The X Button
Extravagant Excitement

by Todd Ciolek, Jun 11th 2014

E3 had me soaking up so many game trailers and overinflated announcements, I figured that I would have a dream about it the night after. And I did. I dreamed that Natsume, in an attempt to stake a claim on every type of farming simulator, announced a big battlefield-brawler game called Harvest Moon Warriors.

My subconscious apparently is fascinated by the current battle over Harvest Moon, which finds Natsume and XSEED delivering separate takes on the laid-back farming series. My subconscious cares about this more than any big Xbox One exclusives or Nintendo revivals. Why? Because video-game rivalries are always more fascinating when they involve something cute and innocent. And you'll seldom see that in the modern industry's race to build the best high-budget, exotic-locale shooter that looks like Operation Dumbo Drop with firearms.

The mascot wars of the 1990s were replete with cute, kid-friendly characters forced into battle with equally cuddly creations. Sega's rivalry with Nintendo took many forms, but it was best symbolized by Sonic the Hedgehog's potshots at Mario. Sonic's spiky, fast-paced, totally-'90s attitude was a calculated counterpoint to Mario's rotund, Popeye-ish appeal, and Sonic's snipes were such a part of Sega's presence that even game magazines joined in (the above isn't an ad, but rather actual copy from a 1992 issue of Electronic Gaming Monthly). Mario tried to ignore Sonic, which made Nintendo kids all the more likely to mount their own crusades against Sega and that jerk of a hedgehog.

The game industry's precious proxy wars came to a head in the 1996 holiday season, when every major system had an action game starring a cheerful, largely non-violent character. The Nintendo 64 had Mario, the PlayStation had Crash Bandicoot, and the Sega Saturn had NiGHTS. It was a huge clash of debate and loyalties, made all the more strange and compelling by the fact that the characters involved were likeable little creatures. It was especially odd for NiGHTS, which didn't even try to compete with Crash and Mario in gameplay or tone. It was a cult favorite in the making, but a poor choice for a mascot; NiGHTS was a smirking jester spirit seemingly pulled from an 1970s Romanian puppet show, while the game's two kid heroes were, to quote GameFan's Casey Loe, “dorky even in their own dreams.” But no matter their inclinations, NiGHTS and Crash were marched into the breach to defend a game system's honor.

There's not much like that today. Sony and Microsoft squabble while Nintendo tries to stand apart from it, but no cartoon avatars emerge to fight for their respective companies. Even if someone staged a battle between Sony's Nathan Drake and Microsoft's Master Chief, it wouldn't matter—those characters were born to be violent. Perhaps we'll see some tiff between Ratchet and Clank's leads and some creature from Sunset Overdrive, but I doubt it. If any amusingly cute turf battles unfold in the game industry, they'll be off the beaten path.

E3 SPECIAL

E3 remains underway, last I checked, but the major announcements were fired off already. Instead of describing every major reveal and elaborate trailer, I'll focus on the more interesting highlights and explain just how this E3 lived up to my precise and financially unfeasible desires.

MICROSOFT BRINGS BACK OBSCURITIES, DRAGONS
What I wanted:
Some sign of the rumored sequel to Phantom Dust. Some weird, new thing that competes with Sony-backed prestige projects like Journey and The Last Guardian.

What I got:
Well, it may not be a Phantom Dust sequel, per se. The official line says it's a reboot, and the two characters in the trailer don't look all that familiar. But they do hurl a bunch of fireballs in a wrecked cityscape, and that evokes the original Phantom Dust quite effectively. A cult favorite from the old Xbox days, Phantom Dust is a weird, downbeat, post-apocalyptic deal where deliberately ugly characters gather cards and fight complex, action-game duels in arenas, and the game's multiplayer mode was a delight back when XBox Live was in its infant stages.

The revival is the work of Phantom Dust and Panzer Dragoon creator Yukio Futatsugi, who's reunited a number of the original Phantom Dust staffers to work with Double Helix. I hope it turns out better than Crimson Dragon, which tried to resuscitate Panzer Dragoon on the Xbox One and didn't do so well. There's a little more riding on a new Phantom Dust, after all. As much as I like Panzer Dragoon, it has four good games behind it. Phantom Dust has only one.

Microsoft didn't have too many indulgent games-are-art offerings, but Ori and the Blind Forest is one to watch. Its side-scrolling visions of forests and cuddly creatures have the look of Spirited Away and Princess Momonoke, and the action itself follows an impish white creature and a glowing sidekick, much like Ubisoft's recent Child of Light. There's even a big, lumbering owl-monster that trigger flashbacks to Fumito Ueda's Shadow of the Colossus and The Last Guardian. Its influences are pretty obvious, but Ori is a welcome change from the bigger, louder titles in the Xbox One catalog.

That said, Microsoft trumpeted a bunch of smaller offerings. A good number of the games, including co-op platformer Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime and the horror-action game White Night, are headed for Steam and other platforms, but the Xbox One will have them as well. The most visually impressive of the lot is Cuphead, which perfectly nails the look of old Ub Iwerks cartoons with rubbery-armed creatures, ragtime tunes, and a deliberately soft focus. As often as big-budget game trailers are mistaken for movies, Cuphead seems to be the E3 winner in making people say “That's a game?”

For those who still grumble about Platinum Games leaving Bayonetta 2 a Wii U exclusive, Microsoft trotted out Platinum's dedicated Xbox One creation: Scalebound. The trailer sets up a Devil May Cry with Monster Hunter ambitions, as a cocky, Aryan-looking hero with Beats headphones and biomorphic armor gets caught up in a slugfest between a dragon and a mandibled crab creature. The dragon is on the player's side, however, so perhaps it's more like a Drakengard deal with the bugfuck insanity swapped out for Platinum-brand machismo.

