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Sweetness and Light

by Todd Ciolek, Jul 2nd 2014

I expect that anyone who reads this site is intimately aware of the ways that One Piece was altered for North America. The 4Kids version of the show censored firearms and violence, removed many references to alcohol, edited out entire plot arcs, and gave it an opening number that will live eternal in its shame. Compared to that, it doesn't seem very intrusive that Bandai Namco Games touched up the cover for One Piece: Unlimited World Red.

One can easily see the changes by comparing the Japanese cover, show above, with the American cover below.

Bandai Namco moved around the title and several characters to cover up cleavage and appease the ESRB. However, these rearrangements now leave someone's leg, presumably Nico Robin's, extending bizarrely out of the morass of pirates. It's as if Tony Tony Chopper there is carrying around pieces of a mannequin or the leavings of a successful amputation. Pirate-ship surgeons face tough decisions.

I doubt that Bandai Namco Games actually censored the game itself, and I doubt that anyone will mind the cover adjustments. Some might even prefer them. I thought it a shame when One Piece, a series with a high percentage of female readers, shifted the body types of its leading women from “occasionally unrealistic” to “possibly missing internal organs and in danger of snapping in half.” Sometimes it isn't the censors who bring down a series.

NEWS

PLATINUM ANNOUNCES A KORRA GAME, DOESN'T CHANGE HER HAIRSTYLE
Platinum Games certainly isn't above making licensed games. That's the rule with most mid-range game developers these days. From Ganbarion to Wayforward to Treasure, they'll put together tie-ins and craft original titles in between them. Platinum just held off on obeying this dictate for longer than most. Last year, the makers of Bayonetta and The Wonderful 101 helped Konami with a Metal Gear spin-off, and now Platinum announced a game based on the anime-influenced The Legend of Korra.

From what's been shown so far, the cel-shaded look of The Legend of Korra seems a bit mushy, but it fits the cartoonish look of the show. The game also sets things up for a gradual build in powers: a new villain blocks Korra's varied elemental abilities, so she steadily re-learns them throughout the game. Her moves so far include watery grappling chains, air-spheres, whirlwinds, and a good share of kicks and punches. And there's an Avatar mode as well, though Platinum hasn't revealed too much of that. I envision a bloodless, moralized version of Devil May Cry's Devil Trigger or Drakengard 3's Intoner state.

As a show, The Legend of Korra noticeably lags behind the original Avatar: The Last Airbender in writing quality (which I blame on Korra's lack of Aaron and Elizabeth Welch Ehasz), but it seems that Korra may get one thing that its predecessor never had: a first-rate action game.

HYRULE WARRIORS JUST KEEPS 'EM COMING
Hyrule Warriors is steadily turning into the Legend of Zelda game that hardcore fans have wanted for years. No, it isn't a full-blown Zelda game with puzzles and secret passages and frustrating water temples, but it fulfills a lot of long-brewing fan desires in its character lineup. Link is playable, of course, but so are the toughest version of Impa, a wolf-riding Midna from Twilight Princess, and an armored, sword-wielding Princess Zelda, who's normally the object of rescue. Hyrule Warriors went even further with its additions last week, when it showed off the game's playable version of Agitha, the bug-collecting girl from Twilight Princess.

That's a surprise: an insect-fixated princess who vaguely threatens Link if he doesn't give every bug he carries? She's not the most popular Zelda character in my estimation, but perhaps Tecmo KOEI wants to score points with the gothic-lolita crowd, or at least the fans of the same Chinese bug-princess myth that inspired Mushihimesama and Hayao Miyazaki's Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. Besides, Agitha uses a parasol and summons giant glowing bugs in battle, and that's something different.

The other new additional is something everyone expected: an original character. The upbeat Lana is a witch and the rival of Cia, the prime antagonist of Hyrule Warriors. Fairly quick on her feet, Lana attacks primarily with spells loosed via a book she carries. She also dresses like a Kingdom Hearts heroine.

Who else will join Hyrule Warriors before the game ships this September? The fairy-obsessed Tingle seems a likely choice, though North American fans seem to loathe him for some reason. And what about a fish-person or an actual fairy? They've been Zelda bit-players for a long time.

MERCHANDISE CORNER: NATURAL KNAPSACKS, BUBBLE TOYS, BUILD-A-SHIP
NIS America puts together limited-editions for just about everything they release (except for digital titles like last month's Battle Princess of Arcadias, of course). Most of these box sets have soundtracks, artbooks, and some sort of toy. The Natural Doctrine bundle has something a little more useful: a backpack.

You'll also get an art collection and a big poster with the set, but it's the book bag that catches the eye. It also makes the most sense for Natural Doctrine, a strategy-RPG that tracks a motley team of soldiers through underground labyrinths bleak enough to be a stretch of Dark Souls. It's out in September.

