsengumi warriors, demonic conspiracies, and the heroine caught in their midst. One of the bonus modes from an earlier Hakuouki title dumped all of the characters into high school, and Otomate grew an entire game out of the idea.

Hakuouki: Sweet School Life isn't so different from the antics that arise in the regular Hakuouki version of the Bakumatsu period. Moving things to the modern era, Sweet School Life drafts heroine Chizuru Yukimura as the first female student to enroll at the heretofore boys-only Hakuou Academy. Naturally, all of her instructors and fellow students are re-cast versions of the Hakuouki regulars (themselves fictionalized versions of real-life Shinsengumi members). Sanosuke Harada is a gym teacher, Chikage Kazama leads the student council, Hajime Saitou is on the discipline committee, and it seems like a lot of the students are part of the kendo club. When not being surprised by and accidentally backing into her dozen or so handsome classmates, Chizuru enjoys mini-games that transform the cast into squat effigies and challenge them with quizzes, waitress jobs, and squirt-gun duels. It all enlivens the routine visual-novel flow of the main storyline.

Import Barrier: Like most visual novels, our story is told mostly through still images and text. The former requires no knowledge of Japanese. The latter does.

Chances of a Domestic Release: Aksys Games has been good about releasing Hakuouki, titles and it's possible that Sweet School Life is in their sights. They've confirmed nothing, though.

Most-Needed Cameo: There's no sign of crossovers from other Otomate titles, but who would object to an appearance by Count Hogstein from Sweet Fuse?

NATURAL DOCTRINE
Developer: Kadokawa Games
Publisher: Kadokawa Games
Platform: PlayStation 3/PS Vita/PlayStation 4

Natural Doctrine is the first title from a new internal Kadokawa Games studio. It's a strategy-RPG. It has character designs by Atsushi Ikariya and ufotable. That doesn't sound like much out of the ordinary.

But there's a lot to Natural Doctrine, or NAtURAL DOCtRINE, going by the official Kadokawa capitalization that I choose to ignore. For one thing, it's directed by Atsushi Ii. He's known for his work on the Patapon games and Shining Force Neo, but his career goes back much farther. As "Jun E," he scripted a bunch of intriguing titles from the PC Engine days: Alshark, Fiend Hunter, and Anearth Fantasy Stories all had their unique points, but it was the illustrious, multi-platform Emerald Dragon that stood out the most. And it's the reason we should be excited about Ii directing Natural Doctrine.

If obscure Right Stuff RPGs are not your thing, Natural Doctrine remains a curious buffet of ideas. It's arranged a bit like Valkyria Chronicles, with characters pacing freely around battlefields, wielding swords and primitive firearms. They also snipe at each other in creative fashion, destroy walls, and track their foes in both bird's-eye perspectives and a targeting system that resembles a first-person shooter. Battles burst into grids, arrows, percentages, turn-tracking readouts, and enough sidebar narration to suit an online RPG. Natural Doctrine even seems to evoke Dark Souls in its design: the outdoor scenery is downcast and gray, the dungeons are much darker, and there's no lack of enormous creatures to enter the fray—even as allies.

Natural Doctrine's main characters hail from the Tunnel Reclamation Brigade: a band of humans, semi-humans, and assorted beasties led by blonde sharpshooter Anca. While they're often called on to trudge through hostile subterra, most of the group aspires to some higher calling, whether it's the young recruit Vasilisa's dream of city-guard luxuries or Anca's own ambition to open a hospital. The player's avatar in all of this is a freelance warrior named Jeff. He joins the unit to…to…what's that?

Yes, his name really is “Jeff.” In a game with Zekelinde the warrior and Ingobert the sorcerer, you're playing…Jeff. That's not the only unorthodox choice in Natural Doctrine. The game's ending theme is “The Court of the Crimson King" by long-lived progressive rock outfit King Crimson. Perhaps that explains Natural Doctrine's strange capitalization.