D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die brought up a stranger style. It's the latest from Swery65, creator of the delirious Deadly Premonition (and the stories for the Last Blade games), and it follows a time-traveling detective named David out to stop his wife's murder. The demo showed him tracking a smuggler aboard an airplane and slipping into narration about the gameplay and a flight attendant. It has the same off-kilter tone as Deadly Premonition, proven by a pointy-haired fashion designer who treats a mannequin like his partner. The E3 demo culminates with a mid-aisle battle where David twirls through other passengers and uses said mannequin's leg as a baseball bat.

David travels by focusing on “memento” objects, and if he doesn't eat enough, he'll come unstuck in time (sorry) and slip exhausted back to his apartment. It's promisingly weird, and the game's designed to use the Kinect for investigations and quick-time events—even though Microsoft had little else to say about the motion-sensing peripheral that, just one year ago, was a selling point of the new console.

Sunset Overdrive is Microsoft's contribution to open-world action games, a glowing nuthouse future land of mutants and customized heroes. Players' avatars zoom around on zipwires and amass all sorts of weapons, including a roman candle autoloader and a teddy-bear explosives. It's cute and loud and even a bit reminiscent of Jet Set Radio's rail-riding, and it isn't the only wide-open title from Microsoft. Another Crackdown game is also in the works.

Microsoft's more predictable offerings included a repacking of the four proper Halo games with just about every official map. The multiplayer RPG Fable Legends seems to take a few cues from Monster Hunter, though the game also brings in a player to control the villain's enemy placement and other scheming techniques. Project Spark lets player build their own games with a broad array of styles and environments—oh, and Conker the Squirrel. A second season of Killer Instinct fighters arrives this fall, with developer Iron Galaxy Studios reviving TJ Combo as the first face on the new roster.

It was all an improvement over Microsoft's 2013 showing, which focused far too much on the Xbox One's hardware. The problem is that most of the games recycle familiar series and themes—even the charmingly strange D4 seems built on smirking self-parody and hand-waving Kinect gimmicks. At least a new Phantom Dust is heartening both in what it could be and what it represents. If Microsoft is willing to revive such an off-the-radar Xbox gem, what else might they resurrect? Sudeki? Otogi? Gunvalkyrie?

SONY BRIEFLY REMEMBERS VIB RIBBON, FORGETS THE LAST GUARDIAN
What I wanted:
Proof that The Last Guardian exists despite the usual dash of rumors about it being canceled or sealed alive within a tomb deep below Sony's Tokyo compound. Also, let's show a little more of Gravity Rush 2, Sony.

What I got:
Sony staged the cruelest tease of E3 by twice invoking Vib Ribbon, that delightful wireframe platformer from the PlayStation era. It appeared on the monitor and even found its way into a speech, which Sony then segued into a trailer for the next Mortal Kombat. There was no mention of Vib Ribbon, never released in North America, making its way to the PLAYSTATION Network or coming back for a sequel. How callous.

Another cult favorite made an unexpected comeback, however, as Sony announced a remastered version of Tim Schafer's beloved Grim Fandango. Considered by many to be the apex of adventure games (and rightly so, I say), the game follows afterlife travel agent Manuel Calavera through a netherworld inspired by noir cinema and Day of the Dead festivals. The remastering won't be a PlayStation 4 exclusive, according to Schafer's subsequent Twitter postings, but it'll probably debut on Sony's side. Anything that improves and preserves Grim Fandango is great news to me.

Sony was also out to make amends for letting Dark Souls off its leash. The original Demon's Souls was a PlayStation 3 exclusive, but the follow-up Dark Souls and its sequel went multiplatform. Now Sony has From Software locked in for an exclusive, and it's called Bloodborne. It's apparently occupied director Hidetaka Miyazaki in place of the recent Dark Souls II, and the E3 trailer is strewn with gore and gloom and eerie, decaying city streets. From the torchlit sepulchers to the unsuspected monsters, it's very much in line with Dark Souls, though its world has sufficient technology for long-range firearms and baby carriages.

Suda51's Let it Die inspired less enthusiasm. The trailer showed gruesomely outfitted thugs destroying each other with chainsaws, crossbows, hatchets, flamethrowers, and all of the other things you'd expect to pick up in a dingy video-game warehouse. Even Suda51's worse games carry some sort of playful satire in them, but Let It Die's premiere showed little of that—or anything else interesting.

Sony needed a gentle, restrained offering to make up for The Last Guardian's continued absence, and that duty fell to Abzu, an undersea exploration game from Giant Squid. Crafted by the art director for thatgamecompany's majestic Journey, Abzu has vast ocean depths to reveal and stylized versions of real-life creatures to meet, and the trailer hints at the unknown in shots of glowing trenches and seemingly alien ruins. It's not due out until 2016, so gameplay details may be a bit sparse.

E3 conferences usually aren't places for immediate game launches, but Sony revealed one game that was available right then and there. Entwined, an abstract tale of a bird and fish falling in love and seeking each other across multiple lifetimes, is available on the PlayStation 4 currently, and it'll hit the PlayStation 3 and Vita further down the line.

Sony played up footage of No Man's Sky, the open-world adventure from Hello Games. A day-glo jungle of sauropods and ibexes slowly unfurled before the player's first-person viewpoint, and then it was time to hop into a spacefighter and soar up into an orbital battle. It makes good on the developer's promise of wide worlds generated on the fly, though there's a risk that those worlds won't be all that interesting. Part of the appeal supposedly lies in mapping out and sharing your discoveries, so perhaps it'll be worthwhile to chart out the migratory patterns of the Slyzrathian impala.

New hardware wasn't particularly prominent during Sony's big address, though Sony squeezed in a glimpse of Project Morpheus, the virtual-reality headset that dearly wants to outdo the Oculus Rift. Sony also confirmed North American release plans for the PS Vita TV, the little gadget that runs most Vita games on the TV. Called the PlayStation TV over here, it'll run $99 for the device or $139 for a package that includes a controller, a memory card, and a digital copy of the Lego Movie game.

Sony put a lot of effort behind Destiny, the sci-fi shooter previously known as This Time We'll Outdo Halo, We Swear. Bungie's new creation shows off environments and alien designs to match Microsoft's big series, but there's not all that much to set it apart. Far Cry 4 proved similarly predictable in tone, though it showed the player tearing around a fictional stretch of the Himalayas via hijacked autorickshaws and elephants.