For trinkets that require no box-set purchases, we have these Bubble Bobble toys from 1UP2P in the UK and Unbox Industries in the US. Bubble Bobble always struck me as prime ground for toys, since its bubble-barfing dinosaur heroes were just about the cutest things in video games during the late 1980s. These stuffed animals may not capture the sprites exactly, but they're making up for lost time.

Lastly, we have these mini-models from Terra Cresta, the Nichibutsu shooter in which players collected ship pieces as power-ups. I played a lot of it as a kid, and I even made up Voltron-ish pilots and stories to go along with the five components of the ship. So I would have certainly wanted a five-in-one set of Terra Cresta fighters, even if they won't turn into a blazing, Gatchaman-style phoenix when you put them all together. The set's due out in November, and you can order it from NCSX.

IMPORT ROUNDUP: JUNE

CASTING VOICE
Developer: Craft & Meister
Publisher: Bandai Namco Games
Platform: PlayStation 3

Recent years bought a spike in “producer” games, especially those that put the player in charge of plucky anime maidens. For a good example, look no further than Bandai Namco's Idolm@ster series in all its forms. Casting Voice has much the same idea, but it adopts more sedate surroundings. Rather than the glossy, ravenous world of pop-star concerts and photo shoots, Casting Voice lands inside of a recording studio, where the player directs voice-actors in their craft.

Casting Voice presents a lineup of 45 fictional voice actors, all played by actual industry talents, of course—you'll hear Miyuki Sawashiro playing the 33-year-old actress Saori Ogawa, or Hochi Otsuka voicing veteran Atsuo Ohnuki. The player shifts all of the performers into different roles and refines the whole recording process. This involves a lot of time fiddling with menus, though the game offers a variety of projects to dub-over: commercials, original anime series of all kinds, drama CDs, and even the old classic Roman Holiday. Yes, the Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn movie.

Like some voice-actor version of Super Robot Wars, this one is really for those fans of the talents and their trade, and especially for the fans of Namco's Tales series (where the voice cast can be as much a game-seller as the battle system or storyline). Scenes from a number of Tales games are available for remixing, and the player can put new actors into familiar roles. Other recast-able Namco titles are available as DLC: Gods Eater Burst and, unsurprisingly, The IDOLM@STER. And if the cast proves intractable, players can always record their own voices through a USB mike and work it into Tales of the Abyss.

Import Barrier: Considering that nearly all of the spoken dialogue and menu text is in Japanese, this one needs a bit of language proficiency. But hey, it's region-free.

Chances of a Domestic Release: Very, very, very small. But maybe Bandai Namco could put out a redone American version where you direct characters played by Tara Strong and Yuri Lowenthal.

Moral Questions: Some of the actors are children, so will the player be punished for making them work long hours? Probably not.

FIREFLY'S DIARY
Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Publisher: Nippon Ichi Software
Platform: PlayStation Vita

Nippon Ichi stakes out new ground in the field of indulgently weird titles, since the official spelling of Hotaru no Nikki is htoL#NiQ. I will call it Firefly's Diary henceforth, because otherwise I'll get confused and think I'm typing HTML strings.

Firefly's Diary begins on the final day of 9999, when an antlered girl named Mion awakens and starts to wander a side-scrolling hive of stained tiles and exposed wires and general ruin. Mion's companions are two guiding sprites, and it's these that the player controls. A glowing light firefly directs her around and explores the environments, while a dark firefly manipulates objects and moves only through shadows. The two of them work in concert to get Mion through the wreckage of some unspecified place, whether that work involves backing her away from ledges or tripping security doors so they'll crush lumbering shadow-monsters.

There's a fascinatingly morose aura around Firefly's Diary, and the game uses its two-dimension confines to great effect. The backgrounds are grimy and charming, and they'll occasionally break into simpler flashbacks and deliberately scrambled graphics to illuminate Mion's history. The use of shadows gives the gameplay the same eerie allure as Hudson's Lost in Shadow, albeit with a cuter sense of design. Unfortunately, it's a rather hard game, perhaps to make up for being short. Mion dies a lot as the sprites guide her around, and everything's carried out through trial and error. At least the save points are generous.

Import Barrier: There's not much dialogue in the game, so the only obstacle lies in figuring out just how Mion's little helpers work.

Chances of a Domestic Release: Surprisingly, NIS America hasn't announced any U.S. date for Firefly's Diary. It'd right so nicely into the Vita's lineup, too.

Moral Questions: Are the two Manichean fireflies representative of Mion's capacities for good and evil? And does that mean that only evil gets things done?