Import Barrier: The PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, and Vita are all region-free. You might want to hold off on importing, though…

Chances of a Domestic Release:…because NIS America announced Natural Doctrine for a late-2014 release. Perhaps they'll rename Jeff to something more genre-appropriate, like Larry or Wilbur or maybe even Todd.

Most-Needed Cameo: Despite legal matters and common sense standing in the way, I hope that a bunch of Emerald Dragon characters show up in Natural Doctrine. And how about Fiend Hunter's protagonist, Feed Sluster? Now there's a fantasy-hero name.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

CONCEPTION II: CHILDREN OF THE SEVEN STARS
Developer: Spike Chunsoft
Publisher: Atlus
Platform: Nintendo 3DS / PS Vita
Release Date: April 15
Secret of the Stars: It sucked
MSRP: $39.99

At the start of this year, I would've pointed to Conception II as one of 2014's more controversial releases. Yet we've seen Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes dive into the grotesque, and next month finds Square releasing the relentlessly explicit Drakengard 3. Compared to viscerally concealed explosives and dragon-abetted murder sprees, Conception II doesn't seem quite so offensive in its bizarrely euphemistic vision of men and women making Jim Henson's Dungeon-Hack Babies.

Conception II casts its player-named protagonist as a Disciple on the planet Aterra, a reasonably advanced realm besieged by monsters. In order to defend this world, the hero unites with female Disciples to spawn entire parties of adventurous munchkins. It's called “Classmating” and it's all dressed up as a serious ritual fueled by techno-magic, but make no mistake: it's a dating sim. The protagonist builds relationships with his female teammates, and the better they get along, the more effective their Star Children are when they pop out of the techno-magical Matryoshka tubes. And you're encouraged to Classmate as much as you can, because hey, the world's under attack.

Once they're born, Star Children are assigned various RPG jobs and follow their parents into labyrinths dominated by monsters. Battles offer the chance to attack from multiple angles, and characters can unite and intercept attacks aimed at their teammates. As a dungeon foray, it offers quite a few options when it comes to generating a party of little helpers. As a dating sim…well, at least it's creative in throwing the hero into a coterie of possible girlfriends.

Also Available:
Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn arrives on the PlayStation 4. Pre-order it and you get an in-game Mog Cap and a Cait Sith minion doll! The latter is closer to the recurring Cait Sith monster than that one Final Fantasy VII character no one used or understood.

STILL MORE PSP PICKS

The X Button's most recent contest called for everyone's favorite underrated PSP games, and the last column ran the first chunk of entries. Now it's time for the second half, and the games take us just about everywhere in the PSP library.

I've never met him, but I am confident that Ryan Powell knows how to pronounce “Ys.”

YS: The Oath in Felghana has to be my personal fav for the PSP. The YS series as a whole is under appreciated, but Felghana is the epitome of what makes YS amazing. It has a soundtrack that rivals Nobuo Uematsu's work, and a silent protagonist that puts Link to SHAME! The red haired swordsman unleashes fast-paced ginger rage across a fantasy land filled with diabolical demons that feel their time is right to wreak havok. In typical fashion, he shuns the girl in the end to give gamers more adventures for the future! YS forever!!

Carolyn Thomas is perfectly fine with puzzle games driving people insane, just like in that Star Trek episode with Ashley Judd! Carolyn also went a little over the word limit, but that's OK!

I'm always one for a good puzzle game, no doubt about it. The sorts of ones that stick in my mind afterwards are the best ones. So when I heard about PSP puzzle game Crush, I was all in! The main protagonist suffers from something you will gain during playing this "just one more puzzle" sort of game: insomnia. For no apparent reason whatsoever, collecting marbles and getting to the exit in this weird dream machine will somehow cure this. But there are also trophies and puzzle pieces in each level to collect for bonus materials and damn if you won't stick around a puzzle way after you've opened the exit and know how to get to it just to get the trophies and puzzle pieces. The gimmick is that you can take a 3D platforming world and "crush" it to turn it 2D, allowing you to easily move to floating platforms in the distance. And you can do so from any straight-on angle and top down. It's a simple idea that makes puzzle perfection here. And there are different kinds of blocks, some you can only pass through in 2D, and some you can only walk on in 3D, both are needed to solve the puzzles. I'm not sure how well the game did for them, but it did well enough to get a 3DS remake (where having the character be an insomniac in a mental hospital was clearly too hardcore so he's just friends with a wacky professor now, but the puzzle fun is still well intact with new puzzles, you can't lose!)