In many ways, it was typical Sony material: some experimental pieces tucked amid more crowd-pleasing festivals of shooting aliens in dusty fields and hunting zombie werewolves in Victorian London. The absence of The Last Guardian loomed large over the PlayStation 4 lineup (which is presumably where it would land at this stage), though Sony once again confirmed that the game isn't canceled. Elsewhere, the Vita showing could've used some standout exclusives. Gravity Rush 2 wasn't shown, but Sony claims to have 100 Vita games in development. We can assume that about 80 of them are ports of decade-old dating sims that will never leave Japan.

NINTENDO IGNORES REALITY, WINS E3
What I wanted:
A good, long look at X, the new RPG from Monolith Soft. Another Kid Icarus game, maybe one that's all rail-shooting stages. A new Metroid that opens with Samus Aran blearily rising from bed and remarking that she just had the strangest dream where she wandered a space station, turned into a scared little girl, and babbled on and on about “the baby.”

What I got:
Sony and Microsoft gave largely routine presentations, leaving Nintendo's E3 Digital Event plenty of room to steal the show. And it did. Nintendo played things for comedy, with suprisingly inoffensive Robot Chicken bumpers and an opening fight scene of Nintendo President and CEO Satoru Iwata taking on Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime. It quickly introduced two new features: customized Wii fighters for the next Super Smash Bros., and the first use for Nintendo's “Amiibo” figurines.

Heralded as Nintendo's next big moneymaker, the Amiibo line features collectible figures of Nintendo characters, all of which interact with the Wii U Pad (and, through an attachment, the 3DS). It's precisely the Skylanders imitation that we expected. The toys unlock various features in games, as shown by Iwata's Mario figure bringing the plumber hero into the game. They'll also drive collectors and kids up the wall, judging by the success of Skylanders and Disney Infinity.

With the Year of Luigi well and truly over, Nintendo moves on to other Mario co-stars. The Wii U platformer Yoshi's Wooly World may play a bit like the older Yoshi's Island games, but it has a lot in common with Kirby's Epic Yarn: the same developers, the same yarn-based world, the same overpowering whimsy. It'll have a two-player mode where Yoshis can swallow and spit out each other—which looks a lot cuter than descriptions suggest. In fact, the entire game looks great, like a playable stop-motion cartoon.

Toad, the little mushroom retainer guy, hasn't starred in his own game since Wario's Woods, but now one of his Super Mario 3D World incarnations will headline Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker for the Wii U. He scales towering levels that the player can rotate, and many of them are laid out like puzzles. Captain Toad can't jump, but he picks up items and scurries around like plucky little explorer. He even careens around in a minecart, bopping enemies from a first-person view. It's evidently not an A-list Nintendo attraction, but I'm excited to see Toad, or at least a member of the complex Toad taxonomy, get some credit. I picked him a lot in Super Mario Bros. 2, even in the snow stages where Princess Peach trumped all.

The Legend of Zelda's Wii U debut was up for debate at the last E3, but Nintendo showed off a gorgeous little open-world scene of Link facing down some tentacle swamp monster. The design work recalls the cuneiform scrawls of Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword, and producer Eiji Aonuma made much of the game's spacious setting.

As the next full-scale Zelda is a good ways off, The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Warriors will have the Wii U to itself when it arrives in September. Nintendo's E3 piece further extolled the game's collaborative mix of Dynasty Warriors mechanics and Zelda staples, but it also introduced two new playable characters: Midna from Twilight Princess scampers around atop Wolf Link, and the game's version of Zelda gets a sword. The game's backstory once had Zelda kidnapped by a jealous witch named Cia, but perhaps that has changed now.

Platinum's Bayonetta 2 riled fans by skipping Microsoft and Sony's systems. Those fans will have to buy a Wii U when the game arrives in October, because it's clearly on Nintendo's side. The trailer shows previously glimpsed spectacular battles against giant demon--angel-things, and new additions come with Bayonetta's Nintendo outfits, including Samus Aran and Princess Peach outfits, and a Wii U port of the original Bayonetta. The trailer gave it all an October release date and threw a bone to longtime Devil May Cry fans: Bayonetta quips “Flock off, feather-face.”

Xenoblade Chronicles X lurked in the rafters at past Nintendo showings, hyped as a Wii U follow-up to Monolith's vast Xenoblade Chronicles—and, by extension, the latest in a line of RPGs that start with “Xeno.” In many ways, Monolith's going for a repeat. The original Xenoblade Chronicles was like Xenogears: far-reaching, but mostly terrestrial in its scope. Xenoblade Chronicles X embraces the bigger, louder, galaxy-wide stage of the Xenosaga trilogy. Past trailers emphasized X's expansive world and transforming robots, but this time, the game went straight for a space-opera overdose.

The trailer is awash in enough explosions, spaceship fleets, and tense, grandiose dialogue to suit an entire season of mecha-anime shows. It finds humanity abandoning the Earth after two warring alien races demolish it, and there's a cast of robot-piloting archetypes that includes a Beast Guy, a Teenage Girl, and a white-haired woman named Elma. She's the first to greet the player's customized character after he or she emerges from something called Blade, or the “Beyond the Logos Artificial Destiny Emancipator.” That's an acronym worthy of a heritage that includes the Transcend Christ Calendar and the Kosmos Obey Strategical Multiple Operation System.

Shigeru Miyamoto had a trio of creations to show off, and Time's website leaked them beforehand. A new Star Fox game for the Wii U lets players pilot a helicopter and tethered robot, plus the usual starfighters and tanks. Project Giant Robot, tentatively named, uses the Wii U pad to control a mecha's upper body and viewing area, and the TV shows the same robot from a distant view. Project Guard uses the Wii U's pad for a fortress-defense game involving multiple camera viewpoints.