TAIKO DRUM MASTER: DON AND KATSU'S GREAT SPACE ADVENTURE
Developer: Namco
Publisher: Bandai Namco Games
Platform: Nintendo 3DS

Perhaps the Taiko Drum Master series (or Taiko no Tatsujin) was never meant for North America. It's all about taiko drums, which haven't exactly equaled sushi or Toyotas or, well, anime when it comes to Japan's cultural exports. Perhaps we were lucky to get even one Taiko Drum Master game in English. But no matter. Taiko Drum Master soldiers on in Japan, hatching new games for its round, percussive heroes, Don and Katsu.

Taiko Drum Master: Don and Katsu's Great Space Adventure sees the two drum protagonists journey through time, meeting up with princesses, samurai, and assorted creatures of myth. They're technically out to help a rabbit named Takkun (who looks a little like Robbie from Silent Hill) find his missing friend, and they do that by exploring environments in an overhead, RPG-like way. That doesn't change the core gameplay of Taiko Drum Master, however. Every conflict and plot point is carried off with a drumming competition where players tap the DS screen in time with little smiling Don and Katsu faces. It's not quite as satisfying as pounding on a full-size taiko drum, but Great Space Adventure has a bit more substance in its customization. Don and Katsu wear different outfits to reveal new abilities in battle. Naturally, there's a good selection of songs, including hits like “Let It Go” from Disney's Frozen and “Feuerroter Pfeil und Bogen,” the nationalistic paean from Attack on Titan.

Import Barrier: Some of the menus are a bit complex, but the drumming is pretty easy to grasp. And yes, 3DS games are still region-locked for some reason.

Chances of a Domestic Release: Minimal, judging by most of the previous Taiko Drum Master games. Perhaps a digital-only release is possible, with the way things are headed.

Moral Question: If Don and Katsu are sentient drums, what do they think of being pelted for the amusement of humans? Does it bring them pleasure or pain? And which answer has the more disturbing connotations?

Also Available:
Sony's elaborate post-apocalyptic action game Freedom Wars arrives on the Vita, and Examu's Arcana Heart 3: LOVE MAX !!!!! is out for the PlayStation 3. Both of them are coming here later this year! We can't say the same for Eighting's Kamen Rider Battle War II brawler, but we should have a full review of that before long.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

ONE PIECE: UNLIMITED WORLD RED
Developer: Ganbarion
Publisher: Bandai Namco Games
Platform: PlayStation 3/ PS Vita /Nintendo 3DS/Wii U
Release Date: July 1
Vita Version: Exclusive to GameStop
MSRP: $49.99 (PS3), $39.99 (Vita), $29.99 (3DS)

One Piece: Unlimited World Red is very important to me, as it's the work of Ganbarion. Though they're known mostly for making One Piece games, Ganbarion also created Pandora's Tower, a strange and gruesome fantasy-action game that I liked a good deal. So if everyone buys One Piece: Unlimited World Red, Ganbarion will…make more One Piece games, most likely. However, they'll also stay in business and have the chance to do another bleak and compelling experiment. And I'm all for that.

Unlimited World Red may also prove important to One Piece fans, who've recently endured the somewhat disappointing Romance Dawn and Pirate Warriors. Staged well after the big timeskip, Unlimited World Red sets itself up much like a One Piece movie with a disposable cul-de-sac of a plot: befriending a tannuki-like creature named Pato, Monkey D. Luffy and the rest of the Straw Hat pirates decide to reunite the little raccoon-thing with his master, a cruel pirate lord named Red. As Luffy rescues his companions from Red's clutches, he swings around town like a rubber-armed Spider-Man and brings newly liberated friends into battle with him. The Straw Hat Pirates are all playable in the game's main mode, and the gameplay adds counter attacks atop the regular selection of jumping, attacking, and launching into specialized pirate moves.

There's also a lot to do on the sidelines. Players can fish, catch bugs, and dig for buried items as they wander around, and Unlimited World Red has the mandatory features of item-crafting and character-customizing. The biggest fan attractant is the Battle Coliseum Mode, where the playable cast expands to 20 fighters, including Shanks, Crocodile, Edward Newgate, Trafalgar Law, Boa Hancock, Buggy (who actually likes him?), and the never-before-playable Admiral Fujitora. As for extras, there's a round of 15th Anniversary outfits in the annoyingly named “day one” edition, and the game also features various Strong World costumes…including Tony Tony Chopper's casual bathrobe. One Piece can get pretty strange.

Those contemplating which edition to buy should note that the PS3 and Wii U have only two-player co-op while the 3DS and Vita games invite up to four players, so there's some advantage to going with a small-screen release. The Vita version is, however, a GameStop exclusive, and the Wii U one is download-only. I try not to pity the Wii U any more than it merits here, but…ouch.


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

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