I was going to ask Vic Youngblood if his favorite PSP sleeper was based on the 1991 comedy Drop Dead Fred, but I'm pretty sure it isn't.

Dead Head Fred is an absolutely wonderful PSP game, and I promise it has nothing to do with following the Grateful Dead while under the influence of various substances. Whoever wrote it, however, must have been on some type of substance, because the concept is pretty out there. Told in a tongue-in-cheek noir fashion, players control a detective who has been decapitated, and now walks around with his brain in a jar attached to the rest of his body. Players kill other enemies, take their heads, and use their powers in combat in order to fight enemies and solve puzzles.

Joe Turpin gets points for not making a Persona pun!

If I had to choose my favorite underappreciated PSP game, it'd probably have to be the remastered Persona PSP. Persona has a great story that made me want to play to the end, both paths, multiple times, even despite some flaws with notifying the player of weaknesses. Characters are interesting and fun, and one of my favorites happens to be a one off villain in the Snow Queen Quest. The soundtrack is very underappreciated, with some great, atmospheric tunes. And ultimately, it fixes the cuts and edits made to the original PS1 Revelations Persona.

According to Ryan's testimony, Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness takes more than an actual afternoon to finish. Puzzling.

My favorite game for the system is Disgaea Afternoon of Darkness. It was the first of its kind to me and I spent hours upon hours level grinding and enjoyed it unlike any RPG since then. After completing it there was still a lot of post-game content that kept me playing. The especially humorous Etna-mode gave me hard laughs.

Disgaea isn't the only Nippon Ichi game on the PSP, either! Here's David Hope to prove it.

The full title is Zettai Hero Project - Unlosing Ranger vs. Darkdeath Evilman. I bought the game purely because of the name, and was not disappointed. Made by Nippon Ichi, the story is a satire of superhero shows like Power Rangers, with the characters fully aware of how their situation is basically an episode of that kind of show or movie and plays everything completely straight. It plays like a rogue-lite dungeon crawler with a theme of never giving up; even when you lose you still gain something, there isn't a game over and you can continue playing until you eventually succeed.

Baub Smith digs Patchwork Heroes! I don't think you're alone in this, Baub!

All I can say is that I'm not particularly funny or clever on paper, maybe sincere at best. Honestly, I would love all these games and I have a great working PSP. As for the most fun underrated game is Patchwork Heroes and even if I don't win I recommend everyone play it. It is insanely fun and can be intense if you haven't beat the levels before getting killed. Also the game is humorous in it's own way, way more than this write up!

See? Jonathan Andrade likes it too!

One of my favourite PSP games is a download-only title called Patchwork Heroes. Developed by Acquire through SCE Japan Studio's PlayStation C.A.M.P. incubation project, the game has players take on the role of Titori, a young pilot tasked with saving his town from enemy warships. Instead of dogfighting your way to victory, players are thrown onto the ships, and have to disassemble them with saws while simultaneously evading the ship's defense mechanisms, and rescuing prisoners. The unique gameplay is coupled with an art style described as a mash between retro anime and the works of Yuriy Norshteyn.

Alicia F likes Tales. The RPG series, that is. Well, she might like tales in general. I don't know.

Tales of the World: Radiant Mythology. Tales games aren't really that popular in the US (though it's gaining steam with Xillia and Symphonia Chronicles) so this game was amazing. Finally, all your favorite Tales characters in one game! You get to make your own customizable character and play along with the party of your choice. Course it helps if you've played the other flagship titles to get all the little in-game jokes, but it's still the best we've got! Besides, who doesn't like forcing giant kitty men to fight with broom riding witches and tsundere swordsmen?