Nintendo debuted an original action-shooter called Splatoon and showed off colorful multiplayer battles where all of the characters are morphing squid-folk. They swim through pools of ink as squids, shoot their ink as humans, and generally try to cover a lot of territory in their own fluids. It looks like a novel take on paintball despite the '90s Nickelodeon game show palette, and it's due out next year.

Other games made a lot of the Wii U's touch screen: Kirby and the Rainbow Curse pulls off the same rail-based gameplay of Canvas Curse, while Mario Maker lets players design their own levels in various Mario styles. On top of getting three types of Mii fighter (brawlers, swordfighters, and gunners), Super Smash Bros. recruits Pac-Man as well as a face from Kid Icarus: Uprising. An animated clip from Studio Shaft introduced the goddess Palutena to the fray. Does this officially make her moe, or must otaku wait for the official Nintendo body pillow?

Yes, I'd say Nintendo came out ahead at E3, partly by not emulating Sony or Microsoft. Yet you'll note that Nintendo didn't set out any bait for the typical Call of Duty or Halo player. Beyond Bayonetta 2 or Xenoblade Chronicles X, Nintendo's sticking to the sunny, all-ages tone that saw the company through decades of competition. And is that wrong? Even if Nintendo doesn't capture a huge chunk of the Xbox market, the Wii U looks like it'll be a bastion of fun, well-made games that hold up better than the latest alien cover shooter or overpolished cops-and-robbers simulator.

NATSUME AND XSEED FAIL TO WAGE WAR FOR OUR AMUSEMENT
What I wanted:
A bloody face-off over Harvest Moon. XSEED Games now has the next game in the Bokujou Monogatari series, which we all knew as Harvest Moon here in America. It'll be called Story of Seasons. Meanwhile, Natsume keeps the Harvest Moon title and has their own internally developed sequel, Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley.

What I got:
XSEED and Natsume didn't stage the E3 equivalent of the Gangs of New York finale, but both companies had notable announcements. XSEED pulled the lid off a long-simmering project with Brandish: The Dark Revenant, a PSP remake of an old Falcom dungeon hack that, sadly, is best known in North America through an unpleasant Super NES port. The PSP version adds decent 3-D visuals, a new soundtrack, and the chance to play as antagonistic sorceress Dora. Or will they call her Alexis, like the Super NES version did?

XSEED also announced Senran Kagura: Bon Appetit, which will join the previously ensnared Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus on the domestic Vita. Bon Appetit is a cooking-rhythm game in contrast to the brawlsome ways of Shinovi Versus, but both are really all about busty ninja maidens embarrassing themselves in some fashion. Shinovi Versus gets a limited physical release in the fall, and there's no word on whether Bon Appetit will get the same this winter.

Natsume had its own E3 revelations, albeit slightly less surprising ones. Kemco's 3-D smartphone RPG Alphadia Genesis will get a Natsume-backed trip to the Wii U while A-Train: City Simulator heads for the 3DS. End of Serenity, another Kemco smartphone RPG with slightly more basic looks, appears on the PSP (and by extension the Vita) as a digital release. Among the inevitable smartphone games, Natsume's most interesting title is Hometown Story: Pocket, an iOS adaptation of Harvest Moon creator Yasuhiro Wada's similarly cute merchant adventure.

Natsume also had Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley on display. The game sees spirits recruit a lost hiker to help restore the seasons (which probably isn't a jab at XSEED's renamed Harvest, but you never know), and it has the usual series staples of crop-tending, socializing, and farm maintenance, all with a good deal of customization. Natsume even unveiled a stuffed dog as the company's “E3 Plushie” and, we assume, the pre-order bonus for The Lost Valley. If it's just an E3 trinket, my sympathies go out to the crazed Harvest Moon collectors who can't get one.

ODDS AND ENDS
Square Enix didn't let this E3 go by without a Final Fantasy reveal. While Final Fantasy XV and Kingdom Hearts 3 skipped the show, a nice little surprise awaited fans: Final Fantasy Type-0, Final Fantasy Agito, and a Final Fantasy G-Bike mini-game are all headed for North America.

Final Fantasy Type-0 was the biggest surprise. It came out for the PSP years back, and some fans were convinced that Square Enix wouldn't release it here—so convinced were they, in fact, that a fan translation came out just this weekend. Square Enix won't bring it here for the PSP, however. The new Final Fantasy Type-0 HD is a remastered version for the Xbox One and the PS4, though a Vita releade was apparently announced and then swiftly dismissed as a mistske. Agito is a prequel of sorts to Type-0, and it's headed for iOS and Android devices. The same goes for Final Fantasy G-Bike, an enhanced version of the roadway mini-game from Final Fantasy VII.

CAPCOM played it quiet for E3's first round, though there's still time to make good on rumors of a Resident Evil 7 announcement. Dead Rising 3 received some nice on-the-spot extras, however, as Microsoft's conference showed off the immediately available Dead Rising 3: Super Ultra Arcade Remix Hyper Edition EX + α. It offers a brawler sideshow in Dead Rising 3's neighborhoods, and it's stuffed with CAPCOM references from Captain Commando to Rival Schools. Yet I haven't seen a Linn Kurosawa outfit. That would be a real in-joke.

Shortly before the E3 festival, CAPCOM announced a U.S. release for Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy HD, a 3DS bundle of the first three games in the series. It makes perfect sense, since the Japanese version already has an English-language option, and a $29.99 digital-only price tag is still a bit cheaper than buying (or in my case, re-buying) the original DS games brand new. Series fans also have Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright on the calendar, as it ships August 29.

Lastly, there's a little bonus for one of the two Shantae games in development. Shantae and the Pirate's Curse is now headed to the Wii U as well as the 3DS. Is that big news? No. But if I'm going to stop this column in the middle of E3, I want to do it on a happy note.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

There's not much headed our way next week, but you can get Pushmo World on the Wii U. It's a puzzle-action game, and a cute one at that.

THE DRAKENGARD 3 CONTEST: YET MORE ENTRIES

That Drakengard 3 contest drew in plenty of short stories, and it's time for another chunk of them. This week finishes up the main competition's entries.

Megamandrew starts us off with a tale about the old Drakengard 3 standards of murder, sex, and Four being a bit delusional.

A thud resounded throughout the barn, forcing Zero's eyes to open wide, awakening her from her delicate slumber. She had been having a wonderful dream. In it, she had been involved in a festival of love-making with the local blacksmith, bartender, shop-keep and shoe shiner. Upon looking at the pile of hay that functioned as her current bedchambers, she noted that the dream was nearly accurate. Atop the stack lay the bartender, shop-keep and shoe shiner; she had had a four-way with them before passing out. She couldn't help but feel disappointed by the lack of the blacksmith, but that was to be expected, as she had violently murdered him two days earlier.

Zero had gone to him to retrieve a sword of hers that she had taken in for re-forging, but upon going to collect it, the stubborn fool had demanded payment. Seeing as Zero had no money, and more importantly, never paid for things, she offered to repay him with her body. The blacksmith, being a happily married man, balked at her offer and refused to return her sword. This didn't sit well with Zero, who took out a second sword and immediately jammed it in the skull of the unlucky blacksmith.

Normally, this would be a cause for great concern among the townsfolk, but when an attempted apprehension ends with the summoning of a dragon capable of reducing the town to large piles of ash, the people understandably backed off and did whatever they found necessary to appease the foul-tempered songstress.

"Your disappointment is palpable." Zero said to Mikhail.

"You should understand why, foolish one. If you had been summoned for destruction, yet were told to leave without starting as much as a single fire, you too would express some disappointment." Mikhail replied.

"Come, now. You will have a myriad of opportunities to wreak havoc in the near future. Trust me." Zero said with a smile gracing her lips.

Forcing the recent memories out of her head, Zero stood up, yawned loudly and proceeded to start kicking the men awake.

"I'm done with you! Leave my sight before I drain the blood from your mangled corpses!"

This urged the horrified men to hastily grab their clothes and flee the barn. As they exited, Zero heard a shriek.

"Really, Zero. I finally find you only to see that you still keep this sort of company. Still, it is good to see you, Sister." Four said, trying to hide her clear embarrassment.

Four had always kept herself pure and was ever displeased by Zero's constant philandering. However, Zero was not happy to be found.

"I thought I told you to never meddle in my affairs, Four."

"I did not intend to meddle. It's just that we're very worried about you. Well, most of us, at least. We're sisters, Zero. We may not see eye-to-eye, but we should at least be able to speak to one another."

"I don't have time for this. If I wished to speak with you, you would be very aware of it. However, as I do not, I'm afraid that I've nothing further to add. Mikhail!"

With that, Mikhail swooped down, waited for Zero to gather her clothing, and allowed her on his back before flapping his mighty wings to prepare for departure.

"Zero! You can't run from us forever! Sooner or later, we need to talk things over!" Four pleaded.

"Believe me, little sister, we'll do more than talk. Of that I can assure you."

With that, Zero and Mikhail took off and flew through the sky as Four wasted her energy flailing her arms in an attempt to dissuade Zero from fleeing.

"I can't believe her!" Four said to herself. "I don't understand why she must keep her distance. We'll all get together soon, I hope. The six of us can't stay apart forever."

With a shrug, Four steadied herself and started back for whence she came.

Tariq Singh has a little story about a double entendre. Drakengard 3 is full of those.
Pollination

"Hey Zero, you mind if I ask you a question?" asked Mikhail, preparing himself for Zero's rebuttal.

“Hmph, you're already asking one so even if I say no you've already done so, making my refusal seem childish. But I suppose if you must ask away.”

Both Zero and Mikhail sat by a small but warm fire, it was a calm and peaceful atmosphere; there were few stars in the sky but the moon shone brightly as if to snuff out the few stars that did shine. Mikhail was a bit surprised by the intensity of her rebuttal, he was accustomed to hearing much harsher words from her but perhaps the night soothed her harsh tongue.

Now would be as good a time as any to ask this he thought to himself and steeled himself for the fallout that would definitely occur, but he needed to ask because the question was weighing heavily on his mind. “Well, I was wondering about that flower.”

“What about it, Mikhail?” asked Zero.

“When will you be able to plant seeds from it?” Finished Mikhail.

“Well I heard that if you pollinate a flower you get seeds or something. So wouldn't it be better to have more flowers since they're so pretty?” said Mikhail as he explained his reasoning.

Zero stood up and placed her hand on her head slowly shaking it. “Alright I'll play along, so how exactly do you expect me to 'pollinate' this flower?”

“Huh isn't that easy? You're a girl right, so all you have to do is get a guy to ‘pollinate’ your flower. I thought you'd already done it considering all the guys you've been with in town. Decadus and Four told me about It. ” Mikhail answered as if it was the most obvious thing in the world not realizing the double entendre he created or even the second meaning behind his words since he thought any kind of flower would work.

Zero turned bright red after hearing Mikhail reasoning. “Zero what's wrong?” inquired Mikhail not sure what to make of Zero's actions.

“…Mikhail” said Zero in an icy tone froze Mikhail's blood, “Come here.”

She slowly unsheathed her weapon.

“Um I think I'll go get some food for the morning” said Mikhail as he hastily got up and started flying off as far as his wings could take him, he had expected some kind of reaction from Zero but nothing of this level.

“Come back here Mikhail!” screamed Zero as she chased after him as fast as she could.

As Zero and Mikhail approach a town Zero breaks the awkward silence from last night's argument, “I'll be heading into town now stay outside and out of sight” Mikhail nodded in agreement and flew off to find a hiding spot while Zero conducted her business in town.

She spent the entire day and night in the town and finally left around noon the next day, meeting up with Mikhail outside the town. Later that night around another campfire Mikhail worked up the courage to ask another question readying his wings for a quick escape.

“Hey Zero did you--”

“If you mention anything about flowers or pollen I will kill you.” Said Zero in her icy voice and Mikhail clammed up for the rest of the night.

The next morning Zero was awoken by an ecstatic Mikhail. Zero found herself surrounded familiar looking pink flowers, “Hey Zero look at all the flowers looks like you got lots of guys to pollinate your flower after all.”