Sam McKay writes about a game that won't be confused with online BBSes, because no one uses those anymore.

By far the most under-appreciated PSP game was Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep which is often overlooked due to the plethora of pointless spin-offs (Coded? Really Squeenix?) And an ongoing plot that kept tying itself in knots.

If you were lucky/obsessed enough to venture into BBS's colourful worlds you were treated to one of the franchises best outings. It was a prequel but it treated players to the most refined combat system the series had used yet, graphics on par with the original PS2 game and a plot that, while complex, was darker and more exciting then Sora's usual outings.

Be nice, Joshua Main. Monster Hunter clones will account for 98 percent of all games by 2016.

My favorite underappreciated PSP game is Kingdom of Paradise. It is an action RPG created by Climax Entertainment(creators of Landstalker). The reason the game is so good is its unique combat system. Basically,you have different scrolls that you can mix with various attacks to create your own combos. The storyline has against the four Guardian Beasts of Chinese mythology (Suzaku, Byakko, Genbu and Seiryu). A sequel to the game was released only in Japan (But it's a stupid MH clone).

I'm not sure if I can print that part at the end of your entry, Bobby Taylor. Uh, I sure hope you're not speaking from experience.

Once upon a time, there was a promising college student that lived in the state of Wisconsin. He wanted to be a software programmer, so he made the intelligent decision to attend a private liberal arts school with a reputation for poor computer programming classes. His only true failure in life was Buying Gladiator begins for the Sony PSP. The game is harder than Chinese Algerbra, more addicting than Heroin, and as life ruining as trying to get to third base with a cute girl, only to end up on the sex offender list when you realized she is 15.

Matthew Strittmatter likes Disgaea even when it's not the Disgaea most of us know!

I love the Disgaea series, and guess what? They made a visual novel adaptation: Disgaea Infinite. It's got it all: the iconic characters, the creepy brand of humor, time travel, and, of course...MIND CONTROL, DOOD! And there's a pretty twisted story: it involves a mix-up between Thursday's fuel cell and the Overlord's super-rare pudding. And an attempt to assassinate Laharl. LOL funny.

James Attard knows that all great games provoke legal threats.

Holy Invasion of Privacy, Badman! What Did I Do To Deserve This? A game so amazing and daring that NIS America actually renamed the game after its release to 'What Did I Do To Deserve This, My Lord?' to avoid confusion with the Batman franchise, and to probably not be sued by Warner Bros. This is a game that encourages players to stop heroes anyway they can so that the demon lord. It's no easy game either can be incredibly frustrating creating a labyrinth of mazes and monsters to defend the demon lord.

Here's another pro-Badman piece from Dan Mastriani!

On the subject of under-appreciated PSP games, I'd have to go with “Holy Invasion of Privacy, Badman! What Did I Do To Deserve This?” How many people can even remember that title? It doesn't help that the sequels kept getting renamed. For those that could figure out what it was called, however, the game offered an interesting and challenging take on the dungeon building genre. Rather than placing monsters as you like, you must create a healthy monster ecosystem that gives rise to beasts powerful enough to snack on any heroes that come down the pike. Good luck with that.

Justin Wisniewski's entry is a tad bittersweet, because CAPCOM pulled Fate/Unlimited Codes from the PLAYSTATION Network not so long ago.

For any fan of Fate/stay night or hella-hard to master fighting games, Sony did a good job at hiding my favorite PSP gem, Fate/Unlimited Codes. I love how complete the roster is; all of the servants and some of the masters are playable (even Fate/Zero's lancer cameos). The best part of the game was the attention to the movesets. I always enjoyed playing as Archer because when I could pull off his multistep Unlimited Blade Works combo, even If I eventually lost the fight, I still felt like a champ (and I got to hear that oh-so-sweet theme music).

That's it for the PSP entries! Come back for our next contest, which I promise to make a lot tougher!


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

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