At that moment something in Zero broke and her voice was even more cold than the night before.

“…Mikhail… what do you want it to say?”

“Huh what are you talking about?” Mikhail sensed his impending doom but couldn't resist asking.

“Your. Tombstone. What do you want it to say?”

As soon as he realized what she meant he took off at breakneck speed and she followed weapon in hand. Swinging at his head much closer than the night before.

Meanwhile off in the distance Four and Decadus have a long laugh having successfully pulled off their prank.

It's good to see Four having fun before her inevitable horrific murder! And now for Cetais Pixeleuh's take on two of Zero's Disciples...
Decadus meeting Dito for the first time

His hair was fluttering in the wind, just like his heart, in front of his new found love, the cruel pretty boy wearing a spear.

“I've never felt this way before”, Decadus said in his most lovely voice. “Dito... I'm in love with you...”

“Ugh. Just go die in a hole, fucking masochistic disgusting pig. You're making me sick.”

Decadus was blushing from his remark, he never had his heart beating this fast, even more for someone of the same gender as him.

“C... Can I give you an hug, Dito-k... Dito-san? I want you to see how much I love you!” Decadus cheeks were completely red, full of embarrassment, from asking something this bold from him, asking to feel his body against his own.

As the cherry blossom petals were falling from the sky into the thin zone separating them, the young lad finally gave his heartfelt answer: “No. Go die, you rotten piece of shit.”

Decadus fell to the ground. Being a total masochist in his heart, he couldn't endure it for long, he had to show him how much he loves him, since it could easily be one of the only time he would be in front of that pretty boy that is Dito.

“Well then, I've got to go.In pleasure of meeting you, in hope you'll die next time we meet.” Dito facial expression showed how much troublesome Decadus was, while also showing how much he's disgusted by that masochistic guy. He then stopped looking at him and started going away.

“W-wait. Before you leave, I...”

Thinking it was something important, or that he was on the brink of crying, he decided to give him one final look.

Expecting to see a face full of tears, there was a face expressing his happiness, and how excited he his by being insulted.

“I-I... I want to feel a part of your body before you leave!”

Decadus got up in an instant, and started running to kiss Dito. Not thinking rapidly enough to do something in a situation like this, he gave him a slap, making his body flying away a meter or two.

“Damn, this piece of shit of a pig is really broken, I got to wash this hand that touched him... but first, I need to get the hell out of here!”

Just like that, Dito ran away, while Decadus was totally happy since his wish has been fulfilled: getting to touch Dito's body. Even if he could only get a grasp of his hand, that was enough to make him happy. The slap to the face was a little bonus making him even more happy.

And just like that, Decadus' first encounter with Dito ended.

Victoria Walker compresses a bunch of Drakengard 3 battles into one bloody, bite-sized chunk.
Zero has broken down the wall to the county of the sea. She charges to meet Five in battle. When she sees Five she is stunned.

“Are you ready to fight to the death, Zero.” says Five. “I am, but put some damn clothes on first” says Zero.

Five draws her sword and says “Shut the hell up, I am naked because before I kill you, I will placed my breasts in your face and show you who the real badass is.”

Zero replies “Whatever, shut up and fight.” They clash swords, Zero stabs Five and says “So much for being a badass.”

Five smiles and says “I am sexier than you though.”

Five falls in front of Zero pushing her breasts in face before she dies. Zero pushes Five's dead body off her and states “Seriously.”

The Apostles come in the room and asks “Are you okay my Lady.” Zero replies “I'm fine, let's go to the country of the mountains.”

Zero and the apostles travel to the country of the mountains, crushing Four's army. Zero arrives at Four's castle. Four comes out and says “prepare yourself, Zero!”

Mikhail lands in front of Four and accidently slaps Four with her tail. Four flies into the like a member of Team Rocket stating, “I will have my revenge Zero.”

Mikhail says “Sorry about that.”

The Crew continues to the country of forest.

Zero reaches the country of forest where she awaits to fight Three. As Zero cuts through the trees and Three's army, she notices how long is the forest. She calls Mikhail so she can fly straight to Three's castle. When Mikhail drops her off in front the castle, the front door to the castle is wide open. When Zero enters Three's room and sees her sleeping. “This should be an easy kill.” says Zero. She attempts to stab Three in the heart but Three awakes and blocks her attack. She replies “Nice try, bitch.” She stands and attacks Zero. They clash blades. Three says unenthusiastically “Is this all you have?”

Zero swings at Three's head, but Three ducks resulting in Zero cutting the head of one of dolls. This enrages Three to summon her watcher. Zero says “Damn, that isn't good.”

Zero begins to battle the watcher. She kills it and tries to kill Three but Octa jumps in front of Zero's blade. Zero screams “You fool.” Octa replies “I cannot let you kill her; I would not be doing my job.” Zero removes the sword from Octa's body and stabs Three in the chest. Three powers down and looks at Zero. She says “Are you happy now, Zero?”

Zero replies “Yes, I am.”

As Zero leaves Three's castle, Four appears in front of Zero. She states “ Zero why do want to kill your sisters, this does not make any sense.”

“Enough talk and fight me all ready.” says Zero. They clash swords and Zero stabs her in the chest. Before she dies, Four asks “Zero, did you ever love us?”

Zero responses “Yes I did but this is too great for six of us to have.” Zero removes her sword from Four's chest and walks past her dead body. As Zero is walking, she thinks to herself “Three down and two to go.”

The End

Kayla Pamintuan shows us the travails of raising a dragon from a…pup? A kit? A larva? What are baby dragons called, anyway?

“Um, Zero? Are you sure this is a good idea?”

Soaring in the skies, Mikhail's questioning tone was already beginning to get on the Intoner's nerves. The newly reincarnated dragon could barely tell up from down, let alone how to blast a decent shot of fire. How the hell was he going to help him kill her sisters? As much as she didn't actually want to, especially with her eye still hurting like a bitch, Mikhail needed practice. There was only one way to get practice.

“Of course, dummy. What, you think I'd send us all the way out here in the ocean if it wasn't a good idea?”

“N-No of course not!” the dragon exclaimed. “I just... The truth is, I really have to go to the bathroom! Like, really, really go!”

“Are you fucking kidding me?!” Digging her heel into Mikhail's side as hard as she could, Zero wasn't satisfied until he was squealing in pain. She ignored his protests and pleas to stop it, yelling, “Didn't I tell you to go before we left?! You really are completely brainless, you idiot!”

They dipped precariously low towards the water, Mikhail's feet dragging against the ocean. With the waves splashing against her, Zero couldn't help but groan. It was humid, the air was sticky, she was hot, this dumbass smelled like someone vomited out shit, and now she was getting water splashed straight into her face. What the hell could get any worse about this?

“Ow, owowowowow! Zero, you're hurting me! It hurts! It really hurts!” the dragon cried, dipping lower and lower into the water. Zero scowled, digging her heel in even further.

“Well good, it damn well should! Now just hold your godforsaken bladder in until we finish here! And just how many fucking times have I told you not to repeat yourself?!”

“But Zeroooooo, if you keep doing that, we're gonna—”

Whatever he was going to say next was cut off as a vicious dig in with her heel (at this point it was more like a stab; it wouldn't be the first time that happened) into side was just enough to send Mikhail thrashing and crying straight into the water. And with Zero on as well...

“YOUUUU IDIOOOOOOOOOT!” Thrown off Mikhail, Zero skipped straight across the sea like a well-thrown pebble. They were lucky enough to have landed in shallow water though, and despite Zero's anger, the dragon couldn't help but relax in the water. So much in fact, that with the feel of the water around him, he could finally... Finally...

Go to the bathroom.

“I can't believe it,” Zero groaned, floating in the soon-to-be dragon piss water. “It got worse.”

TN gets right into the thick of things. Gruesome things.
Zero slashed at the monster's neck, causing blood to spew in every direction.

"Alright! Now I can activate Intoner Mode! RAAAAAAAAAARRGH!!," Zero yelled bloodcurdlingly. A red aura erupted out of Zero's body, heightening her thirst for blood.

Suddenly, Mikhail said, "I NEED TO PEEEE."

Zero looked down at the dragon she was sitting on.

"Damn it, can't you just go on these monsters? I just activated Intoner Mode."

"NO. I need to find a dragon's toilet. I'm gonna land."

After all the time she's spent with Mikhail, Zero had come to expect Mikhail's shenanigans.

"Fine, I'll get off!," Zero said in an annoyed voice.

By the time Mikhail had landed, Intoner Mode had already worn off.

"What am I gonna do now?" Zero pondered as she looked around at the nearby restaurants.

Zero was feeling a bit hungry, and the aroma of delicious foods tempted not only Zero's stomach, but also her sword. Zero had her own way of getting what she wanted: kill anyone who got in her way.

"FREE SAMPLES! GET YER FREE FOOD SAMPLES!!" yelled some guy.

Zero couldn't comprehend this guy's rationale. "Free" food? Zero walked towards him, about to draw her blade, but her stomach got the better of her. She swiftly crammed food samples down her throat.

It was the most delicious thing ever. Zero needed more.

"5 moneys gets you 5 pounds of that!," the man said with a wholehearted smile.

"Only 5 moneys? I'll take 10… no, 9001 pounds!," Zero said excitedly. Zero quickly pulled out some treasure she had looted. "Is this enough?"

"Yes, that's more than enough!”

* * *

Mikhail looked around the town, lost. In his excitement to go pee, he had forgotten to tell Zero where to meet up. If there weren't so many buildings blocking his view then it would be easy to spot Zero. All he needed to do was spit a few fireballs and then POOF there'd be no more buildings. But he knew that it was wrong to get innocent people killed in the process.

"*sigh* ... What if... What if Zero abandoned me!? What if Zero thinks I'm an annoying brat who deserves to be kicked around and and and--,” Saddened by the thought of being alone, Mikhail began to cry.

Suddenly, Mikhail heard frightened screens and smelled smoke. The town was burning down.

Then a man ran up and pointed at Mikhail, yelling, “It's a dragon! That must have caused the fire! Kill the dragon!!”

“Ah! No, it wasn't me!… I think,” Mikhail said while defending himself.

“Hands off my dragon!,” a familiar voice yelled. It was Zero. She quickly stabbed the man who was attacking Mikhail.

“Zero!” Mikhail was relieved to see Zero, but then he realized what she had been doing. She was already covered from head to toe in blood. “Why did you attack these innocent people? Wasn't there another way?!,” Mikhail said angrily.

“No, this was the shortest way.”

Mikhail then noticed the enormous bag Zero was dragging around. “Uhm, what is that bag?”

“Oh, this? Some frickin' idiot coerced me—I mean, I bought this for you. Eat it all and we'll call it even.”

“…” Mikhail was not amused by this fake apology.

“Say, Mikhail, you—you wanted to know where babies come from, right?”

“Yesterday you said you didn't know and you ‘didn't give a crap’ about where they came from.”

“Yeah, well, I just found out today! How about I tell you on the way back.”

“… All right. I guess I can forgive you this time. It better be an interesting story.” Mikhail really, REALLY wanted to know the truth regarding the mystery of where babies came from.

THE END

Jamison Harris goes from butterflies to…well, a favorite subject of Drakengard 3.
Mikhail was in awe. A tiny creature with wings covered in a colorful design danced before his eyes. He had never seen such a creature before, and its beauty fascinated him.

“What beautiful wings!” he said to himself out loud, his voice echoing off the cliff side next to him. He gleefully danced around as he watched, causing the ground to rumble around him whenever his giant dragon feet pounded the ground.

“Zero!” he called out cheerfully.

Zero, still dirtied by the blood of the poor victims she massacred, glared at Mikhail as she worked to clean the dried blood off her sword. Her irritated face caused Mikhail to stumble backward slightly as a sudden rush of fear swept him for a moment. He knew what she was capable of when she was angry, and the last thing he wanted to do was get stabbed by her again. But as the strange creature danced in front of his eyes again, his fear instantly vanished.

“Zero! What is this creature called?” Mikhail asked.

“Creature?” Zero asked as she squinted as she struggled to see what Mikhail was talking about. When she saw the butterfly fluttering around, she sighed. “That's a butterfly.”

“A butterfly,” Mikhail repeated as he focused his attention on it. “It's so pretty!”

“It's just a useless bug.”

“Useless?” Mikhail asked, looking over at Zero.

“Yeah. It's just gonna fly around for a bit, try to reproduce, and then it'll die.”

Mikhail looked at the butterfly with sorrow in his eyes, though it was hard to tell by looking at him. “Poor butterfly,” he muttered.

“Quit fooling around,” Zero demanded.

Mikhail quickly straightened himself and tried to look stoic. Zero looked at him, shook her head, and entered the small hut they were staying in for the evening. Once inside, Mikhail started watching the butterfly again, giggling to himself. The butterfly danced around until it landed on Mikhail's nose. He watched it cross-eyed, trying to keep very still as not to scare it off.

But the butterfly got too close to Mikhail's nostril and was sucked in when Mikhail inhaled. The butterfly tickled the inside of Mikhail's nose, making him want to sneeze. Mikhail struggled to hold in his sneeze, hoping for the tickling to cease on its own, but it was no use. Snot mixed with fire shot outward like a cannon, flying toward the hut that Zero was in. Before Mikhail could react the hut exploded.

Burning timber shot outward from the center of the explosion. Mikhail quickly covered his eyes, too afraid to look as a wave of heat washed over him. After a few moments he took a peak, noticing the pile of burning embers where the hut once stood.

“Uh, Zero?” he squeaked, afraid that she might have gotten seriously hurt.

The pile of embers began to move as the figure of a woman slowly rose from within the flames.

“Mikhail . . .” the figure murmured with disdained hatred in her voice.

Mikhail knew of the deep trouble he was in. There would be no one to save him from the wrath of Zero. He trembled as he watched Zero slowly closing in on him. Unable to flee from the terror that stood before him, Mikhail shit himself.

Henry C pulls off one of those “story within a story” deals. I like that sort of thing.

Skepticism

“Zero, hey Zero, I want to play a game!” exclaimed Mikhail as he swooped down from the sky.

“A game? What kind of game?” said Zero as she watched a mischievous expression slowly creep onto his face.

“Well, more of a dare and bet if you choose to accept. There are two soldiers beside a lake just right up ahead beyond that hill. Your mission, if you choose to accept, is to kill them with no weapons, magic, or whatever weird things you do to slaughter things. If you lose, you'll need to buy me the next book of that series about an undead sparkly guy and that girl who wants to be an undead sparkly girlfriend and read me it, you know, claws and all.”

“That's pretty one-sided and you sure have some poor taste in books. It's like that time when I once attended a play and one of the main leads started prancing around singing ‘let it go’ and repeating that a few hundred times. She didn't actually let it go, was rather disappointing, terrible queen really for not arming her snowmen with swords. Who doesn't arm her men with swords? Oh well, not all a waste, they had some interesting items for sale at the festival.”

“How exactly does that analogy fi—” Mikhail asks, confused.

“Anyways, what happens when I win?” interrupted Zero.

“Doesn't matter, you won't win.” Zero chuckled, suddenly intrigued by the challenge.

“But if I do?”

“We'll worry about it then, but you won't. You may as well marry your weapon. If you suddenly started sparkling in sunlight I wouldn't even be surprised.”

“Very well,” Zero said as she puts her bag and sword down. “Mikhail, bite me on the shoulder.”

“What in the world? You mad? Uh, let me rephrase that, you—” Mikhail hesitated for a bit. “I got nothing,” he mumbled, recalling the analogy earlier. “You get what I mean!”

“Just do it,” Zero sighed. Mikhail, after hesitating a moment longer, bit her. Blood started flowing down her arm. “Okay, now hit me! Preferably if a fly a bit that would be great.”

“You have no chance in winning this and you're injuring yourself first?”

“Oh just do it!” Mikhail slammed his head against Zero's body and she flew and crash landed onto the muddy grass. She started cursing as she got up.

“That was a bit harder than necessary but will do.” Zero picked up a branch and ordered Mikhail to light it on fire.

“I said no weapons!” Mikhail protested.

“Oh just do it. I know the rules, trust is a great thing and so is honour.” Mikhail reluctantly lit the branch on fire and after walking up the hill a bit, Zero lit herself on fire and and started running over the hill and down, screaming frantically and stumbled a bit at times. Mikhail, too shocked to put the pieces together stood there, staring at the top of the hill. Suddenly the two soldiers appeared, charging down the hill towards Mikhail. Not sure what to make of this sudden development, Mikhail torched the guards. Zero appeared on the top of the hill a few moments later.

“Oh dragons, my village, h-h-help aaahhh!” Zero's eyes were red from tears yet a cruel, satisfactory smile was planted her face. Finally realizing what he's done, Mikhail began protesting.

“That's not fair!”

“Hey, I can't help that I may have lead the soldiers to their deaths by using their sense of duty in stalling time so an innocent lady whose village may or may not have been burned down by a dragon can put out the fire in the lake, run away, and live....” Zero shrugged. Mikhail, defeated, looked at the approaching Zero with a permanent smirk.

“You win, what do you want?”

“Oh Mikhail,” Zero said as she grabbed her bag from the ground and started sifting through it until she pulled a mask out and put it on her face.

“I want to play a game,” she said slowly as she pulled out a bottle from her bag. A drop drips from it, sparkling all the way down.

And here's Christian Schefer to close things in succinct style.

It's Zero's time of the month. She's pissed off and angry. Her sisters are teasing her about it…..so she kills them.

Who needs 500+ words?

That's all for the regular contest. Next week, we'll wrap things up with the Worst Entry division!


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

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